Friday, May 1, 2009

What's Happened To The Baltimore Sun-And What We Can Learn From It

About two weeks ago, I read a post on local blog The Baltimore Brew, which featured an interview with the editor of my hometown newspaper, the Baltimore Sun. The Sun, like many other newspapers, has been decimated by layoffs of veteran reporters, editors, photographers and designers. The latest layoffs came April 29, with 61 newsroom staffers gone, according to the Sun.

Which makes Editor Monty Cook's remarks in a speech at Johns Hopkins University -- that the paper was not in "decline," but in "transition" -- an interesting take on what has happened to a newspaper that had been well respected in the industry. The speech was organized by the university's Institute for Policy Studies entitled “Content and News: Protecting What Matters Most.”

What does the future look like for the Sun under Cook, who took over in January? We'll see more blogs and more use of Twitter. He also cited the UK newspaper the Guardian's move to a "platform-neutral" news room (which merges the traditional and online news rooms), and more of an emphasis on mobile content.

What won't be seen in the Sun? Longer stories that take weeks or months of research and reporting. “The days of the six-part series are gone,” Cook said in his remarks, arguing that there are other vehicles for good journalism. “Watergate was beat reporting.”

So what's the future of the Baltimore Sun? “We stop being a newspaper company. Right now. The end," said Cook. “We’ll think of content first and platform second.” He admitted that the newspaper will be smaller after the transition.

The Sun is not the only newspaper struggling to make the transition in a rapidly changing industry. We can all bemoan the demise of the traditional print newspaper, but that's not going to bring it back.

What we can do is make sure we're getting the tools and skills that will help us make the transition to fit into structures like what the Sun is becoming. Making the transition should be one of the top priorities for NABJ to make sure that journalists of color are represented in the new world order of journalism.

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