Saturday, April 17, 2010

What newspapers don't say: what they are no longer covering

Gene Roberts, the retired executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and managing editor of the New York Times, recently told journalists gathered at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York for the annual George Polk Award that cutbacks in journalism deserve much more attention in the press itself.

Interestingly enough, his signal example, the Baltimore Sun, which serves a metro area of two million people, has seen its staff cut from 347 to 133 in seven years.

And in Brooklyn?

Direct comparisons to Brooklyn (nearly 2.6 million people) are impossible, but consider that there are a handful of reporters assigned by the city's three dailies to their Brooklyn bureaus for metro news, and obviously a passel of staffers who cover beats (from schools to development to food) that ultimately include Brooklyn.

The bottom line, I believe, confirms Brooklyn College professor Paul Moses's observation about Brooklyn's place in the local mediascape: Nowhere in the country do so many people get so little local coverage.

From Roberts's speech

More from Bill Mitchell's post on Poynter Online, quoting Roberts:

"We in journalism know that most of America's news is generated by newspapers, and while the Internet has sped up the flow of news and its accessibility, it has mainly aggregated the news as opposed to digging it out. And when newspapers and electronic media cut back their staffs more things go unreported and, thus, unwritten and simply are not there for Web sites to aggregate.

"We as journalists only have to look around us. More beats are going uncovered or under covered. Reporters who were stretched thin three years have since had new demands heaped upon them. More reporting is done by phone and e-mail and it is harder to get out of the office and into the streets and offices where the sources are.

"The best of journalism is as good or better than ever, it is just that there is less -- in much of the country, far less of it -- than in the past. Some Web start-ups and non-profit news gathering operations are attempting to fill the gap, but the number of reporters they are sending forth is a mere fraction of what has been cut.

"This not just a problem for journalism, this is a problem for democracy...

"True, most newspapers have reported their cutbacks. But they have not said, except in the rarest of instances, what they are no longer covering. The public picks up its papers and sees no holes in the columns and assumes it is getting what news there is. Of course, it is not possible for anyone to say what specific stories are being missed. But we know that most governmental agencies in Washington are no longer covered systematically; state capital coverage is down -- way down; and so is coverage of some our most basic concerns -- education and medicine. And, of course, there are stories -- almost certainly many important ones -- that are going uncovered.

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