Two decades of weathering the budgetary storm has taken its toll:
The last time a hurricane took direct aim at North Carolina, back in 1999, the Raleigh News & Observer mobilized most of the 250 people in its newsroom to cover the storm and its aftermath. For its extensive efforts, the N&O was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news the following year (it lost out to the Denver Post, which won for its reporting on the Columbine High School shootings).
As Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas, the Raleigh newspaper is a shadow of what it was in 1999. As a result of the kind of downsizing and layoffs that have affected newspapers everywhere, its newsroom has shrunk from 250 journalists to just 65. Faced with steadily declining ad revenue, the paper has outsourced some of its most basic functions, such as copy editing and print design, to a sister newspaper.
I have come to realize over the last decade or so that efforts to come up with a working "business model" is simply the wrong way to approach this. The word "business" needs to be removed entirely, and replaced with something else, and that something else just might be "philanthropy." We spends billions every year in philanthropic dollars on physical health issues, but improving our intellectual health would help us achieve progress across the board. What we don't need is naive cheerleading from corporate leaders:
But in many important respects, the News & Observer’s coverage of Florence may be superior to its acclaimed reporting two decades ago, said executive editor Robyn Tomlin. “I think we’re going to be 100 percent better,” she said Wednesday morning amid planning for the storm. “The way people get information has changed dramatically. And so has the way we report it.”
Thanks to a consolidation wave that swept over the declining newspaper business in the mid-2000s, the paper won’t be all by itself in chronicling the hurricane. Its reporting will be supplemented by journalists from seven other daily newspapers in the Carolinas, all of them owned by its parent company, McClatchy Newspapers of Sacramento. McClatchy bought some of the papers as their owners exited the business over the past 15 years.
The group — which Tomlin heads — includes a major regional outlet, the Charlotte Observer, smaller dailies such as the State in Columbia, S.C., and a string of papers along the South Carolina coast, including in Myrtle Beach, Beaufort and Hilton Head. The eight papers have been sharing resources and stories, such as a common regional forecast story.
Thanks for reminding me of an irritating trend about which I've been wanting to rant. Every morning, I hit the "News" page of the N&O before I track down political stuff, and usually half of the stories (if not more) are South Carolina-related. I just assumed it was embedded cookies detecting that I lived 57 miles away or something along those lines, and mistakenly judged I actually lived in South Carolina and would be interested.
Here's a news-flash for ya': I'm not interested in a story about a corrupt deputy sheriff in some podunk SC county, nor am I interested in a contested primary in their Legislative races. Why would I be, and who at the N&O thought putting those stories in a Raleigh paper (albeit online) was a good idea? And who thought this argument would be sound?:
The News & Observer will also count on help from journalists from McClatchy’s other newspapers and news bureaus, including one in Washington. In all, Tomlin expects to have about 220 journalists feeding stories, photos, videos and graphics to the News & Observer, or roughly the same number the paper had on the story nearly 20 years ago.
It shouldn't need to be said, but gobbling up a bunch of regional newspapers and then bragging about the total number of reporters you now have (which still doesn't equal what one of them had 19 years ago) isn't even form over function, it's borderline mendacious.