Friday, October 30, 2009

The Future of the Newsroom

Adapt or face extinction? From E & P:

Ask Jeff Leen of The Washington Post about the state of investigative reporting at his paper and he'll tell you it's as strong as ever. Even after more than 100 news staffers — some of them Pulitzer-minted — took buyouts last year, Leen, the paper's assistant managing editor/investigations, says he still has the seven full-time reporters he's had for the last six years. "We may get squeezed a little bit here and there, but we still have our unit and the ability to pull people from other staffs," he says. "I think you will find that as things squeeze, people will see investigative reporting as the high ground. We have basically held the line."

Rex Smith, editor of the Times Union in Albany, N.Y., says his four-person investigative unit remains, even after his news staff was cut from 127 to 98 this year. He trimmed other things, including the features section Monday through Wednesday, along with television listings and a handful of reporting positions and geographic beats. "We decided that investigative reporting that touches the whole community is more important than what affects a small area," he adds, citing several recent projects including an Albany city parking ticket scandal that led to a state investigation.

"The No. 1 thing readers tell us they want is watchdog reporting," says Randy Lovely, editor of The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, which dropped from 400 news staffers to 325 in the past year but kept its 12-person First Amendment investigative team intact. "I will not cut it. You have to see where else you can nip and tuck."

For Lovely, that has meant fewer copy editors and some upper-management reductions: "The ratio of reporters to editors is higher than it used to be, which I don't love, but I had to do it."
Also described in the article is the collaborative rather than competitive relationship between newspapers and outside sources such as the non-profit ProPublica.

With cutbacks, closing doors, slumping stocks, and reports of intent to bury content behind nail-in-the-coffin online pay walls, reading this article paints a different picture of the future of investigative journalism.

A little creativity and coalition building can keep "watchdog" journalism alive and independent from the bleak future of print journalism. My guess is that those who weather the changing times well will be those who respond to it with new ideas and cooperation with other sources, not those who hope only to maintain the exclusivity of their newsrooms. Milking content for every available dollar may impress your accounting staff, but ignoring the "socialization" (someone organize a TEA party!) of media and dissolving barriers to access is a death sentence.

The commodity of information is evolving, and too many newspaper CEO's are clutching the "intelligent design" approach with a business plan of preordained entitlement. Information flow suffers with each disappearing newsroom (especially local), but something is always poised to fill that gap, as long as people crave news.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice article. The threatened extinction of the newspaper industry is one that has long bothered me. Like you I believe that survival is possible and that those who do survive will do so by changing their approach from one of broadcasting information to one of interaction and collaboration.