The institutional memory at the Burlington Free Press, Vermont’s Shrinkingest Newspaper, has taken another big hit. 28-year veteran reporter Molly Walsh is leaving the Freeploid for the friendlier confines of Seven Days.
It’s a body blow to the Free Press’ diminishing ability to cover the news. And the timing couldn’t be worse, since Walsh has been reporting the Burlington mayoral race. Not quite as bad as Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen leaving on Election Day, but not helpful. It’s also one more indication of Seven Days’ growing dominance in the Chittenden County news market, and its seriousness about positioning itself as a vital news source.
Walsh was diplomatic about the lifeboat she’s swimming away from:
There’s been a lot of change. I think some of the changes are for the better and some are questionable.
But her actions speak louder than her words. Can you imagine, at any earlier point in history, an established reporter voluntarily leaving an established daily newspaper for an alt-weekly?
Strange but true: Seven Days is a better place to work than the Freeploid, with its reporters expected to write clickbait-friendly articles, produce endlessly, create and market their “brand,” provide video and photography as well as copy, work with the sales department and key advertisers, and live on the high-wire of editing their own stories.
About the last point. One of the Freeploid’s sister Gannett papers, the Cincinnati Enquirer, was inundated by reader complaints about the quantity of mistakes in the Sunday paper. Most of the errors were minor, but every one undercuts a newspaper’s credibility. The Enquirer, like the Freeploid, is an example of Gannett’s Newsroom of the Future, which includes little or no copyediting.
The Sunday foofaraw was so bad, it prompted chief editor Carolyn Washburn to write a memo to news staff emphasizing the need for them to “take full ownership of your own clean copy.” Meaning, “don’t expect the editors — pardon me, Producers and Coaches — to be your backstop.”
Now, you’d think an average reporter would be capable of producing literate copy, but it’s not nearly as simple as you’d think. This former copyeditor can tell you that mistakes are like cockroaches in a New York City apartment: no matter how hard you try, it’s almost impossible to stamp ’em out. And it gets harder with every re-reading of a story: after two or three scans, your eyes inevitably start to glaze over. That’s why media outlets have traditionally had copyeditors: the more eyes you have on a story, the more likely you are to weed out the errors.
In sum, the Free Press has got to be a really hard place to work these days, and it’s only going to get worse. Walsh’s departure is one more signpost on the Free Press’ road to irrelevance.