GM Pencils, Part Two

A reader, David Baggot, emailed me to point out that the Times story I liked yesterday about Detroit’s extreme cost cutting was done better three weeks ago by the Journal.

And he’s right. The Journal story even had the cheaper pencils anecdote. It’s better written and, as my correspondent says, more deeply reported.

Here’s a sample:

Over the past several weeks, engineers and technicians working at General Motors Corp.’s sprawling proving grounds west of Detroit started noticing a curiosity: an increasing number of wall clocks had the wrong time, or stopped working altogether.

The reason: As part of a drive to cut $15 billion in costs, GM is no longer keeping the 562 clocks in working order, which will eliminate the expense of replacing and disposing of the clock’s batteries and the cost of resetting them twice a year for daylight-saving time.

It’s not the only new measure GM is taking to save every last nickel. In its Renaissance Center headquarters, employees working late have to climb stairs when navigating its labyrinth of lower floors — the company now stops the escalators at 7 p.m. In designated cleanup areas of certain offices, the company has changed the type of wipe-up towels it buys. In a memo to employees, a staffer explained this will lower GM’s “cost per wipe.”

Baggot writes:

It’s eternally frustrating. The “paper of record” appears to operate on the assumption that its readers are unwilling or unable to read other papers and thus discover that so much of what it writes is not original. Somebody has to call these guys out.

I’ve been on the other end of that Timesian tendency as a reporter, so I can understand the frustration. But I’ve become increasingly wary of the “one and done” mentality that says if another paper has done the story, then it’s not worth doing. I believe that was part of the problem with coverage in the years leading to the financial crisis.

Clearly, some flack at the Big Three has been pushing this to show the public and Congress how worthy they are for a bailout. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a story, but hardly needed to be done twice. And if you’re going to follow another paper’s story, at least improve on it.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.