Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I've been thinking.....

Yep, I've had a lot of time to think and that's always a dangerous thing.
While I watch the demise of the business that I have (had) such a great passion for it came to me that the solution was never in getting rid of the most experienced talented members of the profession. I know, well, duuuuuh!
Hang with me a moment.
The real problem with top newspaper management is they lack, dare I say completely, any vision for what is really required in salvaging not just the business, but the mission of community journalism.
After all, when the newspapers are all gone, who will do the investigative reporting, such as is currently going on in Detroit. The short answer is, no one. With no watchdog, those who sneer at the daily news media will be begging for the return of real journalism.
Wouldn't the better model for saving newspapers - either in print or online - have been in keeping the most talented reporters and editors and finding a way of transferring what people love, enjoy and need from the print version and transfer it to online editions.
Part of that problem is that some of the current editors (as I've posted her previously) don't really care about the news that most people really want to read. They turn up their noses at breaking police and fire news in favor of long, boring features. I've gone over this ad nausem so I'll not do it again here.
Now the business is faced with transferring its model from print to online, but without many of the folks who had a complete understanding and sources to actually make the transfer without losing the core aspects of the business.
Short sighted people saw only high salaries and benefits as the obstacle to saving the business. Wrong! Businesses rarely cut the way to success. Newspapers often tell businesses it is more important to part with advertising dollars in the bad times than when times are good. Guess they were giving that advice with fingers crossed.
Lost are the relationships built up over decades of reporting with key players in government and business. Those are relationships that will not be easily or quickly bridged with young, inexperienced reporters fresh out of college. This is in no way a slam at them it is just the reality that learning the reporting business is a long, not short, curve experience.
So now editors, who were barely competent to produce a printed newspaper, are playing the equivalent of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey as they stumble in the dark trying to figure out how to make money on the Internet.
Heck, they were already playing the "donkey" game with the printed version of the paper and doing a miserable job of it. Now they are trying to transfer that to a medium they know little or nothing about.
Before it's too late, some newspaper needs to take a chance, keep its most talented people, and work to make the online newspapers a place that folks are eager to visit and that advertisers will recognize the benefits of spending money on while preserving the printed version for the legions of folks that still love that form of news.
During one brainstorming session at the Journal, some of us argued that the printed version could be supplemented on the Internet by giving readers a place to go to read the volumes of documents that often go into making investigative stories. Example: In stories about restaurant inspections, there is no room in the print version for complete copies and files that went into drafting the story.
Online, however, all the background documentation could be offered for readers who want to look further than a 30-inch story. We were patted on the head, told it was a good idea, but still no such move to provide that kind of service to readers. It would work for a variety of investigative stories.
Instead, the current management will continue to spin around, stumble and put the donkey's tail right square in its forehead.
Sad, very sad.


oakland said...

Excellent point about the Detroit Free Press and the great job it is doing, re: exposing the Kilpatrick administration's lies and blatant misuse of city funds to cover up affairs and ... perhaps ... even the execution of an exotic dancer. And notice who's writing those stories -- not rookies, but guys like Pulitzer Prize-winner David Ashenfelter, Jim Schaefer and M.L. Elrick, and backed at the mother ship by a team of veteran editors who gave these reporters the time and the resources to bring this scandal out in the open. It's this kind of reporting that should make all of us scared to death of what happens if newspapers go away. Heck, even the state's attorney general did his best to clean up Kwame after the Manoogian l'affaire.

So what would happen if a similar scenario played out in Flint or one of its suburbs? With all of the veterans who know how to source a story bought/forced out a) it would probably never even come to light and b)if it did, the reporter would be slapped down and told to do his/her eight bad weather stories that are due for the week. ("It's cold and it snows a lot in the winter in Michigan -- news flash!")

Let's be very clear about this: The Internet isn't going to save the Flint Journal or any other newspaper. The Internet doesn't turn crap into compelling reading. But the Free Press' work shows that good content, leadership and a connection to the issues that are near and dear to readers at least has a shot at saving this industry.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the web should expand upon what is in the printed paper! But somedays there is not much to work from - a pool and spa inspection story on the Sunday front?? Subhead: ‘County facilities have generally clean records’. Doesn't that about sum it up, why read on -end of story, a nice picture of the Montrose pool, and what more can be said?

On web sites – the Free Press is now unreadable, the DetNews got better. The NY Times is a daily read, and NY Post is good. Both have organized CONTENT and a layout that feels like a newspaper.

Thanks for the blog, very insightful. It too is a daily read.

Jim of L-Town said...


Thanks for you comments. Glad you've found your way here.
Now that I've figured out how to post photos and images it should be prettier to look at too!
If I knew how I'd photoshop a picture of a newspaper front page striking an iceberg and going down like the Titanic.
Keep coming back....

Kevin McKague said...

Sometimes the newspapers refuse to perform investigative journalism if the alleged crime is committed by another newspaper.

In cases like this one, its then left to the bloggers to inform people about an alleged crime.