Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Why More Journalism Isn't Better For Journalism

"What we have here is....failure to communicate." Captain, Cool Hand Luke

Options, options, everywhere.

My blog RSS aggregator is getting embarassingly cluttered with new blogs I like - but many of them overlap to the point that I would consider dropping a few and keeping only the more comprehensive ones.

The New York Times and the Washington Post have an awful lot of new blogs, too...some covering each other.

Meanwhile, I've only got two eyeballs and 24 hours in a day. I can safely say I read more news than the average reader, but there's a limit to how much I can digest.

I can't read them all...so why do I read what I read?

That's the question newspaper publishers need to ask their readers - and themselves - when they hand down job cuts from above.

"If you lower the amount of money spent in the newsroom, then pretty soon the news product becomes so bad that you begin to lose money," said advertising professor Esther Thorson of the University of Missouri's journalism school.

It seems to me that, when the ranks of newsrooms are thinning, the editorial options are exploding. How can papers afford new blogs, new online video, new podcasts, etc. - things that do not directly replace elements from the traditional newspaper - when they have less staff than ever before?

Have they installed beds in the newsroom yet?

And does it matter? Is anyone even reading the new stuff? (Or paying for it, advertisers?)

A recent column by a friend of mine highlighted his newspaper's lack of an ombudsman. Given the paper's limited financial state, it's understandable. However, the paper struggles with quality because it doesn't have the cash to hire enough people. Everyone's outstretched and doing the job of two staffers - and the paper is often a veritable mess of typos and poor editorial choice the next day. Yet they've recently expanded their online presence quite a bit - and I know for a fact that there's no "online editor" at the paper.

In the long-term, how can this be a solution for a newsroom? How can a publisher or an owner expect the employed journalist to write, edit, record, or shoot even more?

Isn't it better to have five pages of solid, thorough writing than 15 of cliche-ridden copy?

When is the point where we remember what a publication's goal really is - inform instead of meet the deadline? I know deadlines are important and readers trust that a paper will be out at the same time each day - but I'm starting to lose trust in the quality of writing crammed in.

It's the same reason why I cut this blog back to twice-a-week posts from daily posts.

On one of the financial blogs I subscribe to, I read once that a better solution to earning wealth isn't cutting costs so much as raising revenue. That is, while it's important to track expenses, there's a boundary of quality of life that we shouldn't breach. If you keep cutting corners, you won't have any paper left.

Publishers should take heed. Some of my favorite newspapers are losing their cachet, and I really don't think it's because journalists are less talented. They're just outstretched.

And the jury's still out on whether all that extra work is bringing in more profit.


Trent said...

One problem for individual publishers online is that in order to make a blog (or collection of blogs) earn enough money for that individual to be able to devote adequate time to research, that person has to post quite a bit. You have to have a lot of pages and fresh content to attract readers, and without readers you're just shouting at empty air - and failing to make a living to boot.

The Editorialiste said...

@trent: You're absolutely right. Many publishers are still working the kinks out of the online business model, and it hasn't yet reached the point of profitability. Moreover, a blogger DOES have to post quite a bit - and I'd know - just to get material flowing (I applaud the fact that you think a blogger should research. You're in a minority of people who think bloggers don't have to just write haphazardly)

In that case, it might be appropriate for established publishers to hire teams of bloggers for new ventures, instead of repurposing their current writers. Though established writers can be trusted, the double-business model of paper and online can't last forever if one collective staff is overstretched between both. Something's gotta give - and I think it's quality.