Sunday, March 11, 2007

Robert Kuttner at CJR on saving newspapers

In a groundbreaking essay, Robert Kuttner attacks the conventional wisdom that
says dailies are dying, and envisions a bright future for newspapers as
print-digital hybrids. He doesn't see much hope that new ownerships or
charging for content will do it as much as patient innovation and advertising

The end-of-article note reads:

"Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect , a columnist for The
Boston Globe , and the author of seven books. His past affiliations include
BusinessWeek , The Washington Post , and the late journalism review (More) .
His first real job was as I.F. Stone's assistant."




"The public is accustomed to getting nearly all of its Web content free, and
there is fierce opposition to a cable-TV model in which users would pay
different amounts for different levels of content. So neither of the deus ex
machina solutions to the newspapers. (somewhat exaggerated) financial
plight.different ownership structures, or more favorable revenue sharing with
search engines.seems likely. Rather, publishers need to work with what they
have, investing in people and technology to get through this transition to the
promised land of hybrid print-Web publishing."


"Today Slate, Salon, Huffington Post, and the rest [online], offer far more
comment than news, since talk is cheap and reportage isn't."


"In their modern classic, "The Elements of Journalism," Bill Kovach and Tom
Rosenstiel write that, "In the end, the discipline of verification is what
separates journalism from entertainment, propaganda, fiction, or art." Robert
Putnam's [book] "Bowling Alone", recounting a half-century's decline of civic
engagement (a decline that began long before the Internet), reports that
newspaper readers are more likely than nonreaders to participate in politics
and local public life. Cities and towns with newspapers have a more transparent
civic and public life than those without them.

"In effect, we deputize editors to be our proxies, delegating to them the task
of assigning reporters and deciding what news we need to know on a given day
and to certify its pertinence and accuracy. We trust them to do a more reliable
job than even our own Web-surfing. (As Chico Marx famously put it in Duck Soup,
.Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?.) But as readers, we no
longer have to make that either/or choice between newspapers and the wild Web.
We can have both the authoritative daily newspaper to aggregate and certify,
and the infinite medley of the Web -- all of which puts the traditional press
under salutary pressure to innovate and to excel."


"My reporting suggests that many big dailies have turned the corner, though
only barely and just in time, that newspapers have started down a financially
and journalistically viable path of becoming hybrids, without losing the
professional culture that makes them uniquely valuable.

"Assuming that most dailies survive the transition, my guess is that in
twenty-five years they will be mostly digital; that even people like me of the
pre-Internet generation will be largely won over by ingenious devices like
Times Reader, supplemented by news alerts, rss feeds, and God knows what else.
But whether newspapers are print or Web matters far less than whether they
maintain their historic calling."


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