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Editor’s Notebook: 6 questions we’re asking this week

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The BBC published a story at the end of May that said Microsoft is planning to replace dozens of contract journalists on its MSN website and use automated systems to select news stories.  

Peter Osborne
DBT Editor

Curating of stories from news organizations and selection of headlines and pictures for the MSN site is currently done by journalists, but the Seattle Times reported that artificial intelligence will perform these news production tasks. 

The news isn’t all that surprising, given that newsroom employment at U.S. newspapers has fallen by around half since 2008, according to a recent Pew Research Center analysis of federal job data that was completed before a pandemic that has cost even more reporters and editors their jobs. 

To be fair, there has a modest increase in jobs after 2014 in other news-producing sectors – especially digital-native organizations – which has offset some of the losses at newspapers. 

The decrease in local newsroom jobs is a driver behind the launch of Delaware Live (and  its subsequent purchase of Town Square Delaware). Owner Chris Kenny and investors like Ben du Pont have expressed interest in competing with The News Journal, which is dealing with its own staff challenges following Gannett’s merger with GateHouse Media. 

For those journalists interested in self-preservation, that leads you to consider how you must differentiate yourself and your product. Content gurus Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose identified four questions on their podcast that every journalist should be answering for their readers: 

  1. What happened? 
  2. Why did it happen? 
  3. What does it mean? 
  4. What can I (the reader) do about it? 

The reality is that artificial intelligence can handle the first two questions, but you can’t program wisdom into the software. So those of us who can provide answers to the third and fourth questions – as DBT tries to do on a regular basis – will survive over the long term. 

Even with the growth we’ve seen in our digital engagement, finding that balance between reporting the news and providing context is more difficult for our biweekly print editions. As an example, we have a few questions that we’ll be asking in the weeks to come: 

What’s happening?  Dr. Kara Odom Walker resigned as the state’s director of health and human services to join Nemours Children’s Health System as senior vice president and chief population health officer, starting Sept. 1. She had been keeping a fairly low profile amid the COVID-19 pandemic, ceding the spotlight to Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, but she’s been equally low-key in talking about the drivers of her decision beyond a press release saying she wanted to return to Washington, D.C. 

The question: Why leave in the midst of a pandemic when the governor and others are raising concerns that Delawareans are not as serious about the health-care risks as they have been?  


What’s happening? Carney’s chosen replacement for Walker is her second-in-command, Molly Magarik, who by all accounts has done a great job. But this is a role that 44 states have filled with an M.D., a Masters of Public Health, nursing degree or law degree. Magarik is pursuing a Masters of Public Health degree, but has little health care experience outside of her three-year tenure at DHSS. Notably, she has political ties to the governor, running his state office when he served in Congress – which is in line with her political science education. 

The questions: Were any other officials considered for this critical role? We expect that state senators will be interested to hear answers at Magarik’s confirmation hearing this week. 


What’s happening:  Delaware restaurants are complaining that expanding capacity from 30% to 60% in Phase 2 doesn’t mean much with the additional 8-foot distancing requirement in place? At the same time, the governor is expressing concern about residents being less concerned about the restrictions that are in place?  

The questions: Is that 8-foot restriction going to be loosened? If it isn’t, will more restaurants be able to stay open? 


What’s happening? Kenny buys Milford Live and Town Square Delaware to create a statewide platform to compete with The News Journal. He has hired the well-respected Betsy Price as editor and now has a strong Town Square Delaware team to develop community news, but he’s also launched with a heavy emphasis on reprinting press releases. 

The questions:  Why didn’t you wait to launch with more reporters if you want to compete with the News Journal?  And as someone who many believe will run for the Republican nomination for governor – and as someone who co-founded the A Better Delaware PAC — will you (Kenny) separate yourself from the news operation if you choose to run to avoid any concerns that you’re going to use Delaware Live to support your candidacy. 


What’s happening? Companies are talking about bringing employees back to the office. 

The questions:  What criteria are you using, giving the growing concerns about future spikes in the numbers, to determine whether employees need to come back? Are you seeing indications that individual teams are more or less productive working remotely? What have you lost in terms of innovation by losing face-to-face interaction? And is this an opportunity to save money by downsizing your office space and other costs and finding ways to bring people together on an occasional basis? 


What’s happening: Delaware State University is reportedly in talks to acquire Wesley College.

The questions:  It’s clear what the benefit is to cash-strapped Wesley, but what’s in it for DSU? What are the benefits to acquiring a school with outdated buildings, declining enrollment, and a rough balance sheet? Who’s going to fund it? Can the university find a way to make the deal make fiscal sense over the long term? 


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