It's All One Big Story

If you thought that all the colors bleed into one only in U2 songs, check out the front page of Business Day in Thursday's New York Times and think again. The lead story is "Stadium Brawl and Family Drama Vie for Spotlight," which talks about the external battles and internal turmoil of the Dolan family and Cablevision.

The reporting byline is shared by Richard Sandomir (normally found in the Sports section), veteran business scribe Geraldine Fabrikant, and Metro Section regular Charles V. Bagli. Inside, another example of cross-disciplinary collaboration is found in the piece "Using Clues From Libya To Study a Nuclear Mystery," the latest in a series of team efforts by David E. Sanger, who writes mainly about international affairs, and William J. Broad, who comes from a science reporting background.

Many reporters are generalists: What they know best is journalism, and the good ones can apply it to a wide range of assignments, whether obituaries, a murder stories, features about school plays or gardening clubs, or wrap-ups of City Hall meetings. But for the most part, business reporters alone do business, hard news folks handle all the politics and crime, and sports people are the only ones to cover the local teams. That's true not only at individual newspapers, but also usually holds over the course of someone's career: A person who has covered presidential politics for many years is unlikely to get a gig reporting on the bond market or high school basketball, or to begin reviewing operas.

At the major papers, there is a great deal of specialization. For example, Linda Greenhouse writes almost exclusively about the Supreme Court at the Times, while Howard Kurtz handles the media for the Washington Post. The reason for such tightly conceived beats could be that the reporters have a specific skill (e.g., Greenhouse has a masters in law studies from Yale) for covering a complex subject. And it's just common sense that if a writer focuses on one beat, he or she is more likely to develop the deep sources that make for better reporting. (Kurtz's years on the media group comprise my excuse for why he is more famous than me.)

Of course, some stories have always forced reporters to cross boundaries, like sports montage master Bob Costas playing hard-newsman after the 1996 Olympic bombing in Atlanta. But certain trends auger for even more switch-hitting in coming years. One is the increasing commercialization of sport. The pro teams have always been big business but now they are in some cases part of global conglomerates, and are almost always crucial cogs in local economies. Another is the steady intertwining of business interest and public policy, both because of globalization and its impact on international relations, and because the now-dominant conservative movement makes no bones about doing businesses' bidding in city halls, state capitols and Washington, D.C. Both trends leave a lot not to like, but one benevolent side effect might be forcing reporters and editors to break down internal walls.


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