Just What’s Left in the Metro Dailies?

NYU prof and Press Thinker Jay Rosen has had it with what he calls “replaceniks”—those who throw out the red herring of people saying bloggers will replace newspaper journalists, an assertion that’s rarely backed up with a quote of anyone actually saying that.

What got Rosen going here is an interview with The Wire creator and former Baltimore Sun journalist David Simon, who told the Guardian:

He scoffs at the notion that amateur “citizen journalism”, or new online-only outlets, might take the place of newspaper reporters: “The internet does froth and commentary very well, but you don’t meet many internet reporters down at the courthouse.”

To which Rosen replies (via Twitter):

So here’s my idea: let’s start counting the number of homegrown stories our newspapers run that we need to… replace


Take your daily. Look at every page. Count homegrown public service news stories. Post the results.

Sports don’t count.

I’ll say that it’s often hard for me to find stuff to criticize in the metro dailies. The business coverage is often very thin. Which is why I need your help, dear reader, when something great or terrible pops out. With the ongoing crisis, I’ve had to focus more on the big boys just to keep up, and it’s impossible to keep up on even the top fifty papers consistently (This is me in a small way trying to take advantage of crowdsourcing).

Please don’t get me wrong: The metro dailies are still doing top-notch journalism, often heroically and under intense and intensifying pressure.

As Rosen points out to me via Twitter:

Just looking for numbers, @ryanchittum Because I agree: its going to be hard to replace. And citizen journalism as we know cannot replace.

But this is interesting because if we’re going to figure out the next model we need to know what exactly we’re “replacing”—to use that term. I love newspapers as much as anybody, but many are ghosts of their former selves, and becoming more spectral seemingly every day. It’s getting less and less difficult to “replace” them.

I will say that I agree with Simon on the need to charge for content—or to find some other source of revenue like donations. I’ve yet to see a hint of a sustainable, scalable model based on Internet ads. But while this is a no-brainer for The New York Times or the Washington Post, say, I suspect it’s too late for most other papers that have gutted their newsrooms and just don’t have the capital to reinvest.

I’m lucky to live in a city (Washington) that still has a paper with a large and irreplaceable newsroom, despite cuts. But it will be interesting to see answers to Rosen’s question from across the country.

A couple so far: Twenty-two original non-sports stories in the Austin American-Statesman, including just two in the front section, according to Sheila Scarborough. Twenty-six in the Baltimore Sun, according to another twitterer. No word on how many are rewritten press releases.

By the way, you can find me on Twitter here.


Check out Rosen’s post at the MediaShift Idea Lab, where readers are tallying up their local papers’ stories.

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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 rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.