The [Tuesday] Papers
By Steve Rhodes
Just a brief word about the award we shared on Monday. I don't know if he knows this, but the idea for the project actually came from Mick Dumke of the Reader. He had written a couple of posts about city council committee meetings without quorums that caught my attention. I asked Jay Stewart of the Better Government Association if this meant that a whole slew of city ordinances could be declared invalid. Jay had been thinking about this issue as well, it turned out, and the project was born. We went to Suzanne McBride of Columbia College with our idea because the year before we teamed with her and her class to produce an award-winning investigation. Now we consider it an annual thing.
After setting up the parameters of the project, Suzanne oversaw the reporting and edited the package. At that point all I had to do was push the publish button.
Thanks to everyone - especially those poor Columbia students we sent to as many committee meetings as we could to do the dreary work of recording who was there and what happened. Investigative reporting is more drudgery than romance, that's for sure.
But will anything come of our investigation? Only if other folks bother to take up the cause. I mean, don't you think council committees ought to have quorums in order to take action? Isn't that sort of fundamental to the democratic process? And don't you think minutes of council committee meetings ought to be kept - including the testimony of those who appear before them? Is that really too much to ask?
As far as I know, no other media outlets picked up our story. That is not unusual in Chicago, but it's also a reason why online journalism is so important - and why so many oldheads are wrong about what constitutes "stealing" content.
As I've recalled before, John Conroy once said at a panel that I moderated that he watched in dismay as his reports over the years about Jon Burge and torture in the Chicago police department went ignored by the mainstream media. And to this day, the papers still often refer to "published reports" instead of actually crediting a story to the competition.
It's not only childish, but in the case of stories like those Conroy was reporting, it's incredibly irresponsible.
In the world of online journalism, linking to stories others do only increases the power of those stories - and magnifies their importance. A lot more pressure would have fallen on the police department - and City Hall - had Conroy's stories been picked up by the rest of the media or, in today's world, linked to and commented upon.
It's only a good thing to get your stories out there. It's a false sense of competition to think otherwise. After all, was the Tribune really sad when the Sun-Times broke the Hired Truck scandal? Did the Trib wish it didn't happen? It's proper to be mad at yourselves for not getting the story first, but ultimately the name of the game is public service, and when the competition performs an act of public service, they should be cheered.
The Internet increases the value of such stories. Links increase the readership of such stories. How that can be a bad thing is beyond me.
It has never served readers of the Tribune or the Sun-Times to not know what the other paper was reporting. Why keep citizens in the dark? That's the beauty of aggregation. Citizens deserve to know.
And this goes for local TV as well. I'm a Dane Placko fan, and he's done some great investigative reporting, particularly into Cook County, over the last couple of years that I link to as much as I can. But I rarely see those reports picked up by the newspapers. Why?
And what about the fine work other TV stations still manage to do when they aren't covering random crimes, parades and snowfalls?
In fact, newspapers ought to be blogging about what's coming out of their own newsrooms - and everyone else's. There's a saying in business: if you don't cannibalize yourself, someone else will.
Maybe if AP had invented the Huffington Post they wouldn't be so mad. After all, the AP had at its disposal not only its own stories but those of its member papers . . .
So I have to take issue once again with the estimable David Carr of the New York Times.
"The taking of one company's content and selling ads against it for the benefit of the other company is simply not fair," Carr wrote on Monday.
As I've written before, newspapers sell ads against content created by others all the time, be it Oprah, the Cubs or American Idol. Not only is it mutually beneficial, but it's the responsibility of a news organization insofar as cultural criticism - including that of the media - is warranted.
I've heard someone else say that maybe Google should demand a slice of revenue for every reader they send a newspaper's way. Newspapers like the Tribune have literally millions more readers now because of their online product than they ever had before. Surely Google and the blogosphere accounts for at least a slice of that.
(Carr notes that Google CEO Eric Schmidt reminded newspaper publishers recently that "every producer of content can opt out of their search with a single line of simple code." None, as far as I can tell, have.)
(I also wonder when newspapers will offer to pay Facebook and Twitter for free use of their distribution services . . . )
If I was the head of a newspaper company, I would stop fighting Google and the blogosphere and instead call up Schmidt and ask for his help, a partnership, a joint project . . . whatever it took.
And then, for godsakes, put the ad sales staffs and newsrooms through re-education camps - and require continuing education courses.
It's a different world - and a more beautiful one for journalism, I assure you.
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Posted on April 14, 2009
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