Star staffing numbers: not so bad

Dateline: Tue 22 Jul 2008

If newspapers are exclusively a numbers game, perhaps the Star comes close to being able to do the sort of deep public reporting new publisher Michael Kane is calling for. Kane made his wishes known via exec editor Dennis Ryerson's Sunday column: "Star needs to dig deeper into critical issues."

The industry standard historically has been to have one reporter for every 1,000 newspapers in daily circulation, according to blogger Allan Mutter, who writes "Reflections of a Newsosauer."

The Star circulation figures were published here a few months back, courtesy of the national Audit of Bureau Circulations latest 2006 figures: 258,947 daily average, 348,133 on Sunday and 231,985 for Saturday.

According to a newsroom source, there are about 200 employees in the newsroom, not counting top editors. This figure includes all those who work in various jobs in the various bureaus, magazines and special features such as Indy.com -- reporters, designers, copy editors, photographers, etc.

Ryerson said he hopes the paper can improve in public reporting, which he calls "this critical area of our work."

A proven theory: retain veteran reporters, and allow them to do their jobs on traditional beats (cops, city hall, neighborhoods, schools, the arts, finance, business). Hire and encourage mavericks -- people who question authority and who refuse to be co-opted. Turn them loose, without a lot of nervous nellie editors and corporate grain-of-sand-counters getting in the way.

That, at least, is the sort of bold effort that once created newspapers that readers wanted to buy. Perhaps what changed is not so much readers as the newspaper execs' uncertainty about what is news (more entry points? more pix of kitties? more news you can use?). People will always want news. Newspapers simply have to return to writing it.

Or, to quote from a motto that once adorned desks in the Star newsroom: "Tell good stories."

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