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"It's Alive!"

The Washington Post today reports on the institution of mobile reporters -- mojos -- at my old newspaper, the Fort Myers News-Press. And the really interesting thing about the experiment is that it mixes both good ideas and horrid ones to create what is basically a journalistic horror show.

Read Frank Ahrens' lede (and a bit more):

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Could this be the future of newspapering?

Darkness falls on a chilly Winn-Dixie parking lot in a dodgy part of North Fort Myers just before Thanksgiving. Chuck Myron sits in his little gray Nissan and types on an IBM ThinkPad laptop plugged into the car's cigarette lighter. The glow of the screen illuminates his face.

Myron, 27, is a reporter for the Fort Myers News-Press and one of its fleet of mobile journalists, or "mojos." The mojos have high-tech tools -- ThinkPads, digital audio recorders, digital still and video cameras -- but no desk, no chair, no nameplate, no land line, no office. They spend their time on the road looking for stories, filing several a day for the newspaper's Web site, and often for the print edition, too. Their guiding principle: A constantly updated stream of intensely local, fresh Web content -- regardless of its traditional news value -- is key to building online and newspaper readership.

Myron and his colleagues are part of a great experiment being conducted by their corporate parent, McLean-based newspaper giant Gannett, which is trying to remake the very definition of a newspaper. Losing readers and revenue to the Internet and other media, newspapers are struggling to stay relevant and even afloat. Gannett's answer is radical.

The chain's papers are redirecting their newsrooms to focus on the Web first, paper second. Papers are slashing national and foreign coverage and beefing up "hyper-local," street-by-street news. They are creating reader-searchable databases on traffic flows and school class sizes. Web sites are fed with reader-generated content, such as pictures of their kids with Santa. In short, Gannett -- at its 90 papers, including USA Today -- is trying everything it can think of to create Web sites that will attract more readers.

"Whatever you spend your time and money doing," said News-Press managing editor Mackenzie Warren, "is news."

So Myron sits in the parking lot, hunched over, keeping one eye out for threatening vagrants, and peers through his steering wheel to file a story on his laptop, perched on his knees. The workplace is, at best, ergonomically challenging.

The event he just covered? The signing of a fundraising calendar for the local chamber of commerce featuring the Hunks of North Fort Myers. The event was held inside a gym beside a Winn-Dixie in a strip shopping center.

First off, Gannett has some things right. The future of newspapers will be, increasingly, "mojos" -- lone-wolf reporters without an office outside of their home. It's economics baby -- overhead. They'll work for both on-line publications and mainstream newspapers. Also, whether we like it or not, the success of newspapers' web sites will hinge on how fast they can get fresh information on the site. So Gannett has that right too.

The problem with Gannett is that, as an "official" newspaper that refuses to report on the real world, their content is all screwed up. Who doesn't feel sorry for Chuck Myron, whom I've never met, after reading this story? Covering a hunk calendar? Nobody wants to read that. On top of that, they've mixed it all in with advertisers. To wit:

"Next spring, the paper plans to run a large story on a topic it would not identify. It did, however, say that the reporter on the article will accompany News-Press ad salespeople on trips to advertisers as the paper seeks a sponsor for the article. The logic: The reporter understands the project and can explain it best to potential advertisers. Though the reporter will be in sales meetings, he or she will not be part of the sales pitch. Nevertheless, the practice violates one of journalism's fundamentals -- maintaining a leakproof wall between the news and business sides of a newspaper."

Ahrens here I think understates what's happening here. This is a journalistic felony, an abominable violation of the public trust by the Fourth Estate. There are a lot of other horrible things about what the News-Press is doing, but to me it's become a modern-day Frankenstein newspaper, like a group of mad scientists building a new man that is incredibly grotestque, loaded with deformed appendages sticking out of places they should never be.

Thank God I escaped.

After the jump: Burying the Bank Robbery At The Post and Stamp Find Was Too Good To Be True

-- Meghan Meyer has an interesting -- both in content and execution -- story on a bank robbery today that shouldn't have been buried in the back of the local section. Why would the Post rather run holiday crap and other ho-hum detritus than intriguing and challenging pieces by creative writers?

-- The Associated Press is reporting that the rare Inverted Jenny stamp spotted by Commissioner John Rodstrom at the Broward County elections office is, indeed, a fake. I don't know why I feel disappointed over this, but damn, what a smashing hoax.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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