Journalism isn’t easy, and sometimes, despite your best intentions and honest effort, it’s lame — obvious, boring, uninspired. (Yep, it occasionally happens at the Inlander, too.) But I suspect some other affliction at the once-robust Spokesman-Review: Despite the great work of a few at the daily paper, it’s hard some days not to think that management has simply given up.
Take a look at this past Sunday’s paper, considered in the industry as the signature issue of any daily. In the all-important A section — which includes the front page — 18 articles were from national wire services (Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, McClatchy-Tribune). Only one article — that’s not a typo — was written by a local reporter.
But perhaps more telling was the paper’s B section where, under the heading “Northwest,” you’d expect to find more local news. But even there you’d see nine news articles — that figure includes two round-ups of briefs and five columns — written by Spokesman staff. And as for the other 10 news stories in the section? They were mostly picked up from other area papers — three from the Moscow-Pullman Daily News; two from the Lewiston Tribune; one from Wenatchee World; and the rest from AP, including a wire story out of Sandpoint. There was a time when the Spokesman-Review — billing itself as the region’s news source — would have scoffed at these other newspapers’ stories and insisted on writing their own. Those days are long gone.
Now pick up a copy of today’s Spokesman. In the featured, front-page spot, you’ll see a story, “Systems scanning, storing,” about the police department’s license-plate readers — a technology, the article says early on, that the ACLU considers problematic and said as much in a July study. Kudos to the local reporter and the paper for highlighting the issue in such a way — but it also makes me wonder whether anyone at the Spokesman reads their own paper. On July 18, again prominently on the front page, the paper published a wire story about the license-plate readers and the same ACLU study, under the headline “Traffic cams put your car on file.”
No doubt, publishing a paper seven days a week is no small feat. No doubt, some of the editions will be stronger than others — that’s the nature of the news. No doubt, the Spokesman has some of the region’s best talent (Jonathan Brunt, Shawn Vestal, Thomas Clouse, Betsy Russell, Jim Camden). No doubt, daily papers have been struck by changes in the industry in ways that we at the Inlander have avoided.
But this is a whole other matter. This is about a once-powerful institution throwing up its hands, giving up.