Same old same old

I’m frustrated these last few days by the discussion online about newspapers and the future of journalism. It’s just such a retread.

Britannica’s blog — yes, even they have a blog — invited a handful of commentators to pontificate, doling it out as if it were a newspaper series (remember them? they were kinda like miniseries, only in black & white). What I want to hear is ideas for the future, not restating of the problem or the worries, but that’s mostly what we got. Nick Carr led it off with his predictable lamentation about change. Jon Talton — apparently a computerized algorithm with a name — recycled every blog complaint since 1999. Well, that’s helpful. Jay Rosen wondered about business models, which is on point (though the Britannica people, with their access to all the world’s wisdom, might have wanted to bring in some economists and business geniuses to try to answer his questions). At least Clay Shirky pushed for experimentation. And even former Tribune columnist Charles Madigan, after issuing what he seems to think is a required snark about the audacity of citizens daring to speak, has some ideas (he wants to make money for a free print paper by charging people to make wedding videos, arguing that it’s so hard to learn; I hereby invite Charlie to a CUNY class where we’ll teach him in no time). But it’s just so old, not moving the peanut down the street.

Meanwhile, friends Chris Anderson and Howard Weaver find kismet arguing that the state of the newspaper business isn’t as bad as some say. Well, a discussion of how bad bad is isn’t terribly helpful, either. What we need is discussion of ideas and action.

We must move past this pining for the past and shrugging about the future. We also have to stop seeing newspapers as the center of the news universe. More on this later.

  • Awww c’mon, Jeff! One business completely runover by the Internet (encyclopedias) struggling to remain relevant by talking about a business almost completely run over by the Internet (newspapers)? Don’t let it get to you. It’s comedy! Maybe farce isn’t your thing, but I got a chuckle out of it.

    What future? As former Washington Redskins’ coach George Allen (RIP) used to say, “The future is now!” And it is now and kind of has been for many years now.

    Sure, a few key traditional newspapers are still at the center of the news universe, but only a few really, and that’s OK, I think a few will stick around. Otherwise, I’m completely fine with Reuters and AP handling the “news” and getting my opinion and analysis from smart people like Fred Wilson, Arrington, you and many others. I’m completely happy with the model and so are millions of millions of others who feel no need to read the paper or watch the nightly news on TV.

    I still like the NYT, LA Times and Washington Post, but I don’t imagine any of those will fade off the face of the earth anytime soon.

    But living here in San Francisco, when the Chronicle tanks I won’t miss it At all. Sure, it has some good sports coverage and restuarant reviews — but its food critic (Michael Bauer) has a blog, and I think when the paper goes, he’ll figure out a business for himself. There’s no shortage of good sports coverage online.

    If the Chronicle/SF Gate can figure out a good online business model and sustain the traffic — great! I don’t imagine it’s going to include many “news reporters” on staff at all. And why should it?

    I’m either missing something (quite possible), or the problem isn’t one of not thinking about the future properly, it’s one of not accepting the present. The producers of news may not accept it, but by and large the consumers of news already have.

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  • The people with the new ideas are holed up in a garage someplace inventing the next big thing. They are too busy (or unknown) to be wasting their time in discussions.

    It’s the same thing one sees with the nightly business reports where they invite some pundit on to make stock picks. If he really has a good idea on what is going to be profitable why would he share it with the audience?

  • “What we need is discussion of ideas and action.”


    As Ross Perot once said, I’m all ears.

    Sorry to have disappointed you.

    Tom at Britannica

  • Tom
    I”m not blaming you for this (only for the delayed gratification of reading teh essays). I’m saying we as a group need to push this discussion to the next level, to solutions and innovations and new things we had better try, as Clay says. I want to see more of that.

  • bfrank

    Newspapers must innovate – agreed. But the problem is that so much of what passes as innovation as newspapers cross over to the web is simply drivel that is being done much better elsewhere. In an attempt to innovate, they’re throwing everything they can at the wall and hoping it’ll stick. They’re in an awkward panic and it’s pathetic to watch. What they need to do is use innovation to do what they did best – write and report the news – and adapt it to the web using video, interactivity, etc. So many newspapers have launched web sites that try and do too much. I work for a newspaper that has food blogs, parenting blogs, a surfing blog. Reporters are doing this in their spare moments and it shows. It’s a huge waste of limited resources and in the process the really good stuff that newspapers do is getting obliterated and abondoned by these catchall web sites. You can’t compete with good food websites, good parenting blogs, etc. that specialize in that and newspapers shouldn’t try.

    Newspapers need to trim down and adapt their specialty – news and reporting – to the web. That would be innovative. Having veteran muckrakers and grizzled newshounds blog lamely about their weekend hobbies is not innovation.

  • i like reading food blogs because i am always seeking for new recipes.`’,