Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Newspaper Musical Chairs

I thought I would be the one to break this news, since Peter is an old friend, but obviously I moved too slowly. Peter Waldman, who has written for the Wall Street Journal for 22 years, much of it from the San Francisco bureau, is leaving the paper for Portfolio, the new Conde Nast startup magazine.

Is this a reflection of Rupert Murdoch’s bid to buy the Wall Street Journal? Well, yes and no. Peter wants to try new types of writing and have the opportunity to do more varied reporting, but there is no doubt that he and others at the paper are concerned about Murdoch’s proposed takeover.

Have people been monitoring those who are leaving the Chronicle? Since I was on vacation I haven’t blogged about those losses, or those who were laid off from the Mercury News, but some of the papers’ best reporters are gone. At the Chronicle they include Mike Weiss, known for his lengthy takeouts on a range of topics, including a story about the making of wine which he turned into a book; Keay Davidson, a fabulous science reporter; Rick DelVecchio, who has covered the East Bay for years and writes a fine feature; and Glen Martin, whose environmental writing was illuminating and compelling. Read a list of the rest of the departed here.

At the Mercury News, Dan Reed, one of the finest writers I know, was let go, as was police reporter Rod Foo; Brad Kava, who pioneered blogs and podcasts for the paper; environmental reporter turned editor Marilee Enge, and many more fine reporters. Here's the full list.

Most people don’t read bylines and probably don’t care that so many reporters are out or work. But I regard this as the deliberate dismantling of an industry with repercussions we don’t yet understand. While many of these reporters will continue to publish, either as freelancers or as staff writers, the institution of newspapers has been seriously weakened. That means politicians and businesses and regular scoundrels won’t feel the heat when they most need to be scorched.

Newspapers and journalism schools are virtually throwing themselves on and at the web to try and adapt. The Chronicle just appointed Eve Batey as Deputy Managing Editor for Online (notice the word "news" is nowhere to be seen.) She will be the liaison between the newsroom and SFGate. She comes to this position with virtually no journalism experience. Instead, she made her reputation at SFist, one of those city blogs with splashy graphics.

The Medill School at Northwestern University, which just changed its name from the Medill School of Journalism, (somehow dropping that dreaded j word makes it more contemporary) is revamping its program to have all budding reporters get out into the field with video ipods and digital cameras. They will also be required to take a class that examines what readers want, audience behavior and motivation, a sort of marketing look at how to write stories so they will be read.

The Journalism School at Berkeley is also revamping its core journalism class and will have its first year students use video cameras and tape recorders to make multimedia reports. Previously the school had everyone take a core reporting class and a separate multimedia class since there is so much to learn in both disciplines. The combined approach is an attempt at relevance.

I never thought I would live through the death of the newspaper industry or watch as journalists grasped at everything to try and resurrect its important position in the world. As one friend put it recently, she feels like the weaver at the start of the Industrial Revolution watching the construction of fabric factories through the window of her stone hut.


janne parks said...

In 1994 one of my j-school profs at Kent State (home of the Liquid Crystal Institute, which developed the first news tablet) said newspapers would be dead in 30 years. We're almost half way there, so this is not a shock to me, it is a confirmation of Carl Schierhorn's advice: Aadapt or be left behind.

Andrew said...

I, for one, will miss Chuck Squatriglia from the Chron.

Tracey said...

I know I once said I thought the staffing at the Chronicle looked bloated but that didn't mean I thought losing its best journalists was the remedy. Your post saddened me as I feel, like you, that good reporting, which is often hard learned, may be a dying skill. And, as you point out, that's bad news for society.

Brad Kava said...

Thanks for the nice mention Frances! I'm also blogging, writing a lot of the stuff I would have written for the Mercury at and getting response from around the world. Too bad you can't live on that. I have a story in Sunday's Chronicle pink section and regular radio columns in the Oakland Tribune, while I look for the next full time thing.