Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Dear Mr. Henry and Mr. Bezos

It's a cool night in August. Lovely and totally unlike what we expect.
Local news lately is violations of the Open Meeting Law and how towns plan to pay for emergency services, like ambulance rides and paramedics. Big news this week everywhere is rich men buying big newspapers: the sales of The Boston Globe and The Washington Post.

The Boston Globe is really my first daily. As a horse-crazed kid living in the city, I dutifully spread it out on the floor to study the racing line-up and memorize the names of the jockeys working at Suffolk Downs. I read about the horses first and then turned the pages over, always surprised that anyone would write about anything else.
The Washington Post brings a different kind of affection, for journalism's history, an example to all in the necessity of news coverage to a democracy. The simple things, like finding out the truth.

So I say this to the new owners: my dear sirs, covering local news in a big city requires a lot of reporters.
That's what we've all been watching slide away for the last decade. The Globe started to weaken when it stopped covering Boston's local news. You can't be a daily news magazine and still call yourself a newspaper. You need reporters on the ground covering neighborhoods, local government, local crime, small businesses, schools. Without enough reporters, the corners of the city blur out as the news focus pans back. We take in the wide view of the beautiful city. With luck, this migrates into careful feature and long-form writing. But the loss is never more acute than to the daily readers who live there. When you stop covering their world, they will leave you, and they'll hate to do it because you were their paper.

The thing about rich - seriously rich - people buying these papers is: newspapers need cash to become good again. I firmly believe that we need reporters on the ground, covering meetings that are boring only so long as local governments are functioning well, but immediately become interesting when things go wrong, and not surprisingly, when the reporter stops watching. You have to pay people to cover these properly. Maybe the new owners with the deep pockets will give this some thought. We keep talking about the new paradigm and the fickle web audience -- we need a commitment to news coverage.

By all means, entertain. But if we only give people what they want, what they think they want, we will have to rely completely on our whistle-blowers sacrificing themselves to let us know when our government is betraying our trust. But we shouldn't really trust so much to begin with - we should be watching and reporting, nonstop.  

Mr. Henry, Mr. Bezos bless you for taking an interest and paying for it. But remember, these papers belong first to the people who live in Boston and Washington, D.C., and to everyone who counts on them to get the story. Do them justice.

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