What to cut? Or where to focus?
Robert Niles posted a provocative piece today called What to cut when ad revenue doesn’t cover your expenses?
His main point is that some editors are looking at user-generated content as a way to substitute for, in his example, a movie reviewer. And of course, Niles is correct that the “community” by itself is a poor substitute for a trained beat writer. Too often, the “community” isn’t self-policing, or even self-correcting, and it needs some professional guidance and moderation.
But the larger, and harder, question is: in times of reduced revenue, where should newspapers focus their skilled, trained staff?
Pick up any local newspaper and you’ll see example after example of mystifying choices in coverage by local staff: pro sports in a distant city, columnizing about national issues, press conferences covered just because, press releases spun into bylined stories.
Editors’ hardest questions come after the relatively easy ones of movie reviews and CD reviews.
- Are we covering the community in ways that meet readers’ interests?
- What criteria drive daily coverage decisions?
- And who’s making those decisions?
- Why is this event being covered?
- Why do we assign a reporter to this beat?
- Do we even have the right beats?
- Is every reporter contributing high-impact coverage to page 1 and section fronts? If not, what’s standing in the way?
Point is: when you can’t sustain business as usual, everything must justify itself, from the movie reviewer to the courthouse beat. Editors need to shape a vision of the new newspaper, encourage information-gathering to make decisions, and then support decisions that move toward the vision.
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