Tuesday, August 4, 2009

PULITZERS LOST, WHAT A COST - Sixth in a series on the impact of thousands of job cuts at America's newspapers

How best to get at the cost for society, for journalism and for journalists of the loss of thousands of jobs at American newspapers? This is the sixth in a series that tries to do it by asking journalists who have shown themselves capable of producing work of the highest caliber - winners of the Pulitzer Prize who are no longer at a newspaper - for their reflections on what happened to them, what it's meant and how they view the future. It's a sign of how serious the times are that even people with this type of track record are now on the outside, without a newspaper to support their journalism.

The series continues today with an e-mail interview with Paul Giblin, whose story truly is incredible. Here’s a journalist who was laid off - and then won the Pulitzer for work he’d done before he was cut from the staff of his newspaper. Paul and Ryan Gabrielson of the East Valley Tribune, Mesa, AZ, won the 2009 award for local reporting for "their adroit use of limited resources to reveal, in print and online, how a popular sheriff’s focus on immigration enforcement endangered investigation of violent crime and other aspects of public safety."

To read previous installments: Deborah Nelson, Andrew Schneider, Kim Komenich, Janet Reeves and Jerry Kammer. More to come...

1. Name, age, final paper.

Paul Giblin, 46. I was laid off from the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz., in January 2009. At the time, I was the paper’s federal affairs reporter, which was a terrific position. Since then I co-founded the on-line political news site The Arizona Guardian with three other former East Valley Tribune journalists and a fifth partner.

2. What work did you winner Pulitzer for, when?

I worked with a talented and driven reporter named Ryan Gabrielson on a series of stories about Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his high-profile illegal immigration efforts. The series dealt with the program’s threat to civil liberties and it’s consequences to taxpayers in the forms of high costs and reduced law-enforcement services. We worked on the project for six months and published in July 2008. We were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting in May 2009.

3. Why did you leave your newspaper? When?

The East Valley Tribune laid off half its newsroom staff in January 2009. I was part of that group. There was a ton of talent in that group, people with skill and insight and experience and humor and institutional knowledge.

4. What are you doing now? Any reflections on life after newspapers?

I am one of five co-founders of The Arizona Guardian, www.arizonaguardian.com, an on-line newspaper that covers Arizona government and politics.

5. What do you hope to do going forward? Will you stay in journalism? How?

For now, I’m working with my partners to build the Guardian. I certainly would like to stay in journalism. I enjoy the craft. I love the idea that my work serves a greater purpose

6. What has the downsizing of your former newsroom or closing of your former paper meant to the quality of journalism in your community? For example, are there types of stories not being told? You could use your own experience to provide examples here.

Since January, the Tribune has gone from publishing seven days a week to three days a week. The number of sections has been reduced two. During the past year or so, the paper has shrunk from broadsheet to tab. And, as I mentioned before, the news staff has been chopped in half. In fact, nearly everyone who touched the Pulitzer project at the Tribune is no longer with the paper – graphic artists, photographers, Web designers, editors, others. Those are factual matters. I’ll let others make value judgments about what those changes have meant to the overall quality of journalism in the region.

7. What, if anything, do you think your newspaper should have done differently to prevent the downsizing or closure that cost you your job?

That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? I believe newspapers in general failed and continue to fail to market their best assets. Why don’t newspapers buy billboards to promote their top news columnists, sports writers and movie reviewers? Why don’t more newspapers do Q&A’s with those types of staffers and readers? Why are newspapers’ marketing efforts limited to giving away pens at country music festivals? However, I’m not sure any of that would have mattered in the era of Craigslist.

8. What would you advise young people wanting to pursue a life in journalism today?

At the speed at which the industry is changing, I’m not sure about the value of advice from me or anyone else for the next wave of aspiring journalists. With that said, I would suggest trashing the idea of distinctions between print journalism, radio journalism, television journalism and Internet journalism. It’s just journalism now. Still, old school, hard-hitting journalism has real value. The trick is figuring out how it fits in an industry that’s changing so quickly. So be prepared for anything, including layoffs.

Finally, is there anything else you'd like to say about your experience or journalism's future that we haven't covered in these questions?

Concerning one particular aspect of journalism’s future, my resume is available at www.paulgiblin.net. Thanks for asking.

-- Paul Giblin

Editor’s Note: If you know of others who should be interviewed for this project, please let me know. Thank you. John Temple.


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