Guest Post by Roldo Bartimole

Newspapers are killing themselves.

How?

By giving the public the same brand of coverage they’ve always been offering.

They’re stuck in the past.

Generations of journalists have been trained in the same manner. The lesson of what a news story is supposed to be. It continues day after day.

It’s known as the four “W”s of a news article.

Who What When Where. And sometimes Why.

Newspapers have been selling a so-called “objective” standard for years. It’s not subjective. Any sense of opinion is frowned upon. Just the facts. Too often then the context is missing. The truth gets distorted.

I believe this is no longer the gold standard. More is needed. It is no longer satisfying enough.

Why haven’t they changed?

The newspapers fear of the Internet is the reason. It has changed what the reading public expects. And likely wants.

Readers want more than the details of the traditional W model.

Bloggers – really simply writers in a different form and not a derisive term – have changed the formula for readers. They have required reporting to be more than “just the facts, ma’am.”

Readers want to be informed by not the simple reporting of facts but with what the writer may see, feel, and think about the subject. They want more feeling from the reporter.

The reporter is there. So that presence should be reflected in what he or she writes. The reader wants to be there, too.

I may be very prejudiced about this.

That’s because I’ve been “blogging” – reporting with a point of view – for many, many years. At least 45 years.

I believe that newspapers are making a big mistake in not taking the ball away from web sites – and blogger types – that do exactly what journalists are taught not to do. Enter the story themselves. They are part of the story simply because they are there as observers. You can’t change that.

Now not every story will lend itself to this form. But many cry out for it.

The Plain Dealer went in an opposite direction by even cutting its editorial pages from two pages to one a day. It needs to be just the opposite. Two or three pages. Instead, the paper has given us lists – of this and of that. And filler articles from other cities.

The coverage of the Dimora trial is a good example.

The Plain Dealer has had up to six reporters covering the trial in Akron.

It seems to me it has been a colossal waste of personnel and space.

And we aren’t getting much color. At least not enough. For days, maybe weeks, I wanted to know something simple. How did Jimmy Dimora looked sitting there hearing himself savaged daily? I didn’t read it.

You have to check the comments on the PD web site to get a good feel for the story. The people speak often with sharp tongues. You’ll be entertained. Sometimes even informed. Much of it, of course, is rubbish.

Those commenting have freedom. The reporters are in straight-jackets. If they revealed how they felt about the experience at the Dimora trial or what they “saw,” rather than write to the rigid formula of newspapers, we’d not only get a better picture of what is really going on but we’d enjoy reading it.

If you’ve read the reports going on day after day for weeks you pretty much know what the next day’s report will say.

There’s no fun in that.

In fact, newspapers generally are just too dispassionate. Too boring.

Even the columnists who have some freedom still hold back. You can feel it just by reading them.

They seem reluctant (fearful) to use their freedom. Give somebody who deserves it a good wallop sometimes, will ya. (Oh, forgot that’s what Tony Grossi did. Maybe that explains such caution.)

Do you think that some reporters didn’t know what creeps some of those now being paraded before the Akron jury are. That they don’t know those on trial are just a small sample of the whole. That it’s small potatoes.

I’d love to hear the reporters’ conversations rather than read their articles.

I found as a reporter at the PD that the stories told in conversation were rarely the stories I read in the next morning. They got sanitized.

I enjoy reading comments these days on Brent Larkin’s columns.

Here’s one mocking observation that shows many readers know what’s going on:

“You folks quit pointing out Larkin’s role as the Cuyahoga County ‘Enabler.’ Even if he did wear a skirt for Mike White, Gerald McFaul, Russo, Dimora, Mason, etc., if you point that out the Reader Representative will chastise us next week for doing so and Larkin will pull out another praise the Sixties politicians to distract us.”

Now that’s entertaining and insightful. The PD reader shows he knows Larkin and what “ombudsman” Ted Diadiun is all about.

Another one:

“Larkin pontificates while conveniently ‘forgetting’ the colossal failures – if not abject complicity – of himself and this newspaper in preserving a corrupt status quo. Larkin and this newspaper disregarded red flags, ignored whistle blowers and kept on endorsing corrupt candidates.”

Someone hasn’t picked up on Larkin’s private jet trip, along with George Forbes and who knows what other pols, on Dick Jacobs’s private jet. They took a little jet set to New York for an All-Star game. Talk about conflicts. Think Larkin’s going to write honestly about this corporate creep who took Cleveland for costly rides.

Larkin should have been fired immediately. But then editor Doug Clifton looked the other way.

The paper was part of the disgusting political culture and remains so.

It’s part of why there is so little regard and trust in the main source of information in our city.

Pretty pathetic.

Larkin, retired, continues to appear on the Sunday editorial page while the newspaper can’t afford to pay its regular staff.

The truth is that the PD does allow one voice to speak with passion and force. That’s Kevin O’Brien. (As if the paper invited the John Birch Society to its editorial board.)

He seems to attract most letters to the editor, too. That must say something even though most of the letters sort of question O’Brien’s mental state.

Let’s have more analysis and comment that tells a bit of the truth.

People might read the newspaper again. Even buy it.

 

Roldo Bartimole – Roldo is the original Ohio political blogger.  On his 35th birthday and the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated he quit his job at the Wall Street Journal and began to work on what would be a 3 decade project in “Point of View”.  Cleveland Magazine called him “the poor man’s Tom Paine.” John Wicklein of Progressive referred to him as “Cleveland’s Gadfly.” From 1968 to 2000 iconoclastic journalist, Roldo Bartimole, rocked Cleveland’s political boat with his biweekly newsletter.  Full bio

 
  • Annekarima

    It is not the reporter’s job and never has been, to be subjective.  It is a very excellent way to get a lawsuit against the newservice represented.  Limbaugh just tried it.  He’s loosing advertisers.  Look at what’s happening in England when a comglomerate tampers too much.  You want feeling?   Feelings?  Better have a blank good lawyer.  Oh and that counts in cyperspace too.

  • Rob

    I don’t agree with this at all.  To me, real journalism should be impartial.  Those looking for a particular bend (either emotional, political, religious, etc)  that support their particular view of things aren’t looking for facts.  They are simply looking for someone to support their thinking (or do the mental heavy lifting for them).

    We all fall victim to it, but this is a big problem we have with journalism today.  They seem to all be trying to lead us down their own rabbit hole.

  • Dmoore2222

    I agree. Whether or not I want “feeling” from a story is immaterial. Reporting should be objective. Let me draw my own conclusions from the stated facts. Having said that, the facts have to be complete. And there’s the problem.  In many instances facts are ommitted or even distorted to protect politicians the newpapers endorse or businesses that advertise on their pages.These are inherent conflicts of interest that are less tolerable now that social media have become primary souces of news and information for more and more people. I can’t think of one good reason why a newpaper would make a political endorsement. On the other hand, I can think of a lot of really bad reasons why they would.

  • Annekarima

    Modern was a fact  checker for his cyperspace articles.  Come to think of it…when has Plunderbund hit the bigger time with an article since he left?  Facts count and checking two , three and four times counts more than you may think.

  • As a newspaper reporter, I agree with the comments rather than the article. My personal blog allows me to write what I think/feel on any subject. I’m in the column rotation at the paper where I can also speak my mind. If I’m writing features I have the freedom to tell the story and offer truthful information in my own way.
    If I’m reporting, however, (i.e. HB 136, school budget implications, council meetings, interviews) I take the traditional view that it’s my responsibility and my job to present facts–without discrimination, emotion or “color”–in a thorough but concise way, make the information relevant to ALL readers and allow those readers to form their own pictures of the issues/events. It’s no secret that newspapers and networks have their own preferred philosophies and politics. I don’t have to add to the confusion by tossing in my own editorializing , and in fact try to lessen the confusion by being as objective as I can. Unless I’m on the Op/Ed pages, I prefer not to know what the reporter thinks about the scene/issue.  
    This is my opinion and my style of reporting. As a veteran reporter for highly visible publications, Mr. Bartimole may have some better insight into the business.

  • Roldo Bartimole

     

    Thanks for all the responses even
    though most of them suggest I’m way off base.

    I did say in the piece that “not
    every story will lend itself to this form.” However, I do think newspapers
    are missing the chance of meeting the reader needs for more than the usual
    objective balance of “he said, she said” journalism.

    Maybe an example would be helpful.  Say you are covering a public government
    meeting discussing a bond issue for a sports facility. Normally, a reporter
    will take down what is said and objectively report those facts in the article. What
    you would get mostly is the propaganda by those desiring passage of the bond
    issue.

    It would be essential to me to not
    simply report objectively the testimony. I think the reporter has a duty to
    tell more. For example, what history or background the reporter knows. Who will
    pay, who will benefit, though there may not be an actual word spoken about
    this.

     

     I would not stop there. I’d want to know who
    was in the audience. In one particular situation I looked around the room and
    identified everyone there. I noted that not one member of the public was
    present at this public meeting. It’s not the kind of thing normally reporters.
    As it was, there were representatives of banks, lawyers, bond counsels, architects,
    developers and others with business that might enjoy the benefits of the issue,
    none of whom said a word. They would be ignored, as they were, by the
    mainstream reporter. But to my way of thinking it was vital to let the public know
    that these people were there and what may have been discussed or testified to
    might not be as important as who was there expecting, as I’d say, a bite of the
    public money to be expended on the relevant project. A regular newspaper
    reporter likely limits him or herself to what was testified. The comments of
    public officials made for their own purposes might be the least relevant facts.
    And surely the reporter would not let the public know his or her suspicion as
    to the possible desires of the power represented, though silent, in the
    audience. I think it would be essential.

     

    This is one example. But there have
    been many in my experience between how I saw events and how mainstream
    reporters reported them.

     

    And as I mentioned when I was at the
    Plain Dealer I’d hear reporters talk about stories where the reporter clearly
    understood how certain politicians or interests were in play but because of the
    strictures of Objectivity, these factors never made the next day’s paper. Some
    may also have been due to the caution reporters find themselves captive,
    especially as “objective” observers alone.

    As to worries about libel suggested
    by one comment, I rely upon the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution that prohibits
    “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”  Of course, you cannot libel anyone.

     

    I hope this helps for a good
    discussion.

  • Annekarima

    You can do all the quotes you want.  Just keep your agenda out of it and keep the quotes accurate.   As far as libel, there’s a group of lawyers out there that makes it their business to shut down blogs like these for misuse of material.  So be careful… be very very careful.

  • Annekarima

    Here ya go: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/07/copyright-trolling-for-dollars/  probably the wrong thing to paste here, but those newspapers you think have a death wish?  They’re watching ya!

  • Righthaven was a spectacular failure!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Righthaven

  • Would you contend that Modern’s work here – and elsewhere was objective?  I sure hope note!  Fact checking and getting things right is wholly different than being subjective. 

    I’ve contended for some time now that there never really was any such thing as “objective journalism”.  Never has been, never will be. 

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