The long, slow, and painful death of journalism (and a plea for more bloggers)

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Yesterday, I got a joint press release from our new attorney general and our new secretary of state. And while the substance was mildly interesting (a court ruling upholding Oregon's campaign finance laws regarding transparency), what really struck me was the "contact info" line.

The Secretary of State's spokesman is Don Hamilton, who used to be a reporter at the Portland Tribune. The Attorney General's spokesman is Tony Green, who was very recently a reporter at the Oregonian.

And they're not the only ones. In fact, the reporter-to-spokesman path has become increasingly well-trod.

Amy Ruiz, formerly of the Mercury, is now working for Mayor Sam Adams. Scott Moore, also a former Merc reporter, has been at Our Oregon for a while now.

Former Oregonian columnist Jonathan Nicholas is now a spokesman for ODS Health Systems. Former KPAM news director Bill Gallagher is doing public affairs for the state police. And, of course, a few years back, Patty Wentz left Willamette Week for several stops in politics and is now at the Department of Human Services. And before that, longtime KATU political reporter Mark Hass jumped the fence and become a state legislator.

And this morning comes word from Congressman Earl Blumenauer that Brit Chase, formerly of PolitickerOR, has joined his team.

The only counter-example I can think of is former OPB reporter Colin Fogarty, who made the leap to Pyramid Communications (which does public affairs for nonprofits) - but less than a year later went back to public radio news as the editor of the Northwest News Network (which provides regional news for public radio stations in four western states.)

Now, I don't begrudge any of these people their jobs. Most of 'em probably would have chosen to stay in journalism. But journalism seems to be dying a long, slow, and painful death right here in Oregon.

As John Schrag at the Forest Grove News-Times noted a week ago, 2008 was the "year of the shrinking newsroom":

The Oregonian, which had employed about 350 reporters and editors, will start 2009 with more than 50 fewer veteran journalists on staff. The Eugene Register Guard will pare its workforce by 30. The Tribune made a few cuts earlier this month and the News-Times’ newsroom is down a position from a year ago.

And with fewer reporters (and literally fewer pages of newsprint), there's just no way to avoid it: less news coverage.

I’m most concerned by the growing gulf between the city desk and city hall. ...

When I took this job in 2005, it wasn’t unusual for three journalists to show up for a Cornelius City Council meeting as the News-Times, the Argus and The Oregonian all had reporters covering that city.

These days, it’s rare to find a single reporter in Cornelius City Hall. In the past year, the News-Times has attended exactly one Banks City Council meeting, which is one more than we covered in Gaston. ...

It’s been more than a year since any news outlet had a reporter assigned to regularly cover the Washington County Board of Commissioners. The second-largest county in Oregon often operates out of public view.

When the 2009 Legislature convenes, many of the most seasoned reporters will be gone from the capitol press corps. And with the departure of Michael Milstein, The Oregonian’s gifted environmental reporter, the state will lose its last media watchdog in the Tillamook State Forest.

We bloggers often criticize the traditional media. And it's true: there's a lot to complain about.

But we need them. And it's not just that blogging is a derivative art (commenting on the news that others generate), it's that our democracy needs independent watchdogs that have a direct pipeline to the public.

Can bloggers fill the gap? Not really. Sure, we'll do some of our own independent reporting now and then. But I can tell you that the money isn't there to do it in a serious way.

BlueOregon gets more traffic than any other political blog in Oregon, and is among the top five or six state-level blogs in the country for traffic. And over the last two years, we've averaged just around $1000/month in revenue. That's enough to keep the lights on, invest in our technology a bit, and pay an intern a few hundred bucks a month.

But we won't be hiring any full-time investigative political reporters anytime soon. And we're one of the "big" ones. Many local political blogs have trouble even paying their hosting bills.

Maybe, just maybe, if Oregon had several dozen bloggers spending a few hours a week digging in to state and local government - maybe then the blogosphere could begin to scratch the surface of what's needed. It wouldn't even come close to being enough, but it'd be a start.

So, along with worrying about what's happening to our democracy as journalism dies, consider becoming a blogger yourself. Pick an issue, or a place, or a person, and start the coverage. Start small, but be dedicated. (And it doesn't actually have to cost you a dime. Get started at

Citizen bloggers will never be enough to replace journalism, but we damn well better give it our best shot. Nothing less than our democracy is at stake. Don't sit around waiting for someone else to do it. If you want something done right, you're going to have to do it yourself.

  • Alan Tresidder (unverified)

    And Tony Green (Asabel) formerly of Oregonian is at DOJ and James Sinks (formerly of Bend Bulletin is at Treasury.

    the beat goes on!

  • Jason Renaud (unverified)

    Timely comments Kari. But in the history of newspapers, the business model has always led "journalism," and this ship-jumping just exposes the fragility of the fifth estate.

    There is no business model which supports blogging or independent, unexceptional journalism, which supports unbiased commentary which has the technology and skill to build a large returning audience.

    Traveler journalist John Guenter visited Oregon in the late 1930s and commented there were only two bastions of power in the state: BPA and the Oregonian. Still true, but with the poison of Craig's List, for the first time, Guenther's observation should be reconsidered. Now, only one bastion.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    I fear for the future of democracy without a press. For too long it has been a corporate dominated press. The web makes the information flow and an independent press possible. Financing it is altogether another matter. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has a real investigative journalism component to his site, but this is an evolving transition we are in. Print journalism seems doomed to me unless it can make the shift and finance it.

    As for political blogging, who wants to take all the abuse that is dished out by these anonymous posters and their ill will.

  • (Show?)

    you left out Susan Castillo, Superintendent of Public Education; she did excellent broadcasts from the Legislature when she was with OPB. of course, back in the 80s, OPB was willing to part with 20 minutes of tv (11:30pm, if i remember) during the session for real news. now, without 3 or 4 foundations and an international corporation, it don't get on the air.

  • (Show?)

    Kari, the point you don't make in your otherwise excellent analysis is that no one reads newspapers anymore. i don't, and i used to love to start my day with the paper (esp on Sundays). now i skim the home pages of a multitude of papers, and i usually find a variety of items at HuffPost.

    and i don't even own a tv, where most people go to get whatever news they might want.

    an argument could be made that even if very few people read newspapers, reporting done there can move its way into circulation (sorry) as it is picked up by other media. which does happen, of course, but what usually gets picked up is not so much news as drek. which leads us to the real problem (ok, making journalism into a for-profit enterprise is the real real problem): there is little desire on the part of those with the resources to do so to promote journalism. a few bloggers develop readerships that lead to sufficient ad revenues to let them go full-time, but given all that needs to be covered, from small town councils to the dark halls of Congress, we would need to see about 5% of the American public working full-time as bloggers.

    and i would say your analysis carries another unstated assumption: that the presence of multiple reporters led to a thorough covering of issues and transparency. we know this frequently did not happen, as reporters and reportees developed buddy-buddy relationships. journalism has always been a tainted profession. perhaps we are in a transition period, thanks to technology, where we replace the profession of journalism with the citizen habit of staying awake, asking questions & speaking up.

    thanks for raising the topic, though. much food for thought here.

  • Dave Porter (unverified)

    I agree fully with your concerns. The news business is struggling to find a new economic model. We should not think that newspapers as we have known them will long exist. Without replacement sources of news, we and our democracy will struggle.

    I join you in urging more bloggers, especially ones who bring more facts and information to the web. I do blog, but mostly it is commentary on main stream media. I do try from time to time to do two additional things: to cover some meetings and lectures not covered by the press (for examples, see here and here) and to dig into government (or other) reports for meaningful (to me anyway) information (an example here).

  • (Show?)

    Of course, a big chunk of the financing problem comes from the ownership shift from privately-held entities (usually prominent and wealthy families like the Newhouses, Grahams, etc.) to publicly-traded corporations.

    A privately-held company is more than happy to simply be profitable. Spending $9 million to make $10 million is a great way to make a million bucks a year. Every year you make another million and life is good.

    But if you're publicly-traded, that profit needs to go up some 10, 15, 20 percent a year. It's not enough to be have large, but flat, profits.

  • Roy M (unverified)

    It may not be all bad news though. For years readers of local newspapers have gobbled up the stories and commentary fed to them as fact. If they questioned the content, it only appeared days later in the "reader's comments" section (also often edited). Folks found it easier to accept the local editorial spin, rather than looking into the matter for themselves. Jason is right when he says there are no such blogging models in right place now, but maybe there should be. Who knows, the one who creates that model might become the next William Randolf Chisholm Hearst of the blogosphere.

  • (Show?)

    Kari, a plea for more bloggers is far from a solution and could arguably create more of a problem by creating more dreck.

    Face it, 90% of more of what is in the blogosphere is garbage. It is a vast rumor mill. Few of the "stories" have any sort of vetting, editing, fact checking.

    A better plea would be for a business model that can sustain high quality journalistic centers of excellence compatible with a new media model.

    Is this a news aggregator like Newser? Is it a few global outlets like CNN, NY Times that drive much of their content through google, mobile phones, Kindle readers, etc?

    I don't agree with T.A. however. There will always be a small number of very high quality national papers read by the elite segment of the population (perhaps not in paper form). The USA Today, NY Times, WS Journal, and I suspect Washington Post are not going anywhere.

    We'll know that newspapers are in real peril when we start losing the next level: LA Times, Chicago Tribune (Zell is a friggin' idiot), Miami Herald, Houston Chronicle, etc.

    Final comment: there is an alternative model out there, the paper as a non-profit enterprise. This very nearly happened to the LA Times and may still happen with a few of the very highest quality print outlets.

  • Miles (unverified)

    So, along with worrying about what's happening to our democracy as journalism dies, consider becoming a blogger yourself.

    You're missing the fact that bloggers are one reason journalism is struggling. In Oregon alone, I guarantee there are thousands of people who five years ago subscribed to the Oregonian but don't any longer because they go to Blue Oregon, TPM, Daily Kos, and dozens of other sites to get their news analysis. Since those sites usually link to the primary article, they click over for things they're interested in. Why pay for the entire paper when you get what you want from free blogs?

    I don't blame bloggers for this, and they're not the only reason traditional newspapers are going under, but they qualify as a major reason. It's an unintended consequence of the medium. So your call for more bloggers may end up forcing even more papers out of business, leading to less and less substantive coverage.

  • Jim H (unverified)
    A privately-held company is more than happy to simply be profitable. Spending $9 million to make $10 million is a great way to make a million bucks a year. Every year you make another million and life is good. But if you're publicly-traded, that profit needs to go up some 10, 15, 20 percent a year. It's not enough to be have large, but flat, profits.

    And this is what I never understood after all my business classes in college. Why isn't making a steady profit good enough? Continual growth is simply not sustainable. I think that's what has led us to the point we're at now where businesses have abandoned caring about their long-term health in exchange for cooking the books to show short-term profit.

  • Miles (unverified)

    i don't [read newspapers], and i used to love to start my day with the paper (esp on Sundays). now i skim the home pages of a multitude of papers, and i usually find a variety of items at HuffPost.

    T.A. also illustrates a fascinating point about human nature. Very few people want to read things that they disagree with. But a good newspaper will have op-eds that at one point or another cause you to think about cancelling your subscription, and even the news articles will sometimes come from an angle that you think is unfair. For the first 150 years of this country's existence, most journalism was extremely biased. Then we got this crazy idea that journalism should be objective and fair. When that's all people could get, they subscribed. But alternative media allows for more biased coverage, and people are slowly moving away from objective media to something more partisan.

    Maybe one solution is for newspapers to give up the cloak of objectivity. If we went back to having a labor newspaper and a business newspaper, it's possible that the funding model would start working again. Personally I think this is bad for our overall civic life, but it seems to be where we're headed.

  • (Show?)

    I've worked for some quality papers. We were at every city council meeting, every school board meeting, etc. in the area we covered. We tried to be at all the high school and community college sports events. Plus a whole host of community events.

    You didn't read our paper to find out what was going on in Washington or how the Houston Rockets played last night. But you could find out about how the railroad was filling tanker cars in town at the depot (which wasn't supposed to be done) and how they overfilled a tanker with oil that ran over the ground, into the storm sewer, and into the river that ran through town. Had it not been for me reading the police reports every day M-F, we'd have not known until it was too late to really cover the story. Instead, I was out there with a camera before clean-up even began, as was my editor. It was a huge story, which wasn't even noticed by the daily.

    Or about how one town's council members had a beef with the police chief because they'd been busted for things like suspicion of DUI/PI. So they mounted a witch hunt to have him replaced, which led to several marathon council sessions. I sat with the police in their headquarters while the council was in executive session all night. And I was there to hear their comments made before/after that session (not to mention all the sniping in the months prior). Where was the daily paper?

    Nine times out of ten I could scoop the daily paper in stories that mattered to the residents of the area we covered. And that's pretty bad seeing as we only published a paper on Friday, Monday, and Wednesday (in that order - the Friday paper was the "first" paper of the week; the Wed paper was the free one that had some of the stories from the Friday and Monday paid papers, plus a ton of advertising).

    The same was true when I was a high school senior working at our town's weekly paper. When I took over as editor - before I'd graduated even - we saw our readership go way up. And therefore so did our ad sales.

    At both papers we saw big increases in our readership, subscriptions, purchases of single issues, and of ad sales. At both places we were able to run front page color more often than the paper had previously.

    The problem is that newspapers aren't giving people what they want to see. They can find all the stuff about what's going on in Washington, around the country, and around the world on TV and the internet. And it'll be more up-to-date. But what they can't find out is what is going on in their city, their county, their state. If it wasn't for The Outlook covering some of this, you'd never know what was going on in Gresham (one of only four cities in our state with 100,000+ people). And even then, coverage is spotty. You don't see stories about every council meeting, every school board meeting, etc. I've been to many meetings where no reporter was there at all. I know they can catch the business meetings on tv live, but not the more important roundtable and policy meetings.

    Many of us who were journalists left the field because it just wasn't journalism anymore. It wasn't about covering the stories that mattered the most to the people who are reading the paper. It's all about $$$.

  • (Show?)

    I thought the content of the press release was more than mildly interesting, actually. The Appeals Court reversed a trial judge who accepted a money = speech argument about shadow contributions (giving someone money with the intent that they contribute to a candidate in their name, rather than yours) and declared the law unconstitutional.

    If that ruling had been left to stand, finance transparency in OR would have been all but impossible. I thought reaffirming the ban on shadow contributions was an important protection for Oregon voters.

  • Jim (unverified)

    Miles: Why would newspapers that give up the cloak of objectivity be bad? As long as they let people know they are a business newspaper or a righty or lefty paper then people can choose. It's worked pretty well for Fox

  • Randy Stapilus (unverified)

    Thanks for the summing up of the great mass media migration in Oregon. Somewhat over a year ago, I put together a chart of journalists in Idaho who had left news media but stayed in state and went to work at other jobs. (Retirees and movers out of state weren't listed, and I counted only transitions in the last 10-15 years.) There were well over 100 active ones. (The list is available at my site.)

    I guess it's time to put together an Oregon list.

    Among other considerations: What conclusions should reporters starting work in newsrooms draw from all this? That they'd better be nice to the people they're covering now, because a few years away that's who they'll be working for? One by one, these job changes aren't so big a deal - people have been doing this for decades - but the sheer volume we're seeing now is a little frightening.

  • (Show?)

    When I first started working in newspaper journalism about 15 years ago, it was fairly common for people to continue working in that line most of their lives. They'd try to move up to positions like editor, managing editor, reporter, etc. The ones that I knew who left the field of newspaper journalism typically went into positions at newspapers, tv news, journalism teachers, or journalism professors. Some started their own small papers.

    I don't see hardly any of that anymore.

  • Scott Jorgensen (unverified)

    It may have something to do with the fact that you can make more money driving a taxi cab than as a reporter.

  • Ron Buel (unverified)

    Good newspaper journalism has three primary elements -- reporting, writing and thinking. Without doing all three well, you don't get quality journalism. The amount of reporting that goes into the typcial blog is not very high. While the thinking on blogs is often excellent, the writing does not go through a copy editor, as happens on most good newspapers, so the writing tends to be less than clear and concise.

    Television news adds video to the equation, which also unavoidably adds a certain emotional content. But TV news of today contains very little thinking -- it is basically infotainment, playing off that emotional content to attract eyeballs with mayhem and fluff, sports and weather. Low thought, minimal reporting.

    Speaking of busines models, so-called local TV news continues to be incredibly profitable for the chain-owned local stations across the country, even though the eyeballs have now diminished to much smaller numbers than 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Aggregating an audience is what the media business model tends to be about, and local TV news, lightweight as it does, continues to do that.

    Which gets to the root of the problem -- how do you aggregate eyeballs of generation ex and the millenials, who are on their way to becoming the majority of our adult population? The last generation in Oregon, graduating since 1990 (actually a combo of millenial and Gen Ex) has less education than its parents, the first such generation in the history of Oregon (and the nation). They read less and they have far less exposure to civics than previous generations. This generation is hip to the Internet and the cell phone, however, and their technology familiarity is much higher than the Boomers and my generation, the Silent Generation.

    So the model for new media incorporates the Internet, the cell phone, and video, and is not so much the written word. But the model must find a way to pay for reporting and thinking and "writing or video", including editing. This is not cheap. It's what has long ago been cut out of television news, and such journalistic quality is what we are losing from all of our local written media -- from The Oregonian which is quickly becoming a shadow of its former second-rate self, to the Portland Tribune, my old rag Willamette Week, and the Mercury locally. All of these publications have a questionable future in an age of fragmentation, deconsolidation, and less education and interest in civics.

    My experience with business models tells me that there may be one for new media (video, the Internet, social networking sites like facebook and the cell phone) as it combines with cable television, a revenue model that might work to support local journalism. But we need the dying news institutions to begin some serious experimentation in new media and cable television, or we are going to lose our local fourth estate in every community across the country. Not only our democracy will suffer from that, but our whole culture and society. We will lose our mutual sense of community and of place to a significant degree if there is not a broad-based, thoughtful purveyor of journalism in every community.

    Another factor we need sooner rather than later is recognition from public broadcasting and from foundations who fund non-profits of what exactly is at stake. These institutions also need to join the entrepreneurial hunt for a new public-private new-media news/journalism model (yes, OPB on radio and television contains advertising today, call it what they will.)

    Dear friend Kari. I love what you are doing on Blue Oregon. But more fragmented partisan blogs are not the answer to the loss of reporting and quality journalism. I am willing to wager that the e-duck University of Oregon recruiting and news blog sites get more unique hits than Blue Oregon or the other lesser political blogs. Saying that is not to devalue in any way what Blue Oregon brings to thoughtful politicos in our state. I think you get my point, however.

  • Tom Vail (unverified)

    Paul G said, "We'll know that newspapers are in real peril when we start losing the next level: LA Times, Chicago Tribune (Zell is a friggin' idiot), Miami Herald, Houston Chronicle, etc." Was he aware that on Tuesday, December 9, the Tribune Company (owner of the LA Times and the Chicago Tribune) filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection.

    Kari, you have said that the problem is in large part due to ownership shifts from private (wealthy families) to public ownership, and, because people are going to the internet and television for their news. I would agree with the latter and to a large extent disagree with the former. Readership is down, in part due to the internet and television. Advertisers pay based on how many eyes see their offerings and if those eyes fit their market demographic. Clearly, newspaper revenues are down and will continue to fall. Most newspaper's important clients are the automobile, real estate, and consumer goods retailers. All three of these industries are currently doing poorly and they have all cut advertising budgets. In my predictions for 2009 (( this is blueoregon )) on my blog, I predicted that "Major newspapers, and their influence on politics, the arts, and business, will begin to wither away." I think it has little to do with who owns the newspaper. A for-profit business cannot be unprofitable for long or it will fail regardless of who owns it. As was pointed out in a number of comments, local news will continue to sell and the local newspapers will continue to limp along. The national newspapers will be hurt the most by loss of readership and lack of ad revenue.

    The bigger question is not where the newspapers are going but where the "New Media" (blogs, social media, newsblogs) are going. Take a trip to the next BlogWorld Expo and see the energy, the enthusiasm, the openness, and the ingenuity of the leaders in the New Media and you will know why big newspapers like the Oregonian need to change or die.

  • LT (unverified)

    Thank you for your commentary, Ron.

    Even within Blue Oregon, the level of reporting and of careful writing varies.

    My favorite example of reporting on BO would be this story.

    Unfortunately, esp. with election and other emotionally charged stories, there is less clear writing but by golly the name callers get their say.

    I still have a bumper sticker on my car because a number of cracks led to a "last straw" comment which led me to put the sticker on my car and if anyone asked why I had that sticker on my car I would tell them.

    Quality level is important. If, for instance, someone were to report here on legislation and alert others to be informed (or report that a bipartisan consensus or some kind of political trick were going on) that would be wonderful.

    But name calling is not useful.

  • Byard Pidgeon (unverified)

    In addition to the papers mentioned...the Medford Mail-Tribune has stopped distribution in all its outlying areas...Lee Enterprises, which owns the Corvallis Gazette-Times and the Albany Democrat-Herald, is in bankruptcy...the Herald & News in Klamath Falls, which was a 6 day a week paper, then went to 7 days a few years ago, has cut back to 6 days.

    Oh, and the privately held papers are not immune...the Register-Guard is still privately held, I think, and although it looks fat with ads and healthy to me, has cut staff.

    Yes, Craigslist has a lot to do with it. When I was in newspapers, the classifieds paid for all the costs of printing and distribution...ALL costs...a successful newspaper was, like a TV station, "a license to print money"...but a major problem is the use of content on the web, without paying for it. The old (by now) saw that "information wants to be free" seems to be coming true, but will we have any worthwhile information, free or not?

  • (Show?)

    Personally I'd just like to say what a great job I'm doing, single-handed, over here at the Merc.

    If you'd pay more attention to the coverage before the reporters jump ship, maybe give us a sense of being heroes, Kari, we're less likely to court the attention by taking lucrative jobs elsewhere.

    I AM A HERO.

    Reinforcement...that's all a boy needs.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    I think the very first post archived in the BO archives is still fresh on this subject. It basically points up the connection between politics, what you say, how you say it, and the medium.

    I'm doing my small part for the blogosphere.

  • nuovorecord (unverified)

    An Oregonian reporter from a few years ago went on to a fairly successful career in public service. McCall, I believe, was his name.

  • Joe Smith (unverified)

    I confess to reading the Oregonian, and the highlight blast of the New York Times, every day. I also read the printed Tribune every week (and have yet to go there on line). Probably at least partly a sign of old age...but also partly because I really do think it important to do my small part to maintain a viable local newspaper. (TA, I hope you'll reconsider!) But there's another reason: I got in the habit of reading the local paper every day starting at age 14, for two reasons: first, because for the next four years I delivered the dang thing, but perhaps equally important, I had a couple of classes where we used the paper as a necessary source for class content. "Civics" in middle or high schools aren't taught anymore, I'm told. Maybe something to start promoting?

  • (Show?)

    I have two concerns about the failure of newspapers, other than what will I do with all the spare time I will have.

    The first is what Kari mentions. Who will do the clear investigative reporting and in depth analysis? This is actually my lesser concern. I get more out of Blue Oregon on what is going on in politics than I ever have from the Oregonian or video media. There is much more searching for the real story here and on the national sites like TPM media than in the print and video press. The challenge and counter challenge keeps people honest and pushes the story forward. The fact that low level people in any organization can add information in minutes or ask questions that never show up in the print media gives me hope that these stories will continue to be "reported".

    My real concern is that we are losing the community forums where everyone sees the same report and those that are less tuned in at least still get the basics. Whether it is the network news, a comedy like "Mash", or the headline in the Oregonian we are losing a common set of stories that we all share. We also lose honest dialogue with those with whom we disagree in letters to the editors and opposing op-eds. Disagreement in blogs too frequently becomes a food-fight without substance or thought. Sometimes editors add real value.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    I've said it before and I'll say it again, no media, since the first cathode ray tube carried a variety show, has cracked the funding nut. Advertising. It has never worked as a funding model and the media has almost never been self-sustaining.

    How long will it take for society to recognize that information is a basic need and subsidize it? Yes, we all love the internet. And those that think it through recognize it could disappear overnight or be restricted unduly. We have to stop getting by and subsidize information exchange. We should be as concerned about information independence and security as energy independence and security.

  • (Show?)

    We need newspapers badly. We need local news that covers more than what a security camera happened to catch in the Plaid Pantry. The coverage of local public policy is almost dead. Locals cover campaigns and budgetary battles a bit, but that's about it. Without serious reporting, we become uneducated about the issues that affect us.

    In 2008, the 150-year-old model for newspapers is dying, but publishers can't break out of this model to think how to engage an audience who read on their cell phone at the check-out counter. I disagree that the interest in local news is gone. If someone were still producing it, my guess is that a substantial niche would avidly consume it.

  • (Show?)

    Miles wrote:

    You're missing the fact that bloggers are one reason journalism is struggling. ... Why pay for the entire paper when you get what you want from free blogs?

    I mostly disagree. Newspapers are suffering because their advertising revenue streams are drying up. Craigslist, Ebay,,, and the plethora of others like them are killing classifieds and some display ads. Also, targeted Google ads are killing display ads.

    In a tiny way, Miles makes a good point -- because readership habits are shifting, the number of eyeballs is dropping, which hurts advertising revenue. But the drop in subscriber revenue is a minor element.

    Regarding content, I disagree very strongly. Very few blogs do original reporting. We compete, a little, with the editorial pages, but that's a minor part of any newspaper.


    Ron Buel writes:

    I love what you are doing on Blue Oregon. But more fragmented partisan blogs are not the answer to the loss of reporting and quality journalism.

    I agree. I didn't call for more partisan blogs. I called for more blogs. The old "Portland Communique" had an editorial bent, but it's real value was in Bix's obsessive reporting on weird little public hearings. We need more of that. As for fragmented, well, that may be the only option -- single bloggers covering each city hall, each issue, each legislator, etc. But as aggregators and search engines get better, the fragmentation matters less.


    Matt Davis: You're a hero. A god among men. A titan among midgets. Keep up the good work. Please don't quit.

  • B. Caille (unverified)

    Printed media, local TV news & POTS lines will all be a thing of the past right along with the dwindling WW2 generation and the aging baby boomers who are keeping them on life support. Romanticized nostalgia aside, is that really a bad thing? Though we'd all like to believe a certain level of accuracy & objectivity exists in the fourth estate, those days are long past. Most folks are looking to read articles where the facts align with their world view and nothing more. Your average progressive might tune into AM620 on the car radio, peruse Huffington Post & Daily Kos online and watch MSNBC while the right-winger listens to Rush or Hannity and watches entirely too much Fox News. Though seemingly very different people, both are essentially receiving the same thing. Heavily biased, agenda driven reports masquerading as hard news.

    If objectivity is your bag, best you can do is draw from a diverse swath of sources with a cynical eye. Call bullshit on both by default and glean the most plausible bits from the chaff.

  • The Libertarian Guy (unverified)

    Since the fifth grade I have read a paper almost every day, except while in the service. Since getting married some 30 years ago I have read at least two papers every day and sometime more. The weeklies, bi-weeklies and many more.

    Not long ago I gave up on the local daily paper thanks to the lack of effort at examining the local government. Now the N.Y. Times is my daily paper.

    I have no idea as to what the folks at the "O" are thinking, but the lack of analysis is a drawback that might just kill them off. Having a bias on the editorial page is one thing, but when it creeps into reporting that is another and their bias often shows when they ignore a particular point of view.


  • Douglas K. (unverified)

    I just don't see how traditional newspapers are going to survive long-run as a business model. As noted above, their major funding was in classified ads, and those are going more and more to free on-line sites every year. Without advertising revenue from classifieds and elsewhere, how can they pay for people to do full-time reporting.

    I can see real advantages to a reliable on-line news site that combines video, traditional breaking-news print journalism (as in the days when newspapers ran five daily editions), and news magazine (Time, Newsweek) in-depth stories. A place where you know that the editors strive to be objective and every article has been thoroughly fact-checked, and where you can go as deeply into a story as you like. But so far, nobody's figured out how to pay for an operation like that, at least one that will cover local news in depth. Advertising alone can't do it any more. New York Times tried to offer subscriptions to get a lot of its on-line content (like its editorial page) and that went bust.

    Ah, somebody will figure it out. Every news organization on earth is trying to work out a way to make money from their web site. Eventually, someone will get it right, create a financially sustainable on-line news agency that can pay for good in-depth reporting, and then everyone else will follow suit.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Yeah, if Ted Turner wants to impress, how about instead of the world's first 24/7 news agency he tackles the first self-funding news agency!

  • John Schrag (unverified)


    Thanks for taking my column to touch off a spirited discussion. The responses here are proof that newspapers and blogs can and must co-exist. A couple points of clarification. People aren't abandoning newspapers; they are abandoning big urban dailies. I print fewer papers each week (5,000 copies) than The Oregonia recycles each day. My paid subscriptions are up about 5 percent this year. The Sandy Post and the South County Spotlight, in Scappoose, (both of similar size)are growing even faster. And, if you add up all the News-Times and Sandy Posts in Oregon, our combined readership is bigger than the O.

    That's not to say that small papers don't have our challenges -- we do, and for many of the reasons outlined in the other posts here. And those problems have caused us to cut our staffs, too, which is why what happens at most city and county planning commissions isn't reported these days.

    And that's where I have my doubts about bloggers. I,too, enjoyed and admired Bix, but I don't recall ever seeing him at the Gaston city council. Is it possible there's a Bix out here in that town of 300? Maybe. And, perhaps if my paper offered him or her a forum on our web site, the residents of that fine town would know what's up with the city's water supply. I'm hoping to test that theory this year. But, I still say there's no substitute for professional journalists working with professional editors. And there's a lot fewer of them around today than there were a year ago.

    I think we (at least the small community papers) will come out this recession stronger and smarter. We'll learn how to use the web for both news and revenue and we'll continue to connect with readers in ways that The Oregonian or the Chicago Tribune (where I was an intern) has never been able to.

    But, it's going to be a painful process. The quality of newspaper journalism is going to get worse before it gets better. And that should make everyone sad -- and a bit scared.

  • Israel Bayer (unverified)

    We're trying And there's lots of community newspaper that are trying... we may be getting our ass kicked and working long days on short nights, but there's still journalism happening neighborhood to neighborhood at a local level. And there's still a passion for the journalism being produced.

    Still, we all must continue to blog away...

  • Greg D. (unverified)

    A timely and great post, except for the critical comments re: Craig's List. Where else but Craig's List can you make an appointment to get laid for $45.00, sell your boat, and apply for your next job, all at the same time?

    God Bless Technology.

  • Zachary Vishanoff (unverified)

    Funny to hear you mention "investigative reporters". At least your blog can claim to have "investigative spinners". This blog seems mostly like a arm of bigmedia with some undisclosed government ties included. So brag on, but this blog seems about as real as OSPIRG does as it pretends to be a environmental organization.

  • (Show?)

    I do remember not that many months back when The Outlook had a story about how it was doing. They talked about how readership was up and they were expanding the paper.

    Of course, the paper covers local news. And it's all news that is highly unlikely to make any other news entity unless it's a major crime.

    Local news is the way to go. If you focus on what you can't get elsewhere, people will read it. They want to know what's going on in their neighborhood. They want to know what's going on in their city. They want to know about the project the neighborhood and Planning Commission were against, but the council approved. If they want to read about national/international stuff, they're going to go elsewhere.

  • ws (unverified)

    Local news; I'd tend to agree, that is a need that hasn't been adequately filled. Ironically, the O does some coverage of local news, but you won't get it all together in one paper. The O splits its reporting into a number of regional editions. Are people not wanting to go to the O website for the news supposed to buy all those editions to get it?

    It would be great if at least one paper in the area could offer comprehensive reporting of what's going on in Portland and all of the regional communities, in one paper. I thought the internet was supposed to enable that to happen.

    Given the circumstances it faces, StreetRoots does a fine job of providing news. I particularly like seeing real people actually on the street selling the paper to people. That effort implies a certain confidence in the product they have to offer that the O lacks.

  • Bill McDonald (unverified)

    This is a great post because it tells a big story through the lives of individuals. All these names together make what we already knew on one level, hit more powerfully. I stumbled into a newspaper gig as a columnist at the Tribune and I now see it as a last chance to visit a different era. Remember when the Trib was delivered to the door? I used to wake up and see a paper with my column in it, outside every home stretching down the street off into the distance. I imagine that will soon sound impossibly dated - like someone describing a buffalo stampede in the Wild West. Gosh, it's a damn shame that Don Hamilton is out of the biz. Remember his story about narrowly avoiding death on Mt. St. Helens when he was reporting back in the 80s? Because there were no cellphones, he had to leave the mountain to report in, and missed the main event. So the new technology eventually drove him out but at least it didn't kill him. By the way, no Don Hamilton reference is complete without mentioning that he saw the Beatles live at Shea Stadium - speaking of bygone eras. Thanks again, Kari, for a great post. It had a powerful effect on me.

  • throowrocks (unverified)

    [Stupid personal insults deleted. -editor.]

  • Ted (unverified)

    I'd suggest that people aren't abandoning newspapers, they are abandoning lousy journalism. Kevin Phillips was on Book TV a few weeks ago and I think he said it quite well of mainstream media, whether it be TV, print, radio, or corporate web space. Think of a football field and the 50 yard line is the absolute middle. The "liberal" media covers to the 40 yard line one way, the "convservative" media covers to the 40 yard line the other way. Everything else is outside the perception of the average American who only listens to mainstream media.

    Real journalism is setting a threshold for newsworthiness that is applied to everything in the field of information that affects the lives of many. The real death of journalism is the suspension of those standards or subjective application thereof, regardless of the importance of the subject and number of people affected. That's why freedom of the press is so important. That's why the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. That's why democracy is at stake.

    Blue Oregon is just as guilty of that voluntary subserviance to the mainstream dialectic, which is ultimately framed by the corporate media and governmentary elite.

  • (Show?)


    ""Civics" in middle or high schools aren't taught anymore, I'm told."

    Oregon students are required to take at least 3 credits of social sciences for graduation. In Portland that means one year of Global Studies, one year of US History and one year of Government and Economics. I know we might not be satisfied with the results, but the idea that it is not taught is a persistent myth.

  • (Show?)

    Sue... You're right, but it's also true that they're managing to graduate high schools without even the most basic understanding of civics. So, something's going wrong.

    I'd like to see a simple standard: You can't graduate high school without being able to pass the U.S. citizenship test.

  • DanOregon (unverified)

    Used to be a scandal would be uncovered by a newspaper working day to day, peeling a bit more off an onion. Then they decided to dig and dig and make wait to mak a big package of what they found for a Sunday edition (easier for Pulitzer judges to digest). Now those projects are less frequent - we hear about more stuff from blogs and only when the blogosphere reaches the boiling point do TV or newspaper deign to take a look. Seeing Oregonian reporters moonlighting for the TrailBlazers is another thing that irks me, but at least the paper realizes half a loaf is better than none.

  • (Show?)

    Yes, but most of the time I can't even find a single story in The Oregonian about Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview, or Wood Village. And we're right next door. Heck, Gresham's the state's fourth largest city. Were we not so close to Portland, we'd be a metro area of our own.

    I think the success of papers like The Outlook show that if you focus more heavily on local news, newspapers can still be popular.

    Also, I'd like to say that as someone who took the required 3 credits of social studies - plus an extra one - that there is a huge difference in what is taught and what people mean when they refer to civics.

    We had to take a credit each of U.S. History and World History and a half credit each of Economics and U.S. Government. My freshman year I also opted for a half credit of World Geography.

    In U.S. History we made it through about WWII. The same goes for World History, but there we barely skimmed through WWI and WII in order to even get that far. Economics was very dumbed down in order for the bulk of the kids to pass. U.S. Government barely covered anything outside of some info on the three branches of the federal government. Forget anything about state, county, local governments. Topics like the importance of voting, reading the paper, being involved in your community, etc.? Non-existent. The only time we were ever encouraged to even pick up a paper was in Economics when we were "buying stock." And that was only to look at the provided stock pages from the paper.

    And might I add that with the U.S. and World History classes were both honors courses, so we did more and covered more than the regular classes. I was so frustrated when I saw the lesson plan for the U.S. Government course that I took a self study course instead, got much further through the book than the class did, and ended up earning college credit because I took the AP test for it.

    My Honors Intro to U.S. Government course my freshman year of college was a much better course. We didn't just get into the facts, but also the why. And we were required to have a subscription to the New York Times. The beginning of every class began with a discussion on current events.

  • Gene (unverified)

    Boo hoo, MSM is bleeding red ink. So sad. They did such a stand-up job covering issues like 9/11, the GWOT and the 2000/2004 elections, I wonder why no one values them anymore?

    The Oregonian contracts out their website (a modern media company's heart and soul) which results in a bland, hard-to-use, behind-the-times, circa-1999 "web portal", and alternates between the Blazers and heart-tugging lost dog stories as the above-the-fold front page story, and ignores most local coverage. Why are they even still in business?

    Answer: Momentum. And it's slowing fast.

    McClatchy and NYT/IHT are all that need to survive to make me happy.

    B. Caille's comment is spot-on.

  • (Show?)

    Actually, they don't contract out their web site. The relationship between the web site and the paper is commonly misunderstood. Not too long after moving here, I went to work for Oregon Live, and then Advance Internet. I worked there just over two years. And it was pretty common for people to misunderstand how the two relate to each other.

    Advance Publications Inc., which owns The Oregonian, also owns a company called Advance Internet. Advance Internet does all the web-related work, including web sites for all their newspapers.

    The web sites for the newspapers all typically use the same template. A few of the papers are using the old one, but as far as I've seen the majority use the new template.

    There is a local office and staff for Oregon Live. I'm not certain of the size of the staff now, but it was a fairly good sized staff when I was there. The local staff was the one handling all the adding of content, placement on the front page, etc. at that time. It's always possible that some of that has moved to Advance Internet, which was the case of the forums when I worked there (hence my move from working for Oregon Live to working for Advance Internet).

    It's all part of the same family of companies, though, which allows the publication side to focus on print and the internet side to focus on the web.

    Not to say that the site isn't awful. The front page id regularly not updated, finding things on the site can be hard, etc. When I worked there, it was a constant complaint of ours. Many times I offered recommendations on changes, pointed out problems, offered to work on the site, etc. but was never taken up on it. Personally, I think they need some news people with web experience to be put in charge of the site and a big revamp done on how things look, stories that are added, organizing the site, and the like. Then the print writers need some training on writing for the web - blogging isn't just putting a news story online, for instance.

  • Gene (unverified)

    Thanks Jenni for your very informative comment. I assumed that Advance was at least partially owned by the O (not that common in business to have an equity stake in a key vendor/contractor) but was not aware that they owned them outright.

    This sort of business arrangement usually does not produce great results (this is why I assumed they were at least partially owned).

    Why? Advance Internet has a captive client base thus no incentive to improve, upgrade and enhance their product. Hence the "lipstick-on-a-pig" template system, plain text forums, awkward UI, etc. etc. They need resources to keep up with the times, which conflicts with their client/owner's mandate of "keep costs down".

    The next media companies will be more IndyMedia (gulp) and less NYT. A hybrid of CNN's i-Report, CurrentTV and User-contributed/edited/forwarded content streaming in, filtered/categorized by computer, rated and tagged by humans, and archived for Google. A lean team of editor/hacker/reporters that organize and analyze the info and (here's the key) are held to account by an involved, niche audience who is willing to donate/subscribe/contribute.

  • Gregor (unverified)

    The root of the problem is the inability of the newspapes to understand the root of their problem. Newspaper is a service for the readership that gets its lifeblood from the advertisers. I know because I once owned a publication myself. Kari references it above and unintentionally, but clearly, dismissed the importance of readership because revenue comes from advertsers. That is the trap.

    Publishers neglect to serve the readers in their effort to retain the advertisers, who often seek to influence content. But when content is compromised to assuage the few advertsisers, the numerous readership get disillussioned that they are reading news any longer and abandon the paper. As this progresses, advertsers also lose their faith in the paper because it no longer is the vehicle to as many eyes as it once was. So they abandon the paper as well.

    Publications are for readers first. Without readership, there is nothing to sell and selling out to advertisers who wish to sell their product and not papers is not a partnership that lasts. Serving the readers who pay for the news has to be the first priority, however incomprehensible that may be to people whose motive is profits above all else.

  • Gene (unverified)

    (Now to the actual point of the original post which sort of bugs me...)

    Newspapers started as partisan leaflets designed to persuade and propagandize. Sound familiar?

    News and political bloggers are journalists, as much as Kari seems to believe in a newsprint ceiling. The quality varies greatly, but then again even the NYT and White House Press Pool let the odd trickster and male prostitute in the room.

    I'd be interested to hear Kari explain why Kos is any less a journalist than Wolf Blizter, and why he defines blogging as a derivative art.

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)

    Since I am (self) named after one of the real heroes of journalism -- the one whose Pulitzer was the bitter hatred of the powerful whom he insisted deserved exposing just as much as the beat cop beating up bums -- I have to note that the reason that the obese media is drying up and blowing away is that they have focused on the Five F's of journalism (fires, fights, football, furry animals, and celebrity sex) to the near total exclusion of meaningful news, which is to say, news that is useful for more than an instant.

    The acid test of any newspaper's true utility is the 30-day test. It's simple and quite revealing: buy or subscribe to the paper every day. Do not read it. After 31 days, read the issue you got on day 1. Clip every story that actually provides any useful information to help you navigate in your world--that helps you understand (and affect) what your government is doing (at any level), helps you actually understand the economy (rather than just repeat incantations like "business cycle," "economic development," etc.), or helps you participate in local affairs. Repeat on Day 32 with the issue you got on Day 2, and so forth.

    I have conducted this test with a number of national and local papers over several decades, looking at every single story, and not a single obese media paper has provided anything more than a tiny handful of stories of any enduring value, stories that shed light on a larger narrative that helped make sense of why things happened in society. Actually, the paper that has never been topped in these tests (by a big margin) -- is the Christian Science Monitor, which has lately announced that it will no longer bother with the dead trees at all.

    But the kind of local coverage being discussed here -- being present at the zoning board, utility board, city councils in towns big and small, etc. -- must necessarily be restricted to stories that leave the readers completely in the dark if they are to appear in advertiser-funded papers, because advertisers will not long pay to have their misdeeds publicized in time for citizens to do anything about them.

    The best, and maybe the longest running investigative blog (which started out as a newsletter on paper) is "The Progressive Review" ( by lifelong reporter Sam Smith, whose tag line lately is "The News While There's Still Time to Do Something About It." That's a pretty fair description of what real news is and of the attitude that journalists must have, which is an attitude that obese corporate newspapers, which all feign objectivity, abhor.

  • Tracy @ West Seattle Blog (unverified)

    Gene @ 3:43 pm - This was the point I came here to make (following the link from Jay Rosen's Twitter feed). Journalism is not dying. A delivery method is dying. THAT IS ALL.

    And while that delivery method is dying, a new one is flourishing, growing, and leading to a better form of journalism than was ever possible in the one-way media.

    I am co-publisher of Seattle's most successful (traffic and revenue) neighborhood-news website. I ended a successful 30-plus-year "old media" career to focus on this full time. While my husband and I do a whole lot of classic newsgathering and reporting, from phone calls to meeting-attending to rushing off to breaking news scenes to researching and uncovering, presenting it in short form and long form, what makes this different is collaboration from the people formerly known as "readers." They are not REPLACING journalists, but they are realizing that a door has opened for their involvement in the newsgathering and news-reporting process, and they are enthusiastically coming in to help. Every day, I am surprised and delighted by the ways in which our thousands of collaborators share information with us and each other.

    But back to a particular point. Anyone who really wants to support journalism needs to drop the word "blogger" and the verb "blogging." Blog is just a publishing format, like a newspaper, like a magazine. Would you call a writer who works in one of those formats a "newspaperer" or "magaziner"? When you talk about someone who is publishing a blog-format website, describe them for what they write - are they a neighborhood journalist? A political journalist? A political watchdog? A food reviewer? A personal diarist? Etc.

    The word "blogger" just doesn't mean much any more, since this publishing format has been adopted by so many writers, for so many types of work. Even the way in which it is being used in this item is confusing; there are many people publishing in blog format who do NOT primarily use somebody else's work as a jumping-off point, and to continue to speak/write as if all blog-format writing DO that, is a disservice to the thousands of writers who don't.

  • Doug in PDX (unverified)

    IMHO, the problem IS objectivity.

    For a long time, basically until we had citizen publishing, in the form of Blogging, e-mail lists, and such, our media sources were limited. (TV, Radio, Print) Because of this, some level of objectivity made really great sense, and the attention these media got made the investment in people and infrastructure worth it.

    Now that's not true today. None of it is.

    Before I conclude, I want to talk about bias some more. First rule: there is always bias. There is no getting away from it. We all have it, and... BIAS IS GOOD!

    The only way to really avoid bias is to have a complete and vetted set of facts to work from. Where the facts are in, there is no opinion. This is pretty much impossible as there are a great many things we just don't know. Of those things we can know, we often don't anyway, leaving us with bias.

    A while back, I read a study that concluded the actual news content presented to viewers on "The Daily Show" was pretty much equal to that presented on an ordinary news cast. ?!?

    The news cast is supposedly not biased, objective, and somehow authoritative because of that. The reality is that it's also boring!

    "The Daily Show" has a rather obvious bias, is entertaining and JUST AS INFORMATIVE, if NOT MORE than a news cast is, and THEY DO FAKE NEWS!

    A short digression: Fox has bias too, but they are not honest about it, like "The Daily Show" and other similar programs are. The difference is significant.

    With "The Daily Show", we have an environment where the facts are clearly differentiated from the opinion. On most FOX programs, this clarity is diminished. Of these examples, viewers are best served by programming with clarity, and it's increasingly obvious that entertaining them is good as well.

    So, what does this mean?

    We need to embrace bias! There is a back and forth between bloggers, ordinary people, and traditional media that is totally a good thing! I would also argue that ANY of these entities is a journalist, given they are choosing to engage in journalistic activities.

    Anyone not doing this is going to be checked rather rapidly and thoughrly by the others! Why?

    Because, generally speaking, that's actually quite entertaining!

    Being entertained, by media produced by people with passion, is way easier to consume than it is produced in an "objective" manner. We've opened the door, and I don't think we opened it of our own choosing either. It just happened, and here we are.

    There is a worry about this stuff being self-selecting. Well, it is! However, I don't think the majority of people will fall totally prey to that. Some will, and that's a problem.

    Checking in that in an entertaining way is the solution, and so it goes.

    What our traditional media needs is revenue. That's hard to come by because of the stiff and ENTERTAINING competition in the form of various new media. Also, traditional media can make use of new media as well as leverage their core publishing means and methods.

    Overall, that's not a bad balance, given we embrace the bias.

    I say do it!

    The bloggers will have more to blog about, and ordinary people will see more stimulating programming and will be more informed for that reason alone, unless it's unclear like FOX does.

    Not sure what to do about that, other than highlight that's not the way to go for anyone, bias left, right or other. That's just a net loss and perhaps robust competition will just prove that out.

    Don't know.

    Some examples then:

    Newspaper Opinion, Satire, Irony and other columns need to actually expand! Anyone can re-publish from the beast that is AP. Very little value there anymore. Why not do that, and offer local commentary and analysis on it?

    I actually think Periodicals and Books are in little trouble. They can go edgy, and are convient. No worries for them. They will sink or swim based on their willingness to just publish.

    (That used to be the art of pushing the boundaries of expression. Get back to that.)

    TV could use more biased programming of all different kinds. Honestly, at least one program on every network should piss a healthy chunk of us off. Lots to talk about, respond to, and a perfect sequay into new media ventures designed to capture and leverage regional discussion.

    (this is healthy too, like Blue Oregon is healthy when consumed in tandem with Daily Kos, for example)

    Radio is fine. Just need more programs, and a few more risks taken. Lefty talk is growing. It's slow, but it's not a problem as some are making money. If we embrace the bias, and let some long standing industry expectations be reset, there is a lot to talk about politically.

    And, if I'm not mistaken, there is a lot of dial space on auto-pilot too.

    So, there it is. Death of new media, only if they want it to die. There are options. There are needs to be served, people to entertain, and politics in general remains the drama that you just can't make up.

    Where you have that, you have the material that gets attention and where you have that you have dollars. The only thing that needs to change is the expectation that people will actually sit through boring, as in "please kill me now, make it stop!" kind of boring material.

    Call me radical. That's cool. Just try it. First to embrace the bias, gets the cookie! (and a better revenue stream, and lots of differentiators over those not so willing to step out and try to get along in these new times!)

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Posted by: Kari Chisholm | Jan 9, 2009 11:37:33 AM

    Sue... You're right, but it's also true that they're managing to graduate high schools without even the most basic understanding of civics. So, something's going wrong.

    I'd like to see a simple standard: You can't graduate high school without being able to pass the U.S. citizenship test.

    Australia have been going down that road, and started with a redesign of the test. Not having to know Bradman, though... Literally beyond the Pale.

    Unfortunately, in 100 years we'll have some kind of transponder implant and citizenship will be like some pedantic reality show where everybody votes on the candidate. The tyranny of the majority will have been completely effected!

    Posted by: Doug in PDX | Jan 9, 2009 11:35:55 PM

    IMHO, the problem IS objectivity.

    Objectivity is a myth; disclosure is the best you can get, and it is sufficient. I might even watch Fox News on the odd whim, if it was prefaced with "The following is a presentation funded and produced by, and promoting issues important to, corporate America". Or PBS adding "the following nature documentary was funded by Exxon/Mobil because you didn't contribute what you should have during our last fund drive. We consider this the most odious solution and think that you will too. Next time, give generously"; or "Lawrence Welk is funded by little old ladies who will soon die and leave large estates. We'd like a bit, so shut up and watch Lawrence Welk". KATU wouldn't be so bad with an honest "KATU's content is produced based on a personality orientated news format. KATU; where who's prego comes first!" Even newsprint like the Times wouldn't be so bad with a simple "All the news our lawyers say is fit to print".

    Hunter Thompson was right. People know how to listen to speech if they accurately know who's talking. Go gonzo, let your biases hang out, and let people create real-world opinions of issues for themselves. That said, it's incredible that traditional left-wing hard print, like Mother Jones or Utne Reader, haven't made the transition better, though MJ is getting better at it. Particularly like the following blurb over there: (TARP is the "federal bail-out")

    To put it in perspective, here are five things that take longer than filling out the TARP application.

    1. Applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): 4 hours.
    2. Watching Wall Street: 2 hours, 5 minutes.
    3. Making a tuna noodle casserole: 1 hour, 20 minutes.
    4. Applying for New York State unemployment insurance benefits: 30 minutes.
    5. Applying for food stamps in New Jersey: 30 minutes.

    One of the only things that takes less time is filling out a credit card application: 2 minutes.

    Whaaa... Food Stamps in NJ is 8x faster than Oregon???

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)

    Interesting predictions of disappearance of print NY Times, possibly as early as May 09.

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)

    Thinking about the demise of the newspapers again, I was reminded of something that I think was a sign that they would have be short-lived as soon as people had an alternative: their rudeness to contributors.

    Having had letters to the editor and op-eds published in a great number of papers (including letters only in NYT and WaPo, op-eds in more than a dozen others), the one thing I observe that makes the Podunk Herald much like the Times and other major papers is that they all treat unpaid contributors -- people who, for free, provide them with the best content that they have on any given given day (else why would they run it?) on some of the most expensive, most read pages in the paper -- like crap.

    The business model of all major and minor papers is to treat people who submit letters and op-eds like crap: Of course, don't pay anything. But, also, don't acknowledge submissions or, if you do, do so only with a form that says, essentially, "don't call us, we'll call you." Demand strict adherence to arbitrary word limits. Don't alert the authors to let them know when you plan to run their work. Demand that the writer tell you how to contact them 24/7, but never use this to contact them. Don't ever consult the author about headline choices -- just because they wrote the article you've decided is the best thing you have for that spot doesn't mean they would have any good ideas for a headline. Same for graphics. In other words, in the newsroom of the 20th C., people who provide you with letters and op-eds should be viewed as mushrooms and treated accordingly: kept in the dark and crapped on.

    When there was no alternative forum for getting a message to a lot of people, newspapers could treat people this way and get away with it. Now, with the net providing essentially everyone with a way to throw their two cents in without having to take this kind of guff, no wonder newspapers are falling apart.

  • (Show?)

    Having had letters to the editor and op-eds published in a great number of papers

    Huh. Really?

    Was that done using George Seldes' name - or your own?

    I was under the impression that you were posting under George's name because you couldn't write over your own name due to your job -- but now we learn that you've been sending letters to the NYT and elsewhere.

    <h2>So, what's the deal? Something change at work? Is a blog different? Or are you just grooving on piggybacking on someone else's reputation?</h2>

connect with blueoregon