By: M.L. Stein Los Angeles Times editor says many readers will be happy to 'plow through' a riveting tale skillfully handled sp.
NEWSPAPERS MIGHT WELL take a new look at "literary" journalism and investigative reporting, Los Angeles Times editor Shelby Coffey III told a general audience recently. "Nothing beats the power of a story well told," he said. "And, contrary to the worries about ever-shortening attention spans, there's good argument to be made that, given a riveting tale skillfully handled, many readers will happily plow through a 100-inch and longer newspaper story." Delivering the 28th annual Riverside Press-Enterprise Lecture on the University of California campus in Riverside, Coffey suggested that editors make sure both long and short stories have appropriate style and pace. "There's plenty of room for literary flair if we edit with readers in mind," he contended. A newspaper also can be distinguished by its in-depth investigative reporting "but I don't necessarily mean some simplistic version of an eager reporter who finds the sheriff is on the take and he goes to jail," Coffey went on. Editors and reporters should also look at institutions and officials, the rules and charters they operate under and what discrepancies, if any, there are between stated practice and "real life," the editor said. Overall, Coffey stated, newspapers must take into account the lives and needs of readers by showing them "how to cope and deal with the blooming, buzzing confusion of daily life ? whether with articles or listings or how-to's. The role needs to be part of newspapers or we'll lose touch with a part of our readers' needs." The recession with its economic constraints on newspapers has forced editors to rethink the gathering and presentation of information, Coffey said. "The forced evolution has pain in it but also the potential for some gain," he observed. "We in the newspaper business have to reset priorities, determine impact and importance, push our creativity to the limits. In short, we must outthink adversity." This is not necessarily bad news for readers, the speaker noted. From hard times in the newsroom has come a reordering of priorities that has meant, among other changes, a greater emphasis on business news as more Americans are affected by both the national and global economy, and a new emphasis on news that reflects the nation's growing diversity and changing lifestyles, Coffey pointed out. "The trend toward dramatic changes in newspapers is continuing," said Coffey, one of the organizers of New Directions for News. "What if we covered the future as a beat?" he asked. Other beats could include American and city values, and lobbying and pressure groups and how they impact local as well as national government, Coffey conjectured. "Several decades ago," he commented, "reporters wrote mostly news stories. Analysis and interpretation weren't in the purview of American journalists. Now it's the nineties, and readers won't be satisfied by one-dimensional reporting." In terms of news, Coffey said, newspapers owe readers "a clear look at the naked facts, as best our instant historians can discern them. What's most important, what's most fascinating, what's changed, both sudden and longer term, will continue to be the basis for papers." ? (Shelby Coffey III )[Photo]