This sort of story makes me really queasy:
After the latest round of cuts, a newsroom that had more than 420 employees a decade ago now has just 140. At the beginning of the Bush administration, The (Baltimore) Sun had 11 staffers in Washington. It has one today. Having previously shuttered bureaus in London, Beijing, and Moscow, the paper in the last few months closed local bureaus, including the one in Annapolis – Maryland’s state capital.[….]
In 2006, Sun reporters Fred Schulte and June Arney spent months reporting a four-part series on “ground rents, a colonial law that allowed ownership of the ground under a house — and a peculiar loophole that let such owners begin seizing properties during the real estate boom.
The series involved extensive reporting and database maintenance that no reporter churning out daily (or hourly) content would able to do.
“That was the kind of thing that only the Baltimore Sun could have done,” said Schulte, who took a buyout last fall. But it’s unclear if they still could do it: The four-person investigative team at the Sun when Schulte started in 2004 is now down to one reporter.
The “ground rents” series was a finalist for a Pulitzer, got a nod on “The Wire” and — most important – prompted the government to take action. Martin O’Malley, in his first act as governor, signed a bill reforming the centuries-old law.
There all kinds of problems with newspapers — institutional arrogance, a costly editorial structure that dates from the Mesozoic era, editorial boards that regurgitate right-wing misinformation through some combination of stupidity, senility, and cowardice. My own local paper is so bad that my friend Rottenchester — who knows more about these things than I do — is convinced that we’ll all be better off when it goes under. And local television reporters (who aren’t in the same danger as newspaper reporters) are a lot better than anyone gives them credit for.
All of that said, who the hell is going to do six-part series on problems with arcane rental laws when the newspapers are gone? I’m not sure people realize how important this stuff is. In every city in the country, there are crazy injustices being done that will probably only see the light of day if some intrepid newspaper reporter investigates it.
And I’d feel more confident about the papers not all disappearing if their advocates could come up with better better business models than this one.