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Trib 'Breach' Angers Staff Reporters

By Kate Gardiner in News on May 2, 2009 8:45PM

chicago tribune We were astounded late Thursday night to read Phil Rosenthal's article about a recent breach of the traditional, and cherished, editorial-advertising wall at the newspaper. Not only did a survey sent out to readers share actual story tops and pitches from stories-in-progress with readers and former subscribers, but it revealed information that reporters felt might compromise additional reporting and was apparently done without the knowledge of editor Gerould Kern.

"We've stopped this," Kern said. "To prematurely disseminate information about stories in progress compromises reporting. ... There are a lot of reasons, such as potential legal [issues], fairness, accuracy and completeness.

"Reporters raised this question, as they should. Editors responded. We had a conversation about it. We made it clear what our values are. It was an affirmation of what we all believe in this afternoon, even though there was a breakdown and it was unfortunate, and we wish it hadn't happened."

Chitown Daily News editor and former Tribune investigative reporter Geoff Dougherty said he thought the premise wasn't necessarily that bad, though it's not that good either. "The more people think of the shift in journalism to this blog-style model," he said. "The more you realize the model is posting parts of stories instead of the whole package with a big bow on top. In context, it's not revolutionary. But is it a great idea? No, not really."

Former Tribune editor and Medill professor Marcel Pacatte, who runs the school's online news wire service, said he thinks the way the Tribune executed the project was wrong - but that the spirit behind it might've been a step in the right direction in the new news model. "They've always done the budget (list of upcoming stories) there in a lazy way," he said. "They paste the story tops instead of doing what everywhere else does and composing specific budget lines."

"But in this day and age, I think the budget should be a public document," Pacatte continued. "We're at a point where papers need to change the way they think. We have to get more people to come into newspapers for information, and I think this could become something like promotions on television."

The story attracted the attention of media commentators, ranging from the Chicago Reader's columnist Michael Miner, who didn't straight out naysay the concept, to Amy Gahran, who said that while this execution was poor, she could, "Understand the newsroom's complaint if their story ideas were shared outside the newsroom without their prior knowledge and consent. However, if that consent can be obtained, I personally think this type of research could be surprisingly useful."

Gahran said the exercise could, in part, facilitate the relationship between older and younger generations of readers - and their up-and-coming target audiences. She wrote:

"I'd even take it farther -- rather than just vote on a packaged list of story ideas, I'd survey these folks about which angles on those stories would most interest them. And I'd give them room to critique the story ideas, and suggest new story ideas. such a combination of qualitative and quantitative data could shed light on how news organizations can make their offerings more relevant and valuable by being willing to step outside their comfort zone of journalistic tradition."