Depth makes papers relevant

Published 11:15 am Tuesday, October 7, 2014

It was about this time in 1998 when I got the itch.

Not the kind you scratch, but the kind you dig. And even as my business changes — not always for the better — I still dig it.

That year, I was in my second semester at Delgado Community College in New Orleans trying to figure out what this journalism stuff was all about. I grew up reading my hometown’s daily newspaper and every newsy magazine I could get my hands on in, say, my pediatrician’s waiting room. There’s a big difference between eating the doughnuts and actually making them, so to speak, and I went to school to see how it’s done.

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My first foray into the world of government reporting involved sand. Yes, sand. Seems the administration got the idea to build a sand volleyball court on campus. It was trendy to do so near campuses at the time, as the largest sand v-ball complex in the world had thrived for a decade on the west end of Lake Pontchartrain. The administration wanted its own, evidently.

Thing is, the court was built as more of a pit instead of a raised court. These things take maintenance, and I could tell before the first interview there was none. One rainstorm had it looking like a mud puddle — a $35,000 mud puddle, that is, built with our tuition money. Fleshing out the story on why this was built stimulated an already-strong curiosity on finding the big picture. Everyone wanted a place to play, but building it correctly was beyond the reach of the subcontractor. I still remember the quote that ended it, from the guy who essentially oversaw the college’s construction projects. “We’re a growing university without a growing budget,” he said. Ah, my first run-in with that whole concept. It wasn’t my last, either in the campus paper or this one.

The occasion of this week being the 74th year of National Newspaper Week reminded me to remind you that real news is deep. And in print, we do depth. We do depth better than any medium that’s existed since humans learned to write. The most important topics affecting us and our children — where we’ll learn, play and work — demand sitting down and digesting something bigger than the average blog post. Space is tighter than is used to be due to cost, but print stories are the best way to tell us the background of corruption in the circuit clerk’s office, how many times a sports complex has been tried in town, why remembering Freedom Summer is important and other items.

Once the word “why” crosses your mind, don’t reach for a smartphone. Reach for a newspaper.

Danny Barrett is a reporter and can be reached by email at or by phone at 601-636-4545.