Salisbury Interview Please take one minute to evaluate our website. Click here to take the survey.
According to veteran St. Paul Pioneer Press political and Capitol reporter Bill Salisbury, there are several reasons why reporting on quality public-policy proposals is not as robust as it was when he started his career as a Capitol reporter in 1975:
(1) Reporters at the Pioneer Press now write first for online and only secondly for the print edition of the newspaper. The focus on digital means getting stories posted as quickly as possible, he says, which might mean less time to do enterprise reporting, such as in-depth series.
(2) He notes that his newspaper, along with most others, has a shrinking news hole, the space available for news content, which makes it difficult to report the background and context of a story.
(3) In addition to the shrinking available news space,most newspapers have a shrinking newsroom staff. The Pioneer Press newsroom has a staff of fewer than 100 people now, down from 250 a decade ago.
(4) There are so many more competing sources of information that want the newspaper's attention. Although the newspaper sorts out very skeptically the sound bites and avalanche of statements sent by public relations firms on behalf of groups vying for attention at the Capitol, Salisbury says the growing numbers of lobbying organizations at the Capitol overshadow the work of "do-gooder" organizations.
(5) The role of institutional memory in reporting is important, but many young reporters today have little background in Minnesota's general, political and policy history.
(6) There are a lot more public-policy proposals out there, but Salisbury is not sure the quality is as good as it was.
In contrast, when he started at the Pioneer Press in 1977, whenever the Citizens League issued a report, it was important and the paper had to cover it. Now the Citizens League and other similar groups must compete for the attention of reporters and space in newspapers with advocacy, lobbying and special interest groups. Salisbury believes that has diluted the influence of public-policy groups.
He says the future of newspapers does not look good, but there is a future for journalism through the efforts of bright young people trying to figure out the best way to communicate about public affairs in this digital age.
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I urge young people I know to look hard at careers in journalism.
There was little mention, however, of the long prevalent newsroom mentality of "getting along to go along." Even in the old days, too few journalists were genuine diggers on the important stuff, demanding to make relevant public information public.
This country operates best when we honor freedom of information and our Bill of Rights.
I love to read the paper. However, the Sunday Pioneer Press isn't even worth the $1.50 you pay for it anymore. There is barely any news in it at all. I get the Star Tribune and the New York Times every Sunday and they both do good/great in-depth coverage of important issues - the Times especially. It is true—but disappointing— to read how the news has to "entertain" as well as inform. The loss of sales and subscription revenue, staff, and ultimately readership has really hurt the Pioneer Press. I worry about how long it will continue to exist.
The loss of civil discourse, informed voters, factual, unbiased news stories and articles, and a sense of community are all being hurt by the changes that technology, the Digital Age, and hundreds of cable stations have brought to us. As much as I enjoy all those options as an individual I really see how our "common, shared interests" have suffered.
An analogy: as a kid growing up in the sixties, we all listened to the same music from one radio station. It played everything - popular mainstream music, but also, country, rock 'n roll, rhythm and blues, and folk music. It gave us exposure to music we would never even hear today. Today everything is separated and specific to selected tastes - no common or shared interests. The price of progress, I suppose.
We get both Tribune and the Pioneer Press. Hardly anything is a local story. All news service articles. Public Radio and Public Television may be the best avenue for discussion and delivery of public policy. Could the major public policy organizations discuss public policy subjects with a moderator, broadcast statewide through their network and get responses from interested individuals throughout the state to the Civic policy organization with results to be broadcast in policy alternatives with a survey and request for comments from interested parties?
Civic Caucus certainly gets highly qualified presenters and has the start of a network.
The big [money] and lobbyists, many of which are former legislators, can only be overcome through engagement of the citizens that hold their legislators accountable through their votes. The political parties float their various agenda in the media, conduct hearings and then put forth in the majority parties omnibus bills, which are negotiated in secret.
No scorecard for the voters.
It is no wonder that our status in the world is slipping.
The Pioneer Press is still held accountable for the accuracy and importance of its reporting but many of the competing channels (websites, blogs, emails, Twitter, etc.) are not held to the same standards. This makes it harder for traditional newspapers to compete against channels that specifically tailor (slant) their news to suit their target audience and can magnify issues that may not really be that important.
People can only absorb so much daily news and consumers are quickly overwhelmed by the flood of news from all channels. It’s easier for many to simply disengage, which is not good by any means. When there were only a few newspapers and TV networks, these channels could filter the news down to a more limited repertoire thereby helping consumers stay more focused on key issues. Now there is comparatively little time and resources for journalists to perform this "filtering" service. Oftentimes, so-called "breaking news" appearing on one news service almost forces the other news services to pick it up too or risk becoming irrelevant.
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