A small spat has arisen involving the Newspaper Guild of New York, Reuters and TheBaron.info, an independent website aimed at Reuters’ past and present employees, which raises interesting questions about Reuters’ editorial direction.
On February 23, The Baron posted an article stating that Reuters’ editor-in-chief Stephen Adler, deputy-editor-in-chief Paul Ingrassia and COO Stuart Karle told staff in a meeting that “Reuters is adopting a new editorial approach aimed at winning Pulitzer Prizes: long, in-depth, investigative special reports from all bureaux.”
The Guild reported at the beginning of last month on The Baron’s original post, which reads, “asked about the business case for such a radical switch in journalistic priorities, the editorial chiefs said the chairman and majority owner David Thomson wants Pulitzers, and this is the only way Thomson Reuters can get them. He is a very rich man – the world’s 17th wealthiest billionaire according to the most recent Forbes magazine reckoning – and that is what he wants, chief correspondents were told.”
Yesterday the Guild wrote that Karle and Ingrassia had “both vigorously denied the report”, calling the idea behind it “stupid”. The Guild states that Karle had labelled the Baron’s original report as “factually incorrect and based on a flawed premise” and had termed the Guilds’ earlier reporting of it as a “cheap shot”. The Guild quotes Karle as saying “You do this stuff (quality journalism) because it’s a good in itself. It’s explicitly not a goal to win prizes.”
However, the Guild also reports that Barry May, an ex-Reuters journalist an editor who authored The Baron article stands by what he wrote, stating that he expressly verified the report before publishing it. May adds that in the three weeks after the report’s publication, no one from Reuters contacted him to say that it was false. What’s more, a later article by The Baron points out that Reuters deputy-editor-in-chief Paul Ingrassia wrote in a blog post a few days ago that, “online media companies (including my own…) have been investing serious cash in upgrading the quality of their reporting and have made no secret of gunning for their print counterparts when it comes to journalism awards, including the granddaddy of them all, the Pulitzer.”
Despite the sharp words from Reuters, the subject doesn’t actually seem to merit that much attention: it’s not exactly news to hear that a media organisation wants to win a Pulitzer. What is interesting about the issue, however, is the way it highlights editorial changes being made at Reuters. Lucia Moses published an article in AdWeek last Monday, highlighting the rise of Reuters and Bloomberg, in contrast to the decline of traditional print newspapers. In her headline, Moses describes the news agencies as “The Future of News: They're rich, they're global, and they're snapping up A-list journalists”. Moses points out that Reuters has not only hired an extra 600 journalists over the past four years, giving it a total newsroom staff of 3,000, it has also made a commitment to investigative journalism and has been hiring top journalists like Jack Shafer, formerly of Slate.
Although Reuters posted financial losses in February, Moses points out that, like Bloomberg, its news operations are supported by substantial revenue from financial data and services rather than shrinking ad money, and its costs are spread across multiple platforms.
These financial resources have given Reuters a platform to widen and deepen its coverage, and there’s little doubt that this is what it is trying to do. In a memo to staff, Steve Adler writes that, while Reuters remains absolutely committed to “fast, accurate, and fair” reporting”, these criteria, “are no longer sufficient in a changing company and a changing world”. Now, writes Adler, Reuters is focused also on providing “insight”, and this strategy will involve developing “Breakingviews, op-ed commentary, enterprise journalism, data mining, innovative video programming, stronger financial graphics, and other ventures that provide differentiated value”.
These changes manage may distance Reuters from the reputation that Moses says it has for creating stories written to make “a handful of people even richer”.
And if the shift is a success and helps Reuters along the way to a Pulitzer, it doesn’t seem like anything to squabble about…