Hi. My name is Adam.

The danger of overworked journalists

Posted in Uncategorized by adambsullivan on March 17, 2010

Last week in Iowa City, I spoke with Sen. Chuck Grassley about health care reform. He tossed around a lot of numbers — for example, proposed legislation would grow government by $2.5 trillion, delegate more than 1,600 new authorities to the Department of Health and Humans Services, and would raid $52 billion from Social Security premiums. Sometimes he cited the Congressional Budget Office. Sometimes he just said the numbers.

Being a busy guy in the newsroom (in addition to reporting and writing a couple stories a week, I handle social media, do some multimedia, and work as an assistant news editor), I don’t have time to verify all of Grassley’s claims. Accordingly, I didn’t include the numbers in my story.

The reporter from my paper’s primary competitor — who I know writes as many as five articles a day — also didn’t have time to verify the numbers. But that didn’t stop him from including them.

Printing unverified numbers isn’t just a local problem, though. Iowa politician Tom Fiegen points out that even at the national level, reporters stretched thin by dwindling newsroom resources often go to press with facts and figures straight from politicians mouths.

On one hand, small newsroom staffs make us efficient and ensures journalists are working hard. On the other hand, it’s detrimental to public affairs reporting.

A recent study in Australia found that more than half of news articles stem from some kind of public relations material. That’s the product of reporters having to complete more tasks than they’ve traditionally done. One Australian newspaper editor said:

“It’s very difficult I think, given the way resources have drifted from journalism to public relations over the past 30 years, to break away as much as you really want to … I guess I’m implying, the number of people who go to communications school and go into PR over the years has increased and the number in journalism has shrunk even more dramatically.”

Especially in the health care debate, that leads to a misinformed and uninformed public. It’s hard enough to track political discourse; to have to dig through bullshit filtered to you by newspapers is too much for many citizens to do.

On the bright side, I’m sure there’s a fun “strategic communications” job waiting for me after graduation.


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