Thursday, June 07, 2007

How to Kill a Story

I've been tough on CJR's Daily's biz journalism column The Audit, so I wanted to point out that new editor/writer Dean Starkman has an outstanding piece the other day, which I lamentably only noticed tonight, entitled, "How to Kill a Story."

Dean quotes the Wall Street Journal account of how Rupert Murdoch tried to kill a story he didn't like at the Sunday Times of London, and he makes the following observations:

How do you kill a story? It must be hard, right? All reporters know the truth: any monkey can do it.

"Are you sure of your facts? Have you got a smoking gun here?"

Or how about: You're "boring people."

He goes on to describe how Murdoch such objections to kill the story he didn't like, and then notes as follows:


But what readers need to understand is that in the wrong environment, investigative stories are as vulnerable as Janet Leigh in the Bates Motel.

To be clear: doing stories about public corruption is hard. Killing stories about public corruption is easy. Does anyone seriously think Watergate would have run in a News Corp. newspaper?

Or many other newspapers and magazines, for that matter. Indeed, the enemies of tough reporting at my alma mater Business Week -- mostly eased out in the recent layoffs and upper-masthead push-outs -- were also guilty of using the same tactics. "Bad editing in bad faith," as Dean puts it. I love the "Janet Leigh" analogy. Too true.

At BW, the excuse for not running articles on stock fraud, for instance, was that the subject matter was "small bore" -- a term whose use I described in Wall Street Versus America. (Boredom was, obviously, never an objection.)

Anyway, the Audit article is worth reading. It is here.

I note that Dean didn't even refer to himself in the third person even once. Could the Audit really be improving?

© 2007 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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Wall Street Versus America was published by Penguin USA on April 6.
Click here for its Amazon.com listing and here for more information on the book, from my web site, gary-weiss.com.

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