Wall Street Journal Gets Rid Of Its Research Librarian

from the what-are-they-doing-instead? dept

Apparently, the Wall Street Journal has eliminated the two research librarian jobs at the paper with no plans to replace them. The idea, apparently, is that reporters should be doing their own damn research from now on. I actually have rather mixed feelings on the news. At a time when newspapers should be focused on providing a better product to remain relevant, you have to wonder if removing research services makes sense. However, the question remains as to whether or not the position is really needed. This is not -- at all -- to suggest that research librarian aren't quite good at what they do and provide a truly valuable service. But, it is true that the tools for research have become much cheaper and accessible for anyone.

And, therein lies the challenge. If the WSJ were willing to replace the lost librarians with a crowd-sourced or "open" research process, that might be quite interesting. While not let the community help with the research? In many ways that could be a lot more effective and useful. But, somehow I doubt that's what's going to happen. Traditional newspapers still have this fear of tipping off anyone as to what they're working on until the "final story" is ready to go. So, they'll probably just remain as closed as usual. At the same time, though, why not create a more centralized "research" service that various news organizations can tap into, so that they don't duplicate efforts. By making more information more accessible, shouldn't it improve researching ability?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    David T, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 3:50am

    I think resistance to the idea might stem from the competitive nature of newspapers. They don't want to be "scooped" by rivals. The thinking probably comes from the time when breaking a story essentially gave you a 24 hour window to sell dead trees, aka. newspapers.

    These days breaking a story is nothing more than bragging rights among industry professionals (with a few exceptions). New stories appear everywhere digital faster than it can hit the stands.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 5:40am


    I'd have doubts about crowd sourcing research. It is too easy for the mob mentality to affect things. For example, if the story was about something older than say 6000 years some communities would rather pretend its all lies and miss-truths since they believe the world is only 6000 years old.

    Cases of willful ignorance potentially could get out of hand. Bad enough its at the levels they are.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    bored now, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 6:34am

    Re: Meh

    Also, as we've seen from various boards, it's not beyond the wit of even the smallest dodgy outfit to flood with sock puppets...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Mike K, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 6:47am

    I think the author of this article (and the editors of the WSJ) do not really understand how much better a Research Librarian is than your average person at researching a topic. A Research Librarian is an expert in finding all of the relevant information on a particular topic; knowing which reference materials and indexes to check before concluding a search. You cannot reasonable expect everyone to learn how to do in-depth research on their own. No more than a police station could lay-off all of the Squad Car mechanics and expect the officers to maintain their own squad cars.

    Most people simply Google or Wikipedia a topic and consider their research complete.

    Google, Wikipedia and other Internet based search tools are no better than the people who created the content. Most of whom are not experts in their field. Remember that most peer reviewed publications are not available electronically without very expensive subscriptions. Research Librarians (via their library) have access to those publications along with the multitudes of information that has never been published in an electronic form.

    Don't get me wrong, I love Wikipedia, and every Wiki out there, but when you are operating on a professional level, you need to conduct your research in a professional manner.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    christopher (profile), Feb 12th, 2009 @ 6:57am

    flawed premise in WSJ argument

    The research librarians were trained and skilled in doing research; as it became easier to do research, their abilities would presumably keep pace. In other words, you might be able to do what an RL did ten years ago by yourself, but imagine what they are doing today. You can't outsource experience or knowledge, and it will never come in a can.

    Bad move by WSJ.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Mac, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 7:19am

    Stupid Wall Street Journal

    Ge whiz, they must have saved all of $20K for each position, a whopping $50K to $60K total!
    And some poor little woman who is barely able to scrap by in Brooklyn or da Bronx just lost her toehold on life...
    Shame on you Wall Street Journal, why don't you get rid of one of your vice presidents and save 250K or more?
    You are just as culpable in this whole financial rip-off, mess whatever you want to call it as the rest of the crooks that you report on. You didn't see this coming and that was YOUR JOB!
    Shame on you, all of you people involved in this mess, and that includes you WSJ. You were just as cozy with those thieves on Wall Street as the SEC and Congress. Shame on you.
    Because of you and people like you we all have to pay, and pay and pay... Either with our jobs or our taxes either way, we have to pay.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 7:41am


    The WallStreet Journal just like the rest of Newscorp properties isnt interested in facts, so why waste money on people to research and verify them. Whats the famous Rupert Merdoch line "Quality never really worked for me" . . . LOL so true.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 8:20am

    There is this comic book out there called Transmetropolitan. The book takes place in the future, and the main character is a journalist. Why this is relevant to this discussion is, he was the only one in the field left that still did research on his stories. In the comic book it was taken as a revolutionary idea for news services to actually investigate stories, instead of simply taking the Net's word on it and then regurgitating what they'd just read.

    I see this as another step toward that. Sure, there is a wealth of research you can do on the internet easily now days... But most of it isn't much more than an Op Ed piece with a few facts, and a whole lot of conjecture liberally added in. This site is guilty of it.

    I dunno, but getting rid of the people who are supposed to make sure the facts are the facts.. and then expecting reporters already hampered by deadlines to; research a story, write the story, and then to make sure everything they find is true, without help... Something is going to suffer, and its not going to be the number of stories reported, nor is the competition for word count going to go away either. Instead we are going to get worse news. And in something like the WSJ, where a few percentage points wrong on a single number could possibly make or bankrupt a company...

    Seems like a bad idea all the way around.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Michael, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 8:31am

    Oi Vey!

    Just because people have access to the tools to do their own research doesn't mean they can use them effectively. I bet that even if those journalists can get the same answer that the librarians get that they need twice as long to do it. I thought time was money, ESPECIALLY in the journalism profession.

    Beyond that, a research librarian is the person you go to when you CAN'T find the answer on your own! Where are these reporters going to go when they have no clue where to look for something. I suppose the public and college libraries are going to be expected to pick up the slack.

    I really wish people would get it in their heads that librarians of any stripe are not optional! This has become more true, not less, as new technologies arise, because the vast majority are not experts. Of course, I may be biased, as I'm a librarian myself...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    SC, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 8:35am

    Two Elements at Work in this Story

    1) Newscorp is cutting costs. Why employ librarians when they can give our remaining reporters databases and the Internet? Nowadays, in the news world it's more important to be first than it is to be accurate. Much of our population is so dumbed down do you think they'll notice the difference in the long run?

    2)A reference librarian is trained to use a variety of resources (inc. print) to obtain correct information. They are a conduit that helps the researcher to consider many resources or change tactics in order to conduct research. This is a loss to what's left of journalism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Mac, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 8:52am

    Re: Two Elements at Work in this Story

    Like I said, get rid of a vp and their 200K plus salary; they are usually useless anyway...
    But, it will not happen. That's because the vp's are members of the club; and you don't get rid of members of the club, daddy would not approve...
    Or, why go to Yale or Harvard? Aside from the sheep skin of dubious merit; that's where all the preppy rich kids go. The girls to find a rich husband and the boys to network with their other rich friends. That way when they get out they can all get together to figure out how to rip-off the middle class. Don't think these people don't think like this; they honestly think that they are better than rest of us and that because they are better; they are entitled to a life of privilege.
    Bull, they are entitled to nothing. And now that they have just about destroyed to economy they should get just that, nothing.
    And, they are certainly no better than you or I.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Petréa Mitchell, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 9:13am


    By making more information more accessible, you increase the amount of researching ability needed to take advantage of it. There is a world of difference.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Mike K, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 9:47am

    This reminds me of when IBM fired all the secretaries to save money, expecting people who need the secretarial work to do it themselves.

    Now at IBM you can go into the copy room and watch someone who is paid $100/hr spending time doing the job of someone normally paid $10/hr.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    RandomDude, Feb 12th, 2009 @ 9:18pm

    You have to admit...

    It seems an unnecessary expense for propagandist

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Allen (profile), Feb 12th, 2009 @ 10:34pm

    Accedental or Deliberate?

    I love it. A post on reduced research resources right next to an example of where they were sorely needed!

    I mean, Carlos' "Wikipedia's Circular Logic Pops Up Again" post might easily have been retitled "Idiot Journalists fail at research".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    kip, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 9:51am

    "why not create a more centralized "research" service that various news organizations can tap into, so that they don't duplicate efforts."

    I believe what you are describing is called "The Internet", or more specifically, "Wikipedia."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 11:12am


    What makes you think the research librarian was a woman? Do you know, or are you making a sexist assumption?

    To wit: Not all librarians are women. Not all women are little, or poor. Sometimes, losing your job is just that. Losing your job. Then, you go get another one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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