Deseret News city editor defends newsroom shake-up as a necessary and important move as times change for newspapers.---
If the Deseret News were a baseball team, their line-up would have 30 Marco Scutaro's and zero Tim Lincecum's. (For casual/non-baseball fans, Scutaro is a slightly-above-average player who can play almost every position on the field. Lincecum is a dominating stud of a pitcher who only plays every fifth game).
At least, that seems to be the rationale behind the beat changes put in place at the LDS Church-owned paper this week. City Editor Tad Walch said that he believes a good reporter is a good reporter, no matter what beat they cover. That includes somebody like Bob Bernick Jr., who has covered politics, and only politics, for decades but is now being asked to cover "legal affairs."
"We think their skills will play well on other beats. It seemed like a good idea to bring fresh approaches to different beats ... If you're a good reporter — an award-winning reporter on a beat who has become an institution — I think it can be done on other beats, as well."
Walch would not comment specifically on Bernick, except to emphasize the Bernick is a good reporter who has become an institution. Bernick also refused to comment when contacted yesterday.
As for the other veteran political reporter who was moved, Lee Davidson, Walch said that they hope eliminating the daily grind of political coverage will allow Davidson to do more investigative reporting, especially in the Census and immigration areas. For his part, Davidson, who is on vacation, would not comment except to say that the changes "put a real downer on a Disneyland trip."
Traditionally, journalists have climbed the career ladder by starting out with "inside" beats, those that typically generate stories inside the local section, such as the suburbs. After sharpening their skills there, they would progress to either larger government bodies or speciality beats, such as health or education. They also develop a reputation, for better or worse, and a byline that readers will ideally recognize and trust. For political journalists, the pinnacle would be the state or national political beat.
With the beat changes at the D-News, Walch has turned that progression on its head. Relatively new reporters have been given prime-time beats, while experienced reporters have been pushed down the ladder. As I've already pointed out, most of the reporters moving up (in my opinion) are Mormon, and those moving down are not. (For the full beat list, click here, and if anyone wants the true, lengthy explanation of each beat change or the Mormon/non-Mormon split, e-mail me.) Walch, however, says there are no lesser beats, or as he says it: "Nobody is being sent to the bullpen. I have 30 starters."
While Walch may believe that, the responses I've gotten from people in the newsroom — almost a dozen reporters have contacted me or responded to my queries, although none of them wanted to be quoted — have all characterized the changes as demotions for some reporters. Almost all of them also said, in their own varying degrees of vulgarity, that Bernick was really screwed.
One thing that the changes will not seemingly do, at least initially, will improve the newspaper's web presence. There is no web-first team, although Walch did say they considered it. There is no blogging corps and no multimedia reporting team. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that these changes were made, despite Walch's assertions, to do anything except get closer to an idyllic newsroom filled with reporters and editors who are not "insubordinate." That word, by the way, is one which Editor-in-Chief Joe Cannon has used to describe Bernick, Davidson and myself.
Full disclosure: I worked as a reporter and editor at the Deseret News for more than a decade before coming to City Weekly last year. Had I stayed, I think it's fair to assume that I would be one of those people not sent to the bullpen, even though I'd likely be covering cattle farming in Tooele or some such beat. Also, I have some very good friends at the paper that I still see socially on a regular basis. For stories such as this, I do not use them as primary or, generally, even secondary sources.