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Steffie Corcoran, Editor
Photo by JOHN JERNIGAN
In Which the Editor Gripes About the State of Journalism
By Steffie Corcoran
May 20, 2013
On a recent Friday off, I was checking my work email en route to the Ozarks for a sister getaway weekend. (She was driving.) Even for editors who work on a bimonthly print publication like Oklahoma Today, it’s rare to completely unplug on days off. And weekends. And evenings. And while waiting for anything, anywhere. Or at least it is for me, with my work email right there on my Samsung Galaxy S3.
I scrolled through several emails until I landed on one from a reporter for an out-of-state newspaper. She’d received a press release from us several weeks earlier and now wished to put together a story based on a feature in a recent issue. Would that be okay? She would need the actual story, too, and by the way, could we get her a few high-resolution images of destinations from the feature by the end of the day?
Any positive exposure for Oklahoma Today is a net positive in my book. So I quickly emailed our production assistant, Bridgette Oliver, and asked if she could prepare a PDF of the story and send it to the reporter. And I emailed Megan Rossman, our photography editor, who knows more about image usage and licensing than anyone I know, and asked her to send the reporter a few relevant photos from our agency’s database, since the images that appeared in the story were still under embargo and there was no time to track down photographers to ask them for special permission. I emailed the reporter back to let her know that I was out of the office but that Megan and Bridgette would take care of her.
Meanwhile, my sister continued east on State Highway 412, bound for Eureka Springs.
An hour or two later, I checked my email again, because I like to see things through and because I have a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Megan had sent the reporter a few photos. And Bridgette wasn’t in the office, so Megan had passed the PDF request off to our production manager, Colleen McIntyre.
That was a nonstarter, because Bridgette, on her day off, had already sent the PDF. So had Colleen. A twofer!
Within three hours of the original emailed request from an out-of-state reporter, four Oklahoma Today staff members—two of whom were not working that day--had mobilized to fulfill a rush request. As Kelley and I approached Eureka Springs, where it was—get this—SNOWING in MAY, the part of my heart that loves getting things done was filled with pride that a can-do spirit is a force for good in the world.
Kel and I, against the backdrop of a cold snap the likes of which hadn’t been seen in that part of the Ozarks for almost two centuries, bought hand-crafted jewelry, healing crystals, and bird tchotchkes; dined on grilled-cheese sandwiches, tapenade, and the best coconut cream pie in the universe; and sipped wine in our own history-making ways.
I started the work day on Monday the same way I always do—by checking my email. I was curious to find out what the reporter had put together.
Ever desirous of fulfilling the old-school communication triangle, I wrote to ask her if she had indeed received everything she needed.
“Oh yes!” she immediately replied, attaching the story she had written for her paper based on our travel feature.
What I found when I read the piece was the kind of “repackaging” of content that has redefined, and not in a good way, in my opinion, twenty-first-century journalism. The reporter had submitted an amalgam of our press release and snippets from the feature, including quotes that appeared in our piece. There was zero original reporting. We received full attribution, but the whys and wherefores of the entire exercise baffled me.
Here is my best guess: More than likely, the reporter had little interest in our feature. She was probably facing down a deadline for the Sunday paper, and, revisiting recent press releases, did what she needed to do to fill that space. (Why she hadn’t instead spent her time doing some original reporting in her own market was a mystery.) Had I been in the office that day, I probably would have questioned her about her plans a bit more thoroughly. And if wishes were fishes, we’d all be Jesus.
Despite my irritation, this incident raises an important question: What is journalism—in some institutions, like my alma mater, it’s now called, shudder, “media and strategic communications”—in a 24/7 media cycle era?