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Ouch.

March 17, 2009

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer goes online-only tomorrow, and not without a few items of note. My colleague Nick Weaver highlighted two points in particular from the article linked above:

“The operation [of 20 editorial staff — down from 150] won’t have specific reporters, editors or producers — all staff are expected to write, edit, take photos, shoot video and produce multimedia, according to a statement from Michelle Nicolosi, who will lead the site as executive producer.”

And:

“While [NYU journalism prof] Rosen said he doesn’t make predictions, he said that if a news operation has a limited staff, ‘the smart thing to do is not pretend that you have everything, but to link to the best that’s out there. If you are better at linking to everything that is important, then that is a basis for user loyalty.'”

Greeeeat. So, basically, journalists are being asked to produce more content with, likely, the same compensation. (Or less in some cases, I’m sure, because of the way retirement packages are taking a nosedive.)

Back in September, Isthmus news editor Bill Lueders gave a speech to Madison’s Downtown Rotary club lamenting the downfall of newspapers. While he does raise some good points, I think he misses the boat a bit: if the credibility of newspapers is based on telling great stories, why should that stop?

A lot of media organizations seem to suffer from the sort of GM mentality that says, “Yeah, we know the other companies do things better than we do, but it would take way too much time and money to do it in another way, so I guess you’ll have to bail us out so we can keep doin’ what we’re doin’.” I can kind of sympathize with that; few people want to change careers midlife, though many certainly face that prospect now. But if you’re a reporter, a shift online shouldn’t change the way you gather data and use your craft. Without this shift, you basically choose between death in a nursing home or at the gallows.

Unfortunately, the economic realities mean that media orgs are forced to skimp by doubling up on positions, and any time I spend wrestling with a camera instead of getting good clean soundbites or really taking the time to listen and figure out what’s going on means less time for me to craft a wicked sentence.

The credibility gap is the key point of this whole revolution. Let’s keep reading.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Squid permalink
    March 19, 2009 9:48 am

    I think Rosen’s got the right idea, and that aggregation is going to be the way forward. I believe we’re reaching a time when the act of editing will become much more important than the act of writing.

    In every town and field of interest, it seems that one can find an expert with a decent writing style. To me, it makes far more sense to try to cultivate a stable of these experts than it does to cultivate a stable of writers who, while they may know the style manual front to back, have only a rudimentary knowledge of many of the areas they cover.

    Certainly, a place will remain for good writers, if only because one cannot always count on having a well-placed insider who’s good with a keyboard. But from my point of view, I’d rather get my information from somebody who really knows what’s going on, even if their writing style isn’t as polished as it could be.

    What I’m really looking for is a trustworthy editor who gathers decent material from people in the know. When somebody appears who can save me the trouble of tracking down experts and insiders on my own, that savings of time and effort is worth actual dollars to me. And if I’m paying somebody to be my information broker, then he’ll never have to worry about Craigslist stealing his advertising revenue, because I’ll be paying for the service directly. And if that broker loses credibility with me, I’ll cast around for somebody more trustworthy.

    It’s going to be messy and ugly, but I’m kinda looking forward to the end result.

    • susannahbrooks permalink*
      March 19, 2009 10:06 am

      Agreed. I’ve always placed a higher premium on my editing skills than my writing skills; unfortunately, sometimes it seems like the only way to practice editing is to write, write, write!

      Speaking of Craigslist, I was struck by the editing/moderating phenomenon the other day when looking at apartment listings. Some nationwide company seems to post an ad in there every three days or so for a place that doesn’t exist (and charges you a buck just to log in to learn that fact). Seriously? No moderation at all? I understand the whole availability-for-everyone thing, but its utility definitely goes down.

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