Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mourning the Slow Death of Oregon Journalism

Kari Chisholm of the Blue Oregon blog laments this week about the increasingly sad state of Oregon journalism and the stampede of journalists into PR

Posted By on Sat, Jan 10, 2009 at 8:44 AM

Kari Chisholm of the Blue Oregon blog laments this week about the increasingly sad state of Oregon journalism and the stampede of journalists into PR jobs with government and the private sector.

"The Secretary of State's spokesman is Don Hamilton, who used to be a reporter at the Portland Tribune," Chisholm writes. "The Attorney General's spokesman is Tony Green, who was very recently a reporter at The Oregonian.

"And they're not the only ones. In fact, the reporter-to-spokesman path has become increasingly well-trod.

"Amy Ruiz, formerly of the [Portland] Mercury, is now working for Mayor Sam Adams. Scott Moore, also a former Merc reporter, has been at Our Oregon [a coalition of progressive organizations] for a while now.

"Former Oregonian columnist Jonathan Nicholas is now a spokesman for ODS Health Systems. Former KPAM news director Bill Gallagher is doing public affairs for the state police. And, of course, a few years back, Patty Wentz left Willamette Week for several stops in politics and is now at the Department of Human Services. And before that, longtime KATU political reporter Mark Hass jumped the fence and become a state legislator."

As previously noted by The Eye, Oregonian columnist David Reinhard has gone to work with a Salem lobbying firm. And closer to home, James Sinks, formerly a fine state government reporter for The Bulletin, is now the spokesman for State Treasurer Ben Westlund.

Can journalism survive as news outlets keep shrinking their staffs and the best and brightest reporters, columnists and editors depart for greener (or at least more secure) pastures? Chisholm is worried - and so is The Eye.

"We bloggers often criticize the traditional media. And it's true: there's a lot to complain about," Chisholm writes.

"But we need them. And it's not just that blogging is a derivative art (commenting on the news that others generate), it's that our democracy needs independent watchdogs that have a direct pipeline to the public.

"Can bloggers fill the gap? Not really. Sure, we'll do some of our own independent reporting now and then. But I can tell you that the money isn't there to do it in a serious way."

It's not just money that bloggers lack - it's expertise and, in too many cases, a sense of ethics and honesty. Most bloggers (this one included) have their own personal and/or political agenda to push, and some are unscrupulous in pushing it. There's a lot of information and opinion out there on the Web, but separating the wheat from the chaff is an almost impossible task.

What's the solution? We don't know. But at least as far as print journalism goes, it seems increasingly clear that the daily newspaper is a dinosaur.

Huffington Post blogger John McQuaid argues that the dailies need to transform themselves into weeklies (or biweeklies or monthlies) to have any chance of survival. Newspapers "used to occupy a middle ground - well crafted and immediate! - but that ground is falling out from beneath their feet. Now they are neither," he writes. "The old-fashioned physical newspaper is outdated the moment it's printed. And (with exceptions, of course) it's not finely crafted. It's worth waiting for this week's New Yorker. Not so the morning paper, anymore. ... The 'daily' part of newspaper journalism has become a trap. It's too slow for today's readers, not slow enough for good in-depth journalism."

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