Thursday, May 31, 2007

Shrinking resources and teenage recklessness

You should read this, Editor & Publisher's story on the impact that staff cuts are having on newsroom operations. The Enquirer isn't part of the story, but other Gannett papers are, as are similar-sized papers from around the country. Everyone's story is the same: You have to do more with less, tough choices are made about what stories not to cover, and reporters claim they have less time to check facts and cultivate sources.
When Don Ruane of The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., first covered the town of Cape Coral back in 1979, he didn't start writing his first stories of the day until close to 4 p.m. That left him plenty of time for fact-checking, quote-fixing, and being out and about to schmooze with sources and run down some story tips.

Today, the 56-year-old reporter, who has served in various reporting and editing roles over more than two decades, is back on his old beat. But this time around, he says any extra time he once had is gone, and the likelihood of mistakes has blossomed. Not only must stories be done as quickly as possible for the Web, but covering government meetings means more updating online and less time working sources and developing leads.

"You wonder about the quality sometimes when you rush stuff out," says Ruane. "We probably have more misspellings online because we are rushing to get things up, we are trying to beat the noon news."

Others in the news trenches agree. ...

Think about that when you see today that the Enquirer put four reporters (five, if you count the strangely different bylines "Denise Amos" and "Denise Smith Amos" as two people) on second-day coverage of the deaths of two teenage girls in a car wreck. The deaths are undoubtedly tragic and sad, but these unfortunate girls weren't the first victims of teenage recklessness, and they won't be the last. Why do these deaths deserve such blanket coverage, and why, on Wednesday, were these deaths given a higher position on the front page than the deaths of 10 American soldiers in one day? (I'd link to the PDF of the front page, but the Enquirer's own link to it is busted.) Has the Enquirer ever devoted this kind of coverage to any soldier's death? No, because they know the most recent war death won't be the last, and because they're afraid to argue about the war's legitimacy. It's much easier to write tearjerkers about speeding teenage drivers.

And why did these deaths get so much more coverage than the death of this boy, a story buried on page 2 of the Local section? Are the deaths of two white suburban girls really worth that much more than the death of one white suburban boy?

Two more things on this: First, the Enquirer ran this picture on its front page, but then, for some strange reason, split that photo into two headshots on the front page of the Local section. Second, the tired headline "Shattered Dreams" -- one that has been used for stories on teenagers' deaths for decades -- proves that the Enquirer is so short on resources, imagination and balls that they're willing to sink to beating cliches into the ground on the front page, instead of actually uncovering and reporting news. In the macabre world of what makes news, this story was giftwrapped for the Enquirer. All they had to do was put "Shattered Dreams" over the top of it and it's front-page material.

In an environment of shrinking resources, the Enquirer does what's easy, not necessarily what's important.


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