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Another Reason Why Big Journalism is in Trouble

The New York Times, at the tail-end of a report about a new editor for Time, notes a more serious transition.:

Donald Barlett and James Steele, two investigative reporters who have chronicled the vicissitudes of the American economy for Time magazine since 1997, have lost their jobs in a budget squeeze.

The reporting duo, who together won two Pulitzer Prizes and two national magazine awards, were on the payroll of Time Inc. Their jobs were among about 650 that the company has eliminated in the last six months.

John Huey, editor in chief of Time Inc., said that as he cut corporate costs, he sought unsuccessfully to place the two men on the payroll of a company magazine.

“They’re very good but very expensive, and I couldn’t get anyone to take them on their budget,” Mr. Huey said. “We’ll miss their work.”

Mr. Steele, 63, who began working with Mr. Barlett, 69, at The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1971, said: “We’ve had a great run at Time, but apparently the decision was made at the corporate level not to fund this kind of work.”

The word that best describes this is “sad.” Or, maybe, “shameful.”

Barlett and Steele are the gold standard of investigative reporting in America, up there with Seymour Hersh, Robert Caro and not very many others. They are, simply, the best. (Note: Jim Steele is a friend, and I’m proud to know him and Don Barlett.)

Time hired them amid great fanfare when Knight Ridder started paring its corporate desire for such things. Now, the richest magazine group can’t afford it, either.

If I ran a news company, I would find a way to hire these guys. I would do it because their work is so good, and because America needs it.

News organizations seem unlikely to care. So, I hope, some foundations or wealthy individuals will step up to the plate and do something. We all need their work, more than ever.

2 Comments on “Another Reason Why Big Journalism is in Trouble”

  1. #1 Seth Finkelstein
    on May 19th, 2006 at 5:22 am

    Yup. And the situation is only going to get worse, given the infatuation with “conversation”, i.e. talk-radio style rile-’em-up punditry and call-in ranting. And expecting people to do unpaid freelance work just for the joy and hapiness of it, or, at best, keyword-advertising peanuts.

    It’s pretty disheartening to have government’s failed, the market’s failed, we can only hope for private charity step in. There’s just not enough charity to go around.

  2. #2 Jake
    on May 19th, 2006 at 9:32 am

    If Semour Hersh represents the “gold standard” of American journalism, expect more losses like this in the future.