March 12, 2004

Age-old Issues, Young Reporters

Commenting on a post on the Mediamorphosis blog about young reporters, a reader wrote: "... turnover at community papers refreshes them. Would you rather have creating spin or lingering deadheads?"

Without debating the binary nature of limiting the choices to creativity and flat-lining, I posted the following comment in disagreement with that statement:

As the author of the Vacaville story, which I wrote for American Journalism Review, I have to disagree with Chris Waddle: Turnover at community newspapers doesn't refresh them. In fact, it does just the opposite: It stagnates them.

As young, promising reporters parade through these papers -- whose readership (under 50,000 circ.) constitutes more than half of all U.S. newspaper readership -- they take what little community knowledge they've gained with them, forcing well-meaning editors like Diane Barney of Vacaville to start over with a new reporter, teaching them about the community, the issues, the people and hoping the raw talent and J-school how-to skills they have can be molded into something that is meaningful for the readers of the paper before that reporter, too, heads off to greener pastures.

When good reporters leave, the readers lose. Yes, stagnant newspapers -- and there are many -- need rejuvenation, as does any organization whether its product is ideas or column inches. But good small newspapers run by vibrant, smart editors don't need more turnover. They need energetic reporters whose reporting skills grow as their community insight grows, resulting in better journalism for the public, which, of course, is the goal.

Imagine if your own business lost its brightest talents after 18 months. Imagine replacing 25 percent or more of your productive employees annually. Now imagine trying to produce quality work and provide leadership in that environment.

Finally, as I pointed out in the AJR story, the end result of all these young reporters trying to move up the pyramid is that the pyramid, being what it is, narrows toward the top and can't accommodate all the people who want to work in the higher echelon newspapers, so they become frustrated and leave the profession, contributing further to one of journalism's most critical problems: It's brain drain.

The solution is twofold:

1. Challenging and engaging better journalists who work at all levels of the profession through ongoing professional development in environments that encourage career-long learning, innovation and communication.

2. Better salaries. You can't spend satisfaction.

Posted by Tim Porter at March 12, 2004 11:32 AM