Last night I was watching some local TV news with the Missus, something we swear we only do to see the weather report, and came across a story that was the “top investigative piece.” Turns out that Boy Scouts across the country have been taking land that was donated to them and either selling it to developers or allowing for companies to clear cut forests on it. Sounded like a great story and I couldn’t believe it was on TV. Sounded like something a newspaper would have done.
Turns out five Hearst newspapers poured weeks of time into this story, pulling from documents, developers, scout leaders and more to get this piece. TV news managed to boil it down to succinct minute-thirty. (BTW, when you read something that says a group of newspapers did something “in conjunction with” its TV station partners, that’s convergence parlance for “We did the work and they’re airing it.”)
If newspapers are to survive, they need to domore stuff like this. This two-part series (only TWO ARTICLES) took months of stakeouts, door banging, document surfing and dogged reporting. However, what they found was enough to make you want to throw up: people were bilking the system out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by taking care of each other’s kids.
The response has been immediateby the legislature, which of course means nothing will get done for a while. It’s obviously self-preservation by politicians who pretty much knew this was going on but didn’t say anything until someone shined a light into the corner where the rats and roaches were quietly munching away. Still, it’s at least SOMETHING of a response.
If TV is to survive, they’re going to have to pray to hell that newspapers do. The term “rip and read” doesn’t mean pulling wire in most newsrooms. It means, “Hey what did the newspaper folks do today that we can put with some video?” To that end, stories like the child care scam aren’t likely to keep the TV people floating, but they will help the paper stay alive long enough to produce some more of those great rip-and-read jobbies.
It’s sad when we can point to something like the child-care stories or the Boy Scouts thing as something really great. It’s like when we all kept saying “Hey, Bush didn’t bomb something today! He’s really growing as a leader!” All newspapers should be doing more of this kind of thing.