How to deal with quota journalism?

June 30, 2004
Category: Uncategorized

Q: I just took a new job, and I think I made a mistake. My new paper openly judges reporters by their byline counts. Story quotas are not an ideal, they are an imperative — regardless of the beat or the quality of the story. I’m afraid that if I stay, I will be so disillusioned I’ll want to leave the profession, or worse yet, I won’t have the kind of clips needed to move ahead. Should I leave my job and look again (a scary idea in this market).

M.K.

A: That was a mistake. You should have turned up the quota system when you were interviewing with the editors and reporters at that newspaper.

I am concerned that you think this quota system will disillusion you. As hard as it is to work where quantity outweighs quality, you can’t lose sight of the reasons why we are journalists and that this newspaper appears not to reflect most newspapers.

I once met a reporter who worked at a paper that had a draconian quote system. She got good clips by working hard to meet most of her quote in the first three or four days of the week and then spending the last day or two to write clips she could use to get a new job. The editors wanted to see a lot of stuff; they didn’t care that some of it was thin and some of it was strong.

Her strategy worked. We hired her as a reporter at the Free Press. She went on to become an executive editor. She does not set quotas for her reporters. If you have talent and passion, you can beat the quote system before it beats you. Work hard and smart to get out of there.