Why It’s Important to Have a Newsroom: “Reporters across disparate beats can shape one another’s ideas. Young journalists sharpen their skills by overhearing how veteran reporters conduct their interviews.”

From a Washington Post story by Elahe Izadi headlined “The newsroom was the beating heart of a local newspaper. What’s lost when the owner shuts it down?”:

Through war, depression and every kind of turmoil the country endured over the past 100 years, the Morning Call’s newsroom was on the same downtown corner in Allentown, Pa. Until now.

Hit this year by a pandemic and an economic downturn, Tribune Publishing informed journalists at the Morning Call and four of its other newspapers last Wednesday that their newsrooms would permanently close.

“These decisions were not made lightly or hastily,” reads a memo sent to reporters for the Capital Gazette of Annapolis that promised to continue “our in-depth community coverage.” Other shuttered newsrooms include the New York Daily News, the Carroll County Times of Westminster, Md., and the Orlando Sentinel.

Like office workers across the United States, journalists have been pushed by the coronavirus to retreat from communal spaces and into remote work. Now some are confronting the very real possibility that they may never again work in a physical newsroom — a touchstone of journalism — and what that could mean for the future of their profession. . . .

The pandemic era has forced news organizations to figure out new ways to produce high-caliber journalism, collaborating via video conferencing and messaging platforms. But in newsrooms — the original open-plan offices — reporters across disparate beats can shape one another’s ideas. Young journalists sharpen their skills by overhearing how veteran reporters conduct their interviews.

“We were just dumbstruck at the loss of the sense of camaraderie that you have in a newsroom, and the collaboration and the growth experience you can have,” said Danielle Ohl, a reporter at the Capital Gazette. “When we came in as little baby reporters, fresh out of college, we didn’t know anything, and it’s really difficult to learn if you’re not surrounded by people who can help you.”. . .

The wave of physical newsroom closures coincides with a moment of reckoning in media, when journalists are grappling with issues of race. “Now more than ever, it’s important for people to be in a space where they can really have meaningful conversations about news and what they should be covering and shouldn’t be covering,” said David Boardman, a former top editor of the Seattle Times and currently Temple University’s media college dean. “That’s much more difficult to do when you’re not in a physical space together.”

Some reporters worry that losing a home base in their community could hinder their coverage of the region. A number of Capital Gazette reporters commute from Baltimore, where the cost of living is cheaper than in Annapolis. . . . “It just kind of ends up feeling like honestly we’re parachuting into our own beats, which is weird,” Ohl said.

The work-from-home dynamic is somewhat different for national media organizations. Some of those journalists have relocated from New York or Washington to smaller communities that have a lower cost of living or are closer to their families. Many think it’s a positive development.

“There’s been this conversation for a long time about how do we get correspondents out into communities where they might not otherwise be,” said Ann Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University and a former editor of the Chicago Tribune. “Why does a big newspaper have its national staff all kind of clustered on the coasts or in a handful of big cities, and what’s the hesitancy about people living elsewhere in the country?”. . .

The nostalgic power of newsrooms looms large for journalists and still forms the popular-culture image of how a newspaper is put together — in bustling places filled with harried reporters shouting on the telephone and clacking away at keyboards. In real life, the noise has been dampened in recent years by Slack, email and buyouts, but many journalists still savor the atmosphere.

“I spent many, many hours in that newsroom, and it’s kind of heartbreaking to think about it not being there anymore,” said Tim Franklin, a former top editor of the Orlando Sentinel, which is leaving downtown Orlando after 69 years. He recalls hundreds of meetings with visitors to those offices, likening it to “welcoming the community into your home. And those opportunities are not going to be the same.”

Many of the papers boasted prominent, highly visible downtown spaces, conveying the impression of “a muscular news organization that’s doing serious work in the community,” added Franklin, now senior associate dean at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. “And that’s something being lost in the move to this remote work.”

Elahe Izadi writes about media and pop culture for The Washington Post. Prior to joining The Post in 2014 as a general assignment reporter, she covered Congress, demographics and local news.


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