What if The NewYork Times Became the Nation's A Section?

What if local newspapers stopped printing national and international news? What if smaller newspapers consolidated their already scarce resources to focus on more local news? What if those interested in politics and foreign affairs simply went on online? What if this ceased to be a 'what if' scenario and became reality?

In an online interview in Governing.com, a Poynter Institute publication, some very interesting comments were made. Andrew Donohue, a co-editor of voiceofsandiego.org, said the following:

“Eventually, when nearly everyone's getting their news from the Internet, a daily newspaper in San Diego or Jacksonville or Milwaukee will have little need to worry about national and international news that they would normally cover with wire stories. I see the markets getting more and more niche, and local publications going the same way. People who are interested in national and international news on the Web now can already go to the New York Times or other major newspaper, knowing that it will be the best. Why do they need wire coverage from their local newspaper?”

I’m flabbergasted. In some ways this could be a very positive development. It’s an excellent way to save money and free up reporters to cover the issues that matter most to their readers. My local paper in South Carolina ran national and international news generated from wire services. I had no problem with that. But when local journalists did their own political reporting, the articles almost always lacked context. I generally found them to be uniformed and biased. One respected newspaper doing the reporting could potentially solve that.

Donohue believes that if national and foreign news is consolidated it will be done by The New York Times.

“ I see the New York Times Web page becoming everyone's A section, and see the reader then simply switching sites to go to the B section for local news. And, because we don't have to worry about being anyone's A section, we never have to balance the newsworthiness of a mayor's announcement vs. the death of the Palestinian prime minister.”

Ultimately, I believe Donohue’s ideas, while cost-efficient and intriguing, are pernicious. What I love about reporting is that I bring something unique to the table, based on my own personality and life experiences. Send two reporters out to cover the same story and chances are you’ll read two very different pieces. Everyone has a different writing style and way of working sources. Enabling only one or two media outlets to cover the news gives them a dangerous, unprecedented amount of power. What if reporters have an axe to grind? What if they’re being bribed? What if they simply slept in too late and missed the story? This would have a tremendous impact on the news readers receive.

I’m a teaching assistant for a professor who asked students to look at the news from a 360 degree perspective. With only a chosen few journalists covering a specific event, how can readers receive a full perspective? On a personal note, I would like to become a foreign correspondent. I lived and worked with international aid organizations and the media in a developing country for several years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I believe what I learned abroad would enable me to cover international events very differently than my peers. And that is where my value as a reporter lies: in the differences.

As a reporter soon-to-be looking for work, I reject Donohue’s suggestion for the ethical and logistical problems it would present. Besides, it would narrow the pool of reporters going abroad, increase competition, and again…I’d really like a job.

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