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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Notes on Terry Woster and the Decline of Journalism

We note with regret Terry Woster's retirement from that Sioux Falls paper. Better writers than I can offer more substantial and informed encomia of South Dakota's best political journalist. I will say simply that cub reporters who want to learn how to cover their communities should read Terry Woster, not just the dispatches from the Capitol in the heat of the session, but also his reflections about growing up on the farm. Good journalism, like all good writing, must be grounded in writing about what you know... and what you love. Woster's volumes of rich, intelligent political and personal writing demonstrates what I will presume to conclude is a profound love of South Dakota.

Love, commitment to community, the meaning of place—none of those items appear in corporate ledgers. In the best commentaries yet on the meaning of Woster's retirement, Bernie Hunhoff at South Dakota Magazine and David Newquist at Northern Valley Beacon make clear why corporate media are inimical to Wosterian journalism:

The problem with corporate-owned media is the nature of corporations. Corporations are bureacracies. They operate on the same kind of self-interest that government bureaucracies do. The current economic plight of our country and the world, in fact, is the result of corporate management. Bureaucracies do not honor and reward high-mindedness. They cater to the greedy, the devious, the ill-intentioned. Their intellectual and moral guidepost is the bottom line. And so Gannett, which announced job cuts previously last summer, ordered a 10 percent staff reduction late last month. The objective is totally to carry out the management order. The quality of journalism is not a consideration [David Newquist, "Requiem for the Fourth Estate," Northern Valley Beacon, 2008.11.15].

As Hunhoff makes clear, journalism, telling the stories of South Dakota, is about much more than following orders from distant rulers and making money:

I tend to agree with the fellow who blames the hometown publishers for selling out their communities. A weekly or daily paper (and I'd like to believe the same is true of our magazine) is a public trust. If you're blessed to have the privilege of being the caretaker of it for a few years, then one of your biggest concerns should be to pass it onto another generation who will care for it as you tried to do.

The same may be true of land owners and business owners in general. But certainly when it comes to the Fourth Estate, the people of the United States would be better served with five thousand independent and creative newspapers and magazines than the fluff and mush served up by today's corporate media [Bernie Hunhoff, "Terry Woster: Who's to Blame?" South Dakota Magazine: Editor's Notebook, 2008.11.15].

According to Mr. Epp, Terry Woster is 65. He's done his service. But what attention will that Sioux Falls paper and other corporate media give to hiring committed community journalists to continue that service?

I haven't seen (or produced) a blog yet that that approaches Woster's oeuvre in quality. But as corporate cost-cutting pushes Woster from the stage, someone's got to keep an eye on what's happening in South Dakota. Citizen journalists, duty calls!

1 comment:

  1. The Argus Leader raised their rates several months ago. A monthly subscription went up about $2.00. I haven't figured the exact amount, I just noticed it went up. The only reason I get it on a daily basis is because I have an adult mentally handicapped daughter living with me and she needs it to keep up with her favorite teams, who we might know that died in some of the various towns that we lived in, etc. I have showed her I can find all that stuff on line but that isn't good enough, she needs a paper she can hold and read. She doesn't always understand everything she reads, but she tries. I think the Argus has really went down hill the last couple years. Every SAturday they waste half a page in the voice section called how we met, it is actually an extremely long winded report on one wedding, and as yet I have to see one that was special. They waste space on that, but charge outrageous rates to publish a full length obit.


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