The New Yorker article about concussions in football has an interesting model of journalism:
Credit for the public’s increased awareness of these issues must go to the Times, and to its reporter Alan Schwarz […]
Schwarz was a career baseball writer, with a heavy interest in statistics, when, in December of 2006, he got a call from a friend of a friend named Chris Nowinski, a Harvard football player turned pro wrestler turned concussion activist. […]
The result, “Expert Ties Ex-Player’s Suicide to Brain Damage from Football,” wound up on the front page, on January 18, 2007. It described [a deceased football player’s] forty-four-year-old brain tissue as resembling that of an eighty-five-year-old man with Alzheimer’s. […]
Schwarz’s phone kept ringing. Several of the callers were the mothers and wives of football’s damaged men. They represented a readership far less likely to have come across, say, the annual men’s-magazine features about mangled knees, wayward fingers, and back braces, which had hardened almost into a sportswriting trope. In March, Schwarz published another front-pager: “Wives United by Husbands’ Post-N.F.L. Trauma.” Glenn Kramon, an assistant managing editor at the Times who oversees long-term, Pulitzer-worthy projects, read this piece and decided to intervene. Schwarz was given a full-time position, with no responsibilities other than to broaden his new beat’s focus beyond the N.F.L. to the more than four million amateur athletes who play organized football.
Schwarz was already a journalist, but he was given a fulltime position due to his contacts and enthusiasm for a subject outside of his typical realm of expertise. You could easily extend this model to other fields and issues. It would be great if the Times seconded, say, a doctor to travel around the country and report on the implementation of the healthcare reform. Or convince an economist to take a sabbatical and report on the crisis in the euro.
One of the great things the internet has done is broaden our definition of journalism from something you are to something you do. Newspapers have a great opportunity to scoop up writers not based on their journalistic credentials, but on their talent, enthusiasm and ability to present complex topics to a broad readership.
The last 10 years have shown the weaknesses of the ‘he said, she said’ model of objective reporting. The press increasingly accepts that its mission is finding out the truth, rather than simply repeating what various interest groups say it is. As newspapers begin to compete on this, I wonder if they’ll find that the most reliable journalists are the accidental ones.