Baby boomer guy that I am, I'm old-fashioned when it comes to newspapers. Meaning, I still read them!
My wife and I subscribe to the print versions of both the Salem Statesman Journal and the Portland Oregonian. I also have a digital subscription to the New York Times.
Given that I like newspapers, and have read one or more almost every day of my life, I've been saddened by how far down the Journalistic Quality mountain our home-town paper, the Gannett-owned Statesman Journal, has slid.
Today a newcomer to Salem with 30 years of experience in the newspaper business wrote a critique of the Statesman Journal that made my heart sing with, Oh, yeah, right on sister! So true! Tell it like it is!
Sarah Rohrs left the comment below on a Strange Up Salem post I put up this morning in response to a piece by editorial page editor Dick Hughes, "Life in Newspapers: Constant Change but Same Mission."
She nails what's wrong with the newspaper. Sarah doesn't pull any punches. I like her bluntness.
From Sarah Rohrs:
Surely, you can't be serious. How can you even entertain that thought with a straight face?
I am in no one's camp here in Salem. I am a new resident, having moved here in early October. One of the very first things I did was subscribe to the Statesman Journal to get informed about the community. I was looking forward to getting the paper and reading the stories.
I have to tell you that in all my years of working in and reporting at newspapers I have never seen a more mediocre daily newspaper than the Statesman Journal.
My subscription ran out this past Friday (Dec. 4). I got the paper for two months. At first I figured "lots of slow news days," a few reporters must be on vacation.
I looked at your online masthead to see how many reporters there are on staff and was surprised to see so many. From what I can tell there are at least 15 reporters and at least six editors. Whoa! That’s a big news staff for a mid-size daily What do you all do all day?
In my last newspaper job in a city about the same size as Salem and with a newspaper about the same size, our newsroom had five full-time reporters on our staff and two editors. We could write circles around your reporters. The City Hall reporter actually covered meetings and did stories on city government. What does your city government reporter do? Does the schools reporter do anything but write feel-good feature stories about how great the schools are in Salem?
What's happening with the downtown? What kind of developments are in the pipeline? What's the Planning Commission up to? In my two months here in Salem I see a lot of poverty around me. What's the job condition like? You have a “causes” reporter. What are the causes in Salem? I would really like to know.
One of the few City Council stories I did see was little more than a city staff report rewrite on new tree regulations. Amazingly, this story (barely more than a brief) was the top of the fold Page One story! I saw that you had to increase the type face size to make this tiny story stretch across the page. I contacted the reporter and asked him why this issue was significant (as I had no idea from his story) and he said, basically, it wasn't significant at all. Just a technicality for staff.
My biggest question for you two is this - Where is the pride among the reporters and editors? I know first-hand the effects cuts have had on newspapers and editorial staff. But there is no excuse for such weak news stories and overall coverage. I am not in the Statesman Journal newsroom, of course, so I don’t know the conditions.
Please don’t delude yourself with thinking that you and your reporters give readers what they need to be informed and make informed choices about their town. That’s embarrassing. Take a hard look at your news coverage and make an honest assessment and at last consider taking steps to improve your news coverage.
A former subscriber