Monday, April 26, 2010

Pulitzer-winning rural editor says investigative reporting will preserve newspapers

Much of the focus on the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service awarded to the Bristol Herald Courier for uncovering a natural-gas royalties scandal has been on the reporter who broke the story, but the newspaper's editor deserves praise for the environment he's helped to create. "A few days before landing a Pulitzer, 28-year-old reporter Daniel Gilbert was interviewing the Easter bunny because he had weekend duty at the Herald Courier," Jane Podesta writes for The Huffington Post. "That's how it works in a hands-on newsroom overseen by a Lou Grant-style editor, J. Todd Foster, who unleashes all his reporters to do investigative work but demands daily reporting on hyperlocal stories."

"It's time to stop crying in our beer and realize no matter how big a newspaper, if it has a commitment it can do investigative reporting," Foster, at right in photo, told Podesta. "If we can no longer cover every school board and city council meeting, we can still do investigative reporting without worrying about spending the money or risking being sued. The investigative reporting niche will save newspapers." Foster, "a burly investigative reporter-turned-editor," convinced publisher Carl Esposito, at left in photo, to fund Gilbert's participation in Investigative Reporters and Editors' week-long computer assisted reporting boot-camp and then oversaw Gilbert's reporting on the scandal.

When the Media General paper lost 3,000 subscribers after pulling out of two Southwestern Virginia counties to save on delivery costs, Foster refused to cut investigative reporting. Most media pundits have called the Herald Courier's win a surprise, but Foster was prepared for the win. He suggested to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues in February that he thought the paper had a shot at a Pulitzer. He told Podesta, "I ran to the store and bought two $4.99 bottles of champagne and threw them in the trunk," he told Podesta. "I thought, if we don't win, I'll take them home. If we do win, I'll look clairvoyant." (Read more)

In his Sunday column, Foster took whacks at The Washington Post, which declined to hire him at 38, saying he had reached his potential, and which published a story about his paper that made an assumption about its viability and leaped to a conclusion about Gilbert's future. He says on Facebook that he is "overjoyed at the national response" to the column, "written during a prolonged writing slump, at 35,000 feet, in 27 minutes, in the throes of journalistic passion. There may have been a few beers consumed at the airport during an earlier layover."

1 comment:

Howard Owens said...

Newspapers aren't the only ones who do investigative journalism.

Their competitors -- even online competitors -- do it, too.