Tampa Tribune “suspends” summer internship program

That’s according to a memo published by Romenesko today. I interned at the paper and its sister Web site, TBO.com, last summer as part of the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund’s online editing program.

I understand why Managing Editor Duke Maas, who was very accommodating to me during my stint there, might do it. The newspaper industry is in the toilet. It looks bad to bring in (and pay out $30,000 to) six fresh-faced kids while you’re sending experienced reporters packing.  That two of last summer’s six interns posted reports of internal meetings or memos on personal blogs that ended up on Romenesko probably made the decision easier.

Still, news in general — and newspapers specifically — are in desperate need of fresh, young, well-trained and cheap journalists. Cutting, or “suspending” if you prefer the euphemism, internship programs will not pull news organization from their nosedives. Instead it will just start driving out the next generation of journalists

It won’t happen all at once and Mr. Maas oand others suspending their program for a year won’t be the end of journalism education. And, yes, despite the you-must-intern mentality, there are ways to get journalism jobs without internships at metro dailies. But if those opportunities start to disappear, what aspiring journalist in her right mind won’t have her confidence shaken and start thinking about, oh, law school instead?

The state of food writing in Iowa

Apparently Jim Duncan, the food writer for the Des Moines alternative weekly City View, thought enough of my work to name me best new food writer in his most recent column.

This “new media” Iowa journalist wrote old fashioned rings around other young food reporters in traditional media — by practicing self examination without self indulgence and by teaching readers about his subjects.

Two things to look at: my other blog, which Mr. Duncan mentioned in the citation, and “A Pig in Three Parts,” a multimedia package about raising, slaughtering and eating pigs.

I’m not sure what that says about the state of food writing in Iowa that I was so named, but I’m honored.

Flooded by a historic deluge of “epic surge”

For the last six months, The Gazette has done an admirable job covering the 500-year flood that covered downtown Cedar Rapids in June and the city’s recovery since. Local stories by local writers about local people and local challenges. This week, the organization looked back at the changes the flood wrought, and put all of its flood stories in one place.

But one of the challenges of covering the same story for six months is not feeling redundant about using the word “flood” over and over.

In the first three grafs of today’s A1 centerpiece under the hed and deck “Will it happen again? Experts: State, global conditions point to more flooding in future” (the online-friendly hed is Likelihood of another flood rising, experts say“) the flood is called:

  • the great flood of 2008
  • the 31.12-foot-tall, 1.6-mile-wide tsunami that swamped Cedar Rapids
  • an already record-shattering flood
  • the epic surge that engulfed 10 square miles of the city

But, to paraphrase Freud, sometime a flood is just a flood. Or just a 500-year flood. Any way, you don’t need to write with a thesaurus by your side; we know what flood you’re covering.

This isn’t about this story’s writer, Orlan Love, who worked on a nice multimedia piece about the Cedar River a few weeks back. Its about the difference between calling a banana a banana and calling it an elongated yellow fruit. Nothing wrong with the occasional “deluge” or “epic surge,” but the words will have more impact if they are used sparingly.

(To answer the question asked in the story’s hed: With just two and a half weeks remaining in 2008, chances are the floods of this year will not happen again. But I’m no expert.)

Gannett continues to kill Iowa’s newspapers

Earlier this week, Gannett slashed at least 1,900 jobs by one tally. The Des Moines Register and the Iowa City Press-Citizen are among the Iowa newspapers Gannett owns and both saw layoffs; 41 at the Register and 11 at the Press-Citizen.

Sure the economy is in bad shape, and newspapers have been shedding jobs everywhere, but these were the first obvious newspaper layoffs in Iowa. Gannett has widely been blamed for turning the Register, a Pulitzer-winning, local-family-owned paper with state and national relevance, into one of the chain’s local newsletters that avoids controversy and regularly runs rewritten press releases.

On his blog, Rogue Columnist, Jon Talton argues that Gannett has been helping to bring this crisis on for years and, as a corporation, pushed American newspaper journalism to the brink it is at now.

Gannett also poisoned Wall Street for all publicly held newspaper companies. Its margins were far above, say, Knight Ridder. Never mind that Gannett didn’t really produce the same product. KR execs were obsessed with matching Gannett and terrified that The Street would punish them — again, the journalism suffered.

And while Gannett’s Information Center plan, for which the Register was a test site, helped the Des Moines organization improve its newsroom to the point where it was nationally recognized for its online journalism excellence, it didn’t do much for the chain’s actual journalism quality. And a Gannett executive Mr. Talton quotes agreed.

So besides the huge color weather map that now adorns the back of every newspaper’s A section, what has Gannett offered the newspaper industry that has been so good to it and its shareholders (to the tune of 40 percent profit margins even recently)? A business model that prevents news companys from caring about news quality instead of profits.

Predictable shopping shouldn’t be headline news

The day after Thanksgiving is usually a slow news day but never fear, dear journalist, there is a HUGE cultural event that demands coverage! Time to throw everything you got at it!

Luckily you had the forethought to build a database. Now make sure you’ve got a Twitter hashtag set. Then, on Friday, get some video! Do a live chat! Saturday, make sure you run a front page story on the phenomenon that, by at least one news organization’s admission, is no longer a surprise to anybody.

I understand the argument that we should cover what people are interested in, but if we must cover — and give such prominent play to — Black Friday shopping, at least we could do a good job. See guys, as Fev at Headsup put it, “Shopping doesn’t really need context.”

Perhaps it’s because Black Friday is the metro news equivalent to a new Brangelina baby, but the coverage is generally so useless. There might be interesting cultural angles, but “HOLY SHIT, PEOPLE ARE IN LINE AT MIDNIGHT TO BUY A $200 HDTV AT WAL-MART” isn’t it.

So let’s get away from speculating whether more or less is being spent this year and find stores willing to tell us if sales are keeping pace with last year’s. (Stores do have the ability to watch their sales in real time and probably know to the penny how close they are to last year.) Let’s talk to sales psychologists who could tell us why humans are driven to spend in herds and, maybe, how to resist. Could we look at how good of a deal some of these bargains really are? Maybe a “36 Hours“-style piece that plans out the 1 a.m. shopping spree.

Because unless you’ve got a story about locals being trampled to death, I’m really not that interested in stories about people shopping. And if you absolutely must push Black Friday off A1, there is that whole Mumbai thing you could put there instead.

Oh no, they didn’t!

The Gazette’s A1 hed on Wednesday, Nov. 5:

The Gazette’s sports section hed on Sunday, Nov. 9:

I already complained about Wednesday’s Obama hed. Reusing the hed — down to the exclamation point! — a second time this week doesn’t make it better.  As the ancient Chinese proverb goes: Cliché me once, shame on you; cliché me twice, shame on me.

Obama election front page winners and losers

If only we could have historic events every day, maybe newspapers wouldn’t be in such trouble. Some very nice A1s ran this morning.

The nicest A1 I saw was from Mr. Obama’s hometown tabloid, the Chicago Sun-Times. Simple. The Des Moines Register‘s was simple and effective and I’m a fan of not trying to make the headline do too much. We know who Barack Obama is and what his victory means. No need to do too beat readers over the head with your, um, hed. The Gazette‘s Yes, He Did! is too obvious (we saw tons of Yes, He Did and Yes, He Can heds today, best to avoid the cliche). The layout is striking, though. The Press-Citizen was apparently in a Star Wars mood after CNN’s Princess Leia hologram. Or perhaps those on the universal desk there are too young to know better remember the original movie’s full title (it was 1977, after all). The Sioux City Journal again tries to do too much. No need to root. Understated heds only, please. The worst was from the Weatherford (Oklahoma) Daily News. Simply awful. The Rockdale (Georgia) Citizen was awful, too; It led with a dog story (albeit a dog-attacks-school-kids story).

Mindy McAdams is right, as always

I missed this because my feedreader is purpetually at 1000+ unread items, but I would be remiss if I didn’t link to Mindy McAdams’s reponse to Dan Conover’s 10 reasons why newspapers won’t reinvent news. I was overly optimistic when I took issue with some of Mr. Conover’s assertions.

Ms. McAdams is, of course right. She writes:

Yesterday a journalist who (still) works at a big Florida newspaper told me, “Last year we were trying to shoot as much video as possible. This year, we’re trying to save the paper.”

That’s not one of Dan’s reasons, but it could be. I mean, if the people who run newspapers had realized that it would come to this — to trying to save the paper — more than a year ago, there might have been something they could do.

So Dan’s larger point (that we can’t expect these guys to turn it all around) rings true for me — even though I’m sad about it.

It makes me sad, too, though I know she’s right.