Ex-Stribber: It's the management, stupid

Chris Ison, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former

Star Tribune

reporter who has become

a valuable local resource for teaching the next generation of Minnesota journalists


an interesting view

of life inside 425 Portland Ave.

Writing for Columbia Journalism Review, Ison suggests that the drum beat of depressing news about the media--and the steady line of coworkers taking buyouts or getting laid off--have seriously demoralized the Strib's newsroom. Although the 35W coverage provided a flicker of life, he suggests that on an average day local journos are too busy worrying about when the axe will fall to really throw themselves into investigative newsgathering. The answer, he says, is for managers to stop talking like business guys and start inspiring the troops with talk of good journalism.

The workers have shown they’ll change how they do the work; they just don’t want to change what the work is for. Is our central purpose still “to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society,” the mission adopted seven years ago by the Committee of Concerned Journalists? Or have we lost that focus while reaching for younger readers, more unique visitors to the Web site, and shallow suburban coverage meant to draw more ads? Asked more simply, are we here to serve the community or ourselves?

I was reminded of this truth recently as Twin Cities media covered the one-year anniversary of the I-35W bridge collapse. Amid that tragedy a year ago, my old newsroom came to life again. Staffers hustled to the scene from vacations and dinners and days off. They worked tirelessly for weeks on every angle, producing investigative stories, photo pages, and multimedia packages. And for those weeks, the language in the newsroom changed. It was about the story. The focus and energy were back, and the great journalism that emerged was no coincidence.

The challenge for newsrooms is to instill that sense of purpose—and yes, pride—every day, because most days, the best stories are much harder to come by. A motivated reporter sees a story in almost every document and interview. On a bad day, the same reporter can manage to never see a story. He can file the easy 12-incher, and no one needs to know that he avoided the riskier one.

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