Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dead Trees, Deadlines, Dead News

It may not be apparent to casual observers of newspapers -- that is, people over 60 – but journalism as we knew it is deader than a Janis Joplin/Jim Morrison tour.

Sure, technology changes and the economy changes, but until mega-corporations realized that even mediocre newspapers made tons of money, local publishers didn’t have to worry about the size of their profit. Newspapers withstood radio, movies and television, but they are crumbling in size, scope and spirit under the onslaught of the Internet.

Even the chairman of the venerable Washington Post admitted last what the New York Times published slapped in his face several months ago: The Post, which owns and reaps immense profits from Kaplan, is now an education company that prints a newspaper.

I was struck today, enough to dash off a comment to the blog of a San Diego Union-Tribune columnist, by her braggadocio about papers all over the country contacting the U-T about its – ta da! – “Breaking News Team” and wondering how to duplicate this corps of reporters and editors that actually covers and writes the news “now” for the Web site.

Through its speedy postings, the team competes directly with TV, Baker said. “But we get it right, we don't run stuff that's not confirmed yet, and we don't sensationalize it.”

To capture video and sound as well as words and ideas, these reporters tote laptop computers, cell phones, phone cards and sometimes videocameras, microphones, tripods, cords and headsets. They've filed many a story from Starbucks or their cars.

Although the team's stories do get posted faster than anything can get into print on paper, there's been little friction, and staff members seem to understand the need to get the news out there quickly.

Sweetheart? Don’t get me rewrite. Get me a spoon to gag on. What you have described in all of your preening self-promotion is exactly what wire services have always done and continue to do. Without real news compiled and edited by people who know what they are doing, there would be no fodder for the supposed news filed by the nanosecond by drooling bloggers.

The fact that your reporters now use TV cameras and headsets simply means that your paper is paying them less salary and requiring them to do the work of three people. Something that mega-corporations of course want to copy.

Not only do newspapers overwork their staff, they and local TV stations take "community news" from "community reporters," that is, free labor untrained in professional standards. Pretty much like the immigrants who hang out in parking lots in suburban America looking for day jobs in construction.

Here is the real kicker, though, as reported by the New York Times:

Last Friday, the city of Chicago agreed to pay out $20 million to settle lawsuits filed by four former death-row inmates who said they had been tortured by police officers and subsequently wrongly convicted. The four men were among dozens of black men who said they were tortured, beaten with phone books and suffocated with plastic typewriter covers while in police custody in the 1970s and 1980s, according to special prosecutors.

The stories of three of those four men, who were pardoned by former Gov. George Ryan in 2003, were first told by John Conroy, a veteran reporter for The Chicago Reader, an alternative weekly. On Friday, Mr. Conroy received a note from Jo Ann Patterson, whose son had been nearly suffocated in police custody in the process of obtaining a confession that proved to be false.

“My son, Aaron Patterson, tortured by the Chicago Police Department, would not be alive today, I believe, without your articles about police torture in the City of Chicago. You documented and wrote the realization of police torture, of which we will never forget. You help save my son’s life for which I thank you.”

Mr. Conroy was busy dealing with a flurry of e-mail messages that day because on Thursday, he had been laid off.

Read the rest here.

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