Flailing newspaper economy takes experience down with it

imo-blogOSU economist Patrick Emerson bemoans the “children’s crusade” at the Oregonian newspaper, and the failing newspaper economy that has pushed the state’s largest daily into hiring cheaper, younger reporters while letting veterans go.

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It has been a while since I lamented the decline of the newspaper industry, or more precisely, the decline of quality investigative journalism.  So let me dive in once more.

Anyone who is paying attention could hardly miss the children’s crusade that is going on at the Oregonian. After the massive bloodletting of experienced (and expensive) reporters, there is a whole new gaggle of fresh faced (and cheap) reporters who look (thanks to the new little pictures that accompany their bylines on-line) all about 16 years old.

Apparently this is happening everywhere.  I have no doubt that these are skilled and well-trained reporters, but they lack the experience and connections of those they replace.  It could be that the energy and eagerness of the new crop might make up for this, but I have some reservations.  I think we are losing a huge amount of human capital.

Anyway, what prompted this is a fascinating (and a bit troubling) article on the youth of the campaign press corps in The New York Times:

A group of five fresh-faced reporters from National Journal and CBS News clicked away on their MacBooks one recent afternoon, dutifully taking notes as seasoned journalists from the campaign trail shared their rules of the road.

The journalists were mostly in their 20s, learning the basics: never get too close to a source; master the art of eating while driving; never rely on a hotel wake-up call.

For decades, campaign buses were populated by hotshots, some of whom covered politics for decades, from Walter Mears to David S. Broder to Jules Witcover. It was a glamorous club, captured and skewered in Timothy Crouse’s best-selling The Boys on The Bus, about the 1972 campaign.

Now, more and more, because of budget cutbacks, those once coveted jobs are being filled by brand new journalists at a fraction of the salary. It is not so glamorous any more.

[Update: Oregonian editor Peter Bhatia fires back after this post. Read more.]

Patrick Emerson is an associate professor of economics at OSU  and author of the Oregon Economics blog.

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