Pass-Fail Enterprise: Register’s ME grades Bugeja and Chamberlin
Having Michael Bugeja and Dennis Chamberlin working alongside Des Moines Register journalists for a week was a good experience–for our newsroom, as well as for Bugeja and Chamberlin. It gave many here a chance to reflect on what we do and why we do it, and it’s always good for journalists to be thoughtfully challenged and to have to articulate our guiding principles.
Michael told me with a smile that he wanted a grade for their efforts. I responded that this was a pass-fail enterprise. And, without a doubt, they’ve passed. The story that I’ve read and edited breaks some news that the Register hasn’t previously published (and hasn’t been on television or in other newspapers around the state). We haven’t picked a final publication date, and even when we do, it’ll be subject to change based on the news of the day. But it could publish as soon as Friday or Saturday and perhaps as late as Tuesday.
Michael hits the nail on the head when he says “content is still king.”
And Dennis’ analysis that today’s students need these two fundamental competencies is indisputable:
1. A familiarity with various technology that allows them to report on different platforms.
2. A traditional news skill such as news reporting, feature writing, visual story-telling, copyediting.
I think it’s worth noting, however, that in large part the experience Michael and Dennis created for themselves was focused on reporting an enterprise story, and it was a situation in which the reporter had a photographer working with him on the story. Several reporters here and at other news organizations spend most of their time on competitive, breaking news beats and often shoot still photos and video for their stories themselves. Those reporters and photographers still must rely on core journalism fundamentals, of course; but the most successful journalists in those jobs know how and when to use a wider range of tools than was the case a few years ago.
In an e-mail to me this week, Dennis recalled one day when they were in our newsroom and a hostage situation unfolded on the police scanner. It ended with the hostage dead and an officer shot. Dennis said he was tempted to jump in the car and help cover it. While that’s not a daily news situation here in Des Moines, covering that kind of breaking news requires a different comfort level with today’s new media tools and puts a reporter’s ability to execute those core journalism fundamentals to much tougher test (with less margin for error) than does enterprise reporting.
If Michael and Dennis had done that kind of spot or continuous news reporting for a week, would their conclusions be the same? I suspect so, although I think the nuance and the understanding of how the various tools are important to today’s journalism students would be different.
In that way, this anecdote echoes the call made by Michael Bugeja for funding for more journalism professors and news organizations to create experiences that allow professors to return to the newsroom for insight how to better serve students and the industry. No two journalists or news organizations will have identical experiences, and the broader the perspectives the better, not just for students but for the news industry during this time of transformation.
Finally, there’s value in pointing out that one of the reasons this experience worked for both the Greenlee School faculty members and for the Register was that a strong relationship and trust existed at several levels between our organizations before Michael Bugeja and Dennis Chamberlin stepped in the newsroom. The Register hosts the Iowa State Daily staff members and adviser in our newsroom once a year, to give that staff a look at how we do our work. We frequently have success with Iowa State journalism students as interns and as hires. And I’ve been to Michael’s office for conversation over the years, too.
We appreciate the extra efforts of Michael and Dennis in the past couple of weeks–and look forward to a time when we can do it again.