Strange Bedfellows

In a marriage made in boardroom heaven, the Valley's newspapers and television stations have begun merging their newsrooms

Callinan is wise to be careful. He has more to lose than Casey. While the public has built up its tolerance for sleaze and stupidity from local television, it still has high expectations for the metro daily.

Callinan doesn't foresee a drain on the depth and breadth of the Republic's reporting. (Install your own easy joke here.)

Carl Sessions Stepp, senior editor of the American Journalism Review, also says he has yet to see any harm from the commingling of newsroom and television stations. But he hasn't seen any advantage, either.

"I think we're still at the point where you need a very strong broadcaster to tell a good broadcast story, and a very strong writer and reporter to tell a good newspaper story. They are not interchangeable."

Ben Bagdikian, another leading media critic, is less neutral. Crossing disciplines can't help but pull reporters from the relentless shoe-leather reporting and thoughtful writing that makes worthwhile print stories.

"When you take away most of the disciplines that go into traditional newspaper reporting, you get what is already apparent in most radio, TV and quick, on-line stories," he wrote in an e-mail to me. "The result will be fundamental loss to the community that comes with each citizen group receiving from their newspaper the particular detailed stories that meet their particular civic needs."

Another clear danger: As two sources of information become one, the community loses another independent newsgathering source. The number of opinions dwindles, the number of sacred cows rises. In Milwaukee, for example, the guy who owned the local paper and a local television station wanted a new stadium built. Predictably, both media outlets essentially heralded the plan, drowning out opposing views.

Channel 12 already has adopted the annoying habit of interviewing Republicwriters about topics rather than having its staff do the reporting themselves.

I still think some good can come from all this. Republic and Tribune reporters can make television smarter, and smarter viewers make smarter citizens.

If television can bring new readers to newspapers, then newspapers theoretically can afford to hire more reporters to better cover the Valley.

But two things Mark Casey said continue to haunt me. They were innocent individually, but together they sounded like the death knell for future generations of every odd, wonderful bastard I've ever respected.

Casey says he's already met with an ASU journalism professor to discuss fitting cross-media training into university curricula. Stepp says this is beginning to happen nationwide.

Also, Casey says:

"At some point, this is something we're going to expect from everyone."

I imagined my old J-school colleagues projected into this journalism class of the future. I imagined our best five writers washing out miserably in front of a camera.

I imagined them becoming felons instead.

If they made it to a newspaper, I imagined them getting stuck in some crummy bureau beat because all the big stories needed reporters who looked good explaining those stories on television.

Then I imagined a funeral. In front were the corpses of old Arizona nonfiction war-horses like Chuck Bowden, Lew Ruggiero, John Dougherty, Maureen West and Mark Flatten.

In the audience, 400 Brahm Resniks wept. At the podium, Brahm Resnik deftly read a 75-second eulogy to the good work of this dead generation of misfits.

"We promise to carry your torch," he said with an anchor's pool-drowning solemnity.

Then he smiled, as if the dead had never died at all.

"And speaking of torches, let's go to Joe for that hot-as-a-torch forecast!"

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