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Barlett and Steele's nine-part series "America: What went wrong?" comes at a time when newspapers across the country are struggling to find a way to keep readers from wandering into the simplicity of TV news. Papers with the stature and reputation of the Inquirer have begun to shorten stories, liven pages with color or graphics and whisper about a movement towards USA Today-style journalism. "Unfortunately, our span of concentration has gotten shorter," said David Womack, chairperson of the Temple University journalism department. "I'd like to see more of this kind of thing . . . but a lot of newspapers are unable to commit the resources to stories like this. Some studies indicate that there is a fall-off rate of people who read [in-depth series]." The Inquirer itself is gearing up for a change in format, slated to begin next spring after the construction of the paper's new printing plant. Executive Editor Jim Naughton said the Inquirer will make its pages more user-friendly, but said the paper will not change dramatically. He insisted that it will not revert to USA Today format, with highly condensed stories. "We think that's crazy," Naughton said. "What we want to do is make it easier for people to make judgements of what they want to read," Naughton said. Starting in the spring, the Inquirer will try to lead people into stories with summary paragraphs at the top of each article, describing basically what the story is about. Naughton said the paper will also continue to trim daily stories, "so we don't run 25-inch stories that should be 18 inches." For series writers like Barlett and Steele, the future of journalism could be grim. If it is even partly true that, as American Civilization Lecturer Frank Luntz said, "no one reads anymore," then the future of investigative newspaper reporting -- like that done by Barlett and Steele -- is certainly in jeopardy. But the reporters are not worried. To them and to their editors at the Inquirer, in-depth investigative reporting is the key to a good newspaper. "What this newspaper is attempting to do is look at systemic problems and issues in a very broad way in depth," Naughton said. "Inquirer editors and reporters see that as a key part of what we do." Naughton added that by shortening routine articles, the Inquirer will leave more space for series stories like the ones Barlett and Steele write. Barlett and Steele themselves wave aside the growing fear among newspaper people that Americans no longer read, pointing to the heaps of mail and phone calls they received following the release of the series. They both insist that the "myth" of the decline of newspaper reading is blown out of proportion. "There's a gloom and doom school out there," Barlett said. "The mistake many newspapers make is they try to compete for the people who never read, rather than going out for the people who do read." According to Don Campbell, director of the Washington Jornalism Center, both sides are right. He said there are some people who will only look at short, "welcoming" stories, and some who search for more in-depth pieces. "There are people in their mid- to late-20s and 30s who don't feel newspapers are interesting enough to take up their time," Campbell said. "And there are other readers who like more detail in newspapers." "Now there's a trend to make things easier to read, easier to get into," he added. Comfortable that their status is safe, Barlett and Steele have turned to other journalistic innovations, including unconventionally editorializing -- at times scathingly -- throughout the stories. According to the reporters, they are able to get away with bold conclusions and biting criticism simply because they have the evidence to back up what they say. "If you spend all that time gathering evidence to plead your case, you lay it out," Barlett said. "You don't water it down somehow." Jim Savage, associate editor for investigations at The Miami Herald, said Barlett and Steele's style is a stronger version of the way many investigative reporters write. He said that after collecting and studying so much material, "we like to think we've earned that right." Savage defended the editorializing, noting that as long as the reporters kept an open mind during their reporting, the conclusions are most likely valid. He added that with the scope of material Barlett and Steele covered, the conclusions probably helped readers understand the stories' implications.

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