Departure of longtime Tribune writer Kurt Loft resonates for me today
As my thoughts turn to the 11 Tampa Tribune reporters who will be told they are leaving the news organization today, I recalled a recent conversation with that newspaper's longtime classical music critic and science writer, Kurt Loft.
Loft, 52, left the Tribune on June 13, capping a 27-year career that started when he was hired in 1981 to cover classical music. He left on his own, missing out on the severance benefits other employees there have gotten by taking a buyout offer or being involuntarily laid off -- joining an expanding group of Tribune expatriates at Pricewaterhouse Coopers helping turn their business-speak into readable copy.
I had intended to write about Loft's last day back then in this space. But somebody named Tim Russert died unexpectedly hours after we talked, and I spent the rest of that day hunting down folks to comment on the passing of TV political journalism's biggest name.
Still, Loft's words ring true today, as the organization he gave nearly 30 years of his work life sheds more jobs. "The thing I worry about -- the historical knowledge base is not going to be replaced," said Loft, who followed his passions, migrating from classical music and fine arts coverage to shuttle launches and science stuff. "I really think you lose that level of experience and the cultural landscape hurts. If the (information) world comes down to blogs, I don't know what that means for the rest of us."
Indeed, that's what I wonder as I hear that Media General is breaking down much of its beat structure at the Tribune and WFLA, organizing reporters by how they report: grouping together a data team, deadline team, watchdog team, personal journalism team and grassroots team.
I am fond of telling people I've gone from being a generalist reporter with a specific way of communicating with the audience, to a specific reporter who might present his work on a range of media outlets. I can take my journalism experience, ferret out important stories and then figure out whether to present that information on the blog, in the paper or through interviews on TV or radio.
But this new world seems to involve asking a smaller group of reporters to cover so much ground, no one has the time to develop expertise -- so what happens to the depth of stories? And when you develop ideas without a solid notion of where they will be published, you often end up doing a lot of extra work, anyway.
"The grass roots (arts community) needs dialog...where's the dialog going to be?" Loft said to me weeks ago. "I'm a message guy - when i do a story which affects people, i know who to call to add layers and depth. How do you take somebody and just drop them into covering classical music and get that?"