Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

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Whose Fault?

with 5 comments

In response to Maureen Dowd’s Nov. 29 column about a Pasadena newspaper outsourcing its reporting and writing to India (a link which my computer-server-testing boyfriend sent me with, I think, some glee), someone has written a letter to the editor basically saying today’s reporters reap what they sow:

Unfortunately, many news organizations, particularly small papers, now publish what is little more than a regurgitation of press releases, public statements and items off the national news wires. It is work that anybody with an Internet connection could do equally well. Little wonder, then, that this work is being outsourced!

Those who long ago abandoned real reporting are now discovering that what they produce has very little value.

What about those who were never given the chance to do “real reporting?”

I got my first reporting job in 2005, at a small daily business paper. With only four reporters and two stories to write daily, we never left the office, doing things entirely via faxed press releases, emails and phone calls. Every now and then we got to leave to go to a press conference at the state capital or courthouse up the street, but this was frowned upon (“Can’t you just call and see if you can get a quote or a summary beforehand?”) because then we probably wouldn’t be back ’til 1 p.m. and completed stories were supposed to be to layout by then.

When I started at my current job, I met one 70-year-old lady who would often lament to me about the decline of “real reporters,” the kind who went out there and met with people face to face and saw things first hand and all that. “You can’t become a good reporter just talking to people on the phone or sending out emails,” she would say. “I remember when I used to fly all around the country to get the story; if something was happening in Iowa, I would be going to Iowa.”

The irony? This was one of my editors. You know, the one assigning me stories? The one with the power to afford me the kind of experience she was sure today’s young scribes were woefully lacking? And forget Iowa; if something was happening down the street, she wouldn’t send me out to cover it. So accuse me of impertinence if you will, folks, but I’m more inclined to say that the journalistic system has failed today’s young reporters than the other way around.


Written by Elizabeth

December 5, 2008 at 1:05 pm

5 Responses

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  1. My first journalism job was also at a small paper and I had to produce ten stories a week (so, on average, two a day). Probably most of them were nothing stories of the kind you describe. But I balanced those with real reporting. This was in the ’90s (not TOO long) ago, at a paper with TWO reporters. Also, I’m sorry, but it’s a little tough for me to take a journalistic lament seriously when the headline misspells the word “whose.”


    December 7, 2008 at 3:35 pm

  2. Shouldn’t the title of this piece be “Whose Fault”?


    December 7, 2008 at 3:40 pm

  3. Martin – indeed. oops. thanks.


    December 7, 2008 at 5:59 pm

  4. […] journalism present and future Filed under: media — danylmc @ 2:46 pm Elizabeth Brown seethes at the way young journalists are introduced into the industry: I got my first reporting job in […]

  5. There’s truth to this, although the solution isn’t necessarily just in leaving the office. My first non-internship job was as the city reporter/business editor at a small paper in Oregon. There were plenty of stories, good sources and countless hours of meetings I could go to. The problem was the pay. At just $7 an hour before taxes, and with a cap of just 40 hours a week regardless of how much time the job really needed to take, I could barely pay rent and gas on my car. The difference between the mileage rate and the real cost was significant and reimbursements were slow. J-school students are used to hearing and saying, “we don’t do this for the money.” But after a few long and less-than-newsy city council meetings, it was easy to look at any of our peers and say, “I’m getting screwed.” Within a few years I moved out of reporting and into copy editing where there was more money and fewer hours. But I still argue with reporters to be better but I know, too, they have a crappy life.


    December 8, 2008 at 8:06 am

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