Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A call for TV stations to re-institute news 'beats'

Although a local TV station bested The Cincinnati Enquirer on the arrest of a prominent lawmaker on drunken driving charges, that sort of news exclusive is more the exception than the rule across the broadcasting industry.

"Way too often," TVNewsCheck's Diana Marszalek wrote yesterday, in a story of special interest to Gannett's 23 stations, local TV reporters follow stories rather than find them. That's a reflection of a steady decline in the news "beat" system, where reporters are assigned to cover certain topics exclusively.

Indeed, in the last 15 years, the number of TV newsrooms operating with beat systems has plummeted to just one in 10, according to Jerry Gumbert, CEO of media strategy firm AR&D.

News directors must realign priorities and reinstitute beat systems -- and the kind of enterprise reporting that comes with them -- if broadcast journalism is going to survive, Gumbert told Marszalek.

In Cincinnati, WLWT-TV -- a Hearst Corp. station -- says it was first to report Ohio state Rep. Robert Mecklenborg's arrest, forcing the Enquirer to do a quick follow-up. The story spurred plenty of attention across the Internet, partly because the 59-year-old married father of three also had a young woman passenger in his car, whose identity he refused to discuss.

Yet, despite that flurry of interest, the Enquirer has yet to reveal publicly whether it's still following the story -- even as Corporate renews emphasis on unique, high-impact journalism. The paper's most recent account is now two weeks old.


  1. Readers of the Enquirer best resign themselves to the fact that they will be getting more "news" from television than in their local newspaper. That's because the newsroom has been gutted. Talented editors and hustling reporters have been let go. That's not to say there aren't a handful of talented reporters left. There are. However, they are too overburned trying to cover stories and play catch up to other media. They won't be able to provide enterprise reporting. The editors, who are far from being true newsroom leaders, have cut an amazing array of talent, including the crime enterprise reporter who would have gotten the Viagra/state rep story and riveted readers with it. Although considering that the paper hasn't followed up with a story in two weeks, maybe it's not even interested. The editors also cut a health writer who used to do stories that connected with readers. Now, health is covered by the higher education writer. This in a city that is both a major education center and a huge medical area. Community relations folks at the major hospitals are all starting to wonder how they are going to get their message out to the metro area of two million plus people. Despite the deboning of the meat in the newsroom, I must admit I have been impressed with the Enquirer's use of an AP correspondent to cover the traffic mess Saturday night at the Kentucky speedway and another correspondent who comes up with gimmicks such as "10 Things You Didn't Know About Marvin Lewis." Talk about compelling reading. They fired their statehouse reporter, others are on vacation, the rest are overworked, keeping their heads down or looking for new jobs. What a treat to have "West Side" gal Carolyn Washburn back in Cincinnati to oversee the dismantling of the Enquirer. Looking forward to all those Metro mix photos tomorrow of barely clad drunk women at tonight's party in the park. Whoppee!

  2. It's probably like this in other Gannett newsrooms, but Enquirer editors simply have no respect for the work and file. They insult our intelligence daily by forcing us to spend our quality time on rewriting press releases for the website rather than pursue legitimate news leads. Real communication -- not talk-down group sessions -- doesn't happen. Washburn and Engebrecht would prefer that we abandon all our news instincts and ignore great stories like the Mecklenborg affair. We're too afraid to ask about the Mecklenborg coverage because editors would erroneously interpret it as "insubordination," which the paper is notorious for. There's no one to talk or complain to. Working for the Enquirer has never been so embarrassing.

  3. Let's just state the obvious: GCI is on a glide path toward becoming another kind of company than what it has been. It is milking the diminished, but still strong profits newspapers generate to pay off its debt and, thus, fund the glide towards whatever is next. We may not like this. But we don't have to like it, just understand it.

    What's the "next" for GCI? I don't know. What's scary is the remote possibility that top management may not know either. But I suspect at some level they have a long-term plan and vision for a sustainable future as a different kind of company. But it's not going to a traditional newspaper future, you may be very sure of that. There is no other explanation for the product-killing cuts to newsrooms that are ongoing. I know it pleases some angry people on this site to believe that upper management is actually so clueless as to believe they can cut, cut, cut without killing the golden goose but, trust me, they are not that clueless. That doesn't mean they're world-class business executives or even that they will eventually be successful -- just that they're not dopes.

    The real tragedy here is that they are killing the reputations of the community newspapers they own. These newspapers can live for many more years -- maybe even forever -- if run by local folk who would be willing to accept good, though not spectacular, bottom lines. But good isn't good enough for GCI. Thus, they will suck the blood out of their newspapers and, eventually, cast off the hollowed-out husks of what remains. The old, proud newspaper names that played very real roles in the histories of the communities they served so many years are the victims, as are the citizens of those communities.

  4. Eloquently put, 9:18, and I agree up to the cluefulness of Gannett's brass. Any number of startups -- Craigslist, HuffPost, LinkedIn, Facebook, Groupon, LivingSocial and Politico, to name just a few -- are dancing circles around Gannett. Meanwhile, Gannett has gutted the franchise -- local news -- that might seem hopelessly dated and out of favor. But local startups like MinnPost, the Texas Tribune and the St. Louis Beacon are proving that there is a place for serious local news content. Gannett is just too greedy to stick with it.

  5. Enquirer reporters have to spend their time worrying about what they CAN'T write about: Objective coverage of the businesses run by the people Margaret is subservient to so they will like her and invite her to parties. The real story about the downtown museum that stays empty while sucking up public dollars. The Enquirer is busy rah-rahing for tax levies, public housing, feel-good social programs and anything else that certain politicians dictate.

  6. That's so true 1:10 PM. Brass were not too happy last year with Enquirer coverage of the Washington Park issue. It went against 3CDC wishes and of course the editor came down on the reporter like a sack of bricks, all for raising questions journalists would automatically ask. The Enquirer theme song should be "Don't Rock the Boat Baby!"

  7. Here's what is on Enquirer front page now.
    Are Reds buyers or sellers?
    $1M bond for beating suspect
    Ruling on sex offender law
    Commissioners balk at Bengals request
    Prep coach wants to honor
    US women advance to World Cup final
    Five local places to check out
    Suspect changes clothes, doesn't fool police
    Party bus delivers shooting suspect
    Peek inside new Downtown spa Face
    That's three sports stories, two process stories, three crime stories and a "LOOK" at a new downtown spa. Glory. Can't wait to click on more headlines if that's it for the news segement of online.
    Not one story readers couldn't find on TV or in Business Courier.
    Reds speculation story. How hard is that. AP story on women's soccer. And crime stories that have been up for hours. The Local Editor really knows how to bring it home for readers.

  8. Everyone's too afraid to ask in the open, so I'll ask right here: Carolyn, Julie, when are we following up on the Mecklenborg story?

  9. 7/13/2011 4:01 PM
    That's a good question. They can't follow up on a significant story involving a Republican State Rep., but they have the time to go out, shoot and post 72 photos from a North Side concert? Really, seventy-two photos. A bit much, no?

  10. 4:01 It's like this Murdoch scandal in England. If Cincy doesn't fix it soon, it's going to put the paper under. Readers are nervous seeing unethical products on the kitchen table where they eat.

  11. You're stupid, 7:16. The paper is not going under. Try to provide sensible statements in the future.

  12. Here's tonight's folo on Mecklenborg. Readers still want to know more about his fondness for strippers.

    Written by
    Howard Wilkinson

    Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder said in Columbus Wednesday that it is time for State Rep. Robert Mecklenborg, R- Green Township, arrested in April on a DUI charge, to step down.

    Mike Dittoe, Batchelder's communications director, said the speaker told statehouse reporters Wednesday that "Rep. Mecklenborg is seeking treatment at this time."

    "The speaker said he wants to see Rep. Mecklenborg sort out his life and this is obviously a difficult time for his family, but ultimately, he is going to have to leave office,'' Dittoe said.

    So far, though, Mecklenborg - who was arrested April 23 in Lawrenceburg, Ind. - has not done so; and could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

    He was not in Columbus Wednesday for the House session.

    "If he has lost the support of the House leadership, it will make it very difficult for him to be an effective legislator,'' said Alex Triantafilou, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party.

    Dittoe said that the speaker did not know the nature of the treatment that Mecklenborg is receiving.

    Mecklenborg, a 59-year-old married father of three, was pulled over by a Dearborn County sheriff's deputy because there was a front headlight that was out.

    The officer told Mecklenborg that he could smell alcohol on his breath and said his eyes were bloodshot. The third-term state legislator - a lawyer - refused to take a breathalyzer test and failed three field sobriety tests.

    A later blood test showed that his blood alcohol content was above Indiana's legal limit.

    Court records show that he had a young female passenger in the car when he was pulled over near the Hollywood Casino.

    "Being human, I've made a mistake,'' Mecklenborg told the Enquirer after the incident came to light about two weeks ago. He apologized to constituents in his district, which covers much of southwestern Hamilton County and said that "when you're in public office, you've got a bulls-eye on your back."

    Earlier Wednesday, Ohio Democratic Party chairman Chris Redfern put out a statement calling on Mecklenborg to resign his seat. Mecklenborg, Redfern said, "of his own choosing, endangered the lives of his female passenger and that of the public when he chose to drive intoxicated in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, the night of Good Friday in April.

    "I believe Rep. Mecklenborg showed a disregard for his family and the constituents he is supposed to represent and he failed them,'' Redfern said. "It is time for him to go."

  13. I'm so tired of hearing sob stories like 8:18 a.m.'s. If you're so embarrassed to work at the Enquirer, please do me a favor and leave so somebody who thinks they can make a difference can move into your position.

    I honestly feel that if I wasn't working at the Enquirer - or any newspaper for that matter, the quality of my life would improve. That's not just a testament to the hard times we face today, but as any work-obsessed journalist over any decade who has done more damage than good to their body.

    I'm determined to make my mark. So my mindset is this: I'll speak my mind to every editor, VP and body on the 16th, 19th and 20th floor. I'm determined to get the ideas I have to improve the paper established. I will not be passive-aggressive like you.

    If I come to the realization I can't make my mark - I'm done. If I get laid off or fired - fine. A different career path and probably live an extra 10 years.

    The people who want to make their mark on this paper are doing it. Sure, it isn't perfect but at least I have a passion for it you can't seem to find while you are beaten down writing your press releases.

  14. You must have just started work at the Enquirer because the person who spoke his mind was laid off earlier this year. You think Margaret Buchanan, Carolyn Wasburn and Julie Engebrecht really want to hear what you have to say? You will be labeled a whiner and a complainer immediately and God help you on your next evaluation where your supervisor talks about how well you play with others. If you're not in lock step you out!

  15. I've been around the block here and seen enough regimes to determine who was truly a joke and who means business.

    Go ahead and hold on to your jaded view. Keep telling everyone what you can't accomplish. You'll get left in the dust.

  16. Huh? We are dust.

  17. I'm optimistic in what can be accomplish.

    If I fail or get the pink slip, so be it. Better than those who get on here to complain and say we are hopeless.

  18. You just don't get it. The place is hopeless, whether it be under Buchanan, Washburn or any other goon installed by corporate. There is no passion, there is no pursuit of watchdog journalism, there is no seeking of truth, there is no standing up for the underdog, there is no keeping the powerful in check, and all pledges to journalism are lip service. There is no pleasure or passion in rewriting press releases or believing we can actually do more with less. While we trade in everything that inspired us about journalism, we're asked to account for every hour we work, we're going to undergo byline counts and we have no choice but to accept 20 cents less per mile than the standard government/normal corporation reimbursement rate. Sorry, it's impossible to fake any notion of pleasure working for these pinheads. If I were younger, I would just leave. As it is, I would be foolish to squander severance pay and unemployment benefits by quitting instead of being laid off. It's really a no-win situation.

  19. What I take away from your statement is you are wasting away your life in a job that you hate, with no inspiration or passion - thoroughly defeated in a 'no-win situation.'

    That sum up your sob story 8:04?

    You say I don't get it. Well, whatever you got, I sure don't want. And too this point, working for many of the same bosses as you, I don't have the same outlook.

    Good luck.

  20. A lot of us feel the same way as 8:04. 10:10 has a bad case of self-delusion. It used to be that we could get through the day and week with little victories in the name of public service journalism. The coverage is so thin and bland now that it doesn't feel like we're putting out a paper (in print or on the web). We fire our only police reporter, one of the best on the staff, and abandon Clermont County to the Batavia Sun. We still don't have a statehouse reporter in Columbus, and the business section might as well be the Chamber/3CDC Chronicle. Did you know that gets more traffic than I wonder why.

  21. To recap your sob story 10:09 ...

    You've given up because we don't have enough reporters around you. You don't stick up for yourself. Your career is now a joke. Every career goal that you had at one time is now lost.

    That about right?

    All I hear is 'I can't' from some of you.

    Move on.

  22. Must be nice being one of Julie's golden boys. There's at least one of you in every newsroom. Enjoy your role as Julie's lapdog and the mutual licking and stroking. You obviously don't give a rat's ass about the paper's steep decline, its growing irrelevance as an information source and its laughingstock reputation among people who yearn to have a quality paper in Cincinnati.

    Oh, here comes Julie with a nice little treat for you. Get wagging!

  23. Typical response 4:20.

    Anyone who's halfway optimistic and is building toward the future must be brown-nosing some boss. Maybe you should be writing press releases because you probably don't have an original idea to write about.

    You are completely worthless to this paper. Instead of coming up with an original idea, you'd rather just stew in resentment and throw a pity party.

    I'm working a hell of a lot harder than you are for the cause. Keep spreading the pity party. Accomplish nothing. Stew in your hate.

    What a joke.

  24. 8:04 here again. The company defender here is giving us an unfiltered take on management's prevailing message to its workers: If they don't like it, let them leave. Hollis Towns used to come right out and say it. Clever companies like Gannett spare themselves employee severance costs by making the work environment so unbearable that workers will leave voluntarily, even at the cost of their vested benefits. "Leaders" like CW and JE carry out that program with gusto and are in fact quick to silence anyone of contrarian mind.

  25. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  26. Pity party?? How about Workers of the World Unite!

  27. 6:38 Any benefits that have truly "vested" -- such as company contributions to a 401(k) account -- cannot be taken away. Vesting means an employee owns them 100%.

    Benefits based on years of service, such as paid vacations, aren't vested, however, so they would be lost if an employee was pressured to quit.

  28. Oh, no -- a discussion about benefits. That usually brings out the dumbest of the dumb -- people who think they understand the issue when they don't.


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