This morning’s local columnist highlights a lot of what’s gone soft with our community of local journalists. His column’s most important spot, the opening paragraph (“the lede”), is devoted to a plea, begging readers to send him some news. He’s desperate!
The next four paragraphs list examples of all the things readers could be sending him: menu changes, anniversaries and historical information all make the list. Whew, that list takes up another two inches!
Not once does it seem to occur to the columnist to do the real reporter thing: dig for a story. Go research an issue that affects local lives and businesses. Cultivate sources, make phone calls. Get out of the chatty, self-referential office and head over to city hall to read the county budget (where did all those state recycling-grant funds go?). Peruse land transactions. Find out why the Burger King was torn down and who the contractor is on that job and how much the rennovation is costing. Will management change? Head over to the sheriff’s department to talk to the staff, not just read press releases. What happened to the federal jail inspection report?
The columnist fancies himself a business writer. So tell locals what's with the Walgreens expansion on Route 70. How does a national corporation decide to build an outlet across the street from the Wal-Mart pharmacy? What does the construction cost? Where will management come from? Who's the contractor moving all that dirt? When does the front door open? There's a major business story right under the reporter's nose, but no one has sent him a press release.
The writer/columnist needs to look at how journalists actually work. Not one of them opens up a story by begging readers to send in news. Real reporters cultivate sources and build trusted connections. They don’t beg for it.