Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Brain drain

By Anna Kim

The casualties in the journalism industry happen daily, publicized or not.

One of our SJI class speakers talked with us about another casualty — one that deserves publicity and consideration, too.

Malcolm Moran, the Knight Chair in sports journalism and society at Penn State, spoke about the loss of institutional memory. As the industry loses veteran reporters and editors, the loss of institutional memory manifests itself in two ways: the loss of context and the loss of experience.

Moran cited an example of a editor who recently stepped down to become a senior writer. In losing that editor, the reporters in turn suffer from a loss of the veteran’s contacts and experience.

Reporters and editors who have been in the business for decades can offer a level of knowledge and contacts that new editors simply have not had time to develop. In terms of stories, there is a loss of context as well. There is no doubt that the media has a penchant to hail a game as the best Super Bowl ever or a superstar as the next Michael Jordan.

Moran provided last year’s men final at Wimbledon as an example. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal staged a competition that was hailed by many as the greatest tennis match in history. Though it warrants discussion, what happens when voices don’t offer Jimmy Connors vs. Arthur Ashe, or John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg?

The numbers of layoffs are certainly daunting, but it is worth considering that not all losses are quantifiable. And it is hard to imagine how much those intangibles are worth—or how much the losses will hurt.

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