Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Monday morning quarterback

Monday mornings in the local daily newspapers often mimic the general overall attitude of the population that buys them: soft-minded, disinterested and not altogether too happy to be returning from two days of revelry. Often times, the Monday paper is utterly lacking in news content and instead relies on cushy feature articles to fill out both the front page and local section. Perhaps this is a projection of what people want as they return to the daily grind; a sort of light-heartedness they carried through a weekend sipping Mai Thais by the pool or grilling up some dead cow with the fam.

But occasionally, there’s a nugget of hard news to be plucked from the paper that’s worth more than a bathroom read during the morning ponder. At times, a truly interesting and newsworthy piece can be buried beneath the county fair wrap-ups and articles chronicling had-to-be there events.

Take for instance this dreadfully ironic Associated Press gem mined from the pages and pages of fluff choking the B-section in the Daily Gazette. The piece discusses a recent study conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which found today’s newspapers are becoming “niche reads” as a result of narrowing their focus. Obviously, this narrowing is a result of tighter budgets, while the tighter budgets a result of waning advertising revenues and decreases in readership, et cetera.

As a result, American newspapers no longer stock bureaus in far-flung places or invest in resources to cover events out of the local purview. This shows too, because most front page coverage is devoted to articles of local interest. Unless something truly calamitous happens, most national news and nearly all international news gets truncated, pushed to the inside pages and obscured. In other words, the outlook for journalism is grim, right?

Not quite. The study found that the journalism industry is getting younger by the minute. Younger journalists mean a greater number of reporters are capable sucking the marrow from the technology now readily available to them. Their editors are slowly starting to take notice by allowing a greater diversity of projects in the newsroom.

The bottom line is that Web advertising hasn’t earned greedy publishers the same margin of profits they made during the pre-Internet days. Editors share a consensus among that something must eventually break and convince advertisers to at last buy online space as they would have in the paper back in the Dinosaur days of print.

If this breaking point taken as a given, then it is only a matter of biding time until the levee breaks, flooding newsrooms with the cash they need to produce hard-hitting journalism. One of these biding schemes manifested itself today in the Times Union, which produced an “exclusive” investigative story without allocating a single resource.

Posted on the main page of the TU’s Web site Tuesday morning was a piece about the potential environmental impacts resulting from natural gas drilling in New York’s upstate region. The author is among a dozen investigative reporters working with a non-profit organization called ProPublica. Founded less than a year ago, ProPublica is the brainchild of Paul Steiger, the former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. The Manhattan-based organization claims it will eventually employ up to two dozen fulltime reporters, thus creating the “the largest staff in American journalism devoted solely to investigative reporting.”

“ProPublica will focus exclusively on journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them,” Steiger said after the organization’s founding last year. “We will be non-partisan and non-ideological, adhering to the strictest standards of journalistic impartiality and fairness.”

ProPublica is funded through an annual $10 million contribution through the Sandler Foundation, which was created in 2006 by a $1.3 billion contribution from former Golden West Financial owners Herb and Marion Sandler. Eventually, the news agency will seek other revenue sources, possibly from readers. However, it will maintain its non-profit status, thereby reducing the level of revenue needed for sustainability.

Stories produced by ProPublica will be farmed out to a variety of news agencies “in a manner designed to maximize its impact.” News organizations accepting the stories will receive them free of charge and with a period of “exclusivity,” according to ProPublica; an interesting prospect to say the least.

On a side note, it is rather incredible the TU is relying on this service, seeing as though they are one of, if not the only paper in the Capital Region with a genuine investigative reporter. Perhaps ProPublica should farm out its “exclusivity” to some of dailies in more dire condition, rather than augmenting the soon-to-be monopoly enjoyed by the ubiquitous TU. Not to mention, the TU’s investigative reporter seems a bit more well-rounded than the ProPublica fellow regurgitated from Columbia University’s journalism program.

Perhaps this is the model the United States needs to reinvigorate its newsrooms. ProPublica certainly has some lofty goals to reintroduce some much needed hard news into the mainstream of journalism. And perhaps taking a bit of capitalism out of the news business will spin new ideas among an industry that is perennially on life support. Still, it’s a sad day when the state of journalism has sunk to a point where a non-profit is needed to save the very lifeblood of the business.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:19 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

9:19,

Oh I'm sorry...It appears as though your post was removed. Too bad. Your prose is so poetic. You're a real Coleridge in the making, you know. Well, maybe when you sober up and take your meds, you can give it another shot, mmmkay?

P.S. Thanks for driving up my hits!

10:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a growing trend to skew the lines between editorial and advertorial in newsrooms. Publications depend upon advertising and subscriptions to survive... yet the more watered down the editorial gets, the less likely people will view it as an authoritative source.

We have gone from a heritage of muck racking journalism to the best marketing-minded writers in the world.

Maybe real journalism needs to be farmed out.

4:41 AM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

The Oil Drum...

Plan for Hydro-Fracture Drilling for Unconventional Natural Gas in Upstate New York

Posted by Glenn on July 23, 2008 - 10:30am in The Oil Drum: Local
Topic: Environment/Sustainability
Tags: hydro-fracing, natural gas, water [list all tags]
New York State is about to approve Hydro-Fracture Drilling permits for Upstate New York in the area of the Marcellus Shale. There is a major concern about the impact on waste water containing many toxic chemicals, including areas near NYC drinking water reserviors.

Here's a slideshow of some of the key images. I'll have more on this as information becomes available. Kudos to WNYC and ProPublica for uncovering this in a great example of investigative journalism.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Kyle York said...

HA and News Nerds All-

At the risk of beating a Dead Horse... MY BAD!!!, TERRIBLE cliché on this Second of the Sacred Days... but ONE hot story is about to burst to the surface like the scary gooey-chest-thing in ALIEN.

The POST-STAR's Mark Mahoney was the only newsman brave enough to pursue the tale (see his blog http://poststar.com/wordpress/?p=5350&cat=50 ). Like my own work, his FOILs all got swept under the same strange one-of-a-kind secrecy umbrella. But here's the scoop, you wretched members of the non-horsey set--

NiMo (National Grid, temporarily National Velvet) got half-way through their 1992 uncontested legally-binding agreement to remove PCBs from the Hudson at Queensbury, Mile Marker 210. While the PCB-laden poisoned shore was dug up and carted away in 1996, the plans to DREDGE the River bottom were shelved after RABID Public opposition. That's all there in old news clippings and buried deep in the DEC website-- "Toxiv Registry Site 557012" at http://www.dec.ny.gov/cfmx/extapps/derfoil/haz/details.cfm?pageid=3

NiMo and DEC quietly returned to sample the River in 2001, then again in 2003...absolutely FREAKED to find the PCB sediments were on the move towards the Queensbury water plant, moving like the "Man o' War" of "Causes o' Cancer." Why, the Gallopin' Goo even had the gumption to use up-current eddies to get within 2000 feet of the soon-to-suck County Water Intake.

Together, NiMo and DEC held a few secret CAC meetings with no notice to the press or public. The KEY to the new plan is the dewatering plant in Ft. Edward...hey, why build a SECOND BIG-BUCK PCB-cooker if you've got your own GE Bakery just down the road?

So once Ft. Edward is smokin' and sizzlin', NiMo WILL build barge piers, suck up 10 acres of wicked toxic muck, truck it to the ovens, and ship their little wafers to Texas. And DEC Chairman “Pete” Grannis? He’s adopted the Mayor Daley Dictum— “Don’t Tell Nobody Nothin’ They Don’t Wanna’ Hear.” Oh yeah, they'll slip in some kinda' notice to the Public.

Probably during the season of Equestrian Euphoria.

Giddyap Pete Grannis, giddyap!

2:50 PM  
Anonymous agphoto said...

Geez, i'm in deep with shot and kyle here. tip of hat 2 both.

semi-related side note: i can't wait to read the 'pickensplan'. nice when you can pay for a 'coming soon' campaign out of your pocket change.

congrats. horatio for some analysis that put the chronics to sleep. i'm sure we'll read them soon elsewhere here.

happy hats off!

6:39 AM  
Anonymous Kyle York said...

To All who Drink Water-

Call me Ishmael.

The DEC spares no effort to keep you from the truth about the PCBS at Queensbury, my own personal "Great White Whale."

Like many of y'all, I tried to cut-and-paste my link to the DEC page about the very nasty site, the most closely-held secret since The Manhattan Project. If you enter the link, it says t'aint nothin' there.

So they make you do it the long way--

1st- Google "NYS DEC"
2nd- In SEARCH, enter "Toxic Registry Database"
3rd- Click on FIRST result, 77% score
4th- Click second bullet: "Remedial Site Database" Search is updated nightly.
5th- Use Search Method #1, enter 557012, hit "Submit."

There is the entire history, somewhat sanitized and cleaned up from the original files I obtained from DEC in the PRE-County Water years.

NOTE the page URL as you read-

http://www.dec.ny.gov/cfmx/extapps/derfoil/haz/details.cfm?pageid=3 .

It's the same as my 2:50 post.

NOW, just for fun, COPY the URL and PASTE it in a NEW browser window...it takes you--
nowhere.

Just as well.
Nobody's reading this string anymore.

And Lawler's still layin' pipe at a pace to make ex-gov Spitzer envious.

-Ishmael

3:54 PM  

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