Daily Archives: February 13, 2008

Why does the Baltimore Sun only have 5 reporters?

Once again, Slate’s TV Club does a nice job of cataloging the absurdities in this week’s Wire episode: McNutty’s ridiculous kidnap-the-homeless-man scheme; Omar surviving a five-story fall with only broken legs, which he can soon walk on; the editors’ successfully checking out a homeless Marine vet’s story in a couple of hours; etc.

But one thing they didn’t mention that annoyed me is how the show’s fictional Baltimore Sun apparently has the smallest reporting staff of any major metro paper in the country.

Remind me if I’ve missed any, but in six episodes we’ve been introduced to: the oily Stephen Glass wannabe; the hungry idealist (who we’re supposed to feel sorry for, for example, when she’s rebuffed yelling a question to police officers while they’re working a murder scene); the young black reporter who seems generally normal; the state courts reporter upset that there’s no federal courts reporter; and the bearded, well-meaning but average City Council/education reporter. (Also the smarter-than-Batman cops reporter-turned-editor who was fired or took a buyout.) At first I attributed this narrow focus to the limits of narrative television; they can focus on only so many characters before the story gets unwieldy.

But in this week’s episode, when the evil editor — who you can tell is horrible because, like Stalin, he wears hoity-toity suspenders — declares that all their resources will henceforth be devoted to The Homeless Problem, the saintly city editor is upset because he has to reassign … the oily dude, the idealist, the courts guy, and the ed reporter (the black reporter seemingly can continue covering other things, because he brings in a tip from another story that’ll probably end up trapping the fabulist). That is all.

First of all, no editor — even one who has as much sanctimony as he lacks a clue — would reassign his entire staff to one subject short of a 9/11 type catastrophe. But beyond that, a few episodes ago we learned that the Sun is closing down its foreign bureaus. Are we supposed to believe that a big metro paper that recently had its own foreign staff now has fewer reporters than the 20,000-circulation paper in New Hampshire where I had my first job? Is there really no one left to cover education or anything else after these four or five reporters have been reassigned?

Also, David Simon has complained about how newspapers don’t do a good job of covering society’s systemic problems, or simply can’t cover issues with such scope. Intent and method of coverage aside, is it so bad that the evil editor wants to cover the homeless more? Isn’t a major American city’s chronic homelessness a systemic social problem worth examining? Obviously throwing resources at a made-up story about a made-up serial killer isn’t the right way to do that, but the topic itself is presented as frivolous (e.g. Mayor Carcetti latching on because it’ll help him become governor). Seems like something worth covering along with, if not as much as, the problems in the school system.

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