A couple of weeks before the Times decided to pump some energy into its languid web site, I was discussing the impending changes with Miles Corwin, a former Times guy who is just the kind of journalist the new enterprise needs.
Corwin, now one of my colleagues at the USC Annenberg School for Communications, could do it all, a talent the present Times crew will have to develop as they begin to churn out stories 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a web site that needs to be first with the news if it is to succeed.
Corwin produced great examples of the literary journalism valued by the Times. He has also written two powerful books, The Killing Season, about Los Angeles police homicide investigators, and And Still We Stand, an account of the students and teachers at Crenshaw High School.
But he really prided himself on being a mainstay of the Times nightside, pounding out stories big and small, with and without bylines, a blue-collar journalist.
I told him I thought the paper was going to start something like the Tribune’s 24 hour news operation, chicagotribune.com/news/local/. He laughed and said maybe the paper would now value the night crew, a cynical, hard bitten bunch with a history of legendary characters, most of whom are now gone from the newspaper business and, in some cases, from life.
Some of the Times journalists will have to do more than write a lot of stories. They’ll shoot videos, blog, file quick reports from the scene on their laptops, write an early story for the web site and follow up with something longer and in more depth for the paper. And they’ll have to be first, getting their stories out ahead of the rest of the media. Speed draws web site viewers.
That’s what generations of wire service reporters have done at the Associated Press, Reuters and the once great United Press International. If I was slow in delivering a story or got beat by UPI, I’d catch hell from my boss, the AP Sacramento bureau chief, Morrie Landsberg, whose son, Mitchell, formerly AP, is now an all-purpose star at the Times. At the AP, we wrote four or five dailies on busy days and also did stories with more depth.
It can be done. At Annenberg, we’re training our students to do it. I look at them and think: A new generation of blue collar journalists. Get ready to work nights.