Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | As a journalism student at San Diego State University and former editor for The Daily Aztec, my jaw dropped when I read Rob Davis‘ article, “The Bobs Are Back,” (July 8, 2009), about the recommendations of efficiency expert organization DeWolff, Boberg & Associates to a previous newspaper, and which is now advising the Union Tribune. Forty stories a week, less than an hour on each story, and the use of only press releases and two or so “cooperative” sources are all absolutely ludicrous suggestions for any organization that a) wants its journalists not to burn out, b) wants to provide anything with even the remotest hint of competent coverage, much less actual quality.
Writers who have to do no research and interview no sources for a story would still have trouble meeting such requirements, even if each story was only 180 words (which is insanely short). That’s one story an hour for five days a week. Such suggestions completely eliminate the possibility of covering a story with any kind of completeness at even the surface level, much less with the depth and thoroughness that the public rightly expects from an organization whose primary (supposed) purpose is to provide a check on government and corporate powers. There would be no possibility for even the spontaneous kind of investigation that gets the “whole” story when press releases spin or omit information, when witnesses or sources are mistaken or hostile. That process alone — also known as, “getting the facts straight,” “reporting,” “seeking the truth” and “actually doing your job” — requires more time and resources than DBA appears to understand. And that’s just doing the minimum acceptable approach, much less the kind of in-depth and long-term investigative journalism that the public desperately needs and the industry is still running painfully short on.
My first thought after my brain had restarted was: Does DBA have ANY idea how journalism works?
The article suggests not; that in fact, DBA has no industry-specific knowledge or specialization to offer in the face of newspapers’ unique needs. I sincerely hope for the sake of our city and county that DBA has since familiarized themselves with the norms of journalism that are absolutely essential to producing a quality news product. A news industry consisting entirely of 180 word stories based on press releases and two “cooperative” sources is an honest journalist’s worst nightmare.
Luckily, such a thing would never happen. The public is not stupid, and they can recognize a bad news product that’s less hobbled together than a high schooler’s last minute book report when they read it. They would simply turn to the citizen journalists for the real, quality coverage such an approach would lack.
If DBA offers the UT such advice and the UT takes it, the paper will quickly find itself out of business.