Goldsmith awards reflect the changing media landscape

I recently had the privilege of helping to judge more than 100 entries for the 2013 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, which is administered by Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center. We chose six finalists, which were announced immediately, and a winner, which will be honored on Tuesday evening.

At a time when news organizations are struggling to survive, it was heartening to see so much good work. But the finalists also show how the world of investigative journalism is changing.

For instance, two of the newspapers that made it to the finalists’ circle, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, are owned by the troubled Tribune Co., which recently came out of bankruptcy and is now up for sale. If Tribune Co. ends up with the wrong owner, investigative excellence at its newspapers could become a thing of the past.

On the other hand, another finalist was produced by a collabortion among nonprofit news organizations: the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, Public Radio International and the Investigative News Network. This is no longer surprising. Rather, it is further evidence that nonprofits are essential to carrying out public-service journalism.

Further evidence of the way things are in 2013: two of the finalists were produced by the New York Times, which, despite financial problems of its own, is more firmly established today as our leading news organization than perhaps at any other time in our history.

The sixth finalist is from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a Cox paper that has been experiencing something of a revival in recent years.

The finalists’ entries themselves run the gamut, from sexual abuse in Boy Scout troops, to Walmart’s corporate misbehavior in Mexico, to how the chemical and tobacco industries conspired to foist toxic flame retardants upon the public.

In addition to the investigative reporting award, also to be presented on Tuesday will be the Career Award for Excellence in Journalism, which will go to keynote speaker Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times. The Goldsmith Book Prize will go to Jonathan M. Ladd for “Why Americans Hate the Media and How it Matters” and Rebecca MacKinnon for “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom.”

The event, which is open to the public, will begin at 6 p.m. in the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at 79 JFK St. near Harvard Square.

Tribune outsources local journalism jobs to Chicago

The bankrupt Tribune Co. is outsourcing New England newspaper jobs to the mother ship in Chicago. Both the Hartford Courant, a daily, and the New Haven Advocate, an alt-weekly, have been affected by Tribune’s latest cost-slashing.

Our story begins last Thursday, when Boston Globe sportswriter and Courant alumnus Peter Abraham tweeted, “Two great friends and mentors were let go by the Courant today. If you need top-notch copy editors, I know just the guys for you.”

When I expressed my dismay, Abraham responded, “Seems they are now going to edit the paper out of Chicago or something. Just awful.”

Then, on Friday, the New Haven Independent reported that Joshua Mamis, publisher of the Advocate as well as two satellite operations in Hartford and Fairfield County, had lost his job. I met Mamis at a media-reform conference in San Francisco in 1996, and interviewed him in 2009 for my book-in-progress about the Independent and other community news sites. He is a good guy, and it’s kind of insane to think the Advocate papers can thrive without their own full-time publisher.

The Independent also obtained a memo that gets into a bit more detail about the Chicago connection. Here’s the key paragraph:

Other changes are a result of our on-going participation in Media on Demand (MoD), which provides fully edited and designed non-local news and features content for Tribune newspapers and websites. MoD will expand to take on copy-editing and page design for several newspapers including The Hartford Courant at a center based in the Chicago Tribune newsroom, where the content-sharing hub is located.  This approach, already implemented at the Daily Press, will enable us to improve the efficiency of operations and position us to fulfill our local mission and to meet the challenges of the future.

The Daily Press is located in Newport, Va. And here’s more from the Courant.

This is terrible news. Shipping local journalism jobs to Chicago is malpractice. Rather than pillaging its properties to pay down its $13 billion debt, Tribune ought to get out and let an unencumbered owner operate them.

Here is a column the New York Times’ David Carr wrote earlier this year on Tribune’s implosion. And here is a piece I wrote for the Boston Phoenix in 1999, shortly after the Advocate papers were sold to Times Mirror, which was later acquired by Tribune.

Taking a look at Connecticut budget coverage

Gov. Dannel Malloy

Compared to Greater Boston, the decline of traditional news organizations in Connecticut is considerably more advanced. The Hartford Courant, a venerable statewide daily that traces its founding to 1764, is owned by Tribune Co., which is in bankruptcy. As a result, the Courant has had to cut back on its Statehouse coverage in recent years. Other largish dailies, such as the New Haven Register, no longer even have a full-time Statehouse reporter.

Yet Connecticut has also proved to be a place where digital-media experiments have arisen to fill in some of the gap. Two that are focused on state government are the Connecticut Mirror, a well-funded non-profit, and CT News Junkie, a scrappy for-profit that also functions as the Statehouse bureau for the non-profit New Haven Independent.

With Gov. Dannel Malloy having reached a tentative agreement with the state’s labor leaders on Friday, a deal that could prevent the layoff of nearly 5,000 employees, I thought this was a good time to check in on how the old and new players covered it.

Hartford Courant

  • Lede: “Capping months of secretive talks, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state-employee union leaders reached a deal Friday to save $1.6 billion over the next two years in exchange for a promise not to lay off unionized workers for the next four years.”
  • When: Time-stamped at 10:11 p.m. on Friday; published in Saturday’s print edition
  • Length: About 1,600 words
  • What: A densely reported story that is full of details but is a little bewildering if you’re not an insider. Perhaps the one-must read if you’re a stakeholder, but loses points for quoting the chairman of the Republican State Committee as calling the budget “unconstitutional” without offering (or demanding) an explanation.
  • Reported by no one else: “At the end of his prepared remarks in announcing the deal, Malloy’s speech said, ‘Finally … so much for Friday the 13th being an unlucky day!’ But Malloy never delivered that line.”

The Connecticut Mirror

  • Lede: “Negotiators for state employee unions and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy tentatively agreed Friday on a two-year $1.6 billion package of concessions and other labor savings that will help Malloy balance the $40.1 billion biennial budget without 4,700 announced layoffs.”
  • When: Posted on Friday with no time-stamp, but first comment posted at 2:29 p.m.
  • Length: About 1,400 words, plus a 1,100-word sidebar analyzing the implications of the deal for future budget planning, posted later on Friday
  • What: As with the Courant, the Mirror’s main story is densely reported and filled with details of interest mainly to insiders. The sidebar, though, provides needed perspective by demonstrating how difficult it will be for Malloy to hold on to savings in the face of demands that he undo program cuts.
  • Reported by no one else: “With over $19 billion in bonded debt, Connecticut ranks among the top three states in the nation in terms of debt per capita, and debt as a percentage of the taxpayers’ personal income.”

CT News Junkie

  • Lede: “Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said that after months of negotiating he has reached a deal with labor that saves the state $1.6 billion over the next two years and $21.5 billion over the next 20. However, at a 3 p.m. press conference there was little Malloy could say about the agreement until negotiators have had time to brief union members.”
  • When: Friday at 6:12 p.m. (final update); initial post at 2:20 p.m.
  • Length: About 900 words
  • What: As the site’s name suggests, CT News Junkie is mainly geared toward political junkies and insiders. It doesn’t get any more insidery than this: “Also the retirement age will be raised from 60 to 63 for Tier II employees and 62 to 65 for Tier IIa employees, however, those changes won’t kick in until 2022.” But the shorter length makes for a somewhat zippier read without sacrificing much in the way of needed details.
  • Reported by no one else: “In 2009 the last time a the [sic] SEBAC contract was reopened it took the state employee unions three weeks to complete the ratification of the contracts.”

The New York Times

  • Lede: “Threatened with nearly 5,000 layoffs, representatives for 45,000 unionized state employees agreed Friday to $1.6 billion in concessions over two years to help balance a budget that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy says includes pain for everyone: record tax increases, substantial program cuts and worker givebacks in health care, pension benefits and wages.”
  • When: The Web version of the article says it was “published” on Friday; it appeared in print on Saturday
  • Length: About 900 words
  • What: The Times covers major Connecticut stories as part of its New York local report. The story, which cites the Courant for some details, offers a more sweeping view than the others, going with fewer details and seeking to place Malloy’s conciliatory approach with the unions in a broader political context.
  • Reported by no one else: “And while the confrontational approach has made Governor Christie of New Jersey a hot property, there is no early indication that what Mr. Malloy calls ‘shared sacrifice’ is working as well for him. A Quinnipiac University poll in March put his approval rating at 35 percent.”

Sex, rock-and-roll and the fall of Tribune Co.

We all knew it was bad. Today, New York Times media reporter David Carr tells us how bad in an exhaustive piece on Tribune Co. under real-estate mogul Sam Zell and his nutty co-conspirators, Randy Michaels and Lee Abrams.

There’s plenty of sex and rock-and-roll, though no drugs. The only false note is Carr’s description of the new barbarians desecrating the “shrine” that was the office of longtime Tribune owner Robert McCormick.

Then again, though the Colonel was a piece of work on the order of the foul-mouthed Zell himself, he never would have dreamed off stripping his newspaper and ushering it into bankruptcy.