Who, What, Why, When, Where Am I?

By Ehrlich, Dan | Editor & Publisher, May 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Who, What, Why, When, Where Am I?


Ehrlich, Dan, Editor & Publisher


One reporter wonders what ever happened to the traditional news lead

Returning to the American news market after more than two decades abroad was something akin to being suspended in time and waking up in a Brave New World, where editors no longer raise their voices and reporters call the shots.

What ever happened to who, what, where, why, when, and how? Young reporters, progressively lacking the firm hands of "old pros" tend to think of themselves more as authors or scriptwriters. The news lead is now the feature lead, with the hook often buried six graphs into the story.

On the other hand, I'm going by what I experienced at one newspaper group and other horror stories that periodically turn up in Editor & Publisher and American Journalism Review.

While many editors complain about the present calibre of reporters, from my perspective, they don't seem to be doing much about it in an age of market-oriented, plastic identity chain sheets, where filling space and soothing egos are more important than scoops and tightly written stories.

That's mainly because in today's media scene, cost-effectiveness is more important that an editor's ideals. Print and broadcasting news chiefs decry falling standards. But do they really want to change things? That would mean taking a step backward, something unfathomable to publishers.

More and more, news to American papers is a mere embellishment to the publication's real purpose, advertising revenue. And ad revenue vs. overheads more and more is spelling the end to independent, individually owned sheets. Of course this is a broad statement, but as fewer and fewer independent papers survive endless consolidation, the danger to quality journalism and even to the free flow of information in a free press will become more and more apparent.

Twenty-three years ago local daily papers in the San Francisco Bay area had their own identity. They printed all the local news, had mainly local sports, and the Fremont Argus looked totally different from the neighboring Hayward Daily Review.

Today, they and four other dailies are part of the expanding ANG Group, which is part of Dean Singleton's even larger MediaNews organization. The purpose of such megagroups, as far as anyone can tell is simply to make money.

As the few surviving mega-empires spread their uniformity from coast to coast, America may finally achieve what Britain has, a national press. But will choice be a thing of the past? Will media empires be Hearst- style power centers based on propaganda? Or will competition between the super groups create better journalism? …

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