It's the reporting, stupid

Dateline: Mon 23 Jun 2008

A friend sent the following link to a NYTimes story today:

Here is the gist of it:

"For newspapers, the news has swiftly gone from bad to worse. This year is taking shape as their worst on record, with a double-digit drop in advertising revenue, raising serious questions about the survival of some papers and the solvency of their parent companies....

"Over all, ad revenue fell almost 8 percent last year. This year, it is running about 12 percent below that dismal performance, and company reports issued last week suggested a 14 percent to 15 percent decline in May....

(And finally, the last graph):

"The industry will not bottom out for another three or four years, analysts predict. The question, Mr. Appert of Goldman Sachs said, 'is how far things will fall before then.'"

Sadly, this not unanticipated decline dovetails with a column sent a couple weeks ago by David Mannweiler, city/state columnist for many years at the News and travel editor at the Star until he retired a year or so ago.

David found "The Rogue Columnist" Jon Talton online; he's a Seattle writer and former newspaperman who is now "free to write the truth and raise hell. That was once the calling of the best newspapers. Now a few of us will try to carry it on as guerrilla journalists and rogue columnists."

Talton wrote a piece that struck a chord with Mannweiller -- "Newspaper suicide watch: the folly of 'local-local.'"

"Sound familiar?" David asked, and indeed it does.

Those of us who worked in newsrooms in the 70s, 80s and 90s became all too familiar with the wringing-hand editors: what do they want? What can we do? Instead of relying on tried and true reporting, newspapers (beginning to see the first slides in circulation) began to re-invent themselves. One of the many results was the endless parade of focus groups, in which papers relied on citizen groups to try and discern a direction. Then of course came the net, in which papers created, too little and too late, vast numbers of online services in an effort to compete.

Talton says: "Get this: The failure has been the business model, not real journalism. Technology can enhance news coverage; it can't substitute for serious reporting and great writing. Yet year after year, publishers did a beat-down on newsrooms to fix a problem outside their control. They did nothing to market their products or recruit the world-class talent to fix the ad meltdown. Such is the consequence of an industry that had created monopolies and thought the confiscatory ad-rate cash would never stop flooding in the door.

"The key (says Tanton) "is the same as always: get interesting news and put it in 'the paper,' whether online or on dead trees. Local news is important, but no more important than that from a world that everyday affects the lives of those "average readers." But the local news must be interesting."

Rogue Columnist deserves bookmarking.

Here is the link:


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