Wednesday, February 01, 2017

News that is and news that isn't

It was disheartening to learn yesterday that three friends and former colleagues in the Globe-Gazette newsroom, Mason City, had been unceremoniously purged along with other staffers elsewhere. These were experienced and talented people who formed the heart of the news operation.

These periodic purges have become regular features in the newsrooms of papers owned by Davenport-based Lee Enterprises, but this one seemed especially damaging to product quality, company reputation and staff morale. I understand similar purges are underway in other Lee-owned newsrooms around the country.

It most instances, older, experienced personnel are targeted. This does not mean that there are not talented people still on the staff --- I counted four veterans and perhaps five unfamiliar names yesterday, remains of a once-vibrant and far larger newsroom operation. But they are finding it increasingly difficult to do their jobs.

Lee is not alone in draconian cuts to news-gathering and processing operations. Gannett, owner of The Des Moines Register, has been chipping away at the news operation there for years and there are similar stories elsewhere.

But Lee has been especially destructive in newsrooms in large part because of a 2005 business decision to purchase for $1.5 billion --- funded almost entirely by debt --- the Pulitzer group, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The corporation remains deeply in debt although still profitable after reorganizational bankruptcy and multiple refinancing efforts in part at least because cutting staff has become part of annual strategy. For the most part, the salaries and bonuses offered to corporate executives have not been reduced proportionally. Lee also owns the Quad-cities, Muscatine, Waterloo and Sioux City dailies.

I suspect that most consumers aren't especially interested in the business decisions that affect that quality of the news they consume, but that disinterest can be hazardous.

Many in my generation and those near it grew up believing we could rely on a limited number of  reasonably high quality news sources to stay adequately informed --- a local weekly, perhaps, a regional daily and the evening television news. That's not the case any more.

Another friend, also a Lee veteran, listed last evening the principal news sources that he relies upon to stay informed in this time of misinformation, disinformation and general carelessness.

My list includes digital subscriptions to The Des Moines Register and The New York Times, both of which still produce quality news products although The Register no longer provides much in the line of detailed regional coverage. I generally look at several online news sites, including some with evident liberal bias --- because I have an evident liberal bias. Then try to average the results to figure out what's really going on. I also use the limited free-access offered by many newspapers that start charging an admission price if you go over, let's say, 10 stories a month.

I also rely on a Twitter feed, selected with some care, to offer cues to breaking news and other topics that require further looking into elsewhere; check in sometimes with the Des Moines television stations; rarely pay attention to Facebook "shares," a major source of misinformation of all sorts.

And as much as I enjoy annoying religious and political conservatives, I try very hard not to "share" any news report that is not current --- unless noting the date it was first published --- or cannot be verified. 

For better or worse, you've got to work these days to be adequately and accurately informed.

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