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Sun cuts meant ‘lost depth’, more ‘small crime stories’: editor

A memo circulated in the Vancouver Sun newsroom by the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Patricia Graham acknowledges that staff cuts and financial pressures in recent years have eroded the quality of journalism at the paper of record in British Columbia’s largest city.

“We let go of some of our beats” the memo says, meaning that fewer reporters were given responsibility for covering specific aspects of society day in and day out. Instead, Sun editors, pressed to fill the “local newshole”, relied on “small crime stories” and “agenda items,” writes Graham.

As a result, “We have also lost depth and expertise in some areas, which has hindered our ability to put news in context for our readers,” admits Graham, who has helmed the Sun since 2003.

The size of the newsroom staff at the Vancouver Sun, as at the Vancouver Province, has diminished by more than half since the 1990s. In recent years the Sun’s management has required reporters and editors to post more content to its website. “Our staff is smaller yet we have dramatically increased the amount of content we put online,” Graham notes.

The Sun is part of the chain of Canwest newspapers up for sale after its owner, burdened by billions in debt accumulated in an ill-fated bid to converge news and entertainment content from its international television, print and internet holdings, filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year.

Graham’s memo, which proposes to revive some beats at the Sun and invites reporters to apply, is printed in its entirety below.

FROM: Patricia Graham

You will soon see a posting go up for expressions of interest in several new and revised cityside beats.

For many years now, as we met significant challenges including a reduction in the number of newsroom staff, a responsibility to clear vacations annually and an obligation to reduce overtime, we let go of some of our beats.

Consequently, editors charged with filling the local newshole have had to rely more heavily on agenda items and small crime stories. We have also lost depth and expertise in some areas, which has hindered our ability to put news in context for our readers.

The need for more beats may seem dead obvious, but it isn’t that simple. Our staff is smaller yet we have dramatically increased the amount of content we put online. Editors are naturally inclined to rely on general assignment reporters they know they can assign to provide copy quickly. It has become more worrisome for cityside editors to rely on initiative copy.

Nevertheless, we believe that more beats will be a good thing and we’re excited about the possibilities. Some of the beats represent a return to basics, others are entirely new and some are refinements of current beats. All of them, however, will have some things in common.

Successful applicants will need to be highly productive self-starters, willing to work flexible hours. They will approach their beats with an inquisitive mind and demonstrate an ability to deliver stories in a timely manner across all media platforms. They will be expected to break news and write unique contextual pieces.

Applications for the beat positions should include ideas for multiplatform journalism, including how to build a digital community and engage it through mechanisms such as blogs, podcasting, video and audio, as well as across social networks like Twitter and Facebook. If appropriate to the beat, a plan for using FOI and access filings will also be needed.

Finally, these positions are open only to permanent employees. Those who hold existing beats are more than welcome to apply for any of the posted beats, including the one that most closely resembles their current beat. 


David Beers is editor of The Tyee.

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