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At the Mercury News and its Bay Area siblings, a debate over dateline policy

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Mercury News and its affiliate newspapers and editions in the Bay Area have instituted a new dateline policy that is ruffling feathers in its newsrooms. Under the policy that became effective yesterday, stories are to contain datelines wherever possible, whether or not a reporter was physically present in, say, Cupertino, to write about Apple.

And the change, which more than a few journalists will view as ethically unsavory, isn’t without pushback. Assistant business editor and former foreign correspondent (from the Knight-Ridder era) Michael Dorgan, sent a memo to managing editor Bert Robinson expressing his displeasure.

An excerpt from the Dorgan memo:

As someone who has filed news stories from 20 or so countries, I know firsthand there’s a huge difference between slogging through the pigshit in rural China or slinking through the back alleys of Rawalpindi to actually see, smell and hear what’s going on, rather than relying on Tweets or Facebook posts from those who purport to know. Those digital tools can certainly be helpful in providing fuller coverage of an event, but I fear we are quickly approaching a time when they will used as money-saving alternatives to real-life coverage, and that will only further erode our credibility as journalists.

Since then, editor Dave Butler has weighed in, affirming the policy but saying the newspaper and its affiliates, including the Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times, will monitor the practice and make changes if necessary.

Jim Romenesko posts Dorgan’s missive, Butler’s memo, and the original policy memo.

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