Where have all the reporters gone?

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Posted by DC on May 06, 2009 at 10:31:33:

(From Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's blog at cityofmadison.com/mayor/blog)

Where Have All the Reporters Gone?

Local news reporting is about to be dealt a serious blow when The Badger Herald and Daily Cardinal shut down for the summer in a couple days. These student papers consistently send reporters and photographers to City meetings. These reporters sit through the entire meeting. They take notes. They ask questions. Later they write news stories about City government decisions, and these news stories are printed and often appear on the front page of their publications. They cover much more City news on a daily basis than any other news outlets, and they do a pretty decent job of it.

While in the world of professional journalism, things just continue to get more and more bleak. Another round of layoffs in the local media now has claimed Jennifer Miller at WIBA. Jennifer was one of the best radio reporters around...and she knew more about the Bob Newhart Show than even me.

Jennifer interviewed me several times a week for the last six years. Our conversations often started out with Newhart trivia. (Who was Bob's roommate in college? What was Howard Borden's brother's profession? Stuff like that.) Then she'd role the tape and the questions turned to things like, "why do you want to raise taxes by $72 on the average house?" Or, "why was inclusionary zoning such a failure?"

My point is that she didn't let the pleasantries get in the way of being a good journalist. She did her job, and she was excellent at it. I like reporters in general, and the smarter they are and the better their questions, the more I like them. Jennifer was also a veteran City Hall reporter. She knew, as Alder Bruer is fond of saying, where all the bodies are buried.

Now, apparently, WIBA has decided that it can phone in much of its news from some remote studio in Michigan. Well, no distant Wolverine can possibly understand the City, develop the sources, or know the issues well enough to ask the toughest questions.

It's just the latest in the long and now increasingly rapid decline of professional journalism due to a decline in revenues. I've been pretty sympathetic about the financial pressures that newspapers, radio and television are facing, and I understand their business decisions.

But there's a point when a news organization any news organization has to, well, produce news. It's like a university laying off the professors and keeping the administrators or a football team cutting all the players but leaving the front office.

If our local professional news organizations can't start figuring out a way to keep their reporters, then they might as well just give up the pretense that they are news organizations at all. Or, we can always just look forward to September when the student newspapers will be back.

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