A few weeks ago, a few people mentioned the WBUR piece titled Shrinking Globe (warning: RealAudio player required to listen to the segment) that was about the layoffs and buyouts at the Boston Globe, the circulation and revenue changes that drove them, and what the paper may look like in the future. One of the people they interviewed for the piece was a journalist named Tina Cassidy, who was one of the Globe reporters that took the buyout.
Maybe I’m taking Ms. Cassidy’s words too personally. Maybe WBUR took just the most inflamatory quotes to tell the story they wanted (although you would think that a journalist would be prepared for that.) Actually, even if she did have an axe to grind I really wouldn’t blame her. The first quote was:
I knew that I was facing longer days, and more work, and more pressure to contribute to the web and all at the same time making it quality, interesting journalism. It just just had this feeling of futility to it, and it just didn’t seem all that inspiring, the way it was even a couple of years ago.
I can understand her fustration about being forced to do more, and spend more time. If you read all the varied opinions of the future of newspapers (which I usually find on the web , ironically) no one believes the future of most newspapers is certain. What I don’t understand, however is why writing for the web needs to be done under coercion. If circulation of newspapers is declining, but readership on the web is rising, why not show an interest in having your work seen where the audience is moving to?
later she says
I think a lot of journalists under 40, especially at the Globe right now are trying to get a handle on what their future is going to be. When you start eliminating sections of the paper, and the national desk, you start to think that your options are limited, and that your job is just going to end up consisting writing three paragraph dispatches for the web.
This might get down to the main issue. This seems to imply that content written for the web is shorter, less in depth. There are studies, like those reported in Turning into digital goldfish that say that people spend less time on an article on the web, you can point to things like the Boston Globe’s Sidekick to show that even newspaper are trying to move to a model of shorter pieces. I do not believe that writing for the web means writing shorter pieces. Much of what I read on the web, like Groklaw, Wikipedia and essays from Tim O’Reilly and Paul Graham are as long or longer than your average newspaper article.
The newspaper on the other hand has space and deadline constraits that may limit what gets written and in what depth. When hearing Ms. Cassidy’s remarks, I kept on thinking of a certain series of articles in the Boston Globe, and the disconnect between what she was saying and the articles I saw were jarring.
A few months back, when walking from the parking lot to my office, I discovered that a portion of Congress Street was blocked off, and fire trucks, police cars, ambulences and TV station vans with video uplink equipment. Once I got to the office, I looked on Boston.com (where I work) to see if they had any information on what was going on. They did have something. On November 15, there was a four paragraph dispatch titled Methamphetamine lab found, Boston police say . There were articles on some TV news web sites, like WHDH’s Drug lab found in South Boston that had more content, but it wasn’t until later we found the accuracy was lacking.The next few days additional stories were published with additiona content. On 11/16 was Drug lab being dismanted and on 11/17 was Drug lab probe forces business closures. By 11/22 they were backing off of the â€œmeth labâ€ claim with Lab made designer drugs, two say.
About a month after this started, the Boston Globe Magazine published a much more in depth article He died pusing the limits of art and life. In the magazine article, they bring up the claim of many of McCorkick’s friends that the drug making materials were for his personal use, not for distribution.
(for a different description of the events, see the Weekly Dig’s Inside the ‘Clan Lab’. It might closer in point of view to the Globe Magazine piece, but with some additional digs at how far wrong the early news reports were.)
It seems to me that the inital Boston Globe news reports were shorter than even the initial TV news reports. I assume because it had to be filed under deadline. Its a shame that everyone’s initial reports were inaccurate. I don’t quite see the difference between the futility of writing “a three paragraph dispatch for the web” and the first reports that were seen in the Boston Globe. (and I wouldn’t buy that the story was rushed into the paper so that it could be seen on the web. Most of the early competitors they seemed to be trying to beat out would be the television news stations.) The first couple of days while Congress Street was closed I tried to convince co-workers that although the initial report was shorter than other news stories, the later stories had more coverage, and that showed the advantages of newspaper reporting. Unfortunately, as time went on I discovered that the added length of some of the later articles didn’t add to their accuracy. I don’t see how the material published in the newspaper couldn’t have been published on the web, and in some ways it may have prevented itself from being as inaccurate. (If the newspaper didn’t have the deadline to finish the story for 11/15, they would have had a much information as the WHDH piece. If they didn’t need to keep up with other news sources, they may not have the longer even more inaccurate pieces on 11/16 and 11/17, and may have just published the starting to be more accurate version on 11/18.)