DEAR READER: Newspapers find original stories

Friday, January 15, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 10:24 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dear Reader,

A study out this week confirmed what many of us have known all along: Most original reporting comes from newspapers.


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Good news for a newspaper guy like me. But not all of the news was upbeat.

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism took an in-depth look at the media for one week in one city, Baltimore, to discover the sources of news.

It said it was a study of a “news ecosystem.”

The researchers searched for all the news producers – radio talk shows, blogs, new media sites and the old standbys of newspapers, television and radio stations. They then took six major stories that week for a closer look.

Among the findings:

  • 83 percent of stories “were essentially repetitive, containing no new information.”
  • Of the original reporting, newspapers like the Missourian produced 48 percent of the content. Another 13 percent came from specialty newspapers. (The Columbia Business Times would be considered a specialty paper.) Television: 28 percent. New media outlets: 4 percent.

That’s hardly reason to crow. Too many stories are generated off press releases or regurgitated with just one or two new factoids.

The study made clear that newspaper reporting had decreased. The major newspaper in town, the Baltimore Sun, had almost a third fewer stories than at the same time 10 years ago.

Still, while the number of ways to get news has increased dramatically, it’s the newspaper that produces most of the enterprise reporting.  It delivers that news in print and in many digital platforms.

I know we can't read too much into one study, but it rings true at least to my experience in places where I've lived.

Imagine a town without a newspaper.

Enterprise reporting is one of the four key strategies at the Missourian. (The others are immediacy, building community knowledge and creating conversation.)

Right about now, it’s hard to generate much; the newsroom is quieter with just a couple handfuls of student-journalists.

Still, the Missourian manages to produce original reports, such as Tuesday’s piece about a drive to restrict puppy mills in the state.

Over the next few days, a new batch of reporters, producers, designers, photographers and editors will descend on the newsroom and in our town.

I’m sure they will find plenty of original stories out there.

So keep reading a newspaper. It makes you smarter.


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Mike Martin January 15, 2010 | 9:40 a.m.

I have to take issue with this "brag on self" column.

In Columbia, anyway, I'm proud to say that the Columbia Heart Beat -- which my peers in the newspaper industry like to write off as "just a blog" -- has easily broken over 50 significant stories -- all enterprise pieces -- in the last 4.5 years.

We take risks no local newspaper is willing to take. In other words, we function like the newspapers of yesteryear, who reveled in muckraking and held the powerful accountable.

Newspapers are suffering today largely because they've abdicated this duty, while blaming their troubles on the Internet.

Recent examples of stories prospected and broken by the Columbia Heart Beat include so-called "Country Club Gate"; the possible closure of the Central Missouri Humane Society for lack of funds; City Hall's big eminent domain push downtown; the exploits of newspaper publisher (yes, NEWSPAPER publisher) Hank "The Butterfly" Waters; county assessor Schauwecker losing his 3-year fight with 3M; county assessor Schauwecker under-taxing large developers; the whole landlords-enabling-crime issue across several articles; the FULL story about City Hall's sewer billing scandal; and most recently, the county commission's purchase of a new device to scan cell-phones called UFED.

But then too, we're "just a blog."

Mike Martin

(Report Comment)
Tom Warhover January 15, 2010 | 11:58 a.m.

I agree, Mike. Your blog is an important addition to the news landscape of Columbia. I'm not sure where you're getting the "just a blog" part.

Yes, the column makes a case for the value of newspapers. Too many people are, wrongly in my opinion, writing off newspapers.

Reports of the industry's death, to paraphrase Mr. Twain, are exaggerated.

Tom Warhover

(Report Comment)
Bruce Wallace January 15, 2010 | 1:19 p.m.

Excellent observations by both Mr. Warhover and Mr. Martin.
I enjoy the Columbia Heartbeat blog but think Mr. Martin's assessment of newspaper's challenges as being simplistic and centering only around the newsroom's job of reporting "the muck" - "newspapers are suffering because they have abdicated this duty" only gives credit/blame to a newsroom for a newspaper's success.
Data has shown time and again that readers subscribe to a newspaper/website for its news content as well as sports reporting, lifestyle stories and many, if not most, consider the advertising and its inserts as a vital part of their subscription. Truth is, all departments of a newspaper - news to circulation to pressroom to advertising have to work together to make it successful.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 15, 2010 | 6:50 p.m.

Firstly, I don't publish a blog and I don't use "blog" to describe it (that's why it's in quotes). Simply affixing that term to it discounts it.

I publish a digital alternative newspaper distributed primarily via email.

Calling the Columbia Heart Beat a blog is like calling Politico, the St. Louis Beacon, or any of the hundreds of online news outlets blogs. They're not blogs. They're digital, paperless newspapers.

Blogs are usually amorphous, often stream-of-conscience, highly personalized ruminations about hyper-specialized topics. And rarely do bloggers email updates to thousands of readers. They usually rely on RSS or similar feeds.

From where I sit, these issues form important distinctions.

As for reports of the print newspaper industry's death, they may be exaggerated.

But reports that the industry is dying are not.

(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez January 15, 2010 | 7:23 p.m.

Mr Martin if you are not a Blogger as you say then why is your main site page everybody is directed to hosted on a site owned by Google called Blogger? Why is it not in a real web page style setting of format just like any other newspaper then? Yes you changed some of the HTML coding to pretty it up but it is still a Blog.

Mr Martin you distribute through FreeTalkColumbia, ColumbiaCitizens and ColumbiaHeartBeat Listservs via Yahoo! which are Blogs of sorts. When it comes down to the nuts and bolts of this issue it is still a Blog which I enjoy reading.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 16, 2010 | 10:45 a.m.


Listservs are not blogs, and the type of coding one performs on a website is not a definition of the website's content.

Many newspapers use the open source version of Wordpress -- another blog software -- for their websites. If Blogger had an open-source software, I'm sure many newspapers would use it, too.

Here are some stunning examples of blogging software in action:

Blogging software is easier to update than traditional HTML programs like Dreamweaver, or traditional
programming languages like Perl and PHP.

It also produces precisely the same product -- a web page in HTML, with a similar URL:

As it is, the only real difference between the Columbia Heart Beat and the town's two newspapers is that they still have a massively costly print version and lots of staffers (many of them, sadly, unpaid).

And locally anyway, it is not at all true that most original material is coming from newspapers.

For the funniest example yet of why that's true, see:

(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez January 16, 2010 | 3:33 p.m.

Mr Martin I enjoy your local blog just as much as I enjoy most blogs of it's unique style I look at from around the world. Please keep up the great blogging that keeps this community informed with your blog releases.

(Report Comment)
Ali Tharmar January 16, 2010 | 4:07 p.m.

Interesting discussion. In my experience, most bloggers blog about themselves and their own peculiar interests. I don't think I've ever seen a blogger who blogged original newswire-style news stories, but I see those on the Heart Beat all the time. And I don't think I'd call National Geographic a blog, but by your definition, they must be.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance January 17, 2010 | 10:31 a.m.

Blog is short for web log. Usually these are either personal diaries or commentary about a specific issue. Martin publishes original stories and distributes on listserv, which have been around for eons.

Calling Martin's site a blog is like a 4 year old pointing to anything on the road and calling it a car, even though it may be a bus, semi, pickup, or dump trunk. They may look similar but all function differently.

(Report Comment)

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