Saturday, September 06, 2008

A modest proposal for the Houston paper

The Houston Chronicle is fixing to lay off a bunch of people if they don't get enough voluntary retirements. It's happening all over the USA.

Things must be pretty glum around the paper. I just read a blog written by the paper's "reader representative," who, after answering a subscriber's question, signed off by saying, "I hope you all have a great weekend. I think I'll be back next week."

I have an idea on one way the paper can handle the layoffs. I don't think it would get rid of the entire 80 employees they're looking to shed, but it'd be a start -- eliminate the entire opinion section where the paper publishes its institutional view of the world.

Such a move could be couched in terms that a lot of mainstream media haters would love; tell them, it's not our business to tell you what to think, we'll leave that you. Think whatever you want. We don't care! We're just gonna report the damn news.

I don't know how many people are involved in producing the paper's editorials, but it's probably more than you think. Besides the paper's editorials (which are oddly liberal for a redneck place like Houston, which is beside the point, really), you could whack all the local columnists that appear on that page, too, and I'll bet not that many readers would complain.

More would complain if you cut down the comics section. Seriously.

Oh, you could keep whatever local columnists you felt were indispensible if you wanted, and put those all on one columnists page, along with the op/ed pieces from James A. Baker and Henry Kissinger and all those other people. That't be up to Mr. Sweeny, the publisher, or Mr. Cohen, the editor who has told his charges that he prides himself on his ability to develop top-notch columnists.

I tell you one thing. Whacking the editorial page would get noticed in the journalism world, which is always studying and commenting about what everyone else is doing in the journalism world.

It might even be construed as a bold move: "Newspaper Whacks Entire Opinion Section."

And it would save newsprint, too.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't having a columnist page mean the same thing as keeping the op/ed page? It seems kind of contradictory to your point of whacking them. Which I support.


Banjo Jones said...

Well, TFG, what I was driving at was you could get rid of those unsigned editorials that supposedly represent the newspaper's official view of something -- like who to vote for or what Congress should do, etc., yet still keep op/ed pieces by so-called outside experts -- the Kissingers and Bakers of the world. That'd be sort of a compromise.

Or, you could get rid of the whole opinion shootin' match. No op/ed page on the right hand side of the paper and no newspaper editorials on the left side of the paper.

I can see how you think that'd be contradictory.

Let me put it this way. I probably did a poor job of explaining.

You could get rid of the ed (the unsigned editorials) in the op/ed and still keep the op (Kissinger, Baker and maybe a local columnist or two) ...

... or you could rid of both.

But it won't happen so it's all academic.

Thanks for commentin.

expatriated journalist said...

Oh, they've got Hearst Fellows to fall back on. Houston and San Antonio seem to be hiring them left and right when they get out of the program.

Newspaper managers need to realize that a change in the way they do things needed to happen several years ago. A few actually "get it" (i.e. the Orlando Sentinel). Nothing is really going to change until some new blood starts circulating at the top.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Daily newspaper journalists are already the last human beings on earth who believe the myth (and not all of them believe it) that "news" and "opinion" are separate and distinguishable beasts. I like your suggestion and would add that to complete the transformation would only require allowing reporters to tell readers what they really think is going on (i.e., their "opinion") instead of couching their stories in the traditional, neutered, faux "objective" style we get right now.

Let's don't just get rid of the opinion section, let's get rid of the myth that the news section doesn't contain opinions, or that it shouldn't. It does, and more importantly it should. Reporting is more informative and less frustrating for readers when writers' opinions and biases are acknowledged and, when necessary to tell the full story, freely shared.

Banjo Jones said...

grits -- that's what are blogs are for now.