Learning to Love the Best Not Very Exciting Journalism

Despite starting in journalism with United Press International—competing with the Associated Press, hating t0 get beat by the AP, fighting for survival against the AP—and being in Washington for 50 years, avidly reading the Washington Post and New York Times, I’ve come around to starting the day by first looking at the AP News app, then checking it four or five times as the day goes on.

The AP site is not very exciting. It’s pretty much just a good, balanced look at the world, an alternative to the celebrity-driven, conflict-driven, clickbait-driven stories that dominate digital journalism and are changing print journalism.

The AP site may be so good and balanced because it’s a news cooperative with members all over the country with 3.200 journalists around the world.

The rest of the news? As more and more of it comes out of  New York and Washington, with journalists in those two cities tending to see the world in the same big city way, a case can be made that being spread out geographically helps the AP see things more clearly. While the Times and the Post sometime tell readers “our reporter spent a week in Wisconsin taking an in-depth look at…” the AP has long had bureaus in Milwaukee and Madison with journalists who know the state getting feedback from all over the state.

The problem of big city journalism losing touch with much of the country has been coming. As a magazine editor in Washington, I interviewed and helped mentor probably 600 or 700 interns. Many came from top colleges and saw journalism as more interesting and exciting than business or law.

Talking with young journalists about how to get ahead I usually suggested they get some experience at a non-metro newspaper where they could develop their reporting skills and learn how to cover a police beat, a city council meeting, write some obits. You learn to be a good reporter by doing it.

A small paper in Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Kansas? No, almost every one of our interns said, we want to be in Washington or New York or Boston or San Francisco or some other big city. We want to be around the kind of people we know and like, the kind of people we went to school with.

So as the country divided between the big cities that wanted Hillary Clinton to be president and the smaller cities and towns that gave Donald Trump enough electoral votes to win, big city journalism seems increasingly out of touch with much of the country.

But not the AP.

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