The replacements: experts replace journalists on staff
November 12: Over the last several years, newsroom cutbacks have given way to heavier workloads and longer hours for the journalists remaining on staff. Other outlets, however, have filled their staffers’ shoes by calling in the experts.
Although “experts” is just another word for freelancers, noted George Solomon, former Washington Post sports editor, ESPN ombudsman, and current sports journalism professor at the University of Maryland, this trend has taken many forms.
In April, the Asbury Park Press and other papers published by Gannett in New Jersey utilized the expertise of the New Jersey Devils. According to the New York Times, an article covering the hockey team was not bylined by a journalist, but rather a writer employed by the team. The following month, award-winning general assignment reporter Lilia Chacon was let go from WFLD-TV (FOX) in Chicago to be replaced with “unpaid experts” or “freelance pundits,” WBEZ.org reported.
Only about a year after it was saved from the ranks of the folded, Editor & Publisher let its entire staff go, replacing editors with new in-house staff and editorial content by industry experts. “Moving toward expert-generated copy is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” publisher Duncan McIntosh told Folio. “We need to utilize as many experts in the field as possible. I’d rather clean up their copy than rely on reporters who might not know to ask the right questions.”
It’s a phenomenon that Solomon said he has seen before. The New York Times, for instance, has cut full-time sports columnists in the past and replaced them with outside analysis. And while this doesn’t necessarily sit well with him, he understands why. “I think a lot of news organizations have over the years used freelancers and so-called experts in the field to do a lot of work,” he said. And while it’s always more suitable to have staff do the work, he noted that bringing in “experts” is often used as a cost-cutting measure.
Although in some cases there may be an ethical issue, as long as editors and publishers police their outside writers and do their job, it shouldn’t be a problem, he noted. Meanwhile, news outlets have always brought in outside opinion, he said. “It’s always good to have an outside view, that’s positive.”
“I’m also aware of changing times, the economics of news organizations has changed dramatically in the last five years, and I’m also aware of that and sympathetic to their plight,” he said. “I think people who run news organizations have to make decisions on who is going to write for these organizations, who is going to edit these organizations. The good organizations will retain their ethics and responsibility to readers. I think that’s really important.”
— Katrina M. Mendolera
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