Investigative and in-depth reporting bolstered by ‘Digital First’

28 Nov

“What about the journalism?”

That’s the question media analyst Ken Doctor asked a few months ago about both the philosophy of a “digital first” approach to running newspapers and the newly formed company “Digital First” Media that now oversees both Journal Register Company (including the New Haven Register, Middletown Press and Register Citizen, among other publications, in Connecticut) and Media News Group (ranging from the Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News to the Berkshire Eagle and Lowell Sun in Massachusetts).

Michelle Tuccitto Sullo

CEO John Paton has a plan that many see as the best hope for rescuing the newspaper industry (in case you missed it, see the recent New York Times story here, and a more extensive Times interview with Paton here).

Will Paton’s formula of cutting print edition-related costs and emphasizing Flip cameras, mobile phones and Twitter improve local journalism or leave a multi-platformed but shallow and empty reproduction in its place?

At the end of the day, Doctor asked, “Are the readers, the citizens of its communities, better served?”

Without question, Journal Register Company news organizations are serving their communities better in breaking news situations thanks to the philosophy of “Digital First.” Hurricane Irene was a great example. When it comes to speed and use of platforms beyond print – from SMS alerts, to social media, blogging, video – we are light years ahead of where we used to be, and our audience has benefited.

But what about depth, context, investigative reporting?

It has taken longer to bear fruit, but as Digital First shifts emphasis away from the print production process, it is freeing up resources to invest in better journalism. And “slow news” – journalism that delves deeply into a story, that invests staff time in investigative work – has a prominent place alongside the breakneck pace of breaking news alerts.

This morning, we announced a newsroom reorganization in Connecticut that will establish a full-time investigations editor position at the New Haven Register for the first time in more than 20 years. A second full-time position will be devoted to the “explainer” format of in-depth reporting on local and state issues and “fact checking” statements made by politicians, public officials, activists and business leaders.

Mary O'Leary

Michelle Tuccitto Sullo, who joined the Register in 1992 and has covered courts and served as Naugatuck Valley bureau chief, will be charged not only with pursuing investigative stories on her own, but in creating a culture of investigative reporting in the newsrooms of the New Haven Register and its sister JRC papers in Connecticut. She’ll team up with staff reporters to pursue stories that the daily grind of a beat don’t allow them to pursue. Michelle draws upon strong knowledge of court and Freedom of Information Act process and award-winning investigative experience in writing about cold case murder and missing persons cases.

New Haven Register Topics Editor Mary O’Leary, who has 31 years of experience covering state government and a variety of other beats at the paper, will be freed from chasing the press conference of the day to focus on in-depth reporting. She will split her time between “explainers” and “fact checking” – both aimed at cutting through the “he said, she said” blizzard of political spin and process to help our readers get to the truth.

We are creating these positions and replacing Michelle and Mary in their old beats, for a big net increase in our “feet on the street” reporting. And we’re doing that by consolidating positions that were focused either entirely or primarily on the process of putting out the print edition of the newspaper.

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10 Responses to “Investigative and in-depth reporting bolstered by ‘Digital First’”

  1. Sacred Bull November 28, 2011 at 8:58 am #

    I love this two-pronged approach. “Digital first” is intrinsically inferior to thoughtful reporting, but if the reader understands it for what it is — “tell what you know when you know it” — it’s at least a great first step. And it’s an approach that other electronic media have always done — e.g., radio and television. By following up with thoughtful analysis — print or otherwise — it becomes a complete package.

  2. Jen Z November 28, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    When breaking news happens, and the investigation takes days, lives are already ruined, and judgements are already made. The Pepper Spray incident is an excellent case in point. The cellphone videos were up within minutes. The news media ran with the brutality story. The cop in the video was put on leave, and people are calling for his head, his supervisor’s head, his partner’s head, and the chancellor’s head.

    Days later, the rest of the story is finally seeing *some* daylight. We are learning, finally, of the events leading up to the incident, why the police chose pepper spray, and that it turned out to be in keeping with their training. There is new interviews with the protesters involved, and by their own words, they are proving the case for the police.

    We wouldn’t know it, though, until days after those peoples’ lives were ruined through the “breaking news digital media”.

    • Sacred Bull November 28, 2011 at 9:24 am #

      I recommend the movie “The Paper,” which delves into the ethics of reporting too quickly on a story just to keep the reader’s interest. Two black youths are accused of murder, but as deadline approaches it becomes evident that they are innocent. The paper is already at press. What to do? The publisher says continue the run and make a correction tomorrow and “everybody’s happy.” The editor stops the presses, changes the story, loses a ton of the publisher’s money on the extra print run, and the truth prevails. Just food for thought.

      • Vince November 28, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

        That movie is in my Netflix Instant queue. How about spoiler alerts?! J/K Excellent points being made by all.

  3. Christy January 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    Getting the news out to the people is vital! I cannot access my personal news etc for the most part at my work but really do want an update and insight to the latest goings on and happenings I love newspapers! I recycle them and also use them for multiple purposes. I so commend this newspaper for taking pro active investigative approaches in MISSING PERSONS articles, updates and information it is critical to many! Our Communities, familes and social circles need to know understand, be awre and get educated we must find better ways to prevent the missing persons epidemic across this country as well as act responsibly when unfortuneately it does occur. The Human tafficking nightmare is another scarey epidemic which is rapidly spreading.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Digital First journalists: What we value « The Buttry Diary - December 20, 2011

    [...] institutions in our communities. We need to commit time and other resources to beat reporting and investigative reporting that informs the community about the effectiveness, honesty and priorities of the government and [...]

  2. Leading a Digital First newsroom « The Buttry Diary - December 22, 2011

    [...] will be blogging soon about those teams) or new positions, as Matt did in focusing staff members on investigative reporting and fact-checking and explanatory stories. My first staff move in Cedar Rapids was to make the editor of a print section our social media [...]

  3. Facebook page fuels investigative editor’s work on missing persons | Digital Ninja School - February 16, 2012

    [...] persons cases was the first major topic Michelle Tuccitto Sullo tackled after she was named to the new position of investigative editor at the New Haven Register in [...]

  4. New Haven Register, other JRC papers in Connecticut, partner with CT News Junkie « Connecticut Newsroom - March 26, 2012

    [...] press corps. Earlier this year, for example, we announced that reporter Mary O’Leary would be focusing on more in-depth “explainer”-format coverage and “fact check” reports. And state politics and government [...]

  5. New position to focus on Freedom of Information reporting « Connecticut Newsroom - August 30, 2012

    [...] investigations editor position at the New Haven Register, filled by Michelle Tuccitto Sullo, and a new beat dedicated to “explainer”-style and “fact check” reporting. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like [...]

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