Fewer Reporters Covering Health Care etc.: Why Fixing Journalism Should Be A Issue for New Congress and Administration

We have longed called for congressional hearings and new policies to address the journalistic melt-down and crisis roiling the country’s print newsrooms. Reporters working for major media companies are confronting stressful conditions as their corporate owners, and a tumultuous economy, create cutbacks and further reduce resources. How can we expect the country to better govern itself if it doesn’t have a press corps. able to ask the tough questions, force greater accountability etc. Here’s a very telling quote from a PR Week roundtable [Nov 3. 2008 issue] date: “… papers just don’t have healthcare reporters anymore. Some do, but not all. Right now with the election in Washington, I had a client who’s a good topic for the Style section of the Post, but all those reporters are being taken off to cover the election or the financial crisis.” And another PR exec added that: “There isn’t a week that goes by that we don’t get an e-mail about a beat reporter who’s been downsized or taking a buyout. For us, this is a reporter that’s been on the job a long time and has a lot of institutional knowledge. They’re gone and most of the time the paper won’t fill that position. Or if they do, they’ll use the wire services, and there’s no local angle, and one of the things about our industry is that it’s almost entirely local. We [now] spend a lot of time trying to educate those rookie reporters who now cover not only real estate, but healthcare, features, other things. So their attention on real estate is now one-fifteenth.”

While the comment was about placing a story for a health or real estate company, I think it illustrates the impact of the declining state of news organizations (if Obama were really a socialist, I would ask him to nationalize the Singleton and Tribune papers! That’s a joke!]. It’s time for the Newspaper Guild and media reform groups to press for hearings and answers. Helping news organizations better manage the transition to the digital era should be one topic. So too should be some of the proposals made by journalism scholars, such as in “Taking Stock.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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