2009/03/05

Letter to Inky on newspaper bureaus

I agree with Trudy Rubin that newspaper bureaus are a very good thing. What does a newspaper provide for reporters that they can't get through the blogging experience? Well clearly, as Media Matters has been documenting in the case of George Will and the global warming issue, the editorial "layers of management" have been pretty useless when it comes to correcting a "star" writer with decades of experience.
Will and some junior "go-fer" editor disagree on some point and it's pretty clear that the star will prevail. Officially, technically, during the first years of the Bush Administration, Condoleezza Rice was the boss of Donald Rumsfeld, but looking back at how the National Security Advisor "managed" the Secretary of Defense, it's not at all clear that she ever did more than make a few meek and mild suggestions every now and then. Seems to me that Will and the layers of management at the Washington Post have a relationship similar to that of Rumsfeld and Rice.
I think, to use the economists' term, there's a definite "diminishing marginal utility" to being in a large news-gathering bureau. Resources spent on allowing a reporter the time, the travel and telephone expenses, the use of things like the LexisNexis service and the sheer utility of being able to tell a potential interview subject "Hi! I'm from the Daily Tribune of Oshkosh and we'd like to get your views on..." all have an upper limit beyond which adding resources is not very useful.
Still, those are all resources that aren't available to your average blogger. The Washington Post story on the Walter Reed Hospital and how wounded soldiers were being carelessly warehoused was clearly a story that required time and resources to collect. It also helped the cause of better care for those soldiers that a high-profile publication was able to use its megaphone to force changes in the system.
So yes, Rubin is correct. With the qualifications I've pointed out, newspapers are valuable institutions that should be preserved.

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