Don’t quit digging until the story’s unearthed.
February 5, 2014
Dear Jeff Bezos,
I read in the papers that you are increasing the staff and making other improvements at the Washington Post, which you purchased last year.
I have two words for you:
I also have one suggestion:
Encourage your editors and reporters to think and act like archeologists.
More on the latter later.
I say thank you because I see in your approach some renewed hope for newspapers – and by extension the communities they once commendably served and journalists who keep trying to serve but who too often no longer are provided the wherewithal to adequately do that.
Too many newspapers – especially chain-owned newspapers – have slipped into inferior hands.
They suck an inordinate amount of advertising and subscription money from the communities and send it back to corporate headquarters, leaving the local newspapers insufficient funding with which to maintain staff, compete in a meaningful way, consistently and aggressively cover their own back yards.
The result often is an inferior product, one which suffers in quality and quantity.
What subscribers get – that is, the declining number of subscribers who still take the newspapers – is often an abundance of what can best be described as puff ‘n’ fluff. Content which is low cost. Even free.
Ours is an age of much “journalism” by press release.
I know, as you and the whole wide world knows, that these are difficult economic times for newspapers.
I know that change is required.
Change is life; life is change.
The fact that newspapers are selling assets – everything from their office buildings and printing plants to their surface parking lots and parking garages – is not of primary concern to me.
Nor is the ongoing emphasis on shifting newspapers from print to online publishing.
Rather, my concern is the shift away from consistent, aggressive, meaningful, quality content.
It takes money, professional staff, commitment to provide that.
And, as I am sure you know, Jeff, more than a modicum of courage.
But, to give subscribers – and the communities – less than that is short changing them.
I read into your plan of action the hope you will be among those who will take the lead in producing a quality newspaper.
Take the lead in restoring newspapers to some acceptable level of respectability. And responsibility.
Re-establish higher newspaper standards.
Set the pace for newspapers in communities around the nation to learn from and to hopefully follow.
That’s where archaeology comes in.
Journalists must be encouraged to again think like archaeologists; that, is to dig, dig, dig.
Dig until the complete story is unearthed.
And to do their digging as much as anyplace in their own backyards.
Too often, they have become too timid to do that. They do not have the funding to do it, the encouragement to do it, the leadership to do it.
To the extent you are successful in setting the pace for newspapers to do that, readers and communities across the land will be the better for it.
Not to even mention the benefit to this not-so-insignificant little experiment we have going called democracy.
Too many newspapers have bottomed out, Jeff. Or nearly so.
We wish you every success in pointing them toward the top again.
Roger Summers is a journalist and essayist who spends time in Texas, New Mexico and England and in a world of curiosity and creativity. He is the author of The Day Camelot Came to Town and Heart Songs From a Washboard Road. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please click the book cover image to read more about the short story collection of Roger Summers, Heart Songs from a Washboard Road.