Nov 25, 2008

Hyperlocal meets hypercheap

Sam Zell is right, it's tough buck trying to cash in on a Pulitzer. Hell, it's tough to cash in on anything these days. Take Copley's erstwhile Washington bureau. Taking down corrupt Rep. Duke Cunningham won them a Pulitzer and widespread respect; it helped change the makeup of Congress and maybe influenced the outcome of a presidential election. But none of that pays the bills and now Copley is gone.

From AJR:

Gone now are those reporters, along with the rest of their colleagues who monitored San Diego's interests as they played out in the halls of federal power. Empty are most of their former offices, except where Copley has managed to sublet part of its National Press Building space, for which the company has a lease until 2011.

"These days, all the major bureaus have space they're renting out. We've all become landlords looking for subtenants," says Condon, who was bureau chief when he accepted a buyout from the company, which closed the bureau after the presidential election.

"The real tragedy is that as more newspapers cut back, you're not going to have anybody watching the congressional delegation," he says. "In our case, we're sure that there's a certain former congressman who's sitting in prison in Arizona who has got to be saying to himself, 'Why didn't Copley do this two years ago?' Because he'd still be in Congress and he'd still be drawing millions in bribes." (See Drop Cap, April/May 2006.)

"Nobody else would've gotten Duke Cunningham. USA Today, AP, New York Times, none of them would devote resources to a backbench, local San Diego congressman in that kind of detail," he says. "It has to be the local paper."

Copley isn't alone, and it's not just corruption that needs watching:

With America entangled in two wars and experiencing a widespread financial crisis, says former Philadelphia Inquirer Executive Editor and ex-Poynter Institute President James M. Naughton, this is a particularly bad time to cut Washington coverage. "There isn't a community in the country that doesn't have a significant stake in what a new president and a new Democratic Congress is going to do. If they don't have someone following them with a perspective that is very local, they are not going to find out what they need to know before it's too late."

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