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Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Tribune’

Sarah Karp story

America needs skeptical, curious reporters reading through boring reports to find seeds of potential stories.

That’s how Sarah Karp of Catalyst Chicago dug up the Chicago Public Schools corruption story that produced a scandal and a guilty plea to criminal charges. I won’t detail the story here, but I encourage you to read the account by Sam Levine of Huffington Post.

I’ll just make a few points that concern me about the current and future state of journalism:

  • Metro daily newspapers, which for decades produced the best investigative reporting on local schools, government and corruption in cities across the country, missed this story. Including one that long proclaimed itself the “World’s Greatest Newspaper.” The Chicago Tribune (which dropped that boast in 1976) and Chicago Sun-Times have cut their reporting staffs so severely that, even when Karp flagged the story to their attention, they didn’t pounce.
  • Niche organizations such as Catalyst Chicago are doing important work to fill watchdog gaps as newsrooms shrink (and to shine lights in corners newsrooms traditionally missed).
  • Niche organizations face their own financial challenges. The Levine piece notes that Catalyst has cut back, too.
  • Governments at all levels continue trying to limit public access to the types of records that drive this kind of watchdog journalism. We need to be vigilant in defending sunshine laws.

Somehow watchdog reporting continues. My former Digital First Media colleagues at the Torrance Daily Breeze in California won a Pulitzer Prize this year for more investigative reporting on corruption in local schools. But one of the members of the winning team, Rob Kuznia, had left the newspaper for a public-relations job by the time the prizes were announced.

The supply of investigative journalism, especially at the local level, has never been able to keep up with the demand. And I’m pretty sure we are falling further behind.

But I have boundless admiration for the journalists who continue this important work in difficult circumstances and uncertain times. We need more reporters like Sarah Karp reading those boring reports.

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The Wright Brothers by David McCulloughDavid McCullough’s The Wright Brothers is, of course, about aviation, but a few passages made me think about journalism.

After the Dec. 17, 1903 maiden flight of the Wright Flyer, the news coverage was, at least looking back more than a century later, embarrassing. Newspapers either whiffed on the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s historic achievement entirely or got major facts wrong.

The Wrights, who made their first successful engine-powered flight in Kitty Hawk, N.C., actually offered the story to their hometown papers back in Dayton, Ohio, where they operated a bicycle shop and had designed the plane. After his successful flight, Orville sent a telegraph home to his sister, Katharine, and older brother, Lorin:

SUCCESS FOUR FLIGHTS THURSDAY MORNING ALL AGAINST TWENTY ONE MILE WIND STARTED FROM LEVEL WITH ENGINE POWER ALONE AVERAGE SPEED THROUGH AIR TWENTY ONE MILES LONGEST 57 SECONDS INFORM PRESS HOME FOR CHRISTMAS.

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If reports are correct, my former company, Digital First Media, is going to sell to Apollo Global Management for about $400 million.

I’m not going to pretend I can analyze what that means for DFM, my many former colleagues there or for the news business. I hope for the sake of my many friends remaining in the company’s newsrooms across the country that the Apollo’s management will find a path to prosperity that doesn’t involve endlessly cutting staff. I hope the company will genuinely pursue the kind of digital creativity that the future demands and will have the staying power to let good ideas flourish.

Since seeing initial reports about the pending deal, I’ve wondered about the meaning of the $400 million sale price, reached in a long “auction” process that sought the best deal(s) to sell the company as a whole or in pieces.

The reported price tag is a breathtaking fall from what newspapers used to be worth, even in the past few years. I hope this means Apollo’s strategy isn’t to keep cutting staff to maintain profits. DFM doesn’t have much left to cut, and values have dropped as newspapers have been cutting. The best way to maximize this $400 million investment will be to build value by developing new revenue streams.

Comparisons of sales prices of media companies can be misleading. One sale might include more real estate, while another might include more debt or pension obligations. Successful subsidiaries can add value to a company. In a sale such as the DFM deal, which is essentially between two private equity companies, full terms may never be disclosed. You might not be comparing apples and oranges, but apples and lawn mowers.

I was not involved in the sale at all, other than losing my job last year as the company was preparing for the sale. But I understood DFM enough to know this was an extraordinarily complicated deal, with an array of factors that make it unique: (more…)

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In another context, I might have protested being labeled part of the “mainstream media.”

We launched our website in August. We’re trying to be innovative and edgy in our mobile apps, use of social media, breaking-news coverage, blog network and other respects. If I were at an American Society of News Editors convention, I would be one of the digital upstarts. But at News Foo Camp, the label actually fit. Sort of. (more…)

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