Remember back in May when Lee Enterprises sheepishly tried to assure readers that their Montana papers would still cover Montana politics after the chain unceremoniously pushed its senior reporters out the door? And some wags, both online in print, mocked the chain’s contention that it could still cover politics and government in Montana without doing boring things like attending meetings?
Well, Lee has posted the want ads for the reporters who will replace Mike Dennison and Chuck Johnson, and if the job descriptions are to be believed, it’s going to be worse than we thought.
I can only hope that the first job description wasn’t written by someone with a role either writing or editing at a newspaper. I appreciate someone trying, but this feels like someone who is spending a little too much time on that first, unpublished novel at the office : “This reporter needs to have a storytelling style that matches the unique nature of Montana, while having a narrative voice that’s as smooth as Neversweat Bourbon.” I mean, I enjoy Neversweat as much as the next person, but come on.
Worse is the job description’s focus on so-called “digital” journalism. The job description reads “Candidates must be digitally savvy enough to build an audience that spans the state. Mastery of digital tools will help capture the different angles of a story, including audio, video, still photography and social media in addition to news writing.”
For the life of me, I can’t understand the Lee fascination with digital tools. You can pay a relatively low-paid employee to manage to online presence, but the thing that drives readership of newspapers is news coverage. Remember the IR’s bizarre experiment with narrating news stories with shaky video? Does anyone go to a Montana newspaper for lazy, half-baked slideshows? And can anyone explain these bizarre videos the Missoulian is clearly forcing its reporters to produce?
On average, they seem to generate about 100 hits on YouTube, and I’ve seen more enthusiasm in video footage from captives in North Korean prison camps. And on a more pedantic note, if you’re going to call it the 4:06, shouldn’t it, you know, be 4:06 long?
The second job description(for a reporter with a data/investigative focus, no less) is even worse. In addition to noting that Helena is only a preferred location for the reporter, the want ad suggests that these crazy kids these days just won’t read actual policy stories.
However, the team also will recognize that quarter-turn coverage of officials mired in government process is not the best use of resources and may not hold the attention span of a digital audience.
In other words, who needs weeks of in-depth coverage about the Affordable Care Act’s impact on Montana or stories about the history of Montana politics when you can do some person on the street reaction stories to Supreme Court decisions that a bad local TV newscast would be embarrassed to run? How about stock photo slideshows with sensitive captions like “A black man with hands outside the bars of a prison cell”? That’s going to seize the “digital audience” right by its hipster beanies and bring them back to newspapers, isn’t it?
Critics of the new regime after Johnson and Dennsion were pushed aside were wrong, it seems. The future of reporting on state government and politics is going to be even worse than we feared.