Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Little Engine Thrives, Big One Takes a Dive

This is a feel-good story from journalism circles (an industry hard pressed for any good feeling these days) in which the little guy proverbially sticks it to the big guy.

In this neo-post-Great-Recession-era, people remain justifiably suspicious of big enterprises – be they big banks, big government or big media. And this anecdote reflects the rampant arrogance the bigs continue to exhibit in the face of the little engines’ nose-to-the-ground work in the trenches.

This simple-but-pride-filled Editor’s Note from a recent edition of the Bristol Herald Courier, a small newspaper covering communities along the Virginia-Tennessee border that recently won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, details the pompous, cavalier and distorted treatment the local newspaper and its staff got in the coverage of their award-winning efforts by the big men on campus – most notably, the Washington Post, which sent a reporter to spend nearly three days with the Bristol news team.

The tale, as related by Herald Courier Editor J. Todd Foster, highlights the media elite’s detachment and fundamental lack of understanding of where and how most of us live – a disconnect that is among the many forces at play in the current demise of the major media industry. The fact that big media powerhouses like the Post can’t match what a locally focused, passionately committed media enterprise can do is nothing new. But the misguided sense of self-importance behind the notion that you cannot produce great journalism unless you work at the Post, or some such place, is blind insolence.

Surely, there’s little in the print world to compare to big media’s coverage of some important global affairs, but when it comes to thoughtful and committed effort on regional and local matters, the big media players should be smart enough to avoid looking down their noses at sound – hell, Pulitzer Prize-winning! – local journalism. As Editor Foster suggests, most people will stop reading the Washington Post before they stop reading their dependable source of local news.

The smart guys at the Post should remember that Tip O’Neill’s famous quote applies to more than just politics.

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