The high price of skinflint journalism
As discussed previously here, it is clear why the Miami Herald, Sun-Sentinel and Palm Beach Post want to collaborate on “basic” local coverage, whatever that is. They want to save money by generating more content with fewer people.
While this may seem like a rational strategy at a time of slumping sales and profits, it can’t help but degrade the coverage at each publication and make each newspaper less relevant to its readers (and the non-readers they covet).
That’s not just bad journalism. It’s bad business, too.
Story sharing is journalistically ill conceived, because many of the best features, investigations and other distinguished projects come directly from the beat reporting that produces “basic” coverage.
For the most part, the beat reporters who produce “basic” stories are in the best position to develop the relationships that lead to juicy information from helpful insiders and fruitful tips from disgruntled outsiders. If a newspaper relies on “basic” reporting from another newspaper, it isn’t likely to have access to very many scoops.
The only way editors can make a story-sharing plan work efficiently is by huddling several times a day to tell each other what they are working on.
If the papers have no secrets from each other, then the lack of competition stands a good chance of turning the reporting from “basic” to “routine” to “boring.”
And that would be supremely antithetical to producing original and ground-breaking coverage.
Now, more than ever, originality matters to the business of the newspaper business, because the electronic media have usurped and commoditized the coverage of most “basic” news.
The only way for newspapers to retain the patronage of their dwindling number of readers and advertisers is by publishing must-read information that people can’t get anywhere else.
Notwithstanding recent budget cuts, most newspapers still have the staff, time and space to dig deeply, reflect thoughtfully and report movingly on the issues that matter most to the communities they serve.
If they give up on that “basic” mission, there won’t be much left.