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Archive for March 1st, 2009

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.