An inside peek at a newsroom

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Joe Holleman and his editors had to dodge some strange accusations this past week. These ranged from Holleman catching his editors sleeping, to amazement that his editors “allowed” him to write something they agreed with.

My longtime readers will know that prior to becoming Security Dude, I graduated from journalism school with the intention of eventually becoming a magazine editor. In the meantime, I spent a lot of time paying my dues writing for a daily newspaper. I’ve dealt with a number of editors. And they’ve dealt with me. Although I’m considered a moderate now, in the 1990s my now-moderate views qualified me as a conservative. My editors were always more liberal than me, so we had some disagreements.

But let’s clear up a few misconceptions. Editors don’t “let” you publish stories. They may change the stories somewhat, especially when less experience (either on the part of the writer or editor) is involved. The problem is that if they veto a story, then they have to fill that copy with something else.

And editors, contrary to what some think, aren’t generally in the business of pushing an agenda. By and large, they know their job is to make people think.

Columnists generally have even more leeway. If it’s not libelous or completely socially irresponsible, chances are the columnist will get the benefit of the doubt.

There’s an even more important lesson here than all of this, though. Just because you sometimes disagree with someone, or the publication they appear in, doesn’t mean you’ll always disagree with them. Even if you usually disagree, sometimes you’ll find yourself agreeing. Not that making you agree with them is the important thing. The important thing is that the newswriter made you think.

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4 thoughts on “An inside peek at a newsroom

  • March 25, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    I thought editors edited papers to sell ads.
    You are absolutely right about editors and columnists wanting people to think. The left wing newspapers want you to think red and the right wing newspaper wants you to think right.
    Many of the left wing newspapers are on the brink of bankruptcy because they can’t think right.
    “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”
    Will Rogers

    • March 25, 2013 at 7:09 pm

      Umm. No, on all four counts.

      Sales people sell ads. The editorial and ad staff often aren’t even in the same building.

      Newspapers are in bankruptcy for a variety of factors, one of the largest being because classified advertising used to be their biggest source of revenue, and it’s gone now. Another is a decline in local reporting, so there’s very little to distinguish one news source from another since they all run the same stories off the AP wire. Small-town newspapers are still profitable largely because they still do local reporting.

      – David L Farquhar, Bachelor of Journalism, University of Missouri, 1997

  • March 26, 2013 at 11:16 am

    Craig’s List is seriously hurting newspapers. The idea of a free classified ad, compared to buying an ad in the newspaper, is too appealing.

    The Cincinnati paper just went to a smaller format, roughly the same size as a free weekly paper (though not the same thickness – the Enquirer seems to be thinner). Worse, the presses in Cincinnati can’t handle the new smaller size, so the paper is being printed in Columbus, two hours away. And with a two-hour trip every day, what could go wrong??

    We stopped getting the paper a few months ago – continual delivery problems. I almost wrote a letter to the publisher – not the editor – explaining why I left. I would have been happy to pay for a product I received, but when we didn’t get a Sunday paper three weeks out of four, and only got a replacement paper half the time we called, it just wasn’t worth it. I don’t want to do their job for them, and pay them for the privilege.

    I expect the physical paper to fold within 10 years. It will remain on-line, and then morph into a conglomeration with a local TV station. That’s my thought – news is news, though presented in different formats. The TV station may be the senior partner – don’t know.

    Linux Journal already switched to all-digital. World Magazine switched from weekly to bi-weekly, and is pushing their digital side. Newsweek went all-digital.

    There’s still something about holding a paper in your hands that isn’t the same as reading it on-line, though.

    • March 27, 2013 at 6:51 am

      Sharing a press has been a common arrangement for a while, though it’s interesting that Cincy is sharing with Columbus and not the other way around. The longer the distances involved, the greater the concerns.

      We saw that trend even in the mid 1990s, because a good press cost around a million bucks and not every newspaper can afford one. The cliche “freedom of the press is for those who own one” is no joke.

      One of my professors edited a magazine that didn’t own its own press. One of its press’ other clients was a magazine that, shall I say, he didn’t want to be associated with, and he had nightmares that a glitch might cause a little bit of that other magazine’s content to end up inside one of his magazines someday, and being sued over it.

      You’re correct that news is news. There are laws affecting the number of news outlets, but those laws are getting more and more relaxed with time. Broadcasters are getting squeezed too. Here in St. Louis, the ABC affiliate outsourced its news to the NBC affiliate, and the Fox affiliate owns the CW affiliate outright and merged the two stations’ news teams. They’ve severely cut back their staffs, too. Broadcast reporters who can’t do their own camera work and editing are at a distinct disadvantage.

      Some cross-pollination already happens between TV and newspapers, but you’ll see even more of it. How those economies of scale shake out remains to be seen, and probably will depend on the people involved. Some of the same people who report in one place now may end up reporting both on screen and in the paper.

      I agree, that I still prefer holding paper in my hands when I read something the first time, but when I want to refer back to an old story, I sure do like having it digital. I’m two issues in to my digital Classic Toy Trains collection, and I already like being able to instantly search on key words and find which issue I read something in.

      That advantage works better for specialized magazines than for digital newspapers, but that may mean that newspapers will need to start going out of their way to make sure they publish more content of lasting value in every issue. Recipes and regular content about home and auto maintenance come to mind, but anything that could be published next week without lessening its value would be a good candidate for that kind of content.

      That’s a model that I don’t think I’ve seen anyone try yet.

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