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These comments are responses to the Civic Caucus interview with

Veteran Reporter Bill Salisbury
February 5, 2016

Robust newspaper reporting on public-policy proposals
no longer as common as in the past

Overview

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. 

For the complete interview summary see: Salisbury interview

Individual Responses:

Wayne Jennings
Informative and refreshing report. The suggestion for face-to-face meetings with reporters tells us a route and such a meeting would also tell us if there’s interest. If there is interest, then it’s an easier route for follow-up info and advice for us.

Chuck Slocum
Salisbury's comments are on the mark about the need for more and better journalism in the future, even as we move away from print newspapers and toward the social media as a way to communicate to most of us. He made a good point about the sorting out of the various forms of groups whose purpose is "special interest" from the role of skilled, neutral journalists reporting on the most critical issues of public concern.

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.

Dennis Carlson
Great interview - insightful and honest.

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.

Bruce Corrie
Great interview. Thanks.

Scott Halstead
Pretty disappointing to say the least. Newspapers contain very little news. Television has very little news. Even the sportscast is more about entertainment. Watch KARE TV 10:00 P.M. news. All show. Sportscaster is now the newscaster. Sports covers the major teams games and then goes into entertainment.

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.

Alan Miller
Salisbury, a stellar newsman, covers many of today's troubling media topics so well in the interview. We are living in a time of the "dumbing down" of America, where communication as we used to know it, is dying, and we rely on sound bites of information. For all the good features to the Internet, it is also a means to convey unverified, or blatantly false information. Combined with diminishing courses in social sciences and humanities in our schools, and particularly our colleges, we have a much less informed society and electorate.

It is no wonder that our status in the world is slipping.

Tom Spitznagle
It’s apparent that the proliferation of communications channels has significantly diluted the importance of traditional news sources.

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.
 

To receive these interview summaries as they occur, email civiccaucus@comcast.net         Follow us on Twitter

 

The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Interview Group  includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

  John S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje (Executive Director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (Chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman

 

 

 


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The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
2104 Girard Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55405.  civiccaucus@comcast.net
Dan Loritz, chair, 612-791-1919   ~   Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.
 

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