Dangers of isolationism in US papers' cuts

I sense a worrying advocacy of what would lead to growing isolationism coming from influential American press commentators. Media strategist Steve Yelvington, commenting on Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet’s ousting, looked at the paper’s election coverage.

He did this in context of the LA Times’s need to cut editorial staff and identify what is “core” coverage to be done by staff and what could be “outsourced”. He asked:

Does anybody actually believe that every one of the Los Angeles Times’ nearly 1,000 journalism staffers creates unique value?

The answer, especially from in view of the very generous US staffing levels, is: “Of course not.” But Yelvington concluded with a “trivial example” and wrote:

This morning latimes.com is leading with a staff-written national election roundup that could have been ripped from the wire. Outsource what you can outsource.

I looked at that by-lined staff story which also led the printed paper and it read like a pull-together of agency copy which could just as easily been done by any half-way competent down table sub. On that specific piece of copy Yelvington was absolutely right. What worries me is his implied suggestion that one of America’s great newspapers should withdraw from national coverage and leave it to AP.

Yelvington was picking up on a post by Jeff Jarvis which was supportive of the Daily Express in the UK which is outsourcing City coverage to the Press Association. Commenting on Baquet’s departure, Jarvis had written that he “should have been investing in networked journalism to take the paper hyperlocal and in online and audio and video to take the paper past paper.”

Well. I have always subscribed to the view that all news is local. That is that national and international news is filtered through, and shaped by, your own correspondents for what is relevant and important to a paper’s readers.

Agency copy is an essential part of the mix because no newspaper can be everywhere. But to hand over huge areas of coverage is to treat news as a commodity and if you do that the reader can get the same from any website, or cut out the middleman by going direct to the agency site. Where is the brand value then?

If the “core” and “local” arguments are used as reasons to cut national coverage it can be applied much more strongly to foreign news. That is the path to parochial isolationism. It would be a strange way to go after an election in which foreign policy has been an important element.

  • http://strange.corante.com Kevin Anderson

    Andrew, there really aren’t any national newspapers in the US in the same way that there are in the UK. The US is just too damn big.

    Even the New York Times isn’t really a national newspaper. They have coverage about the rest of the US, but it’s not like what you would see in your local or regional newspaper. And ‘outsourcing’ to the AP is also slightly more complicated. Yes, it is a wire service, but it’s structure is actually a news cooperative. A lot of the national coverage comes from local and regional newspapers. When I started in journalism, some of my stories, written from a small newspaper in Kansas, would end up on the AP regional feed.

    As for international coverage, that’s another matter entirely. US coverage of events outside of its border has always been relatively poor, and I say that as an American. There is good coverage, but you have to want it.

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