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Monday, Apr 27, 2009

The ongoing saga that is the Boston Globe vs. the New York Times Company took an intriguing, if not unnecessary turn Friday as workers at the Globe held a rally at Boston’s Faneuil Hall, the Associated Press reported.


For those of you who may not know, the Times Co. is looking for the Globe to face concessions that amount to nearly $20 million in cuts. The Globe, on the other hand, is asking for the Times Co. to share some of those cuts, somewhat lessening the blow the Globe may receive should the Times Co. move forward with their cutback plans. The Globe has recently set a May 1st deadline for the Times Co. to take another look at the desired concessions plan. If the Times Co. doesn’t budge, the Boston Globe runs the risk of shutting its doors after over 130 years of service.


Got all that? Good.


“I daresay that Boston would lose some of its distinction as the Hub without the Globe,” Dorothy Clark, a Globe news copy editor, told the news-gathering service Friday. “It’s been here since 1872. When an institution has had the fortitude to last that long, you don’t toss it out like old news.”


Yeah.


This infighting between two humongous newspaper names is both childish and counterproductive. As if the newspaper industry needs another hurdle to clear, it now sees two of its five biggest names sparring back and forth in front of the public eye. How good could this possibly look to anyone who may still cherish their morning newspaper? It’s as if the industry wants its clientele to give up on them by showcasing some back-and-forth verbal affair that does nothing more than show exactly how stubborn and selfish anyone in the newspaper industry can be.


Sure, it’s reasonable for the Globe to take the stance it has cemented itself in. Nobody wants the fear of death hanging over their proverbial neck after they have been forced to understand how to live with the possibility of non-existence inching closer to its head with each passing second for the past three years. But come on, guys. Does fighting this out in a public forum make anyone feel any better about a medium that has enough problems of its own?


What’s going to happen if this all gets ironed out behind closed doors and everyone comes away smiling? Or, moreso, how about if it doesn’t get ironed out and the Globe is indeed forced to shut its doors? Then what? In regards to the former, your problem is solved, but not without paying the price of looking like children fighting over the last piece of pizza at a middle school sleep-over, forcing observers to classify you as brats. In regards to the latter, not only do you lose an extremely important major metropolitan daily newspaper, but you also look like you are contributing to the death of a form of media that is in dire need of anything but a black-eye-moment.


“We’re not the reason the newspaper business is failing, but we’re willing to do our part to cure it,” Globe reporter Brian Mooney said Friday.


If that’s the case, then do your best to prove it, big-newspaper people. Quit taking your squabbles to the streets and focus more on unity than division. Because if this ship does finally make its way fully under water someday, it’s not going to matter who’s fault it was. In fact, the only thing that’s truly going to matter is the reality that it won’t have a hope of resurfacing in the future.


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Friday, Apr 17, 2009
by Joel Brinkley - McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

In France, newspapers are in trouble, just as they are in the United States. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, wants to give 18-year-olds a free subscription to the paper of their choice.


In America, the news media don’t take financial aid from the government, even when it’s indirect. Still, major newspapers are shutting down, and owners are telling others that the end is nigh. As they say, pending death tends to focus the mind. So let’s focus on this: How can an industry survive if it allows other companies, like Google News, to use its content without any compensation?


At a conference last year, I was chatting with Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, and Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google. Half joking, Keller asked him, “When are you going to start paying for our content?” Schmidt stiffened a bit and declared: “We will pay when everyone pays” - everyone with an Internet site, that is. There’s an impossible standard.


Think back a decade to when the music industry was facing its own pirates, Napster and other Web sites that were sharing music files. What would have happened to that industry if a record-company executive had asked the CEO of Napster a question similar to Keller’s - and then simply walked away when he gave a dismissive answer like Schmidt’s?


“We would be in a world with thousands of pirates,” Johnathan Lamy, a senior vice president for the Recording Industry Association of America, told me. If the RIAA had not sued Napster, “the exciting legal, online marketplace we now have would never have been allowed to get oxygen.”


Online sales now provide one-third of his industry’s income. At best, the music business would be a hollow shell of what it is today.


I asked Schmidt to comment; he did not respond to my e-mail. But he did speak to the Newspaper Association of America last week, and promised: “We can build a business with you. That is the only solution we can see.”


There’s another solution. The courthouse. The Associated Press announced last week that it would “seek legal and legislative remedies” to stop Web sites from pirating AP content. The nation’s newspapers own the AP. Shouldn’t newspapers stand up for themselves? (Google, by the way, does pay the AP for its stories.)


You might ask: Why does it matter? Several studies have shown that more than three-quarters of the news you see, hear or read anywhere is at least derivative of something that originally appeared in a newspaper.


Television news has always been especially dependent on newspapers. Years ago, John Chancellor, who was then the anchor of the “NBC Nightly News,” told me of his morning ritual: He would pad to his front door and pick up the New York Times, then urgently look over the front page “to see if we had played our stories correctly.” That was a long time ago, but quite recently a reporter for a major network news show told me of her exasperation with her producers’ timidity. They wouldn’t run her stories unless they had been “validated,” by appearing first in the Times or the Washington Post. The point is, without newspaper journalism, the nation would have little original journalism left.


Speaking at Stanford University last week, Keller expressed his own exasperation over Google and other news aggregators.


“I wince as they run long excerpts of our material,” he said. “I’ll leave it to the lawyers to decide if that is piracy. But it’s certainly freeloading.”


Lamy had a stronger view. “If you are a consumer, and if there is no disincentive to go to illegitimate Web sites, then that becomes the cultural norm - a world in which people don’t understand the difference between what is legitimate and illegitimate.”


Newspapers offer aggregators an easy target when they give their Web content away for free. In a previous column, I argued that it’s time to start charging. A robust debate has flowered over different strategies for doing that.


Meantime, Keller said he frequently encounters the lofty ethos of the Internet age: Information should be free! Wouldn’t that be nice. Wouldn’t it be nice if metropolitan newspapers didn’t have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for their reporting staffs? Wouldn’t it be nice if Keller’s paper didn’t have to pay $2 million a year to maintain its Baghdad bureau? Newspapers provide an expensive product. They deserve to be paid for it.


Keller said executives at his company are poring over precedents.


“We’re looking very closely,” he said, “at what the music industry is doing.”


___


ABOUT THE WRITER


Joel Brinkley is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for The New York Times and now a professor of journalism at Stanford University. Readers may send him e-mail at: brinkley AT foreign-matters.com.


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Tuesday, Apr 14, 2009

Here is why newspapers have a “chance”: Nostalgia.


Remember hearing about your parents spending all their money on vinyl when they were kids? Or how about how they proudly wore those skinny black ties on a daily basis? Or – yes, even at this point – dare I say, the flannel shirts?


Now think about how cool you look if you invite someone over to show off your imported collection of Elvis Costello records. Or how much you’d fit in at the nearest, hippest club wearing a nice, black, skinnier-than-usual tie over a plain, white, button-up t-shirt. And you’d be lying if you didn’t notice the tight, snap-buttoned plaid shirts being showcased on sale at the closest shopping mall.


Everything in pop culture comes full circle. How else do you think Brett Michaels could handle his own reality television show? So considering the notion that newspapers have been a major part – if not a central part – of pop culture far longer than “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” ever spent in the top 10, you have to think that, at some point, people are going to deem it “cool” to be one of the few remaining newspaper people, right?


Or, well, we can hope so.


But here is why newspapers’ “chance” is limited: Despondency. 


Everyone, everywhere, is so willing to give up on print media so quickly, it’s certainly going to make any crusade against saving the newspaper industry an uphill battle. Case in point: Reuters reported Monday that the Marriott hotel chain will stop offering free copies of The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and/or their local city paper at their hotels as a courtesy to their guests. 


Sure, this doesn’t really affect anyone aside from USA Today all that much (according to the article, this move reduces newspaper distribution by 50,000 copies daily - 18 million annually - and the WSJ openly admitted that this move would only truly have an impact on a very small amount of papers for their publication, if nothing else), but this is the latest in a string of moves that is seemingly kicking the newspaper industry in its ass as it slowly makes its way to the door.


It’s unwarranted. The assumption is that newspapers are dead. Sure, there are a ton of numbers that back that particular notion up, but, realistically speaking, newspapers are indeed not dead. There are thousands of publications still managing to stay afloat across this country and though times have become admittedly hard, the ratio of “living” newspapers to “dead” newspapers is staggeringly in favor of “living.”


You see, the more we read these kinds of stories – and the more people within the masses begin to dig out a plot for print media before the funeral is even arranged – the more pop culture as a whole starts accepting a world without newspapers. How much does it really benefit a hotel if they begin to make the delivery of a newspaper a simple “option” on their list of perks, right next to “high speed internet” and a few porn channels? Whine all you want about making this planet “more green” by saving trees and limiting the use of paper, but be honest, do you think anyone even considered saving a little oxygen when they needed to know what was going on, thousands of years ago when print media first took its form?


And I know, I know. You don’t receive your news from that particular medium anymore. You don’t turn to your local newspaper to see what happened the day before. You retrieve your information via Web sites, e-mails and the television. You love new media. You love knowing what happened first. You love instant news instantly.


But solely relying on those options for newsgathering is merely thoughtless. It’s shallow. It’s absolutely and utterly one-dimensional. A Web site refreshes in a half-hour. It has a search engine that can take hours to finally discover what exactly it was you were initially looking for. It’s written in present tense because writers are sitting on pins and needles, anxiously awaiting the next detail to provide an “update” on whatever story it may be.


A Web site isn’t a piece of paper in your hand that you can store away forever. It isn’t a mere blurb about the latest piece of news, offered up in a way that mirrors the fickle nature of how much a story can change on a dime and how much the actual news can always be flushed out a little better should someone put five more minutes of thought into their work.


The Marriott is doing so much more than simply not providing a customer with a newspaper whenever they decide to wake up. The Marriott is hopping on a ship that continues to sail without any regard for the repercussions the assumptions they promote could have on an entire industry. And that’s upsetting.


Because we all know what assuming can do.


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Friday, Apr 10, 2009

One of my editors at the Sun-Times once asked me, “Roger, is it true that they used to let reporters smoke at their desks?” This wasn’t asked yesterday; it must have been ten years ago. I realized then, although I’m only writing about it now, that a lifestyle had disappeared. When I entered the business in the autumn of my 16th year, newspapering seemed the most romantic and exciting thing I could possibly do with my life. “But honey,” my mom said, “they don’t pay them anything.” Who cared? It involved knowing what was going on before anyone else did, and putting my byline on top of a story telling it to the world. “Roger Ebert” is only a name. “By Roger Ebert” are the three most magical words in the language, drawing my eye the same way a bulls-eye attracts an arrow.
In the way some kids might be awed by a youth gang, I was awed by admission to the fraternity of newspapers. I adopted the idealism and cynicism of the reporters I met there, spoke like they did, laughed at the same things, felt that I belonged. On Saturday nights about midnight at The News-Gazette, when we put the Sunday paper to bed, we gathered around the city desk, tired, released, and waited for the first papers to be brought upstairs. Ed Borman, the news editor was in the slot; Bill Schmelzle, the city editor, had Saturday nights off. Borman would crack open a six-pack. I tasted beer for the first time. I was a man. My parents, my family, my friends at school, nobody, would ever really understand the fellowship into which I entered. Borman didn’t care that I was drinking at 16. We had all put out the paper together. Now we would have a beer.


That particular passage comes from Robert Ebert’s journal he keeps on the Chicago Sun-Times’ Web site. The aforementioned entry these previous two paragraphs appear in is titled “The Best Damn Job in the Whole Damn World”. There is plenty more where that came from, and should you have an extra 10 minutes, the piece is certainly worth looking at. 


Why? Because everything he touches on is right. Correct. True-to-form. It’s realistic. It’s passionate. It’s honest. And, more than anything, it’s exactly what working for a newspaper is all about. In fact, it’s exactly what drew me to that very medium and it’s also why I find myself, at the ripe old age of 24, in an interesting predicament.


You see, wanting to become a newspaper man promised me three things: One, I wasn’t going to make any money at all. Two: If I were ever to be lucky enough to find a woman to fall in love with, she, along with any family we may want to have, would have to be the absolute most understanding people in the world considering how little I would be home and how much I would never be able to give her both emotionally and monetarily. And three: I could finally consider myself “cool” on some unwarranted and undefined level that defies any sort of logic.


Recently, though, it has promised me a fourth thing that I never entirely considered until lately, as I consistently see major, historical, metropolitan daily newspapers go under quicker and harder than any mess the Titanic could have found itself in. Just as I have begun to finally get my feet wet in a business that can take years to finally break a person in, I am beginning to wonder how this business is going to survive.


I am not of the thought process that suggests newspapers will one day be obsolete. But I am also not naïve enough to think that newspapers will be fine whenever the “storm is over”. I mean, come on. It was no more than a week ago that the New York Times threatened to shut the Boston Globe down if unions were unable or unwilling to accept a total amount of $20 million in concessions. To think that someday the clouds will recede and the sun will shine enough light on newspapers to make sure everything ends up OK is absurd at this point. But to think that they will fade into obscurity altogether is a notion I refuse to either believe or accept.


So here we are. With this blog, we plan to bring you the most up-to-date information on the world of newspapers and newsgathering as it continues to evolve in ways no one could ever predict. Is there a solution to this ever-growing “newspaper problem?” How many newspapers will shut down within the next month? The next year? Are there any newspapers in the world that happen to be somehow thriving? And how are they doing it? Does a pay-to-read service really matter? And if so, does it actually tend to have an adverse affect on what newspapers in general are trying to accomplish? And, of course, how about the Internet? How does that play in? And will that transition—should it be called upon—work?


Admittedly, we don’t know any of the answers to these questions. Not even close, actually. But this is a historical time for print media as we know it and this place in time warrants being monitored and dissected to a degree that is both informational and suggestive. With this blog, we plan on being around to relay the information to you as best we can, hopefully opening the doors for discussions and ideas that very well just may be of help to an industry that was once so romantic, so pure. An industry defined by people that have an insurmountable level of passion for what they do for a living. It’s an industry that is simply too proud to let conditional factors ruin what was once the most important form of media this world had to offer.


And besides. You have to know by now that the mark print media can leave on a single person reaches so far deeper than any simple amount of ink left on one’s hand after holding a newspaper in your palm for a couple minutes.


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Monday, Apr 14, 2008
by Edward Wasserman

By Edward Wasserman


McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)


As traditional news outfits migrate online to become dot-coms, one of their biggest headaches is how to adapt to the sprawling new frontier of public comment.


In the pre-Internet world of TV and newspapers, public comment wasn’t a problem. Broadcast news didn’t have any—aside from the weekly guest spot, usually some hapless civic association president reading from a prompter and staring terrified into the camera. Papers had their letters pages, but allowed only enough space for a few dozen a week, and they were generally written with care and were easy to prune for taste and diction.


Things were nicely under control.


But on the Internet, public comment isn’t kitchen table talk, it’s saloon brawl. Postings are sharp and rough-and-tumble. Harsh and derisive exchanges are common. So are personal attacks. Chat rooms and message boards routinely allow people to post comments anonymously. Only when postings are so egregious, so outrageous, racist or vile that other participants cough up hairballs do managers strike the comments and banish the authors.


That’s the cyber pond that traditional news organizations are diving into. They understand that their own futures hinge on re-establishing online the central role in civic life that they’ve played offline. So they are eager to host forums where people in the communities they serve go first to offer comment.


What about taste, civility?


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