Friday, October 9, 2009

Who needs a newspaper?

Earlier this week I stopped in for a visit to someone I know who lives on the Newbury section of Plum Island.

I asked this person a question about the beach nourishment project, just off the cuff, and the person picked up the phone, called Newbury Town Hall, and got the answer.

I have to note here that although Newbury officials are quite forthcoming, I usually have to actually go to Town Hall and confront the person I need to talk to because they don't answer phone messages.

Then this person says to me about the local daily, "Oh, we all know it's controlled."

Is this the explanation for the death of newspapers?

People tell me of the days when freelance reporters - stringers - worked for any and all newspapers. There was competition, sure, but not the sense today that everyone and every publication out there is "the competition."

I've said this before, but I really object to this.

It doesn't matter who delivers the news as long as it's delivered in an accurate manner. I have at least twice now tipped off a "competing" reporter to a big story that needed to be told when the paper I write for either declined to cover it or could not do it in a timely manner (as in, the story would be dead before the paper came out).

And I have received such sharing back. We as reporters are a more cohesive group than people imagine. Much like people on Plum Island, who are islanders first and Newburyites or Newburyporters second, we reporters all share the desire to deliver the news.

Just about one year ago I was pretty unceremoniously told by the Boston Globe North editor that he couldn't guarantee me a story in the paper on a regular basis and that I had best go back to the "competition."

As it turned out, I was later cut back by the Current to just 2 stories/week, so I probably should have stuck it out at the Globe since they pay so much more - and I would have made almost the same with just one or two stories per month in the Globe - but oh, well.

The Globe considers other papers, no matter how local, and regional magazines to be competition - even though neither the Globe itself, nor its magazine, can possibly cover every story that is worth covering in this state.

The Daily News and the Current together cannot cover every story worth covering in this city, which is why it's good there's a Liberator and a Town Common. I don't know exactly what happened to the Port Planet.

I think every neighborhood in Boston has its own little paper. I know there's one for the Back Bay, the South End and Beacon Hill.

But the Daily News considers the Current to be the competition and vice versa, although I'm not sure the people at the Current would admit to it.

So why can't we just all get along and for sure not be "controlled" by anyone, if that is indeed the case?

Because that's just not the way it is. And now we are all paying the price.

A lot of reporters who have lost their jobs are starting online newspapers and blogs. A lot of these are non-profits.

Maybe that is the answer, although gods know that when I start such a thing, it will be a for-profit (but not controlled by anyone).


Bubba said...

Yes, but I can't light my woodstove with a blog.

"Controlled"? It seems to me to be more of a case of like-minds coming together.

Gillian Swart said...

yeah, right.

Bubba said...

Oh right, I forgot, everything is a conspiracy.

Gillian Swart said...

I meant the "like minds coming together part." Sounds so naive. And the person I was speaking to said it was controlled, not I.

But since you brought it up: What about all the relevant details the DN isn't reporting? That's "like minds" coming together to suppress vital information.

Give it up.

Bubba said...

What vital information is that ?

Gillian Swart said...

Well, things such as the fact that the dredging is being funded with stimulus money and the project has to start by Feb. 17, 2010 or lose $1 mil ... and the fact that Salisbury will still get its share of the sand, even if Newbury does not ... and in fact what I said about the language change the holdout wants is not possible (or an explanation of why it is not or if it is, in case I'm wrong) ... the fact that Russo said publicly that the Town of Newbury is not in the business of acquring private property ... you need more?

Ari Herzog said...

In your comment to Bubba, Gillian, you suggest the fourth estate is at fault for not sharing details.

Suppose you're right... and suppose the government began dishing those details. When the newspaper prints content and pays its reporters based on a combination of subscriptions and incoming ad dollars, how would they react if the government started doing their job?

City Hall does not have an official spokesman. Imagine it did. Would your argument change?

Gillian Swart said...

Well it depends, Ari. Do you believe everything those White House spokesmen say? It's a reporter's job to get the facts based on investigation, not necessarily what some individual told them in a phone conversation.

My problem is that editors and publishers and whoever else often have an agenda that a reporter may not have.

And statements can often be interpreted to mean whatever the person who heard it thinks it means.

But if you start reading a paper with the notion already in your head that the paper is "controlled" or "partial" then what's the point?

I'm not saying the DN or the Current or the Globe are controlled by anyone; I'm just saying it's a perception that's out there.

Bubba said...

"My problem is that editors and publishers and whoever else often have an agenda that a reporter may not have."

Well, yes, it started the first day man started drawing on cave walls.

Tom Salemi said...

That perception was out there when I was at the Daily News.

It was completely baseless then. It's baseless now.

It'll be baseless 10 years from now when it's said about any of those papers or any other entity that covers the news.

Gillian Swart said...

I know, Tom. I know we all strive to do our best. I guess as Bubba implied, it's just human nature.