Recommended Reading: 'Newspaper Narcissism'
Veteran Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus has written an incisive piece for the Columbia Journalism Review in which be blames journalistic failures -- not just financial missteps -- for the current plight of newspapers. Headlined "Newspaper Narcissism," it's a worthwhile read.
I think this paragraph, in particular, is especially relevant to Washington reporting:
(W)e have turned into a public-relations society. Much of the news Americans get each day was created to serve just that purpose -- to be the news of the day. Many of our headlines come from events created by public relations -- press conferences, speeches, press releases, canned reports, and, worst of all, snappy comments by 'spokesmen' or 'experts.' To serve as a counterpoint, we need reporters with expertise.
Amen. Solid beat reporting, with a strong watchdog component, produces the kind of journalism that will make newspapers essential. That's a special challenge for The Post, whose readers expect high-caliber reporting on everything from local government to the vast federal bureaucracy to Congress to the White House. The Post is reducing staff -- it's currently going through its fourth round of buyouts since 2003 -- and there's a widespread belief among staffers that layoffs will quickly follow.
Maintaining a solid corps of terrific beat and investigative reporters is expensive. Buyouts typically snare veterans, who have the most expertise. Even the best of their younger replacements often lack a deep base of knowledge about specialized subjects. And in this climate, even the smart, aggressive ones are being given additional duties that stretch them thin.
That's why the ongoing reorganization of The Post's news operation is so important to readers. Robust staffing levels will not return -- at least not anytime soon. The emerging new structure needs to yield maximum efficiency for The Post, both print and online. The right people need to be matched to the right jobs. And the leadership needs to be inspiring.
| May 8, 2009; 2:35 PM ET
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