Sunday, August 12, 2007

When Print Journalists Go Broadcast

It shouldn't surprise many in my most recent hometown of the Twin Cities that a few print reporters have taken up residence at at least one broadcast outlet. I happened to be escorting a group of teenage miscreants to tour the newsroom and meet the News Director at Minnesota Public Radio (what a generous fellow Bill Wareham is - he must have teenage children).

I knew there was a new sheriff in the newsroom. Chris Worthington, a higher up editor at the Pioneer Press, was one of the rats to leave the sinking ship early before the buyouts, and ensconced himself as Bill Wareham's boss in July of 2006. Traversing between media is nothing new in the Twin Bergs - TV goes to print, radio goes to TV, newspaper heads go to magazines. It's a small reporter's world here.

So it was with much surprise when Wareham, who is a candid fellow but shrewd, told our budding journalism students that he thought MPR could have responded more quickly to the I-35W bridge collapse, which had occurred just four days earlier. And that he noticed a difference in how broadcast and print approach such catastrophes. He noted that Worthington came from a print background, so his response was to assign the stories to the appropiate beat. Wareham wanted to get as many people on the ground as possible to get live coverage moving as soon as possible.

Even though Worthington is a print guy, it's still no excuse. News outlets have had Internet capabilities for several years now. Why is it so difficult for print guys to adapt to this new order? I get the "we don't need to rush and make sure our information is accurate", but in a calamity of the I-35W collapse, not rushing hurts your coverage in the long run. It didn't take too long before the state and the feds moved in, blocking off access to the site -- those were golden opportunities to get footage up close and personal, and footage that served the public interest. It's won't be too long before we forget the horror of the collapse, and the press has a responsibility to show those images, not the ones taken from far away.

Broadcasters historically have loved to win print reporters to their newsrooms. Print guys love to dig up dirt, and have neat tricks and a history of sources to expose fraud, waste and abuse. But the order is no longer print reigns supreme with the best coverage, then radio, and TV at the bottom of the barrel with its ridiculous anchors and pundits who editorialize and shout. The Internet has become the great leveler in journalism, allowing broadcast outlets to shine, and show those print guys, you don't know how to cover everything. In fact, those ancient methods may hamper coverage, and the public interest.

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