Pressing the police, policing the press…

The anthology-of-stories section of Tim Harrower‘s newswriting textbook has been updated for this semester, and one of the additions is a Washington Post article by former police reporter David Simon, creator of the TV series “The Wire.”

I recommend the article as a starting point for a discussion of news careers, newspapers  and the media today. Reading it led me into a string of associations linked below, including a “how news happens” report out this week and a way to tie it all back to a 1953 radio drama from other research I’m working on.

But first: Unless you are in my class, you don’t have to buy the textbook to read the article that got me started on all this hyperlinking. It’s still online at the Post:

The 83 comments Post readers took time to append to the story — marvel of online newspapers —  aren’t in the book, so I’m linking them here, along with  more articles for perspective and some items that are just in this week.

Background: In its last season, “The Wire” took a hard look at the effect of the current economy and culture on both police and newspapers. The Atlantic magazine followed up with this critical piece by Mark Bowden, another veteran reporter (remember “Black Hawk Down”?).

“How David Simon’s disappointment with the industry that let him down made The Wire the greatest show on television — and why his searing vision shouldn’t be confused with reality.”

Simon had more to say himself in Esquire and the Huffington Post and at a Senate hearing last year on the future of journalism. Afterward, he talked about it in an interview:

January 2010 update: Back in Baltimore, there are a few new developments.  After “The Wire” played in England, a police reporter there was intrigued about Baltimore crime reporting enough to suggest a job-swap with a Sun reporter. The results:

Meanwhile, the PEW Center’s Project for Excellence in journalism did a month-long “How News Happens” content analysis of Baltimore news reports last summer, finding the Sun still at the center of the city news universe: “a close look at the news ecosystem of one city suggests that while the news landscape has rapidly expanded, most of what the public learns is still overwhelmingly driven by traditional media—particularly newspapers.”

Poynter Institute’s headline writer for columnist Bill Mitchell summed up the local news coverage in two words, “faster, thinner.” I’ve added the PEJ report to my “to read” pile, but Mitchell’s article looks like a less-academic starting place to understand both what it says and why we should care:

The study represents an important snapshot of news in transition, with some of its greatest value — clues to future possibilities — found mostly between the lines of the 40-page document.

PEJ credits The (Baltimore) Sun with strong, agenda-setting reporting on the topic of juvenile justice during the research period, but faults The Sun and other outlets for insufficient enterprise on most of six “major narratives” that emerged during the study…

I haven’t decided how much of this to officially assign to my classes, but I’m looking forward to the discussions when we get around to police news and “future of news” later in the semester.

If TV-culture-curious students want more sources to catch up with The Wire or the discussion of whether Simon was too angry to be fair to the Sun, opinions aren’t hard to find.

The last time I looked, you could get a discount box of DVDs of The Wire Season V, the one with the Sun as a major theme, if you didn’t see the series. I’d recommend it to journalism students, as long as they watch the more idealistic “All the President’s Men,” “The Paper” and (if they can find it) “Deadline USA” too.

In fact, for a quick fix of newspaper idealism, here’s a link to download a 50-minute mp3 of Lux Radio Theater‘s version of “Deadline USA” from You get Dan Dailey instead of Humphrey Bogart, but you still get rapid-fired dialogue and a great speech over the roar of the presses at the end.

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Newspapers, Television

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