OLD Media Moves

When business and metro reporters cooperate

February 28, 2007

Lynn Cook, an energy reporter for the Houston Chronicle who is currently a Knight-Bagehot fellow at Columbia University, writes in the latest issue of Columbia Journalism Review how beneficial it can be when business reporters and metro reporters work together on stories.

Houston ChronicleHer experience was based on an explosion at a BP refinery two years ago.

Cook wrote, “In the moments after the blast, editors treated the story as a standard industrial catastrophe. Reporters rushed to the scene and to local hospitals to gather information on the blaze, the casualties, and the possibility a toxic cloud would descend onto the community. It didn’t take long to realize, though, that Texas City would be a much longer, more arduous reporting slog, requiring expertise in everything from corporate finance to engineering to government regulation. After the initial heartrending stories of courageous workers trying to rescue their colleagues and broken families trying to plan so many funerals, Chronicle reporters would have to get to the bottom of what exactly went wrong and why. Was this truly an accident, or just an accident waiting to happen?

“I remember vividly the first editorial meeting of the Texas City reporting team. George Haj, our deputy managing editor of news, said metro and business reporters would work together on this story like never before. It was a concept that had received a lot of lip service in the newsroom but had never been put to the test on a grand scale. From the start, I could see why the wall between sections had not come down easily. Some reporters on the metro and business desks looked at the world in fundamentally different ways.

“Right off the bat, one metro reporter said labor union officials were talking off the record, blaming the blow-up on shoddy work by contract employees. That reporter thought the focus of all stories to come was obvious—the ills of outsourcing. To the business reporting contingent at the table, that was stereotypical liberal media bias writ large.”

Read more here.

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