Geographic diversity is connected to something crucial re what journalists need: audience trust in their work. The Columbia Journalism Review takes a hard look at how coastal newsrooms ignore middle america in this article.
When reporters “parachute in” to cover a story, they are likely to miss the nuances.
“Often people outside of these major city bubbles see themselves depicted in print and on television in a sensationalized way, without any nuance,” says a journalist who lives in South Carolina.“The thought is ‘well, if they’re getting depictions of us wrong, what else are they getting wrong?’
We in Princeton recognize that everybody thinks New York is better.Where do we go when we are really sick? What newspaper do we need when we really want the truth? Here is the Saul Steinberg cartoon about that self-effacing city, followed by two journal items inveighing against New York-centric viewpoints.
Journal item #1 : I lived outside the New York sphere when I worked as a freelance dance writer in Philadelphia and then Pittsburgh. For dance critics, even those big cities are considered boondocks. A New York critic’s move to Philadelphia drew condolence letters.
To survive, vampires need blood; dance critics need to see and review dance, and New York is the best place to do it.
Back then, to qualify as a voting member of the Dance Critics Association, you had to have had a review published in a print newspaper during the previous year. Features (advance stories based on a critic’s experience with previous performances) didn’t count.
Fine for New Yorkers and big city papers, but in the boondocks, few newspapers would print reviews. I brought this up so often that I got to be known, somewhat affectionately, as the “lady from Philadelphia” even when I lived in Pittsburgh.
Journal item #2: Reporters treasure good sources. Reporters from small papers — from areas unknown to the “big city guys” — particularly treasure sources that respond with the same attention and respect that they might give to a Washington Post or New York Times reporter.
How I ran across this CJR story was because I follow the path of a former assistant managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, Richard Tofel, who always made himself available when I was a reporter at U.S. 1 Newspaper. (We weren’t a boondocks paper — we delivered to the Dow Jones building on Route 1 North, but it was still gratifying to always get a return call.)
Tofel is now president of the Pulitzer Prize-wining nonprofit newsroom, ProPublica. It’s expanding to Chicago. Not exactly the boondocks, but at least it’s not New York. ProPublica offers a new model for investigative journalism. Whether that comes from New York or the boondocks, we need that now.
To Pro Publica, you can contribute information. You can also contribute money. And if you care about the future of journalism, subscribe to the Columbia Journalism Review.