Content Ninja's Weblog

An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

Buckle up, boys; bumpy ride isn’t over March 31, 2008

Ready to rumble? It’s been a banner day for wrestling with the demise of newspapers. Theme of the day is that journalists have become elite insiders, journalism celebrities and snobs who lost touch with audiences.

Paul Gillin is marking the one-year anniversary of his Newspaper Death Watch blog. He does so with a milestone column today at Social Media Today (http://www.socialmediatoday.com/SMC/29299).  

His brutal conclusion: “It’s too late for the newspaper industry to save itself. The average regular newspaper reader is 55 years old. Fewer than one in five people under the age of 25 ever reads a newspaper. They’re not going to start reading one now.” He promises to maintain his vigil.

Fans of The New Yorker style (lengthy, intelligent, a tad academic) will love Eric Alterman’s entry today (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/03/31/080331fa_fact_alterman?currentPage=all) on how newspapers got into this sorry mess and what it means for democracy. 

I admire The New Yorker and ate up this piece. It’s thought-provoking. Time is spent dissecting the Huffington Post’s predominantly news-aggregator model (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/) and its “mullet strategy” (business in front, party in the back).

Alterman quotes Huffington Post co-founder Jonah Peretti: ” ‘User-generated content is all the rage, but most of it totally sucks. (The mullet strategy invites users to) argue and vent on the secondary pages, but professional editors keep the front page looking sharp. The mullet strategy is here to stay, because the best way for Web companies to increase traffic is to let users have control, but the best way to sell advertising is a slick, pretty front page where corporate sponsors can admire their brands.’ “

Alterman goes on to a lengthy description of Walter Lippman’s elitist views on democracy and journalism, circa 1920s, and how much of Lippman’s vision came to be true as journalists adopted a “we’ll tell you” attitude toward readers and, in some cases, joined the elite ranks they once just reported on.

Alterman’s conclusions are bleak, too: “Today, almost all serious newspapers are scrambling to adapt themselves to the technological and community-building opportunities offered by digital news delivery, including individual blogs, video reports, and ‘chat’ opportunities for readers.

“Some, like the Times and the Post, will likely survive this moment of technological transformation in different form, cutting staff while increasing their depth and presence online. Others will seek to focus themselves locally.

“Newspaper editors now say that they ‘get it.’ Yet traditional journalists are blinkered by their emotional investment in their Lippmann-like status as insiders. They tend to dismiss not only most blogosphere-based criticisms but also the messy democratic ferment from which these criticisms emanate.”

These treatises on how we got here and what the far-reaching implications could be to an entire industry and to the hallowed governing principles of this country might seem depressing to the point of paralysis. Not so. It’s a call to arms. (Somebody cue “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” eh?)

We must reconnent with our local audience, and we should embrace partisan voices. (Remember the early days of newspapers in this country? And the audience isn’t buying the “objective” model we’ve been hawking for 50 years anyway.) 

No more being smug. No room for feeling sorry for ourselves. It’s all about our audience. It always was, folks. We just lost sight of it. 

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