Claremont Insider: Media Matters

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Media Matters

Question: Is the Claremont Courier a dying institution?

There's a lot of talk going on now about the role of newspapers in the digital age. The PBS show Frontline recently did a four-part series called "News War" that looked at the future of the news profession. The series included a look at blogs and their contribution to two events: the downfall of former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and the retirement of Dan Rather from CBS.

One person skeptical about the power of blogging is Columbia School of Journalism dean and New Yorker writer Nicholas Lemann. Frontline interviewed Lemann for their report, and he has some pointed observations regarding the relationship of journalism to blogging.

The third episode of the series spent a good portion of the segment looking at the Los Angeles Times and the struggle between the editor and publisher and the Tribune Co., which owns the Times. There does seem to be a real struggle between the media conglomerates that own most of the news outlets in the U.S. and the idea of journalism as a kind of public service. Like most service industries, the news business is undergoing an efficiency craze--make fewer people do the same job or more.

But where does that leave a paper like the Courier? Is there a niche market for extremely localized news? Or do papers like the Courier end up being not much more than Lemann's description of blogs: the equivalent of church newsletters?

For a time, the Courier did a pretty good job reporting local issues. Reporters like Gary Scott or Chris Bray were independent enough thinkers to look beneath the surface of an issue and report the news in context. But the revolving door of reporters at the Courier hasn't allowed the new ones to develop a deep enough understanding of the community's dynamics before they move on.

And, if the Courier seems bad, the Daily Bulletin in many ways is worse. The Bulletin has greater resources than the Courier, but it doesn't allow reporters like Will Bigham or Jason Newell to do much more than sketch out an issue. As a result, things are presented in black-and-white, without much of the nuance a complicated subject like the water company buyout requires. Even when the Bulletin ran a special last Sunday on the water issue, it still missed many points and accepted official statements without really looking at the facts.

For instance, Claremont Councilmember Ellen Taylor in a recent Bulletin article attributed the lack of movement on the the city's prospective water company purchase to "micro-management" (meaning Councilmember Jackie McHenry). Yet, neither Taylor, Sandy Baldonado or Peter Yao (who claims to be for the purchase) moved forward with a proposal in the last year for an eminent domain proceeding. Taylor claims that McHenry and Councimember Corey Calaycay were opposed to using eminent domain, but no proposal was ever considered. Taylor was in the majority on the issue. Why didn't she do something? And what about last year's eminent domain initiative, Prop. 90, putting the kibosh on such proceedings until after the November election?

These are the sorts of questions the Bulletin should have asked but failed to. Blogs for local news exist because traditional news outlets often overlook the nuances of events.

So, where does that leave the Courier? One day in the not-so-distant future, the Courier may come up for sale. If someone like former Mayor Diann Ring decides to buy it (as was rumored a few years back), then the paper becomes something worse than a church newsletter. It becomes a uncritical propaganda sheet, and that isn't really journalism either.