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March 29, 2005

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference A Dying Craft, or a Dying Business?:

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» Quoted. from laurafries.com
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Comments

Denis de Bernardy

Dan,

An interesting debate went on in France a couple of years ago regarding free newspapers. As you surely know, these typically consist of Reuters and AP stories plus _tons_ of ad. Now, ironically, these Reuters and AP stories are the main reason I would tend to read them rather than a more mainstream newspaper: A straightforward fact is often better than the irrelevant pseudo-analysis journalists typically produce.

That to say: Bloggers are not necessarily the main reason the newspaper business is dying. It is also and mostly dying from its poor quality.

Everyday journalism set aside, newspapers concentrate a few above average columnists. But increasingly, these are blogging, and play very much the same role as 19th century mundane salon speakers. I might as well read their blogs and use a news reader to aggregate my favorite columnists + an automatic service such as Google News to fetch highlights I would otherwise miss.

In the end, I'm not sure newspapers have any room in such a model. Or maybe they do, as aggregators -- i.e. 'our selection of stories'. Just like any other blogger. Just like Google News.

LazyCat

I agree that a big problem with print journalism is not new-media competition but poor quality. My perspective is as a life-long "news junkie," ex-journalist (now editor of an internal academic publication), and also new blogger.

It seems to me that a good place to start (saving journalism) would be a large-scale effort to promulgate a higher set of journalistic standards and to promote the qualities that make journalism different from just publicized information.

Journalism, at its best, is information presented with a) accuracy, b) fairness (here I would distinguish true fairness in reporting from recent bizarre efforts at “balance” [i.e. the Lipstadt/C-SPAN debacle]) and c) context—the sense of the time and place and culture in which events occur.

As for “real journalism” it’s hard to say what that is anymore. We’ve seen too many people call themselves journalists while printing (or broadcasting) gossip, propaganda, unsupported rhetoric, or even lies. Worse, we have the recent spate of journalists caught accepting payment for promoting a particular person or agenda. And, these people seem genuinely surprised to find that others see anything wrong with this practice.

Blogs serve a unique and useful purpose. But, journalism is not blogging and blogging (and news aggregating) is not journalism. We need to give the reading public a way to tell the difference.

Tom Grey - Liberty Dad

Dan, your "Profits will dwindle to a point where Wall Street demands higher profits" is the key signal.

Cash cow caretakers will do whatever they can to keep the cash coming -- including more firing of more folk; increasing ad rates (and reducing their volume); and certainly including more "free", or low cost blogger content/ AP Reuters content.

What do newspapers "do" that's worth paying for?

(How can I get a job? Seriously!)

Denis de Bernardy

Lazycat, you mention: a) accuracy, b) fairness, c) context. But:

a) Accuracy is an achievable goal only to the extent the journalist is a good observer. but being a good observer is relative to your audience. The average blogger is just as good at this as the average journalist.

b) Fairness is only achievable to the extent that you can discriminate the so to speak 'unbiaised viewpoint' from the 'biaised viewpoint'. But having an 'unbiaised viewpoint' is relative to your audience. The average blogger is just as good at this as the average journalist.

c) Context is easier to bring with a hyperlink than in writing. Or rather, context is what hyperlinks are all about. Presumably, the average journalist is a bit better at this than the average blogger since he is presumed to do the research -- but very few actually do it, hence the only a bit.

I'm no journalism, but I believe you're forgetting d) analysis. Or rather, from reading your comment -- 'blogging (and news aggregating) is not journalism' -- I would say you think journalism _is_ analysis. But again, the average blogger is just as good at this as the average journalist.

Denis de Bernardy

[addition to the previous] I should mention, regarding the fact the average journalist is assumed to do some research, that I often give this PR tip to my customers: When dealing with journalists, always hand them a pre-written story of what they came for. Most will lazily use your facts as long as they don't seem outright inaccurate or incomplete. Just like bloggers.

Mark A. York

I don't know I just earned a J-degree from Cal State and I just don't see this decline. I read great stories all over the place in traditional papers. There's always room for improvement but it's one of those things, like acting, that looks easier than it is to a novice. That's who the critics are for the mostpart and it shows.

Denis de Bernardy

Is it not rather: One of those things, like acting, where talent has nothing to do with education?

Al

Dan, I agree with most of your analysis. I would add that *some* large companies seem to be able to adapt better to massive change now-a-days. While the last recession was gut wrenching for many employers and employees, we're very lucky that the government didn't come in to "fix" things. The pain was high, but entire industries have changed.
With that said, I'm not sure the old-boy network that runs media will be able to do it. The ones that will change to gain a future are the ones that bring in new leadership that doesn't have so many ties with the past.

But, like a lot of things today, the old ways of doing things were sucessful because of the inefficiencies in the systems. With a lot of the inefficiencies reduced, the sizes of industries are smaller. An example is music. The old ways cost all of us consumers a lot - and the money we paid went to a lot of people who really didn't do too much by today's standards. So the music industry shrank and the people left have to figure out how to make it bigger under new market rules (and they are.)

Journalism is in the same boat. We're going through a big transition and I suspect, over time, we'll see some terrific organizations come out of it. The old ones that do not adapt will die and someone will build a website that discusses all of the old news brands of the past. Do a little research on the largest companies of 1970 or 1980 and look how fast the list has changed! The beauty of our economy is how fast things do adapt. The news business will be no different. The trick is to get one that is good for society - not just profitable.

Daniel Conover

There's a growing appreciation in the past few months that "bloggers" is too vague a handle to describe 8 million Americans. So too is the term "mainstream media" too broad. Even "newspapers" misses distinct subsets. I'd define them as national, mid-metro, small, community and free.

Of these sets, the two in the best shape are the national and community papers, which (barring really poor decision-making) can continue to be successful both in print and online. Mid-metro and small paper are in the worst position, while the free (or "total market coverage") papers are a mixed bag.

The problem for the papers stuck in the middle is that their local news staffs actually cover a series of "local" communities, and there's limited interest in that info as you cross community lines. They're packaging, not producing, national and international news, but to drop such stories is to dare subscribers to switch to the NYT or USAToday.

Derek Willis

Tom Grey asks "What do newspapers "do" that's worth paying for?"

Plenty. One of the best and most important things that they do is undertake costly and time-consuming investigations involving everything from huge databases to lawsuits to obtain public records. They spend weeks and months trying to ferret out news that has been undercovered or buried. This occurs at the national level and at the local level, and everywhere in between. More papers should do these types of investigations, as they are one of the best examples of public service.

Derek

LazyCat

Responding to Denis’s analysis of my previous post:

I should clarify that I did not intend to say that bloggers were not capable of journalism. There are bloggers doing what is, in my opinion, good journalism in the classic sense.

A journalist (whether the medium is print, radio, television, or on the web) should report facts, verified by quoting or referencing original sources. The facts should be placed within an appropriate context (what previous actions or occurrences might influence what is currently being reported on, etc.). And, a journalist should, to the best of his or her ability, attempt to present a balanced perspective.

I disagree that the “average” blogger does this. Again, there are exceptions.

And, that was my point—in response to a question about saving journalism—that we need to define what good journalism is, instead of focusing on how it is delivered. I think that question is being examined to a certain extent in the larger debate about whether bloggers are journalists. My view on that question is that some are (journalists) and some aren’t. Some bloggers are providing educated commentary—much like editorial writers. Some serve more to widely disseminate information that ordinarily would not get much play in the traditional media. And, some are just ranting to get attention. I think all of these are valuable functions that can further public discourse, but I wouldn't call all of these things journalism.

John Meunier

Another thing that newspapers do that people pay for -- at least at community newspapers -- is print lots of details of community life that don't require or provoke commentary of the sort bloogers do so well.

I'm thinking of stuff like:

obits
crime news
community events (in the NY Times this is arts coverage)
nuts-and-bolts local government
sports agate
etc.

Your typical blog might cover one of these categories -- or part of one. The newspaper itself is an aggregator, but not by topic -- as blogs tend to be.

And yes, newspapers have the resources (when they choose to use them) to engage in sustained reporting that produces interesting, compelling or important work.

I just read a feature profile that a writer at the Oregonian did. He spent months and hundreds of hours. It is great, great writing and reporting. But he could not have done it on his own nickel.

Nathan

Hmmmmm........ I seem to prefer the Internet as my primary new medium. First, I have complete control of the what I see. I can see many multiple view of the same controversial subject or search for an article with more details. Second, I don't have to pay for anything, it comes free with my internet access (and I don't have to go outside to get the physical paper). Also, it allow me to get news as it happens, not twelve hours or even twelve days after the fact. Today, I think the best use for the paper is the Saturday morning circulars that tell's me whats free after rebates at OfficeMax, etc. (though there still is salescircular.com..... Gratis, the people behind free ipods, now offer free LCD monitors and TVs: http://freeflatscreens.iceglow.com/ Gmail to all and $25 paypal to the first three to complete an offer!

Nathan

Hmmmmm........ I seem to prefer the Internet as my primary new medium. First, I have complete control of the what I see. I can see many multiple view of the same controversial subject or search for an article with more details. Second, I don't have to pay for anything, it comes free with my internet access (and I don't have to go outside to get the physical paper). Also, it allow me to get news as it happens, not twelve hours or even twelve days after the fact. Today, I think the best use for the paper is the Saturday morning circulars that tell's me whats free after rebates at OfficeMax, etc. (though there still is salescircular.com..... Gratis, the people behind free ipods, now offer free LCD monitors and TVs: http://freeflatscreens.iceglow.com/ Gmail to all and $25 paypal to the first three to complete an offer!

David Crisp

One distinction that isn't made often enough is between reading the newspaper and getting your news from the newspaper. Lots of people who never read a hard-copy newspaper still get their news from papers, either from on-line versions, or from bloggers who link to online versions, or from wire services that reprint news stories, or from other news sources that crib newspaper stories without getting credit. If newspapers go, we lose a lot more than just ink on paper.

Jay Rosen

Practically everyone who has asked him or herself are bloggers journalists? has concluded: some are, some aren't. Maybe we should start there. Or better yet with Rebecca Blood's observation: don't focus on the who, but on the what (they are doing.)

Blood showed how difficult it was to identify journalism exclusively with journalists. If we focus on practices that meet a certain standard, she said, then it is easy to tell who is who. Like so:

"When a blogger writes up daily accounts of an international conference, as David Steven did at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, that is journalism. When a magazine reporter repurposes a press release without checking facts or talking to additional sources, that is not. When a blogger interviews an author about their new book, that is journalism. When an opinion columnist manipulates facts in order to create a false impression, that is not. When a blogger searches the existing record of fact and discovers that a public figure's claim is untrue, that is journalism. When a reporter repeats a politician's assertions without verifying whether they are true, that is not."

Seems pretty clear to me.

Anna

Or as the head lemur put it:
"Blogging is a tool, Journalism is an occupation, and Credibility is a goal. They are strange bedfellows."
(via PressThink)

Anna

just read a feature profile that a writer at the Oregonian did...great, great writing... he could not have done it on his own nickel.

And because he was with the Oregonian, people probably returned his phone calls and emails. Unpopular bloggers may not be so fortunate.

William Jolitz

Nothing really new here. Back in 1997, the Internet's economic disruption was well accepted. Its hitting the media now big time, not because of blog technology, but because of blog content. And the catalyst is an audience too impatient for the newspaper to show up on the doorstop - the news is cold by then.

I find it ironic that TV also suffers right now alongside newsprint - you'd think thay'd be doing great given speed to market for news. The ad money for newsprint is on the move, seeking a combined media channel that clicks with the audience. No one's cracked this code yet, but when it does newsprint is in the grave, sans lilys.

Perhaps the problem is that we don't have a good idea yet about the perceptual distinctions of ad, news, popular opinion, expert opinion, indepth and trite content - in the too flexible web, it all blurs together, annoying some by appearing to be incorrectly catagorized.

Or could it be that the medium is too good for short items, that we attempt to stretch it too much to where we can't take it - reading a book or a even a feature is not comfortable with a computer, just as watching a TV beats any media player.

My bet is that blog syndicates will be the next big thing to move new media along the path. And technologies to communicate polished video/audio in minutes to turn the mundane local TV news offerings into a more electric environment for a deserving web audience.

Daniel Conover

Good newspapers (for a more in-depth discussion of "quality," please see Robert Pirsig) do all sorts of things that people are happy to pay for. I know this isn't largely the case in online discussion groups, but some people out there really, truly, dearly love newspapers. The problem is most of these people are retired.

There are tradeoffs between MSM journalism and blogging. A hack newspaper reporter will get a phone call returned when Anna's brilliant blogger won't, but even a hack blogger can stay immediately relevant within a tight and influential niche audience without ever having to worry about pissing off befuddled DAR matrons, prickly swim parents, etc. Even the most intelligent newspaper editors are stuck in a system that isn't so much aggregating the day's most interesting information as it is working to prevent some archetypal, fictionalized, omnipresent grandmotherly reader from picking up her phone and complaining.

Her easily offended and oft confused ghost haunts practically every newsroom in America, and -- love her though we might -- she does tend to toss a wet blanket on our occasional romances with provocative truths.

Anna

Two points in response to Mr. Conover:

1. Slight misquote: "unpopular" != "brilliant", unfortunately. Although I prefer the latter version...
and
2. South Carolina is tame, if all you have to worry about is calls from grandmotherly readers.

Mark A. York

"Is it not rather: One of those things, like acting, where talent has nothing to do with education?"

No it isn't. You need both.

Anna

Daniel Conover's grandmotherly reader sounds like the Toxic Granny from Mike Reed's pantheon of flame warriors. ("... Prudent Warriors avoid confrontations with Toxic Granny because there is ignominy in defeat and no glory in victory.")

Josh

The one thing no one is mentioning is TIME. The only time I read the physical newspaper is when im eating lunch or dinner at the kitchen table with nothing else to do...BUT BY THAT TIME ALMOST EVERY STORY IN THE NEWSPAPER IS ANCIENT HISTORY TO ME. Because I've already seen them on the internet.

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