That Was the Year I Knew the Panic Was Over

I keep reading things like this and thinking well, the problem is offices in another goddamn state making decisions about what the local papers need and should be doing:

In Cleveland, as elsewhere, there is a movement to replace some of the basic accountability function of the newspaper with a nonprofit investigative venture. But the venture in Cleveland is just getting organized and only a few of its counterparts in other cities have so far showed the ability to scale up to the size necessary to have a real impact. “Obviously we can’t fill the gap of a daily newspaper,” said Lori Ashyk, one of the Cleveland organizers. Cleveland also has an alt-weekly, and an outfit called MedCityNews covers the city’s burgeoning health sector. But it doesn’t yet have the kind of alternative online sources for daily schools or crime coverage that have been springing up in some larger cities, such as Philadelphia and Washington.

As I see it, part of the solution is going to have to come from outside these cities—from the national media capitals. Even as coverage has been withering in the provinces, it’s been expanding in the Acela Corridor, where the likes of Bloomberg, Reuters, Politico and the National Journal/Atlantic empire are vying to provide the most granular coverage of the Beltway and Wall Street. This coverage is surely nearing the saturation point, especially given how much of the real business and political action is happening out in Real America. Which means that the big Beltway players may start to realize that their competitive advantage will lie in doing a better job of covering Cleveland and Columbus and Lansing and Austin and Tallahassee and Chicago. Heck, they might even hire some of those laid off local reporters who know the lay of the land, and where the bodies are buried, and whether a governor’s claims about anti-union legislation hold up to scrutiny.

What will take its place? What ever has? Why do we think a hundred years is forever? Why do we think that just because for years there was one paper and that one paper shouldered all the responsibility that if that one paper disappears all is lost? I’m not saying what’s happening here isn’t devastating. It’s also not the end, because here’s the thing about people: They will get the word out any way they have to, while we sit around debating how they do it and OMG WHAT IT ALL MEANS.

I personally think the answer is a combination of nonprofit shops, independently owned papers, digital services, and maybe an expansion of TV coverage. But all of those things require investment, and they require investment from the (relatively) wealthy media stars who like to bitch all day long that nobody values the news anymore. I like Connie Schultz’s husband a whole lot, and she’s written some fine and funny things herself, but this comment from her makes me rage-y:

…The union kid in me has felt for some time that we had to learn how to become activists for journalism. We were so used to reporting the hell out of a story and then assuming everyone would value our hard work, our judgment, our take on things. Some of that was arrogance born of habit, to be sure, but there was a humility in that, too. Fewer hotshots, more team players, producing the kind of journalism that comes about when you don’t spend every day trying to prove that you’re the smartest person in every room. But we should have started promoting the brand years ago. Journalists — certainly Guild members at The Plain Dealer — were discouraged from doing so, but, honestly, we too often turned a withering eye to those who got special attention for their talents. Old story, that one. Newsrooms are tough places.

Well, if only you had been in a position to do something about it instead of lamenting it now. Maybe you were a little too busy complaining about college graduates with degrees and online comments and how nobody was really really real anymore like in the old days.


3 thoughts on “That Was the Year I Knew the Panic Was Over

  1. Before I get called on this, I realize the naive nature of my comment in speaking as if there was a great diversity in media/news ownership. But at least the news media pretends that they get their news from different sources (and not a mega-monopoly of AP and UPI) and are owned by different people.

  2. About the repurcussions of losing a paper – the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel will be (it’s rumored) sold shortly. I would rather it just burn down. As for the investigative shops, there’s one in town that did a bang up job on sand mining. Maybe 1 month later they did a piece on how many JOBS the mines provide. A much lower caliber piece. Yeah. I guess somebody threatening came along.

  3. I might question the word “nonprofit.”
    I’m thinking about the trend of newspapers (and the expectation of the internet) that there are a host of folks out there begging for the glory of writing content for you – for free (including lifting material verbatim without a citation or link). I am worried that this trend will combine with the word “nonprofit” in the newspaper owners head to mean “no pay needed.”
    I can see a lot of good ideas in having a single investigative source serving all the media. That way, for example, you could get a small group of reporters with expertise in a given area (as opposed to a pool of reporters with various reporters who are seemingly assigned to stories at random without having a background in the area in question). You could also possibly get a greater number of resources into investigating that area (as you’re pooling the funds that would have been spent by several media outlets). You could get an access that a small local outlet couldn’t afford (can a small town paper afford to send a couple of reporters for a few months to cover Washington DC in depth?).
    I’m concerned on a couple of items. At least logically, the rivalry of having several different reporters from different media leads to an issue being looked at from several different angles and also taking a more thorough look. It also makes it harder to compromise the reporting as the reporting from one source will be compared with what the other outlet is saying.

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