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Journalists are JOURNALISTS

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by fishwrapper, Apr 1, 2007.

  1. fishwrapper

    fishwrapper Active Member

    I wanted to share this with the lot of you. If it is a d_b, I apologize:
    It is important. Take 5 minutes and read it. I'm not sure how this could more plainly stated.

    Speech by Dave Zeeck, executive editor of the News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington, and president of American Society of Newspaper Editors. Full version is available on Romenesko.

    Let’s look at three strengths that we still possess, strengths we can carry forward as we invent a new digital journalism.

    One, our dominance in every local market – in print and online -- means we’re still the source of most news in this country. We’ll keep that dominance for a long time. We have the advantage, as Tom Rosenstiel says, of more boots on the ground. Those boots give us the advantage of covering important news that no one else covers, and of presenting a high barrier to market entry for any competitor.

    I’m told the blogosphere is going to eat our lunch. Well, the blogosphere, for the most part, spends its infinitely expanding gas talking about what we – newspapers – write, not what some blogger reported. If newspapers disappeared tomorrow it would be like pulling the fuel rods from a nuclear reactor: the lights would go out and the blogosphere wouldn’t produce a single BTU of intellectual heat.

    It’s the same with the Internet in general. When someone tells me they get their news from the Internet, I want to say: “Oh yeah? So, tell me again, how many reporters does Yahoo have at City Hall? How many correspondents from Google are risking their lives in Iraq?

    People working for dot.coms go to jail for stock fraud or backdating options, not for disclosing important truths and protecting their confidential source?

    News on the Internet – news from real communities, new about real governments and real wars – comes from flesh-and-blood reporters. And they’re dispatched from our newsrooms, not the soulless zero-gravity of the Internet.

    Another newspaper strength we must carry into the future is our investigative and enterprise reporting. I prefer Len Downie and Bob Kaiser’s phrase – accountability reporting -- because it recalls our constitutional mandate to hold the powerful to account. Whatever you call it, newspapers are still the source of almost all serious accountability reporting in the nation.

    I judged the investigative categories of both the Pulitzers and the ASNE writing awards this year. I feared that, with all the cost pressures on American newsrooms, I would see a visible decline in the number of entries or in the depth and quality of the work that was entered.

    Not so. The Pulitzers had 79 entries in the investigative category in 2005. The number climbed to 99 in 2006, and dropped to 67 this year. But there were another 150 entries this year in a new category, local reporting, many of which also were investigative. Investigative entries also held steady in the ASNE writing awards. Entries in the local investigations category numbered 117 last year, 106 this year.

    Not only have the numbers stayed strong, the quality and depth of the work was truly inspiring. From Belleville to Baltimore, Biloxi to Boston, Seattle to St. Pete – it was inventive, important, well-sourced and original.

    And it’s the investigative work of newspaper newsrooms that forces change in our communities and moves the national agenda – think NSA eavesdropping, think secret prisons, think Walter Reed hospital.

    ASNE is doing its part to keep investigative reporting alive. We and IRE just won another grant to keep our Better Watchdog Workshops going for a third year; I saw the fruits of that work at the ASNE and Pulitzer judging. As editors we can do our part by keeping strong investigative reporting a central part of our newsroom mission.

    The third strength of newspapers – and the most important – is you, the editors in this room.
    Maybe some of you are here by mistake, but my guess is that most of you got your jobs and keep them because you chose to lead, and you’re good at it.

  2. fishwrapper

    fishwrapper Active Member


    You already know this about yourselves, and your staffs know it. It’s your passion and your skills that – working with the people you’ve chosen -- make the first two strengths come alive in your newsrooms. A passion for local news, a commitment to ground-breaking investigative reporting – that’s what makes newspapers such difficult competitors for others to equal, much less conquer.

    But while we and our newsrooms know the power brought to the enterprise through your passion, values and skill, in too many cases readers don’t.

    It’s not that readers don’t already have a bond with your newspaper. They do. But that connection is primarily indirect, a byproduct of coverage that’s a mixture of affection for the community and a willingness to tell the truth, even when it hurts.

    But your community yearns for a personal connection with your newsroom – one with a real human being at the heart of things. The simplest way to create that connection is by writing a weekly column in your newspaper.

    I resisted writing such a column for years. Who has the time? Where -- among all the meetings, the line editing, the crisis triage that is an editor’s life – where is there room to write a weekly column? We already have enough columnists, I told myself; we don’t need one more.

    I was wrong.
    For nearly a decade I’ve written a weekly column at The News Tribune. I write about our successes, our mistakes and our failures. I explain why we had to fire a popular reporter for making up quotes. I tried to explain – though no excuse is sufficient – how we printed the newspaper one day without a crossword puzzle.

    I now believe the column is the most important task I perform at the newspaper. It gives the newsroom a face and a voice. It’s a place where readers can connect to at least one human being who talks about nothing but journalism.

    I hear it over and over from readers: “I feel like for the first time I’m beginning to understand why journalists do what they do.” It makes us appear human, and -- sometimes -- reasonable. It lets them know we are not a heartless printing press looking “to sell papers.”

    For a generation, or more, we’ve let others define us. Spiro Agnew comes to mind. Rush Limbaugh and the rest of talk radio, both right and left. Bloggers who assail us as the MSM, the mainstream media, as if that’s a badge that should shame us. You know what they say: We’re the liberal media. We’re elitists. We’re only interested in bad news. We tear people down just to sell papers. We have a political agenda. We’re unpatriotic.

    How can I put this delicately? If you’ll pardon a literary aside, I’ll just mention the subject of a recent bestseller: “Bullshit.”

    We may know that such criticism is untrue. But what’s our public response? Mostly silence. We’re uncomfortable being advocates for ourselves. We think our work will speak for itself. We want to maintain our objectivity.

    Well, here’s a news flash, my friends: We’re losing our case in the court of public opinion. The gasbags are winning and we’re sitting on the sidelines.

    So here’s what I propose. Quit making excuses and vow to write a letter from your newsroom to your readers once a week. Then publish it in the paper. Argue your case. Admit your flaws. Tell them what you believe. Explain the difference between the journalism of assertion and the journalism of verification.

    Here’s what I tell my readers: I tell them I don’t believe that pure objectivity is possible. I tell them I do believe in fairness, in the journalism of verification, and in bringing intellectual honesty to our coverage.

    But I also tell them we’re not objective about two things: open government and the First Amendment. We can report fairly and with intellectual honesty about both. But threats to either are likely to end up on Page 1. If we’re going to be a crusading paper, it will be for those two values.

    I believe journalism is important. I don’t think free people or free societies can exist without a free press. I believe that’s what journalism is for. For that reason, my newspaper will fight for open government and the First Amendment.

    I also believe that if we produce journalism worthy of that First Amendment, and if we hold to our principles, if we cover our communities with affection but tell the truth, we can survive this crisis as we’ve survived so many others.

    The challenges we face are great. But the talents, the standards and the creativity of the people in our newsrooms – and of America’s editors – can surmount any challenge.
  3. daemon

    daemon Well-Known Member

    This is why newspapers are dying. Not because we aren't writing a weekly column to our readers. Don't get me wrong: I think we do need to reach out to our communities more. But it's not good enough to sit back and say, "Yeah, well, we're the ones who are producing the information." We have to find a way to PROFIT from that information.
  4. Babs

    Babs Member

    I have a big problem with this us vs. them mentality because it doesn't fit reality. There are lots of in-betweens. Anyone depicting the current landscape as black and white doesn't understand what they are looking at.
  5. fishwrapper

    fishwrapper Active Member

    I agree. It's a valid point.
    (One must consider the audience he was speaking to, also.)
    But, his points about the process of actually gathering news are unquestionable.
  6. sartrean

    sartrean Member

    Dave Zeeck is correct on so many points, but he ignores what I find to be obvious facts with today's readership:

    Most people don't have time to read a newspaper,

    When they do, most people read lifestyles, sports or op-eds,

    When they do read newspapers, they do so online for free (most people, not all),

    Most people who subscribe and read newspapers are older than 45,

    Most people who take interest in investigative journalism (outside of the journalism world) do so because their boss, their employees or they themselves are the object of the investigative pieces.

    People want their worldviews reinforced, and newspaper content has too much reality in it to do that. Why do you all think the blogosphere is so popular? Well at least we know they aren't making any money either.

    Like others have said, how do we profit off of what we do. There has been a paradigm shift in this industry and only now are the big poo-bah journalists waking up and smelling the coffee. The facts remain, however, and that is that most ordinary jerk offs on the street don't care about what we do.
  7. KnuteRockne

    KnuteRockne Member

    You could not be more wrong.

    A1 is by far the most read section of the paper.

    Try again. With some actual data, not just stuff you pull out of your ass to reinforce the point you're trying to make.
  8. Gold

    Gold Active Member

    I think what this person said is absolutely correct if, if the newspapers are doing a good job in their community. If there are the "boots on the ground", he is absolutely correct.

    However.... in more and more places, the attitude is to see how few people you can have to do the job. It probably isn't noticed at first, but it does get to a point where it is noticable. A section which had four writers now has three... or two. Run more wire copy and take more stuff over the phone. The presence talked about soon begins to disappear.

    There are more and more ownership groups which are losing the connection.
  9. amraeder

    amraeder Well-Known Member

    Very well said. Couldn't put it better myself.

    As far as bloggers go, I don't really like how he's brushing them off. The argument is basically, "Well bloggers don't report." which for the most part is dead on. But if they did...
    Blogs have some natural advantages over newspapers, mainly the lack of an inch count and a better ability to use multimedia technology.
    The lack of an inch count lets you not only tell a gamer story, but lets you provide as much in depth analysis as you want, something readers like. If I covered a football game, that day I might write the gamer, and I might be able to follow up the next day with a story on the struggles of the offensive line. If I have a blog, I can give you analysis of just about every position to go with the gamer, along with a coaching breakdown, and links to videos I uploaded on youtube to prove my point. If it's done well, that honestly is better than what most places are giving their readers right now. Maybe this isn't happening a lot out there right now, but who's to say it won't tomorrow.
    That said, any reporter should be able to do the same thing, if the paper gives him the time and the backing to do so.

    Or, maybe I'm wrong. Management doesn't know the meaning of the word blog at my paper, and we're always horribly understaffed, so maybe reporters out there are doing what I've said, and I just don't see it at my place. But that's the view from where I'm sitting.
  10. Elliotte Friedman

    Elliotte Friedman Moderator Staff Member

    Here's what I wonder....

    Could newspapers make money by charging for their links?
  11. JayFarrar

    JayFarrar Well-Known Member

    Probably, but most bloggers are so terrified of having to pay for content that anything that might make money for the paper will be fought.
    What newspapers have to realize that ads are content as well, and plenty of people buy the paper for the ads. I'd even argue most people buy the paper for the ads, if you include the Sunday coupons.
    Someone made the argument awhile back that said a daily paper was the perfect invention for the technology age. The paper is portable, doesn't rely on batteries, or need to plug in. The paper is cheap, and it if gets lost or wet, it can be tossed. The paper is general interest enough for a wide-range in population and if you use everything in it, the paper will make you money and make you smarter.
    The paper is also interactive where you can writer letters to the editor and if you really want to, you can even contribute to the paper's production as a freelancer
    What other product does all those things?
    BTW, Sartrean's earlier post was the very definition of truthiness. Take some things that sound possibly true, state them as absolute fact and then use those "facts" to make your point.
  12. mc79hockey

    mc79hockey New Member

    I can't imagine how that would work - the problem that the media faces is that a lot of the content that they might want to charge for - news say - someone else is giving away for free. If CBC starts to charge me for a link to a story, I'll get it from TSN. News is just information.

    I would guess that you'll next say that they could do it with columns, things that contain opinion. The problem with that is that the traditional media will have a very difficult time competing with blogs when it comes to opinion because blogs have opened up a means of communication for people with expertise in certain fields who don't want to be professional journalists, or even just people who are smart. It'd be a slippery slope for newspapers to try and find a way to start charging for things because the media as a whole benefits from this stuff because they can (and do) lift the ideas of the better ones, particularly when those ideas are based on some sort of technical expertise that media personnel may be lacking.

    I can't say for certain but I'm reasonably convinced that someone at HNIC keeps, at the very least, a loose eye on some of the hockey blogs - if not, I've noted two unbelievable coincidences in the past year. One from my own site that involved Brian Burke getting asked if the Flames new bar was a way to generate revenue that wasn't counted as hockey related revenue for the purposes of the CBA. It's possible that someone at HNIC saw the same obscure story that I saw and immediately thought of the HRR definition, but to be honest, it seems pretty unlikely. Similarly, there was a post on one of the more popular general NHL blogs shortly after Ryan Smyth got traded advancing the argument that the salary cap placed the Oilers at a serious disadvantage that was parroted on CBC a few days later. I "know" the author of that site, he's an actuary or something like that. I've got degrees in law and commerce. That's a background that few people working in media have and, to my eye, it's beneficial to media people to have people like myself and the other person mentioned cranking out opinion - at the very least, it provides angles that maybe aren't readily apparent to someone with a journalism background that they can then check out.

    I've been lurking here for a while, out of curiousity, just to see what people who are on the other side of the divide from me are saying. As alluded to, I write a reasonably successful hockey blog focused in large part on the Edmonton Oilers. I found the original post above about the importance of newspapers interesting. Personally, I think that newspapers are probably ultimately screwed, for a lot of the reasons in this thread. The news cycle now is 24 hours - I don't need to see the story in tomorrow's paper about how the Oilers did last night, I can read it on TSN after the game. I don't need to hear the few quotes that make it into the paper, I can listen to Craig MacTavish talk for six minutes in a clip on the Oilers website. I can watch press conferences about major news online. It's getting harder and harder for me to see where newspapers can add value, outside of things that involve doing some actual investigative reporting, like some recent stories in Canadian media about NHL finances. Unfortunately, too many times the guy reporting it lacks the background to really understand why it's happening and why it's important.
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