Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gimme Shelter

The Senate Commerce Committee's recent hearings on the future of newspapers brought together some fascinating characters--Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post meets David Simon of The Wire meets Sen. John Kerry.

Of course, Kerry got everything off to a fine, fine start, saying newspapers were an "endangered species."

I found the different approaches to the issues intriguing. Huffington, as expected, is all about the Internet and where news gathering is headed. Simon doesn't mind opening the door to government interference. Alberto Ibarguen, formerly of the Miami Herald, was insightful, reminding everyone that newspapers weren't all that great when they were great. James Moroney of the Dallas Morning News was particularly depressing and galling. He went to Washington looking for corporate welfare, and he probably flew there in first class (but, who knows, maybe a private jet).

Here in condensed form are some random quotes and information. Does not include everyone who testified, just the folks I thought would be most interesting.

Arianna Huffington's testimony was the shortest, at 4 pages, but the most spot on:

“We are actually in the midst of a Golden Age for news consumers.”

“It’s important to remember that the future of quality journalism is not dependent on the future of newspapers.”

“Digital news is a classic case of ‘disruptive innovation’—a development that newspapers ignored for far too long.”

“For far too long, traditional media have been afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder—they are far too quick to drop a story — even a good one, in their eagerness to move on to the Next Big Thing. Online journalists, meanwhile, tend to have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. . . they chomp down on a story and stay with it, refusing to move off it until they’ve gotten down to the marrow. In the future, these two will come together and create a much healthier kind of journalism.”

“The discussion needs to move from ‘How do we save newspapers?’ to ‘How do we strengthen journalism?—via whatever platform it is delivered.”

“I am convinced that journalism’s best days lie ahead."

David Simon's testimony was the longest--10 pages--although he kept insisting he shouldn't be testifying because he hasn't worked in daily journalism since the early 1990s.

“I’m tired of hearing myself on this subject.” (!)

“The parasite is slowly killing the host.” (There are no parasites, Simon.)

“My industry butchered itself and we did so at the behest of Wall Street and the same unfettered, free-market logic that has proved so disastrous for so many American industries. And the original sin of American newspapering lies, indeed, in going to Wall Street in the first place.”

“We pretend to an undeserved martyrdom at the hands of new technology.”

Simon rightly states that public financing of journalism would “pull both sides from their comfort zone and prove unacceptable to all.”

He pushes for the creation of nonprofit status for newspapers (as if employee-owned has helped Tribune employees much) and for relaxing certain anti-trust prohibitions to protect newspaper copyrights (and create monopoly power).

Alberto Ibarguen, formerly of the Miami Herald, now with the John Knight Foundation, 5 pages:

“Mine is not a lament for the past that excluded many in our society, especially women and minorities, from the main pages of a newspaper. Nor do I pine for the symbolic authority of three, broadcast television, white male anchors. I enthusiastically welcome the democratization of media and am thrilled by its possibilities.”

“I confess to great qualms to the role of government in [journalism].”

Ibarguen pushed for universal digital access and adoption, as did Huffington. He also asked for the removal of laws that prohibit the combination of print and broadcast journalism (bad idea), saying it deserves a "fresh look." (Tribune pushed for this for far too long, instead of focusing on changing technology and delivery.)

“We will be a nation of media users, not consumers” (Yes sirree).

James Moroney, publisher, Dallas Morning News, 9 pages:

Pushed for tax relief via an extended period for a carryback period for net operating losses.

Greater antitrust flexibility to experiment with innovative content distribution and cost-saving arrangements (bad idea; I love it when free enterprise folks ask for monopolies).

Fair compensation from Internet companies for content. (In other words, a wall, which is a bad idea.)

True businessman. All business, no heart.


Anonymous said...

I was struck by the gall of Marissa Mayer (sp?) of Google blithely brushing off Kerry when he asked why most of the profit from news searches ends up in Google's pocket, not the creator of that news "product."
In words that should send chills down the spines of every real journalist on the planet, she said "oh it's early."
No, actually - it is too late. The plan - Google offers links and steals content it profits from advertising is a death knell to print.
Over. Out.
The newsrooms will buckle and there will be less for Goggle to link.
Period. Google murdered journalism and if you think Craig and his list did, think again.
Google. Killed. Us.

Ed Van Herik said...

Newspapers have been dying for decades. Once upon a time, a city like New York had a dozen dailies. Most of the strange newspaper names (Sun-Sentinel, Sun-Times) reflect mergers of newspapers that weren't able to survive the competition. What we're really looking at are the struggles of the last ones standing. A lot of folks point to the Internet as the "disruptive technology" that has led to the current plight of newspapers, but the fact is that newspapers were closing and consolidating at least since the sixties.