Wither the Baltimore Sun? Let’s Hope Not

John Barry at the Baltimore City Paper goes behind the scenes at the shriveling Baltimore Sun newsroom. It’s a great read. Barry accesses former Sun reporters such as Tom Pelton and my old neighbor Doug Donovan, to pierce the Sun’s veil of silence over the recent round of buyouts and layoffs.

In the past, the plucky alternative publication has scooped the Sun, but this time the City Paper airs some of the Sun’s dirty laundry. Here’s a snippet:

When he got to Baltimore, he muses, there were three people covering City Hall: “It was me, Laura Vozzella, and Tom Pelton. Eventually Laura left the beat. It was just me and Tom. Then Tom left. Lynn Anderson just left.” He pauses again. “Well, Jon Fritze is a great reporter. If he stays, I’m comfortable that she’ll [Mayor Dixon] be watched.” A few days after Donovan says this, Fritze announces that he’s leaving for a job at USA Today.
Donovan doesn’t seem angry or bitter, just a little bemused at the fact that Tribune’s corporate officers are justifying cutbacks in part by saying that journalism needs to become more local. In a June 5 memo to Tribune employees, Zell and Tribune chief operating officer Randy Michaels say that after reviewing dozens of readers’ surveys, they’d found that customers want “unbiased, honest journalism” and “LOCAL consumer and community news.” So why, Donovan wonders, are they squeezing out people like him?
“I left magazines to come back to newspapers and do the type of journalism that
makes more of an impact locally,” he says. “And now, I’m being told that that type of journalism isn’t what people want. When there’s big news breaking, people pick up the paper, because they want to know about serious issues. I don’t know how you can fill a newspaper with . . . whatever it is Sam Zell thinks that people want.”

I don’t mind engaging in a little schadenfreude at the Sun’s travails. To a small extent the comeuppance is richly deserved given the O’Malley lick spittles, who sit on its editorial board, and its former chief environmental reporter blurring the line between advocacy and journalism. However, I think we need to heed Debra Saunders’ advice and be wary of cheerleading for the demise of main stream newspapers.

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Yes, the blogosphere has pushed mainstream media and kept them honest. We here at Red Maryland, along with our colleague Martin Watcher have scored our own little coups, scooping local media outlets and breaking stories other reporters either overlooked or deliberately ignored. However, I don’t think blogs can or should completely replace newspapers or other traditional news outlets. Blogs part of the game now. More and more people are getting their news an opinion from blogs. However, a fair bit of what we do, especially here at Red Maryland, is based on traditional journalism. Sure we can add badly missing context and balance to an article with commentary, or even point out omitted facts, but the point is that we do feed to some extent off of traditional reporting.

In some cases, I don’t mind doing the leg work to dig up information, but like a lot of us in the blogosphere, I have a day job, I don’t get paid to do this nor do I have the financial resources for all the FOIA requests I’d love to submit.

Furthermore, imagine no more Kool-Aid drenched Sun editorials to skewer or inane Dan Rodricks’ columns for Brian to demolish. The Sun has its issues, but it would be a shame not to have it to kick around anymore.

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