Media Matters: Deseret News Beat Changes | Buzz Blog

Media Matters: Deseret News Beat Changes

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The Deseret News trashes 60-plus years of political experience by kicking the newsroom snow globe.---

Here's a new management strategy: Figure out the strengths of your business, and ignore them. That's what the Deseret News did yesterday, when they shifted almost all of their reporters and editors around to different assignments. Most notably, they obliterated their political team.

Prior to yesterday, the Deseret News political team was anchored by three reporters: Bob Bernick, Lee Davidson and Lisa Riley Roche. However, after the beat changes at the daily, Bernick and Davidson are off politics, leaving the veteran Roche as the only reporter with full-time state political experience on the team.

Bernick is ostensibly the new "legal affairs" reporter for the crime team, although rumblings I'm hearing from the newsroom is that Bernick is most likely leaving the paper soon. When contacted this morning, however, Bernick refused to comment.

Davidson is the new census and immigration reporter, which negates his political acumen (to an extent) but could give him the opportunity to pursue more investigative stories, which are his true love.

Bernick has 33 years of experience at the News, much of that spent covering politics. He has made a lot of enemies in this state, and has also been a thorn for the News' Editor-in-Chief Joe Cannon. But he is considered a dean of politics among many reporters and political insiders, and has a long grasp of Utah political history. Davidson, meanwhile, spent more than two decades in Washington, D.C. as the paper's correspondent, and has continued to cover the nation's capitol from Salt Lake over the past couple of years.

Filling the shoes of those veteran reporters? Two reporters with a combined zero years of full-time political coverage. Joe Dougherty, who will replace Bernick, has been covering Davis County for a few years. And replacing Davidson is Jamie Askar, who has been honing his news skills working for Mormon Times, where he most recently crafted this hard-hitting profile of former Utah Gov. Olene Walker.

Also gone from the legislative coverage is James Thalman, a reporter with two decades of experience, who will now cover business. Most recently, he covered health and human services for the paper, and was one of about three reporters who actually understands the health care debate. And Art Raymond, a reporter who has spent three years covering the Legislature -- which is about the amount of time required to really understand how it works up there -- will now cover cities in northern Salt Lake County. They are not replacing Raymond, which reduces the amount of reporters at the Capitol on a full-time basis.

In a memo to the staff, Tad Walch says that the changes are needed to adapt to a changing industry. "We need to be nimble and flexible and we need to continuously experiment," he writes. He also highlights the fact that Google is focused on saving the news business and encouraging media companies to experiment. But this is not experimenting. This is simply a punch to the gut of the newsroom. If they wanted to experiment, they would have people assigned to "web news" and they would have full-time bloggers and they would have a website that doesn't crash my computer every time I visit it.

I've put in a call to Walch, and maybe he can shed some more light on the motivations. But if I had to pick one right now, I would point out that most of the reporters being promoted are young, relatively inexperienced reporters who are also devout Mormons. And those being moved to lesser beats are not.

In other words, welcome to Deseret.

Disclaimer: I spent almost a decade at the Deseret News before coming to City Weekly last year. For my last six-plus years at the paper, I covered state politics or was the state editor for the political team. 

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