Thursday, February 26, 2009

carpenters in the forehead

On to other issues.

This is for the mag class, or anyone who wants to read an example of a killer set piece. Go here for Joan Acocella's masterful New Yorker essay on everything you ever wanted to know about hangovers, appropriately entitled "A Few Too Many."

Possibly my favorite graf:

Some words for hangover, like ours, refer prosaically to the cause: the Egyptians say they are “still drunk,” the Japanese “two days drunk,” the Chinese “drunk overnight.” The Swedes get “smacked from behind.” But it is in languages that describe the effects rather than the cause that we begin to see real poetic power. Salvadorans wake up “made of rubber,” the French with a “wooden mouth” or a “hair ache.” The Germans and the Dutch say they have a “tomcat,” presumably wailing. The Poles, reportedly, experience a “howling of kittens.” My favorites are the Danes, who get “carpenters in the forehead.”

and more

Dispatch from Joe Tone, former EIC of The Santa Clara, and currently an editor at Westword, an alt-weekly in Denver: Denver's Rocky Mountain News goes dark tomorrow.

Sigh. Will the last person out of the newsroom please turn out the lights? bk

real life according to doonesbury..

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

what we lose

More on the potential demise of the San Francisco Chronicle, this time from the horse's mouth (which may or may not be the best source.) Read it and weep right here.

I did, even though I posted the news yesterday. But what struck me today were the comments to today's piece posted online. Reading those, I realized there is a third rail in the rapid implosion of the news industry. And that is the sheer and utter ignorance of the people journalism is designed to serve with regard to:

The work involved in putting out a newspaper -- whether on paper or screen. Not for nothing have newspapers been called a "daily miracle."

The difference between editorials and news. Or for that matter, the difference between editorials and editorial decisions.

The mission and mindset of those who put it together. Do you really think that folks who work long hours for lousy pay and have nothing going for them but their name and reputation are going to purposely tank a story?

And most important, WHY journalism matters.

This is not just about the Chron. (Read what the WSJ had to say here.) Whether you loved it or hated it or referred to it as the San Francisco Comical, this is about news in general and what we lose when, you'll pardon the cliche, we throw out the baby with the bathwater.

And what we lose when a major U.S. city loses its voice. (sure, we have the but check it out.) Or when that voice, as has been rumored, might be taken over by MediaNews' Dean Singleton, who has singlehandledly presided over the near-destruction of the San Jose Mercury News.

I blame us: reporters, academics, parents, readers -- folks who could have and should have passed on an appreciation for the importance of journalism and how the job gets done, folks who should have been looking forward instead of back.

Maybe for the rest of us, what's left to do now is call people out for their ignorance and cynicism:

When people say they don't pay attention to the news, from any medium, show them the same disdain you might if they said they don't believe in reading books.

When people say they don't trust the news because it's too biased toward the left or the right (pick one), give them an education on the work it takes to gather the news, and that for a reporter to purposely get the story wrong is like a professional basketball player purposely missing a layup.

When people say that citizen journalists can fill in the void, ask them why they trust the guy down the street to cover a school board meeting at his kid's district -- rather than an education reporter with no vested interest in the outcome of the story.

When people say they can find what they need online, ask them if they know the difference between oreos and broccoli, how they will vet the credibility of what they find, where the reporting that underlies the blogs they may be reading comes from, and, most important of all, how much time they have. Staffs of editors, that's plural, work long days to find and vet what appears on the screen or in the paper on a daily basis. Who's going to put in that amount of time at the computer after a long day of work?

When people say we can leave the national and international news to a few big guns like the New York Times and leave shrunken dailies for hyperlocal news, ask them what happens if the one watchdog gets it wrong (hello: war in Iraq?) -- or how long they used to let that free "hyperlocal" neighborhood weekly sit in their driveway before they threw it unread into the trash?

When people say shrug and say "whatever" when the paper shrinks to the point where there are no features whatsoever, or the few that remain are all from the wires, ask them who will provide a record, as Will Durant put it, of life on the riverbanks. Ask them if they want to read a review of "Milk" written by Suzy from Ohio.

I'm sputtering. The point is, when things go away -- like a cup of decaf in the afternoon at Starbucks, or a Mother's Cookies Taffy Creme -- they rarely come back. There has been a lot of talk, here and elsewhere, of a new and improved news media rising from the ashes of the old. Today, i am not so sure. bk

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

R.I.P. San Francisco Chronicle?!

Another heartbreak. And a bit of a coincidence -- or is that irony -- given this morning's post.

MarketWatch reported this afternoon that the Hearst Corporation said today that without "critical cuts" within the next few weeks, it will be forced to sell or close San Francisco's daily newspaper. Whether you liked the paper or not, you've still got to root for the survival of this 144-year-old fixture of the city's history. What will replace it?

I noticed today that the front section of the San Jose Merc was all of eight pages.

Thanks, Andrea, for the tip and the link. bk


When paper trumps screen: It's about the serendipity.

Here's a quick example. This morning in the SF Chron, I found an opinion piece (left on the breakfast table atop the pile of papers by someone who had found it first) written by Matt Kettmann, one of my daughter's friends, who is an editor at the Santa Barbara Independent and strings for Time Magazine.

The likelihood that either of us would have found in online is slim or none -- unless we had gone looking for it. And why would we have done that?

The piece, entitled "Slumdog Reality", is about volunteer docs working to eradicate sickness and blindness in India's slums, one vitamin at a time. Something the movie didn't touch. bk

Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight via AP

Sunday, February 22, 2009

the future of journalism, circa 2009

We can all mock the folks with bad hair and what they saw as the future of news back in 1982. Now, however, the discussion has ramped up to a somber debate more along the lines of the survival of news. It's all encompassing, and to be honest, exhausting, if not exhaustive.

Here's what is turning out to be a short syllabus of a few of the most recent ruminations, some of it new, some not so much. Which is maybe the root of the problem.

Start with Eric Alterman in the current issue of the Nation, who writes cogently about saving the news, not the newspaper, via philanthropy:
"But as New York Times executive editor Bill Keller pointed out in an Internet Q&A, we are losing the kind of journalism that, 'however imperfect, labors hard to be trustworthy, to supply you with the information you need to be an engaged citizen.' Alas, nobody wants to sell soap alongside a story of an IED killing a dozen US soldiers in Kabul or Karbala. Along these lines, Joel Kramer, former publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, suggests the creation of a philanthropic endowment that will match donations to nonprofit enterprises doing public-affairs journalism. Indeed, plenty of people would love to provide this kind of reporting; journalism schools are filled with young people educating themselves for a profession that they are taught is about to become economically obsolete. They aren't there to get rich; they're there in the hopes of offering their fellow citizens what Walter Lippmann, writing in 1920, called 'Liberty and the News.' If history is any guide, you can't have one without the other."
Others, assuming that print is dead -- or soon will be -- advocate making the pay-per-click method work to subsidize the news we get for free. Here's what Jack Shafer had to say this week on, where he suggested that news orgs look "outside the browser":
"Every successful paid site competes with free sites, and as often as not, competes with itself by offering its own free content. The free stuff is used to upsell the customer to the paid varieties. The extreme application of this model is giving away 99 percent of the product and selling 1 percent—it's called "freemium," and Wired editor Chris Anderson talks about it in this interview and on his blog."

In "MSM, RIP", the editors of The New Republic, in a short and sweet editorial, remind us what we lose if we lose the press:

"Many venerable newspapers and magazines will close in the coming weeks and months; the ones that remain will be attenuated. But the old ideals embodied in these institutions must not be permitted to join the carnage."

Meanwhile, there was an interview on the Charlie Rose Show, between the eponymous host and Walter Isaacson of "Time," Robert Thomson of "Wall Street Journal" and Mort Zuckerman of "The New York Daily News", about revamping the current business model; a couple of weeks ago the NYTimes posted an online discussion among several media heavyweights who, among other things, advocate abandoning the "culture of free;" and last week, the WaPo's Howard Kurtz weighed in on different ways to finance what we know as the news.

But the best of the bunch, clearly, is a long essay by Gary Kamiya (one of the founding editors of salon-- one of the first online journals in the country -- and former editor at the San Francisco Examiner) on, where he reflects on what we can expect if the death of the newspaper means the death of reporting:

"What is really threatened by the decline of newspapers and the related rise of online media is reporting -- on-the-ground reporting by trained journalists who know the subject, have developed sources on all sides, strive for objectivity and are working with editors who check their facts, steer them in the right direction and are a further check against unwarranted assumptions, sloppy thinking and reporting, and conscious or unconscious bias.

"If newspapers die, so does reporting. That's because the majority of reporting originates at newspapers. Online journalism is essentially parasitic. Like most TV news, it derives or follows up on stories that first appeared in print. Former Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll has estimated that 80 percent of all online news originates in print. As a longtime editor of an online journal who has taken part in hundreds of editorial meetings in which story ideas are generated from pieces that appeared in print, that figure strikes me as low.

"There's no reason to believe this is going to change. Currently there is no business model that makes online reporting financially viable. From a business perspective, reporting is a loser. There are good financial reasons why the biggest content-driven Web business success story of the last few years, the Huffington Post, does very little original reporting. Reported pieces take a lot of time, cost a lot of money, require specialized skills and don't usually generate as much traffic as an Op-Ed screed, preferably by a celebrity. It takes a facile writer an hour to write an 800-word rant. Very seldom can the best daily reporters and editors produce copy that fast."

Despite the above, he writes that the issue is still complicated: there are digital news sites that do in fact produce in-depth reporting, and that thanks to the internet, we now have more information, literally, at our fingertips than ever before. Still, he cautions:

"Finally, the death of reporting will dangerously erode the ideal of objectivity. Newspapers embrace the institutional mission of objectivity: Their goal is to find out and report the truth about a given subject, no matter what that truth is. They are not supposed to go in looking for an answer, or holding preconceived beliefs. Of course, the distinction between fact and interpretation is only absolute in the simplest cases -- it breaks down as soon as the event being covered acquires the least complexity or controversy. Reporters, like all human beings who are trying to make sense of complex experiences, must constantly make judgments that go beyond the mere facts. And the he-said, she-said approach mandated by objectivity can be ridiculously stupid. If Joe says the sky is blue and Jack, who is widely known to be a delusional psychotic who has just taken two tabs of acid, says it's purple with pink polka-dots, is it really necessary to report what Jack says?

"But if perfect objectivity is impossible, that doesn't mean that it should not be the goal. The reporter's predisposition toward fact and fairness serves as a kind of ballast, a corrective to her natural instinct to make up her mind prematurely. And those who have not been trained and inculcated in an institution dedicated to objectivity are less likely to be able to do this. Institutions matter. And traditional journalistic institutions, newspapers in particular, are weighted toward fairness and objectivity. The Internet is not. Of course, bloggers or untrained writers are capable of being fair; indeed, the better bloggers are precisely those who fully and fairly engage with those who disagree with them. But the blogging ethos as a whole runs in the opposite direction. Being a reporter does not come naturally to bloggers.

"No one can predict what the new information age will look like, and my version may be excessively dystopian. But one thing is indisputable: Reporting must be kept alive. With all its limitations and faults, it is a light that illuminates the world outside ourselves. And in an increasingly virtual and solipsistic age, that light is needed more than ever."

and for the mag class...

We're not in Kansas anymore. Oh, wait:

Also from today's Chron, a piece about ReadyMade magazine's move from Berkeley to, uh, Des Moines, Iowa and whether location-location-location affects the ethos of a publication in the internet age.

Read the piece here.

And find ReadyMade here. bk

Which Facebook Friend are YOU?

To add to the never-ending list of "Which (fill in the blank) are YOU?" -- quizzes that tally your likeness to anyone from Sofia on The Golden Girls to Samantha on SATC -- the SF Chron's Peter Hartlaub offers these stereotypes of the nine basic friends you find on Facebook -- and rates their annoyance factor.

Pretty hilarious. If you're on Facebook, you know them all (though none of them are YOU...)

From his piece:

"What I didn't expect was how much the online social networking community would be just like going back to 11th grade. There are fewer people wearing Depeche Mode T-shirts and more people sharing random things about themselves, and my locker combination has been replaced with a password. But the sting of rejection, the sanctimony of the popular kids, dressing up for picture day and even the random chatter in the hallways is pretty much exactly the same.

"Facebook, which started as a networking site for Harvard University students and is now based in Palo Alto, boasts 175 million active users. As of December, hundreds of thousands of new users were joining each day.

"Amazingly, it's possible to break them down into a handful of stereotypes. Here are nine of the most common friend types on Facebook. Each one has been assigned an annoyance factor, on a scale of 0 to 100. Please add your own categories to the version of this story."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

the future of journalism circa 1981

Science fiction, prescience, fear of the unknown .... the forerunner of the printed blog? You have to wonder if journalism would be in this current fix if the initial momentum had been sustained.

Check out the hairdo while you're at it.

what kind of a twee would you be reports on a sit-down interview between New Yorker media critic Ken Auletta and Barbara Walters and Steve Kroft at Syracuse University. Read it for some quick and savvy pointers on interviewing technique, along with an explanation of Walters' oft-mocked Q.

More good stuff, and in more depth, here and here. Worth a read, both. bk

p.s. Oh: A palm tree. Location, location, location.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

the wisdom of the crowds

Lotta asked students in her tech class today for their main sources of information. Go here for the best answer yet. bk

finally, redux

The WaPo reports today that, after Obama has said that he is reconsidering the ban on photographs of the coffins of war dead arriving at Dover, the Pentagon is investigating, according to Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, "'a way to better balance an individual family's privacy concerns with the right of the American people to honor these fallen heroes" and 'is disposed, leaning, tilting towards trying to do more, if possible' to allow coverage of the ceremony."

Coincidentally -- or do I mean "ironically" -- this issue was the subject of the post that kicked off my adventures in blogland back in August. It's also been the topic for many an in-class debate.

From the WaPo story:

"Pictures of casualties have long played into the politics of a war -- most notably in Vietnam, dubbed the "living-room war" for its extensive television coverage, including footage of coffins rolling off planes at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii as if off a conveyor belt.

President George H.W. Bush's administration imposed the ban on media coverage of the arrival of fallen troops' remains at Dover Air Force Base during the Gulf War in February 1991. It came about after a controversy arose when Bush held a news conference at the same moment the first U.S. casualties were returning to Dover the day after the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, and three television networks carried the events live on split screen, with Bush appearing at one point to joke while on the opposite screen the solemn ceremony unfolded at the Delaware base.

Indeed, starting in the 1990s, politicians and generals used the term "the Dover test" to describe the public's tolerance for troop casualties."

Ironically, President George W. Bush made an exception to the ban in September 2001, when the Air Force allowed a photograph of the remains of a victim of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.

Again from the story:

"'When it was in the government's interest, they allowed photographers to take pictures,' said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel to the National Security Archive, which provided legal representation for the Begleiter lawsuit that led the Pentagon to release in 2005 hundreds of photographs taken by government photographers. 'They wanted us to be angry over a terrorist attack,' she said.

"Soon after the war in Afghanistan started in October 2001, however, the Pentagon restated the ban on coverage at Dover, and in March 2003, the same month that the U.S. military invaded Iraq, it expanded the policy prohibiting media coverage of the coffins of fallen troops to other ports of arrival as well."

Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force via Reuters

by anon

As if anonymus sources didn't provide enough of a problem for serious journalism, now we have another scourge brought on by anonymity, writes Mark Moford on the death of hate mail, and other forms of "meaningful online dialogue."

He writes:
"I was, for years, an enthusiastic advocate of the egalitarian, free-for-all, let's-level-the-playing field aspect of the Web. More voices! More feedback! More participation! Bring it on!

"Not anymore. As I've mentioned before, I now tend to agree with "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin, who said, 'Nothing has done more to make us dumber or meaner than the anonymity of the Internet.' Hyperbole? Not by much."

As Web 2.0 has made journalism into an obligatory conversation, he's watched as comments have devolved from signed and thoughtful emails to short, snarky anonymous blasts:

"If you've ever spent much time in the comment boards of this or any major media site (or, of course, any popular blog), you already know: Anonymity tends to bring out the absolute worst in people, the meanest and nastiest and least considerate. Something about not having to reveal who you really are caters to the basest, most unkind instincts of the human animal. Go figure.

"Thoughtful discourse? Humorous insight? Sometimes. But mostly it's a tactless spectator sport. It's about being seen, about out-snarking the previous poster, about trying to top one another in the quest for... I'm not sure what. A tiny shot of notoriety? The feeling of being "published" on a major media site? Or is it the thrill that can only come from hurling a verbal Molotov at the Great Satan of "corporate media," and then running away like a snorting 8-year-old? All of the above?

"Do not misunderstand: It is far from all bad, and many intelligent, eloquent, hilarious people still add their voices to comment boards across the Interwebs, including ours. Hell, I still get terrific pleasure from reading some of the comments on a few of my favorite blogs, along with rich information, morbid humor, even new column ideas and unusual angles I never thought of. What's more, some of the larger media sites still have enough resources (read: overworked, as-of-yet-not-laid-off staffers) to moderate their forums and keep the verbal chyme to a minimum.

"But the coherent voices are, by and large, increasingly drowned out by the nasty, the puerile, the inane, to the point where, unless you're in the mood to have your positive mood ruined and your belief in the inherent goodness of humanity stomped like a rainbow flag in the Mormon church, there's almost no point in trying to sift through it anymore. The relentless nastiness is, quite literally, sickening."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

pr vs j

This here makes it easy to understand the difference between journalism and PR, and why as a society we need the former:

Newsweek and various other sources report on a year-long AP investigation of the $547 million the Pentagon is paying to feed news "stories" about the Iraq war into the American news media. Here's an excerpt, which I find sickening:

On an abandoned Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas, editors for the Joint Hometown News Service point proudly to a dozen clippings on a table as examples of success in getting stories into newspapers.

What readers are not told: Each of these glowing stories was written by Pentagon staff. Under the free service, stories go out with authors' names but not their titles, and do not mention Hometown News anywhere. In 2009, Hometown News plans to put out 5,400 press releases, 3,000 television releases and 1,600 radio interviews, among other work — 50 percent more than in 2007.

The service is just a tiny piece of the Pentagon's rapidly expanding media empire, which is now bigger in size, money and power than many media companies.

In a yearlong investigation, The Associated Press interviewed more than 100 people and scoured more than 100,000 pages of documents in several budgets to tally the money spent to inform, educate and influence the public in the U.S. and abroad. The AP included contracts found through the private FedSources database and requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. Actual spending figures are higher because of money in classified budgets.

The biggest chunk of funds — about $1.6 billion — goes into recruitment and advertising. Another $547 million goes into public affairs, which reaches American audiences. And about $489 million more goes into what is known as psychological operations, which targets foreign audiences.

Do we really want the Pentagon telling us what to think about Iraq? For that matter, do we want anyone with a vested interest in the outcome of a message -- from peanut butter to health care -- to control that message? I find this latest Pentagon maneuver hideous in the extreme.

The disturbing thing is that I'm not surprised. Just fired up: This is why we can't let journalism die, why we have to figure out a way to pay the folks who do the work. Otherwise, I give you press releases. Or Joe the Plumber. bk

Photo of newsroom of Joint Hometown News Service In San Antonio, Tex. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

and then there's this:

A rant to be sure, but an important one, by Megan Tady in In These Times: One more reason (see that last post) why reporters need to get out of the building. Literally and figuratively.

Read what she has to say about the demise of Washington bureaus right here -- and why that should give us a good case of the heebie-jeebies. bk

the future of news: all digital

Go here to find Steve Outing's vision of the all digital newspaper. In a column in Editor and Publisher last week, he predicted that the future of news will be more like a conversation between reporter and reader than the current one-way delivery of news, that it will be fully multi-media, that updates will be instant, and beat-blogging will be as prevalent as what we now know as reporting.

All of which can certainly rev up what we now know as news. But Outing also predicts that in this digital vision, tech staffs will have to size up, while the number of reporters may, of necessity, size down. Read between the lines, and you have to wonder: Are there enough hours in the day for the reduced staff of reporters to carry on conversations with citizens, feed their blogs, edit video and sound slides, update their facebook and twitter accounts .... AND still get out to do some credible reporting? My head spins.

Tom Wolfe once offered this advice to a roomful of students upon their graduation from j. school: Never take a job that keeps you inside the building. You do the math. bk

Monday, February 9, 2009

Juicy loses its ju-ju

The SF Chronicle (and others) reports that as of last Thursday, Juicy Campus has gone dark. Hooray for that. I guess....

The college gossip site allowed anonymous posts on, among other things, who did what with whom and lists of "the biggest sluts on campus". While the posters were anonymous, the posts themselves named names.

Acccording to founder Matt Ivester, the blog was losing ads because of the economy, but possibly the real reason, according to another piece in the Chron, was that the site -- the cyber equivalent of a bathroom wall at a dive bar -- was the subject of a growing number of investigations and defamation lawsuits.

As I posted here back in October, the site was protected by the Communications Decency Act, which shields "Web publishers from liability for libelous comments posted by third parties." But as the Chron piece notes, legalistas are starting to ask whether the law needs rethinking on the grounds that it allowed far too much "irresponsible speech."

And yet. I find every possible thing about Juicy Campus to have been reprehensible in every possible way. Still, its demise brings us some interesting questions about both the web and First Amendment protections. What constitutes protected speech on the web? Does restricting the free speech protections of such sites as Juicy Campus (or Yelp!, which is facing its share of legal problems as well, as the Chron reports) hurt us all in the long run?

And, as the Chron's piece questions: is the so-called "wisdom of the crowds", which is the backbone of Web 2.0, wise enough to be truly a corrective to either erroneous, irresponsible or defamatory speech? Stay tuned. bk spot on?

The L.A.Times caught up yesterday with, which features a new business model to support investigative reporting. We first mentioned it here, back in December, in a post entitled "more looks forward" (click on "Jeremy").

From the LATimes piece:

"It's hard not to root for [founder David] Cohn, 26, who had the chutzpah to try something new, the tenacity to get it off the ground and the maturity to know that it might not work.

"God and Google know the old, monopolistic print advertising model will never make a full-scale comeback. So more power to any endeavor trying to push serious journalism into a new era.

"Yes, there is a "but." To wit: The site's platform outperforms its product. stories simply need to be better. The four I checked out -- three written and one a radio report -- did not particularly engage, incite or entertain."
While the journalism itself may not yet be up to speed, the plan itself may be, if not a winner, at least a sign that creative minds are out there taking chances on new models to save journalism itself -- rather than propping up the old way of doing business. Beyond the initial seed money -- a $340,000 innovation grant from the Knight Foundation -- Cohn funds his individual stories via micro-donations from interested readers on his site. Check it out. bk

Thursday, February 5, 2009

pimp this blog

Several months ago, I posted a link to a craig'slist ad for an internship at Wired. The ad has long since expired, but that post remains one of the most popular pages on j.linx. Pageviews come from across the country -- most notably in states with j.schools.

The moral of the story, I guess, is that if you want to increase your hits to a journalism blog, add "internship" to your tags.

But i digress. Now that internship-hunting season is in full-swing, the pageloads for that post are once again revving up -- as is another troubling sign of the state of the j-biz. Slate reports here on the growing trend to sell -- or auction off -- internships to eager college kids. (I also referenced this via Alice's blog on Sunday.) Not only do the kids work for free, they pay for the privilege.

Happening alongside is an even more twisted phenom: asking writers, mainly experienced freelancers/newly laid-off reporters, to blog for free, for the "exposure." Really? Or to sign on to the pay-per-click model:, for example, entices writers to blog on their area of expertise -- which could be anything from business to the Beatles -- for something like $2.50 per 1000 hits.

You do the math. Granted, exposure on blogs such as HuffPo is worth it. Or getting in on the ground floor of the next or DailyCandy. And clearly, there are community blogs such as flintexpats that fill a void. But, barring similar exceptions, I've always thought writing was way too much work to do it for nothing, especially for someone else, and I find it reprehensible to prey on the hopes -- and dashed dreams -- of so many good writers, who are stuck trying to distinguish themselves among the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of blogs out there in cyberia.

I also worry about the journalism talent that goes to waste, and the stories that don't get reported, because good reporters are stuck spending their time pimping their blogs. In that case, we all suffer.

I could go on. But, well, see above. bk

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

non-profit journalism: the other side

The debate continues in Romenesko's column today. Slate's Jack Shafer votes no. From yesterday's piece:
"The plans to "save" the [New York] Times and [Washington]Post by rescuing their newsrooms from commercial pressure by sticking them inside protective domes strike me as conservative and futile. The market for news—and for ads—is trying to tell them it wants them to transmogrify into something new or, in the worst-case scenario, something gone. Turning any newspaper over to rich historic preservationists only postpones solving the problem of what newspapers need to be in the 21st century."

L.A. Times columnist Tim Ruttan also votes no on what he calls a "government funded National Public Newspaper." Along with other media-watchers, he agrees that newspapers have destroyed themselves by giving the news away for free online. As remedy, he calls for an antitrust exemption so that news organizations can agree on a price to charge for online content. From his piece, which ran today:

"Two major newspapers -- the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times -- charge readers tiered fees to view their online journalism. The rest of the industry has decided there's more money to be made in charging advertisers for the larger audiences that free content attracts than in selling online subscriptions.

"That's wrong, in my view, but it's hard to argue with as long as some major newspapers are giving their online journalism away; until they stop, nobody can risk charging for theirs. That's where the antitrust exemption would come in: It would allow all U.S. newspaper companies -- and others in the English-speaking world, as well as popular broadcast-based sites such as -- to sit down and negotiate an agreement on how to scale prices and, then, to begin imposing them simultaneously.

"That, in turn, would set the stage for tackling the other leg of this problem -- how to extract reasonable fees from aggregators like Google and Yahoo, which currently use their search engines to link to news that newspapers and broadcasters pay to gather. As veteran journalist and book publisher Peter Osnos said this week, newspapers and magazines 'have to start demanding payment for use of their material or they will disappear.'"
Not sure I completely agree in either case, but clearly, the plot is thickening. Too little, too late? You have to wonder why we let the advances in technology outpace our ability to think about them. Too dazzled by the wow factors to think about business? bk

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

three-dot bloggery

Quick hits -- with very little in common:

Want a concrete explanation on how the economy has impacted journalism? Go here for a video on the end of "Day to Day" on NPR...

Go here for an eloquent and charming obituary -- in an era when most newspapers have abandoned that elegant art in favor of revenue-generating funeral announcements in agate type -- on Maitland Zane, an iconic reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle...

Go here for an editorial from the Toronto Star on why the paper does not "unpublish" stories that appear online. It's an interesting issue, related to one we've discussed in class often: words on paper have a limited shelf life -- unless you make a conscious effort to save them. Thanks to Google, words on the web live on forever....

And finally, please join me in bitching about the rumors that Brit has a book deal for $14 million and Sarah Palin may get $11 million. How many books will not get published because these will?! bk

Sunday, February 1, 2009

journalism deathwatch

What will become of journalism if smart and talented young people can no longer afford to enter the profession? Go here to read an insightful blogpost written by Alice Joy, one of my former students, who makes several excellent points about what it means to be a young "working journalist" in New York these days.

Scary and sad.

On it goes. I had another email from a former student with excellent full-time cred in both daily journalism and alt-weekly investigative reporting. Now on staff at another paper, what he does, he says, is twitter to promote the paper's articles. What a waste of talent and drive.

And Shannon forwards this piece from LA Observed, that reports that the LA Times will kill the California section, folding local news inside the front section of the paper, "... which will be reconfigured to downplay national and foreign news — despite what an official of the paper confirmed for me was the unanimous and vocal objections of senior editors."

Who cares whether print stays or goes. Who cares whether we add Suzy from Ohio to our blog/follow list. Who cares if you have become the Pied Piper to a cast of thousands who follow your every move on Twitter. To paraphrase that old Clinton-era campaign slogan, "It's the content, stupid." And we need professionals to find it, contextualize it, and to be paid a living wage to report it.

I am reminded of an old quote from a NYTimes piece written by Walter Cronkite (okay, that dates me) that I saved when i first started teaching: "It is the content that is important and the Republic, indeed no society, cannot live without that which only the newspaper provides -- the daily recording of our history and the presentation to the people of the facts on which they can meaningfully participate in this democracy."

Substitute “journalism" for "newspaper". Doesn't anybody get that anymore? bk

P.S. By the way, if you are in the market for a talented, energetic reporter and elegant writer, and can actually offer a paycheck -- go ask Alice.