Clark Kauffman, an editorial writer at Gannett’s Des Moines Register, saw the comments I posted yesterday from just-appointed Tennessean engagement editor Beth Inglish. They “struck a nerve with me,” he writes in an email, and explains why:
From CLARK KAUFFMAN: Beth Inglish, the new engagement editor at the Nashville Tennessean, says the problem with newspapers is that we “are competing with other news outlets instead of providing a service to the people and have turned (our) back on the community.” She wants to see us “working harder to lift up the community by focusing on positive role models,” and says she “doesn’t like news that makes me feel sick to my stomach.”
The Fourth Estate doesn’t perform a public service? Holding government and individuals publicly accountable for their actions isn’t a public service? Exposing wrongdoing isn’t a public service?
I realize that under Gannett’s newly established Picasso program, journalists are now supposed to align their newspapers “with symbiotic brands” in the community. The Picasso training manual explains that “there are people, organizations and companies in our communities whose brands stand for values and goals similar to our own. While respecting our Principles of Ethical Conduct, we should look for opportunities to partner with those local brands to serve both their interests and ours – especially by broadening the reach of each.” Picasso also calls on the news staffs to “create ‘cause marketing’ sponsorship opportunities for businesses and individuals.”/CONTINUES
The job descriptions for some of Gannett’s so-called “engagement editors” actually calls on them to “collaborate with local advertising and marketing personnel to ensure maximum audience and revenue returns from events.” Think about that for a second, and all of the implications that it carries…
Just to be clear, I’m all in favor of the company’s pursuit of new sources of revenue, although I question whether that endeavor should be packaged as a “community service.” I do object to the concept of having newsrooms partner with advertisers or other local businesses in order to “broaden” the reach of those companies. That sort of thing will absolutely destroy our credibility, and if a newspaper has no credibility … well, we might as well turn out the lights, go home and call it a day because once our credibility is gone, there ain’t no getting it back.
Let’s not forget that the one service we are best equipped to provide our communities is our news coverage. It’s also what pays most of the bills, even now. And, oh, by the way, it’s what our communities really need and expect from us. They don’t need press releases that are packaged as news. They don’t need “articles” written by the very government agencies we are supposed to be policing. That sort of information is available for free everywhere on the web. What our communities need, and what readers will pay for, is not mere information, but real, honest-to-God news. We can’t provide that if our reporters, columnists, photographers and editorial writers are tasked with raising revenue through business partnerships instead of covering city hall, the county courthouse, the local school board meetings, the statehouse, etc.
If we don’t provide that service, then we really have turned our back on the communities we serve.
Clark Kauffman, engagement editor (aka editorial writer)
Des Moines Register