Local newspaperhounds will be interested in this story if no one else, but it has absolutely profound significance.
It’s about Ron Fournier, the former Democrat-Gazette and Little Rock AP reporter who’s new chief of the Associated Press Washington bureau. He’s encouraging a dramatic change in AP style and it’s not producing uniform praise, certainly not from Sandy Johnson, whom he succeeded as bureau chief.
“I loved the Washington bureau,” said Johnson, who left the AP after losing the prestigious position. “I just hope he doesn’t destroy it.”
There’s more to her vinegary remark than just the aftertaste of a sour parting. Fournier is a main engine in a high-stakes experiment at the 162-year old wire to move from its signature neutral and detached tone to an aggressive, plain-spoken style of writing that Fournier often describes as “cutting through the clutter.”
In short, he’s urging reporters to connect the dots. If Bush says the feds are doing a heckuva job in Katrina relief and the reporter’s own eyes show that’s not true, the reporter should state the obvious. Reporters are to become more analytical, in other words. He’s calling it “accountability journalism.”
I’m partial to the approach, you may have noticed. But I’m not a wire service and don’t pretend to be. Article quotes the Democrat-Gazette’s managing editor, David Bailey, as saying that, as a result of the AP’s new emphasis on dazzling footwork over substance, “We almost never run an AP story as we get it on the front of the paper.”
This is an interesting piece on journalism. I’d add only that the notion that AP reporters couldn’t inject spin, editorializing and underhanded political influence in the “old” reporting style never were treated to the Whitewater reporting of Ken Starr’s chief shill, Pete Yost.