Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Top newspaper reporter
heads for the web

From Jay Rosen's PressThink blog, this story about a top, Pulitzer-wining investigative reporter from New Orleans who left the paper and plans to explore the web.

This is John McQuaid. And this: Path of Destruction, a book about what Hurricane Katrina did to the Gulf and why. In 1997 he won, with “Path” co-author Mark Schleifstein, the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, the highest award in the craft of enterprise reporting. It was for Oceans of Trouble, a series on the decline of global fisheries. Washing Away is also McQuaid. That’s the famous 2002 series for the Times-Picayune on Hurricane preparations (again with Mark Schleifstein.) It predicted the floods and failures of 2005. McQuaid is a proven craftsman in a demanding form: explaining a big, complicated story that is hidden from normal view. In this two-part Q & A, (the rest is tomorrow) he explains how it became impossible for him to remain at the Times-Picayune and continue to practice his craft. “My investigative job was eliminated, and I was told that the focus was on everybody pulling his or her weight to put out the daily paper.”

I'm not sure about Rosen's ambitious plans for a national network of journalists and citizens joining to produce enterprise stories and investigations. But I am pretty sure there's productive ground to plow in what he refers to as "Pro-Am" journalism, where professionals guide the work of contributors. This is essentially the model of the widely successful South Korean Ohmynews, which attracts huge audiences and is said to have swayed national elections there. (The English language, international version is here.) Nieman Reports had devoted a whole issue to citizen journliasm, unfortunately in pdf only) that includes good background on how Ohmynews works.

Could a couple of journeyman editors working with scores of web amateurs cover one of your community zones? Has anybody tried it?
–Howard Weaver


  1. Here in Modesto, we haven't turned over the keys to the "civilians" and let them report news without any filtering.

    However, some citizen reporting is happening organically on our blogging site, as people post their observations on various topics. For instance, on election day, a couple of bloggers reported problems at their polling places, and we used that as raw material in pursuing an election snafus story.

    By extension, merely by including our reporters' and editors' e-mails and phone numbers in the paper and on the Web site, we're de facto inviting readers to contact us. The number of tips we get is substantial. But we're not immediately publishing such contacts as "news."

    We're watching this issue closely and in the year ahead will no doubt wade into the waters of citizen journalism in select areas.

  2. Anonymous3:52 PM

    Howard, would you be willing to try it, if we brought you an issue (pretty much open and shut) and the motivated citizenry to look into it?

  3. Dear Anonymous --

    I'm always willing to listen, and I am easy to reach: hweaver@mcclatchy.com


  4. Anonymous1:08 PM

    ...sent Tuesday evening, 11/21

  5. Hi Howard.

    Was talking to Sue Morrow this morning, who mentioned running into you this weekend. We were talking blogs and the dearth of comments. I told her I'd comment on yours if you comment on my new one. Deal? It's on The Bee's redesign effort:


    Fire away.