Oct 3, 2009

Remember the days

Since many new media gurus think "old school" journalism is "baggage" to be tossed overboard, and many shrinking newspapers shuffle business concerns with news decisions, it's refreshing to read Jim Barnett's anecdote about his old publisher, Frank Daniels:
Frank stayed away from his newsroom for one simple reason: He knew that meddling was a bad idea. No reporter or editor worth his or her salt would ever want to be associated with a newsroom where the publisher determined what beats got covered and what stories got written. If Frank’s paper appeared to harbor biases or pick on certain politicians, that was a matter to be settled between the journalists and their sources. With that philosophy, Frank ran what was widely regarded as one of the nation’s best regional newspapers.
Barnett wrote about Daniels in response to Jack Shafer's criticism of nonprofit newsrooms, which he says are spreading like algae. Barnett argues that nonprofit, not for profit or for profit, the key is having the right mission and mindset in the newsroom. Again, from Barnett:
The point here is that journalistic bias is a function of human intention, not the business model under which the story is produced. For-profit, nonprofit, it does not matter. If a reporter or editor has an axe to grind, he or she is going to find a venue to grind it. ...

I think back to the stories I used to write at the N&O. A lot of them were about marketing abuses by one of the major drug companies based in nearby Research Triangle Park. The CEO, a friend of Frank’s, once called asking him to pull me off the beat. Frank’s answer, relayed by my editor, was to tell the CEO to go to hell. The truth — that the marketing abuses hurt people — didn’t sell ads. But by telling it, the N&O did its community a service that never could translate into an ad rate.
How many people still work for for-profit papers in which publishers who know not to meddle? How many now work for publishers who happily recommend certain articles - and prohibit others? How many people now work for publisher/editor hybrids, people who spend time talking to the ad department before holding the editorial meeting?

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