Thursday, February 26, 2009

RE: So You Want To Get Me All Excited

Ms. Mon can have her cake and eat it too, at least I think. I think she can keep her lovely job at the City Paper and keep on dreamin' about Potter. (Note: I thought this was too big for a comment, so I just wrote a follow-up blog.)

In Sunday's Pittsburgh Post Gazette article, "Sunday Forum: Newspapers 2.0" (February 15, 2009), David Swensen and Michael Schmidt argued that if we want to "preserve great journalism, and we do, endowing newspapers like colleges might be the way to go."

It is true, newspapers are quickly becoming the thing of the past. The Post has dwindled in size--the font has been lowered, the margins shrunk, sections bunked with another. Soon, "Politics" will be with the "Funnies" to further cut down on space. Readership has dwindled, debt increased, scrutiny of articles and fact-checking has failed the litmus-test of Edward R. Murrow. Are bloggers and the Internet really to blame?

-The canal industry blamed the railroad industry.

-The railroad industry blamed the car industry.

-The radio industry blamed the television industry.

-The record industry blamed the CD industry.

-The CD industry blamed the MP3 industry and Napster.

It's about adaptation. A lot of the canals were bought out by the railroad companies and then they built over top of them. The radio industry ended up using their patents and built and patterned the television network stations we know today. The CD industry started creating Internet sites where people can go and download music and create their own CDs or record an album right onto their MP3 players. And an almost extinct railroad industry is starting to make a comeback as technology is making them greener and faster.

How can newspapers of today adapt to a world of tomorrow? I know one big hurdle is advertisements do not bring in the revenue they need generated on the Internet. It's a fact. Even magazines that have gone strictly Internet only, appealing to a 'tween base, are feeling a pinch.

The Swensen/Schmidt article sites a profound Thomas Jefferson quote from 1787: "And were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter."

"Today," Swensen/Schmidt argue, "we are dangerously close to having a government without newspapers."

It's a fact that as more newspapers rely on advertising, the more stress they feel to oblige them with less abrasive stories--Look at the New York Times with putting advertisements on their front page.

And it is true we are tribal with how we relate to each other. As the Internet grows, people get more and more isolated and more and more specific with their interests. What kinds of things brings us together as a nation--with over 500 cable channels to choose from and millions of Internet sites, where and what is the tie that binds us? A once-a-year Superbowl? It used to be practically every one of us got our news from the newspaper and/or the evening 6:00 news. We can no longer count on that. It is practically impossible to tell where a person gets his or her information. From YouTube to TMZ to USA Today to CNN, there are so many options, we as a nation have no connection to one another. Maybe that is a different blog.

So, a possible future of newspapers is to endowed them under the Section 501(c)(3) of the I.R.S. code, which provides an exemption from taxes on income and allows tax deductions for people who make contributions to eligible organizations.

But I would go further than Swensen/Schmidt and create a separate code for publications to allow for public opinion and the endorsement of public officials. This is the problem with 501's. Because newspapers would receive public monies, they would have to give up parts of their freedom of speech. I think this is vital to newspapers. Of course, a government official could go in there during an editorial board endorsement meeting and threaten to take away their money if they don't endorse, but I suppose that's the same as if the owner of the newspaper threatens in the same manner.

The point is, times are changing. We can sit back and watch newspapers go away, or we can do something about it and help them to adapt.

I say adapt.

Lady Elaine


  1. Adapt? NO!!! There is a right way and a wrong way to do things. The tenets of Jounalistism go back thousands of years. Never will people of quality truly appreciate anything too different than the classic newspaper, which nobody is buying but through no fault of its own.

    I am kind of bummed I missed the forum. Was it filmed?

  2. (Previous posts deleted by me due to the fact that I haven't had any coffee yet and they had too many typos -- basically, I'm typing with one eye open ... )

    Great post, Lady.

    There's no one to blame. We're only culpable if don't keep asking questions and evolving. And questioning the powers that be.

    Like the upper-class, middle-age white men you quote and use as your sources for this post. (Thomas Jefferson was about 44 when he said that, right? But we'll give him a handicap on account of he was a revolutionary and all.) :-)

    Simmer down, Bram. Adaptation isn't bad. In fact, it's why we're all still alive, in a nutshell. And there is a right and a wrong way to do things. Just sometimes, the wrong way is the right way. But you gotta prove it, first.

    And for the record, that wasn't a dream I had about Potter -- it was a nightmare.

  3. (That should have read, "Previous comments deleted by me, etc. blah blah blah" ... sheesh why is my coffee maker so slow today?)

    Wait -- Bill Peduto, aren't you 44? You should really put your age on your wikipedia page, man. Own it, baby.

  4. Ms. Mon - Sorry, should have made my sarcasm more evident. That last comment was performed in the voice of a newspaper editor.