I watched "The Wire" so I know what's going on in newsrooms around the country, at newspapers big and small. Well, I'm familiar with a fictional newsroom in fictional Baltimore anyway. But seeing as we here in Raleigh are witnessing the death of our daily, by a million cuts no less, I thought we should take a moment to reflect on a big hit the News & Observer is taking. Pat Stith's retirement is perhaps the death knell of the Disturber as a document that means something to thinking folk. My husband saw the headline and said, "You can cancel it." The N&O took pains to point out that it's the veteran investigative reporter's decision: "Stith, who had been pondering retirement for some time, accepted a voluntary buyout recently offered to full-time newsroom employees." Hmmm, I'd love to believe there's still a great working environment over there, but, sorry, I just can't stretch that far.
Since I'm not an expert, except perhaps at watching "The Wire", I thought I'd ask one how he feels about our vanishing local paper. Phil Meyer, author of The Vanishing American Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age, offered this:
"Pat Stith's buyout will leave a big hole in the news staff. In my view, the investigative team should be the last to go as the newspaper cuts back to a sustainable size. Without investigative reporting, the paper's influence for public good is diminished, and that influence has been its most important product."
Yes, darlings, that's an exclusive. (Did I mention that Phil was my adviser when I was but a wee master's candidate at UNC's School of Journalism? I should have.) It's also true. Why are they cutting quality when they're still making money? Why would we go to their website when we know they barely have any reporters?
McClatchy's head honcho Gary Pruitt had this to say earlier in the week:
'It is painful to announce these staff reductions, but the continued restructuring of our company is necessary given the relentless economic downturn and its impact on our business. But it is also part of a strategic vision of becoming a hybrid print and online media company. McClatchy is committed to remaining a healthy, profitable company positioned to meet current challenges. We are also taking full advantage of opportunities for growth as a digital company as we restructure to support our mission of delivering high quality news and information in whatever medium our readers want to receive it.'"
Okay, Mr. Pruitt, on your way to strategic, hybrid glory, let me tell you what your customers want. We'd like to receive more Stith-like muckraking in the newspaper with our morning coffee. We'd love to have local news written by local reporters. And, please, no more Charlotte stories in the local section. If we wanted to live in the Queen City, I guess we would. McClatchy keeps cutting and the revenues keep sinking. What if you tried something different? Hang on to the shred of influence you have left, because, as Phil pointed out, it's really all you've got.
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