Tag Archives: Cincinnati Enquirer

Will the last one off the seventh floor please turn out the lights?

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.

Better days…

Better days…

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.

Gannett: It’s worse than I thought

Yesterday I brought you cheery news of the Cincinnati Enquirer seeking an investigative reporter willing to tailor content to the 25-45 demographic (no more nursing home exposes), inject themselves into their stories, and work with an “advertising partner to grow and monetize” the audience. (Not the “readership,” that’s so 20th Century.) Since the Enky is part of the Gannett chain, it raised the question: are the Burlington Free Press reporters similarly for sale?

The ad was posted on journalism watchdog Jim Romenesko’s website, and he included an invitation for response from the Enquirer. He got one today.

And it’s even worse than the original ad.

Enquirer editor Carolyn Washburn’s reply began thusly:

I included this expectation [for the reporter to work with the ad side] in all beat job descriptions, though it’s less likely to be relevant in some than others. It’s less likely to be relevant for investigative than the health reporter, for example.

Oh, so it’s not just the investigative reporter who’s for sale — it’s all their reporters. Do the Free Press’ job listings also include such language?

Just workin' the beat.

Just workin’ the beat.

As for “health reporter,” well, that’s just rich. Is the health reporter matched up with, say, the local medical center or insurance carrier? Is the food reporter brought to you by Kroger (or Shaw’s)? Is the environment reporter sponsored by Entergy?

(Well, I guess I don’t have to worry about that one. The Free Press hasn’t had an environment reporter since Candace Page departed.)

Onward into Washburn’s ever-deepening pit of ethical doom.

…the idea is that our adv sales rep and our reporter are very often talking to the same people in an organization. So we want that sales rep and that reporter to know each other. They can share insights they are learning about the industry and that organization. An advertiser often has questions about news content and our content strategies. The sales rep doesn’t have to be the one to answer all that. We can sometimes make introductions for each other in the organization that may be helpful. They can go on “get to know you” or “what’s new” visits with each other. I’ve done some of these myself.

This is so bad in so many ways.

Journalistic convention used to dictate a “Chinese wall” between sales and content. No communication, no infiltration of commercial concerns into editorial decisions. Now, they want the sales rep and the reporter to work side by side. They want advertisers to directly contact reporters with “questions about news content.” They want sales reps and reporters to jointly visit advertisers.

Good God almighty.

After all that hot mess, Washburn appends some words designed to comfort her “news consumers.”

Of course, we will and must say no.  …When an advertiser wants us to do a story just because they’re an advertiser, we say no. We’ve told the staff that as we go forward and begin to build these relationships, that the most important thing is to raise questions if they are ever uncomfortable or uncertain. We’ll talk things through as things come up to be sure we do the right thing.

Okay, yeah. Reporters, who know their jobs are constantly under threat, should feel free to raise ethical questions with editors who are acting as shills for their corporate masters and encouraging advertisers to badger reporters about news stories.

And, when reporters build relationships with advertisers on their beat, it’s only natural to avoid antagonizing their newfound friends. (Especially when their next job after being laid off from Gannett may well be as a corporate shill, drawing much better pay than a humble reporter.)

How the hell is this not a setup for slanted, advertiser-friendly news coverage?

I don’t know if the Enquirer’s approach is shared by the Free Press. But as I said yesterday, given the lockstep nature of Gannett’s Newsroom of the Future rollout, there is every reason to believe that the Freeploid is turning its reporters into content whores right under our noses.


Oh Gannett, don’t take your love to town

Ah, the newsroom of the future, now in the process of assimilating Gannett newsrooms nationwide. Here’s another sign of the Borg Empire on the march, in the form of a job posting from the Cincinnati Enquirer, a Gannett property. 

Enquirer ad

Hoo boy.

Let’s bypass the thing about tailoring hard news coverage to a certain demographic and making a reporter become part of the story, and get right to the part that has Ben Bradlee turning over in his grave:

An investigative reporter who’ll be expected to “work with your advertising partner to grow and monetize the audience.”

In other words, “willing to put on high-gloss lipstick and red stilettos and loiter under a streetlamp.” Also, “willing to think of readers as saleable commodities.”

Well, at least they’re being subtle about it.

The Enquirer is going to hire an investigative reporter with an “advertising partner.” Really.

This soul-killing trend has not, as far as we know, reached the lakeview headquarters of Vermont’s Shrinkingest Newspaper. But judging by the aggressive rollout of Gannett’s new media strategies, it’s only a matter of time before the Burlington Free Press advertises for a content whore. Er, “investigative reporter.”

On the other hand, if the Freeploid already has someone on staff fulfilling these duties, we wouldn’t know about it. We only know about the Enquirer’s content whoring because they’re advertising for it.

Y’know, if this is the future of old-fashioned print journalism in the digital age, I suggest the legacy media just go ahead and die, and open up market space for new entities with some integrity.

And if I find out the Free Press is monetizing me, I will cancel my subscription so fast it’ll make Mikey Pom-Poms’ head spin.