Friday, March 20, 2009

Former Reporters Now Give Away Their Expertise for Free

It’s been about two years since wide-scale layoffs started at Bay Area newspapers. Sadly, the trend is continuing, as the Chronicle plans to layoff about 150 more reporters and editors in April.

But the newspapers’ loss has been the web’s gain. At least a dozen former reporters have transferred their expertise to the Internet, creating a lively, if diffuse, way to figure out what is going on in California. There are websites and blogs about politics, food, radio, books, and fashion.

This is what everyone is predicting as the future of the news business. Instead of centralized, organized news gathering, there will be a cluster of sites run by “citizen journalists” out in the world gathering information. Well, the future is now in the Bay Area, and it’s interesting to see what’s going one. While these sites are entertaining, none are breaking any news – or doing investigative reporting. And it’s unclear how these reporters are making any money, let along a living running these sites.

Here is how the Bay Area’s former best and brightest reporters are spending their time:

Jerry Roberts, a former Chronicle editor, and Phil Trounstine, a former political reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, have started Calbuzz, a blog about California politics. It’s full of hard and soft news, such as this entry about former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown’s 75th birthday bash in Paris, as well as a cogent analysis why Senator Dianne Feinstein won’t run for governor.

Louis Freedberg, a former Chronicle editorial writer, launched the California Media Collaborative,

which aims to improve coverage of issues in California.

Catherine Bigelow, the former society columnist for the Chronicle, is in Paris with Brown, tweeting about her experiences as well as collecting information for the magazine 7 X 7.

Eve Batey, whom the Chronicle hired as their Deputy Manger for Online in 2007, has just launched the San Francisco Appeal, a website that covers news, politics and culture in the SFist style. (Read: short, fun, and full of graphics) The founding team also includes former Chronicle and Examiner reporter Chuck Finnie and former Chronicle staffer Tim Ehhalt.

Former Mercury News reporter Brad Kava started a blog about radio when he was laid off from the paper in 2007 and it has been so successful he just moved it over to the Examiner website.

Carolyn Jung, the former food editor of the Mercury News, has a great food blog called Food Gal.

Aleta Watson, also a former food writer for the Mercury News, has a cooking blog called The Skillet Chronicles.

Charles Matthews, a former book critic for the Mercury News, has a blog on books and culture.

Joanne Jacobs, a former columnist for Knight Ridder, has a blog on education.

Michele (Marcucci) Ellson, a former reporter for the Oakland Tribune and MediaNews, now runs a news site called The Island, which covers Alameda in the East Bay. The site, started in February 2008, is currently drawing about 200 to 300 visitors a day. Here’s an interview with her from the San Francisco-Peninsula Press Club blog.

Of course, the majority of the former reporters are freelancing, working in other news organizations, or at places like Stanford News Service, UC Boalt School of Law, and as communications directors for politicians and non-profits.


Unknown said...

I'm not sure whether any of the sites you mention have broken any news, but there are plenty of blogs that are breaking news.

In the two areas which have been colonized most rapidly by blogs -- technology and politics -- there is a high volume of original reporting and investigation. Some of the sites have even made the transition from being a free labor of love into money-making enterprises.

Frances said...

Yes you are right. In the whole, though, most reporter/blogger sites aren't as well researched or as relevant as the work these same reporters did for newspapers. For most bloggers, there is little to no money in the endeavor.

Unknown said...

Professional journalists aren't always the originators of some of the best new work, but that's a distinction without merit, to my mind.

There are all sorts of people "committing journalism", even if they don't describe themselves that way. I'm not thinking of Mayhill Fowler types, but of techies, judges, economists, financiers, and on and on, who are publishing directly.

NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen refers to "the people formerly known as the audience". That captures part of it. It's more, as Dave Winer notes, that sources can now go direct.

The issue becomes, in my thinking, not who does the journalism. We already have an explosion of journalism. It's how readers navigate through it without the formerly trusted editors.

Frances said...

I wasn't trying to make an argument about all the work that is posted to the web. I was merely examining the work that these former reporters are doing and I concluded that most of the work is entertaining, but not necessarily profound. However, I do think a lot of the stuff that passes for breaking news or journalism on the web does not really meet strict quality standards.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting list of blogs run by laid off and bought out journalists. Just wondering if your ran across anyone who is able to pay their bills doing this, or is it all an altruistic endeavor?

Anonymous said...

Shameless plug for my wife, Lori Korleski, a former features editor at the Sacramento Bee who took a buy-out. She is doing a blog of food:

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