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Aggie journalism students watch news made at SL Tribune

April 24th, 2011 Posted in Arts and Life

By Rhett Wilkinson

LOGAN—It was news time for 11 Utah State University journalism students Friday when they spent the afternoon touring the Salt Lake Tribune newsroom and talking with editors, columnists and reporters.

Aggie alumnus Tim Fitzpatrick, the Tribune’s deputy editor, played host as the students asked questions about new media, the Trib’s competition with the Deseret News, and news decisions.

Part of the Q&A focused on the immediacy and “shelf life” of news stories, which no longer wait for the daily newspaper print edition, but usually are posted online as they happen, the editors explained. Early Friday morning, a reported double-homicide in South Salt Lake looked like it might be the lead story in the next day’s paper, but several online updates later turned out to be a murder-suicide of an engaged couple—a “very different” kind of story.

One of the big changes in the news business brought by new technology is the flow of news and stories that appear online but never run in the newspaper, including blogs that are exclusive to cyberspace.

“The shelf life of a story is shorter online,” he said.

Fitzpatrick said such a rapid flow of stories on the web can means the public get breaking news much faster, such as when kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart was rescued from Brian David Mitchell in 2003. The story drew some 2.4 million people to the Tribune’s webpage.

“I don’t know of a more remarkable story than Elizabeth Smart,” Fitzpatrick said. “Walking out of that situation nine months later? Amazing.”

Fitzpatrick said the Trib’s website has seen no more than 1.9 million views in any day since.

The USU journalists also had a chance to meet and talk with fellow Aggie Kurt Kragthorpe, who graduated from USU in 1984. Kragthorpe, who has served as reporter, sports editor and now columnist at the Tribune, discussed his career covering some of the great sporting events in Utah and the world, including the Karl Malone heydays of the Utah Jazz, the 2002 winter Olympics, and Super Bowl media days.

Tribune editors gather twice a day to plan coverage and decide what runs on the next day’s front page and section fronts. At the 4 p.m. news meeting, the students sat in as editors pitched various state, local and wire service stories for space on page one and the Utah section front.

Among the candidates: Goshute Indian conflicts with Nevada officials over water rights, the discovery of a 1,000-year-old clay bowl in Garfield County, the evolving murder-suicide in South Salt Lake, a West Valley City 24-year-old who saved a baby from a house fire, Weber State’s commencement with a speech by former Gov. Mike Leavitt, and various Easter weekend events.

Overseas, the wires were reporting 75 dead when Syrian government troops fired on protesters, prosecution of Blackwater guards involved in a 2007 shooting that killed four Iraqis, Arizona Sen. John McCain’s surprise visit to Libya to call for more U.S. support for anti-Gadhafi rebels, and other national and international news.

It was a slow Good Friday news day, assistant managing editor Lisa Carricaburu told the visiting Aggie journalism students. Often, as many as 15 breaking stories compete for space on Page One, she said. On this day, there were only four top candidates for Saturday’s newspaper.

After the news decisions had been made, junior Rob Jepson wanted to know what drives the front-page news judgments. “The rule is that content drives, not design,” said Tribune editor Nancy Conway. “Graphic elements become extremely important, but not before the most important stories of the day.”

That’s what readers—whether online or in paper form—that readers expect of Utah’s largest daily newspaper, Conway said. Most stories are developed by reporters working beats, she and Carricaburu said.

“We are quite beat-driven,” she said. “We have MoJo’s—mobile journalists—who gather material. Our editors may have stories as well, but our content usually comes from the bottom up.”

One of the Tribune’s “MoJo’s” is Weber State graduate Cimaron Neugebauer, who spent most of the day Friday camped outside the South Salt Lake home where the murder-suicide took place, posting updates and photos throughout the day. This is a big change and an import ant part of the future of daily newspaper journalism, Fitzpatrick said.

Earlier during their walk through the Tribune newsroom, the USU students were greeted by Tribune reporters, editors and other staffers. Junior Dan Smith was particularly pleased to meet columnists Peg McEntee and Paul Rolly. “Was that Pat Bagley?” one student asked as the group passed the editorial cartoonist’s desk.

During his Q&A, sports columnist Kurt Kragthorpe reminisced about his time as a student in Logan, as a stringer at the Herald-Journal as an undergraduate, and about how he comes up with ideas for his sports column during the summer lull between the end of basketball season and the kickoff of college football. He said it takes some creativity to keep the readers interested over the summer, although there are some topics that will always draw attention.

“In Utah, . . . you can count on anything LDS, the Jazz, BYU, and sex,” he said. “I guess you could say the Brandon Davies issue has everything.”

Kragthorpe spoke of a recent summer when he wrote columns chronicling his experience working an assortment of jobs at what is now Spring Mobile Ballpark, home of the Salt Lake Bees. Such positions included batboy, raking the infield between innings, and selling cotton candy.

He said that although the 2009 Major League Soccer champion Real Salt Lake is starting to develop a following, soccer really appeals to a niche of hard-core fans.

Kragthorpe was sports editor during both the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics and during the famed 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals showdowns between the Jazz and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. The down-side, he said, was that as editor he was stuck in the newsroom and didn’t get to see either the Olympic events or any of the Jazz-Bulls games.

It has been a dream job for Kragthorpe, who has helped cover seven Super Bowls, as well as Olympics in Athens, Torino, Beijing, and most recently, Vancouver.

The newspaper business has struggled to evolve, Conway and the other editors said, but people will always need and want news.

“I loved touring the Tribune‘s newsroom,” said Statesman editor-in-chief Ben Wood, a graduating senior who will intern this summer at the Deseret News. “It’s exactly what I imagine the newsroom of a daily paper should be.”



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