Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Real Reason For The Decline Of The Newspaper Industry: Slipshod Journalism. Arizona Republic Botches The Story Of Mormon Pole-Dancer In Mesa, AZ

The decline of the newspaper industry in the United States has generated much finger-pointing by journalists. Everybody is to blame - the public, the government, the advertisers, and particularly us "accursed bloggers", although most of us "accursed bloggers" don't seek to compete directly with them, but merely to expand upon their stories and provide additional background and perspective.

Where they don't point the finger very often is at themselves - and an article about a Mormon pole-dancer published in the Arizona Republic illustrates why journalists need to start examining their own actions. The article profiled Jennifer Bourland, who with a partner has opened up a pole-dancing gym in Mesa, Arizona. Bourland was once an exotic dancer herself, starting at age 33 when her husband became terminally ill with cancer and the family needed income after she was fired from her previous job as a food merchandiser. She had a modestly successful career as a dancer, which she has now parlayed into enterpreneurship.

Oh, and by the way, Jennifer Bourland is a Mormon. And there the story ended. No follow-up.

Except for one problem - a story about a Mormon pole-dancer is going to generate a number of follow-up questions, since pole-dancing is not necessarily associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here are the two questions which immediately formed in my mind:

(1). Is Bourland an active Mormon or a Jack Mormon?
(2). Have any Church leaders have given her any static about her profession?

These questions are quite pertinent, since the LDS Church has counseled women not to work in strip joints, and even has advised Mormons not to work in places where liquor by the drink is served. So naturally, readers will be wondering about her status in and relationship with the LDS Church. Yet the Arizona Republic didn't even address these issues.

This is inexcusably sloppy journalism which is regrettably becoming more commonplace throughout the industry, as Thomas D. Williams suggests in this Truthout article. Helen Thomas has actually become a poster child for the decline in American journalism. There are exceptions; in Utah, KSL and the Deseret News continue to produce the highest quality journalism, with the gritty but gutsy Ogden Standard-Examiner running a competitive third. But the Salt Lake Tribune? In a two-newspaper town, they're thinking about making their online product less accessible to the public. That's insanity. The Tribune has some talent, but they are also infested with mediocrities. Particularly at the management level.

The message I deliver to the newspaper industry is simple - don't cry poverty and then put out half-finished garbage to the public. Give us quality content consistently, which includes anticipating and answering follow-up questions based upon your target audience. If we "accursed bloggers" are taking your audience away, perhaps it's because we're doing things you once did and stopped doing. Quit dressing up and publishing regurgitated AP and UPI content; get out of the chairs, hit the phones and streets and start reporting. And to the national media, I say this: Stop your obsession with celebrities and start giving us real news once again. We don't care what Madonna had for breakfast today. Really.

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