Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Distasteful, But Well Done

The Roanoke Times team of reporters Beth Macy, Amanda Codispoti, Pete Dybdahl, researcher Belinda Harris and photographer Kyle Green did an exemplary job with their story this a.m. on the four young Hondurans who were killed in an automobile accident Monday in the southwest section of Roanoke.

Reporters will almost universally tell you that this is the kind of story they hate to do. It is invasive of a grieving family, rarely necessary for the public good and goes against every bit of mama-based training they've ever had about snooping around people in pain. But readers expect it and it's part of the job. Pete Dybdahl and Beth Macy were feature writers until about a year ago and each is a fine writer. (In an earlier version of this, I had them still in features, for which I apologize.) Nicely written, well researched, but necessary? That's a question for all of us, I suspect.

(Note: I recommend strongly you read Beth Macy's response under "comments" below.)


  1. Dan --

    Pete and I have both worked in the newsroom for a couple of years. He covers Salem; I write about families. I wrote the initial story on the Cedillo family as part of my 2006 series on Hispanic immigration.

    I know you've blasted The Roanoke Times of late for our front page features -- and I agree that at times we cross the line -- but I think that it's possible to have heft and good writing in the same story; in fact, readers prefer it.

    It seems to me that media critics are enjoying kicking the crap out of newspapers -- we are the proverbial dog, panting hard to survive in a tough economy.

    I may not agree with every decision newspaper editors make, but I can tell you that, from where I sit, the people I work with at The Roanoke Times are trying hard to remain relevant and useful to our readers.

    We may not have the large staff we've enjoyed in the past, and some days we are surely better than others, but most of us are still here trying to tell stories that move and enlighten, and make the public's business known.

    When something like the Cedillo tragedy occurs, we're able to document it not just from the perspective of a parachuting reporter but as people who've spent time with them, watched them get their kids ready for school. We understand their experience and — dare I say it? — hell yes, we care.

    Still panting,
    Beth Macy

  2. Beth:

    Thank you for your perspective. My criticisms of the RT have almost exclusively involved executive decisions--especially those involving the dismissal of good people--and not of the staff of solid news people you have there. I believe The Times has some fine writers, some solid news veterans, some promising young reporters, some truly awful execs--as seems to be the case with so many newspapers. (In fact, we're employing four of your castoffs these days.)

    I have pretty well come to the conclusion that newspapers are responsible for their own deaths--and those deaths are coming sooner than most expect, I think. And I'm not so sure that it's a bad thing. The institutions--or lack of institutions--that will replace newspapers will serve the same functions; they'll simply do it differently and we're finding out some of the ways that will happen every day.

    I was under the impression Pete and you were still in features because I see so little of your work (and, truth be told, I don't read the paper very often or very carefully on most days). I know you both write well (Pete worked for us for a bit at the Business Journal before he was employed by The Times and I had a great deal of appreciation for his work). I was not aware of the previous Cedillo series.

    I'm hearing more and more people who say they no longer read the newspaper--and I'm not just talking about the version on the doorstep, but also the online version. The reasons are varied, but consistent. The result, though, is that many, many former readers are doing their reading elsewhere. It's sad, but it's real and, ultimately, we'll figure out how to communicate differently, but as effectively as we ever have ... or haven't.

    Good to hear from you.