Monday, May 25, 2009

Tough times

There's not much going on here. It's a tough time to be looking for work in journalism, particularly in newspapers. It seems that every time I consider giving up and looking to work for a different medium, something reminds me how exciting it can be to work at a newspaper.

A story in today's New York Times reports that during the Watergate scandal, the director of the FBI allegedly divulged sensitive information to a NYT reporter -- including the involvement of Attorney General John Mitchell as well as White House involvement -- before the Washington Post got the story.

The reporter in question had quit the paper and was leaving to attend law school but went back to the office and told an editor what he had heard. The editor took notes and recorded the conversation. But as we know, the Washington Post got the story first — from Mark Felt, then the number two man at the FBI ("Deep Throat") — and the Times never got the story.

It's rare that we hear about the story the paper didn't get, so it's interesting to look back on now. But what this does for me is remind me of what journalism is all about.

Watergate started out as a cops beat story. What seemed like just a break-in, only interesting because it happened to be at the Democratic headquarters, took down a president because a reporter (who happened to be friends with the number two man at the FBI) followed his instincts and looked into who the burglars were. The question today is, if that NYT editor had followed up on his reporter's tip all those years ago, how would the story be different?

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