Step aside, professional journalists at work


I’m going to tell you a story. Several stories actually, but we’ll start with the one about a freelance journalist covering a suburban city council meeting for a major Chicago newspaper. An interesting ordinance was to be voted on at that meeting, an ordinance addressing a major issue. This was deemed interesting enough for the entire Chicago media market and as such, it was slated for a spot on the major newspaper’s breaking news website. The story was already written and all the journalist needed to do was place a call to the breaking news desk to give the outcome of the vote and any additional details.

After the meeting concluded, the journalist dutifully made the call and provided all the necessary information as well as some quotes from several council members. The journalist was 99.9% sure of the spelling of a councilwoman’s last name so she simply instructed the full-time, paid media employee to check the spelling online. The journalist knew for certain that the councilwoman’s name was spelled correctly on the municipality’s website. 

Silence followed.

“You know,” said the journalist, “Just Google it.”

More silence.

The journalist finally instructed the person on the other end of the line exactly what to search for on Google and precisely which website would have the correct information.


The next story involves another journalist, perhaps the same one as in the first story, who attended a panel discussion at Columbia College which was about, what else? the future of news.

The panelists were all men (and one woman) of importance in the local media community and beyond. One of the panelists was someone fairly high up at the Sun-Times. During Q&A, he was asked by an audience member why the Sun-Times didn’t link out in any of the stories on their website. Mr. Sun-Times Bigwig answered that he thought they did do that. A painful back and forth ensued whereby it became obvious that Mr. Bigwig had no idea what sort of linking the questioner meant. The journalists (and everyone else in the audience) looked at Mr. Bigwig with a mixture of confusion and terror. If this was the future of news, the people in that room knew they were doomed.


The final story comes to us from a friend of the journalist. This friend, also a journalist, was set to do a spot on a local radio program to talk about an issue she had been writing about, one that would be interesting for the radio station’s audience. Early in the morning on the day her spot was supposed to air, she got a call from the station saying they would need to postpone it. The reason was that President Obama was doing a press conference that morning and they wanted to discuss what he said before having her on.

By the way, they said, did she know what time the press conference would be starting?

The journalist’s friend stared blankly into the phone. Surely, the time of a presidential press conference was not top secret knowledge. In fact, after hanging up she found the information online in a matter of seconds. Yet the person who called had told her that they had looked for it online. 

Dear reader, I have many more stories, but I think you get the general idea.

Note: Any resemblance to any real people or real news organizations, whether actual or imagined is strictly accidental 😉


One Comment

  1. Anonymous July 21, 2010

    I love you for posts like this. This is the same stuff I’ve said on my blog and on Twitter that I get crap for all the time. I’m glad it’s not just me who sees Chicago’s journalistic emperors too often have no clothes.

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