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Archive for March, 2009

How many stories in the print edition?

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Jay Rosen is collecting story counts of local newspaper’s print editions. I grabbed the past week’s Journal & Courier’s (March 24-30) and am posting my findings here. I counted 143 total local stories, for an average number of 20.4 local stories per day over the past seven days.

Overall, I have to admit the number was lower than I expected. I’m not saying it’s bad low, just less than I would have guessed. I was surprised also by the proportion of local to wire content, but as I note at the very end, my standard for counting wire was lower than for counting local stories. Still, my perception I think is skewed because the only section I read cover-to-cover daily is local, which usually had one or two wire stories at most. Really, glancing through the comments on Jay’s post, I’d say our team is doing a pretty good job. Maybe it just seems since we’re always working so hard, it should be more. But that probably has more to do with what isn’t counted in the print edition — all our blog posts and web updates, photo galleries and videos, for example. Also, the qualitative measure doesn’t scratch the surface of quality of stories. But that’s another day’s discussion.

The Local news section, which has the most reporters and includes myself, produced about as many as I’d expect but the number definitely ranged greatly daily — depending on space in print. There were more sports stories than I expected, but that may have something to do with it being March madness; both Purdue men and women were competing. There were fewer local features stories than I expected. That’s probably because I rarely read our features pages, or maybe that’s why I rarely do? I do not know.

Another factor affecting the numbers may be some people were off a day here and there for furlough. I myself was out a day and a half with the flu. It would be interesting to compare this to a week without furloughs. But that would require going back to like December or fast-forwarding to at least July, so it’d be hard to really compare.

Hometown: Lafayette, Indiana
The name of your newspaper: Journal & Courier
The url for its website: http://jconline.com
Circulation: about 33,000 daily and 40,000 Sunday

Tuesday, March 24

Number of pages: 28
Number of local, biz, features: 13+2+2 = 17
Number of local sports: 5
Total number of wire stories: 31
Total stories in the paper: 53 (local 41.5%)

Wednesday, March 25

Number of pages: 24
Number of local, biz, features: 12+3+1 = 16
Number of local sports: 7
Total number of wire stories: 25
Total stories in the paper: 48 (local 47.9%)

Thursday, March 26

Number of pages: 28
Number of local, biz, features: 12+2+3=17
Number of local sports: 6
Total number of wire stories: 25
Total stories in the paper: 48 (local 47.9%)

Friday, March 27

Number of pages: 20*
Number of local, biz, features: 10+1+?=11*
Number of local sports: 3
Total number of wire stories: 21*
Total stories in the paper: 35 (local 40%)*
* not counted: TGIF tab

Saturday, March 28

Number of pages: 24
Number of local, biz, features: 11+2+2=15
Number of local sports: 8
Total number of wire stories: 26
Total stories in the paper: 49 (local 46.9%)

Sunday, March 29

Number of pages: 40
Number of local, biz, features: 15+1+4=20
Number of local sports: 5
Total number of wire stories: 35
Total stories in the paper: 60 (local 41.7%)

Monday, March 30

Number of pages: 14
Number of local, biz, features: 7+0+3=10
Number of local sports: 3
Total number of wire stories: 25
Total stories in the paper: 38 (local 34.2%)

I know this was a bit more than Jay actually wanted, but I was curious. I’d be curious to see how it stacks up to another paper of similar circulation.

To understand who was writing this copy, here is the number of reporters in the newsroom.

Local desk: 1 communities/religion, 1 business, 1 county government, 1 city government, 1 k-12 education, 1 higher education, 1 courts and 2 ga/cops.
Features: 1 features/health and 1 arts/entertainment.
Sports: 5 reporters, but some with desk duties.
Total: 16 reporters.

Final thoughts to consider in weighing the numbers and their relevance:

  • Our paper is a Berliner format. At most we run three-story fronts. Quite often, we run A1 with just two stories and other refers. This also means, our paper has less actual column space than many. We have four sections most days, including a local front, nation & world, opinions; local; sports/biz; and features that vary by day. On Mondays, we have two sections.

  • I did not count ANY opinions page copy, including local editorials, letters, guest columns or columns by editors.
  • I did count local freelance columns/stories in the other sections. There were few of these during the week.
  • I did not count briefs, even those based on meetings/events/games/trials/etc. actually attended by a reporter. Likewise, the sports agate; business, schools and communities notebooks; and things to do calendars were not counted. Some of each of those items are from releases and others from original reporting.
  • I counted all wire stories that were distinctly set apart, not packaged as briefs even though some were short enough to be briefs.
  • I did not count stand alone photos.
  • I counted stories packaged together as separate stories if they carried distinct bylines on each.
  • I counted bylines, taglines and “staff reports” all as one story, even though in our actual byline counts they aren’t counted equal. This means a short charticle counted the same as our Sunday A1 package. I also counted staff & wire reports as one.
  • Not counted are obituaries and our weekly “records” pages with police blotter, meetings list, marriage licenses/dissolution, restaurant inspections, property sales, home permits, etc. Those items don’t carry bylines but do require reporters to actually go out and collect the records and then input them.
  • I did not have a copy of our Friday entertainment tab at home. So I didn’t count the entertainment stories that day.
  • I also didn’t count inserts/classifieds/etc. in the page count. Those are strictly news pages.

Who will push for public records?

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

A man called the newsroom today to ask how he could keep his recent home sale out of the newspaper.

I told him we don’t exempt things from the records page. There are lots of people who wouldn’t want to be in the blotter or have their divorce or foreclosures reported.

His argument was, “It’s no one’s business.”

To which I replied, “Obviously, the government feels differently. That’s why they made it a public record.”

I explained that anyone — me, his neighbor, his best friend — could go get a copy of the information anyway.

“I know,” he said, “but if they really want to know, they should have to do the leg work.”

I explained his logic to him in other terms: “So, if someone wants to know what’s happening in City Council, they should have to attend the meeting right?”

He thought about it, thanked me for my time and went about his life.

The man wasn’t crazy or obnoxious about it. Someone in the assessor’s office told him who compiles the home sales for the J&C. (I picked up that editor’s line because he was off today.) The man said he didn’t want to hurt neighbors feelings by the price it sold for. I don’t have strong feelings about the journalistic value of publishing home sales. Except that for some reason people are nosy and love that stuff, so we print it. News is what people want to know, right?

My responses to his pleading was what surprised me. Normally, I wouldn’t be that forthcoming. It probably was I waiting on the state superintendent to arrive, so I really just wanted to get off the phone. But maybe it’s that I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what a world without journalists would look like.

I didn’t go into detail with him, but when I said the line about the city council, I was thinking, sarcastically, “So obviously nobody in this city actually cares about what’s happening.” That obviously isn’t true. Therein lies the importance of what we do that so many people take for granted.

This man wanted us not to print the information for the exact reason we publish a newspaper. We aim to get out, in a way that’s easy to access and digest, the information most people don’t know is available, wouldn’t know where to begin finding or would never have or take the time to pursue. You can argue about reporter’s biases and agenda, but one of the important roles we serve is as an impartial observer and chronicler. Our first draft of history, in most cases, is the only version that ever gets written. I have absolutely no stake in whether the price of that caller’s home gets printed or not. I do not care. But I do care that the record we publish is complete. He wanted it to be hard to access because he knows nobody will bother taking the time. Nobody except the newspaper that has decided publishing these public records is important. If journalists are not there to push for not only that but more important records, who will?

The readers care about the journalism too

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

I don’t normally read the story chat segments of stories, except on my own articles. Even on those I always jump in with some trepidation about what blasphemy readers will say I’ve committed today. Even if I reported my heart out, seems someone will always find or make up some fault. Mostly, I can’t get past the obnoxious, holier-than-thou and sometimes down right ignorant comments too many people post. I’ve gotten past the point where, except in extreme cases of stupidity, it riles me.

Tonight, I happened to scan down into the comment sections on a few stories and it actually made me hopeful. There are people out there, our readers and our community members, who do believe in what we do. Who do understand why it matters that places like Denver (and to be fair nearly every other city, though not quite at the same level of drop-off as closing a Pultizer-winning newspaper) have fewer reporters covering the streets today than a decade ago.

Too often, I guess, I feel like the debate about this business feels as if its taking place in a silo. It’s probably the people I listen to and the publications I read, but I feel often like we’re debating something without asking the most important people — the readers — what they think. While we’re out there busting our butts, reporting our hearts out and teaching ourselves new media skills to stay relevant and reach more people, it feels like no one really appreciates what we do, except us. You hear people say, let the dinosaurs die. But, and I’m saying this as a 23-year-old journalist with my feet in both the print and moreso the digital world, to be honest, I haven’t yet seen a better model of covering a community than the feet-on-the-street beat reporters community papers have canvassing their region. Perfect? Absolutely not. But worth continuing? I think so. Whether the work gets printed on dead trees or coded in bits and bytes, the cadre of newspaper reporters do a better job than other models I’ve yet seen (real or hypothesized) to make sure what matters gets published. When there are fewer ears listening and eyes watching what happens, that affects people. I don’t think newspapers, not as we know them today, will be here forever. But I’ve got to hope the work we do will endure.

I’m going to re-post two comments on the Sunday column from the executive editor of my paper. This week Julie wrote about how newspapers still supply much of the original reporting that matters, instead of spouting undocumented claims or fixating on the latest missing child/homicide/natural disaster du jour as some media are prone to do. She writes:

I had early hopes that the Internet would provide new and expanded ways for accountability and watchdog journalism. But it’s been disappointing to see how little original reporting is actually done by Web-only enterprises. For the most part, it’s newspapers and their Web sites that are providing the databases and online reporting that have taken public-service reporting from print to cyberspace. That’s because solid reporting takes a lot more resources and commitment than most people realize.

Public-service journalism isn’t the kind of news that attracts a Geraldo, but as media continue to evolve in varying forms, the public will need to decide what kind of news they and the country wants and needs.

Two readers posted encouraging comments on her column today:

JoeKr wrote:
Newspaper journalists seem to be the only ones who have the training and experience to do in-depth investigative work. This is essential in any free society. Furthermore, only print journalism can provide side-by-side opposing views in depth. Talk shows can provide two, three, or four talking heads, but there is little discipline to what is said and exchanged–just as was noted in the previous post. (and often the talking heads talk over each other or passed each other–with only frustration for the listeners or viewers.)

luvlafayettein wrote:
It is too bad that so many newspapers are struggling and closing. I’ve always loved print media. The discipline of objective news gathering and reporting, a “free press,” is essential to maintaining a free America, and this must continue at the local level. (“All politics is local as they say.”) News organizations that can develop distribution methods that consumers want, in a manner that is economically sustainable, will survive. Print is becoming less sustainable–both economically and environmentally. It seems necessary to figure out how other electronic distribution methods can generate enough revenue to cover costs and generate a profit. An awesome task … and I wish you well as you evolve in this time of seismic change in media.

The Indianapolis Star had a nice piece today that is exactly the type of watch dog journalism newspapers are so good at, but that requires tremendous resources to pull off. They looked at the striking amount of nepotism in township governments in Indiana. They also tied it into an interesting database about township spending. This is important because the state legislature this session has been hammering on the excesses of township and county government.

So there were a few comments on the Star’s story I also wanted to highlight:

Dave72 wrote:
This is excellent journalism; nice job Star!! This is an example of why we need to support the Star with our subscription dollars.

My request now is that the Star point its floodlights at the CIB. The amount of money the Pacers are requesting is far greater. And we simply haven’t heard anything lately about what is going on with negotiations. Even if the Star’s editorial board supports giving more subsidies to the Pacers (if for no other reason than to sell its papers), its owes it to the citizens of this city to report on this story.

Digging even deeper, I hope someone, either at the Star or in acedemia takes on the City’s amateur sports strategy going back to the early 80s.

The strategy has clearly failed us in many ways, and now its architects — Swarbrick, Glass, etc. — are skipping town as the city burns. It paid off handsomely for these music-men. But they need to be publicly shamed in the same way these township trustees are being shamed.

I liked that comment, for one, because it recognized the amount of research that went into this and encouraged people to support the endeavor. Then, it tossed out a story pitch worth looking into. (These types of story ideas are one of the reasons I do bring myself to read story comments.)

Anyway, here’s the final story chat I’ll highlight. What I’ve found, in reading the obnoxious comments I loathe, is often the community polices itself. The others who comment are perceptive and realize when a comment is out of line or just stupid. And sometimes, like this one, they say the things we would say if we could jump in and say it ourselves:

evilwoman wrote:

Replying to IndianaJane:
The Indystar has the slowest website on the net. If I didn’t have high speed cable I would be able to read any of it – some pages don’t even load. Now, they’ve added advertisements to make it even slower.

“Now, they’ve added advertisements to make it even slower”

Are you friggin’ serious?!?!?

Wow – the world must be a strange and confusing place for you…

How the HELL do you think this, or any other website generates revenue??? Do you think there is some magical pot of gold at the end of a rainbow that deposits money to the website’s owner when someone views it???

Everyday I am just amazed at the utter stupidity of people on this planet. How do they even get through the day????

Ok, so maybe that was unnecessarily sarcastic. But it made the point. (For the record, I’m pretty sure the J&C’s site loads slower than the Star’s. Both have been blessed with a different version of the Gannett overloaded Web site stick. I know I shouldn’t, but I’m just saying.)

I guess this silo isn’t such a silo anymore. Not when you have major TV news outlets reporting on their evening newscasts about dropping newspaper stock prices and the Rocky Mountain News shuttering. And when magazines like The New Republic and national newspapers like The New York Times are throwing this out there for everyone to digest. Even our own business page prints the corporate quarterly results and announces our cuts and cutbacks so everyone in the community, at least those who read the newspaper, will ask about it the next time they see you.

I went to a school board meeting last week in a town I cover only as often as there’s something of note. Before it started, I was talking to a few of the regular attendees, whom I’ve met before and even talked to over coffee at McDonald’s after filing on deadline. One of them asked about my job security because he’s read about the furloughs, layoffs, etc. I said, honestly, I felt OK. He crossed his fingers, as if to indicate, “good luck with that.” I laughed. I don’t want sympathy. I want people, like that man, to support what we do. I want people to know that it matters what we cover and would matter more if we stopped. I need a solution that will ensure this type of work, the public service we perform, does continue. But until then, I’m encouraged that people do care.