Incredibly, produced a news story about the Everglades . I can still do this. It's like riding a bike.
Last night at a dinner party we were talking about the future of the news biz -- what else? -- and at one point one of the opinionators at the table pulled from somewhere in his lizard brain the hoary nugget, the tired trope I dare say, that editors make their decisions based on whatever will sell newspapers.
Which is so precisely the opposite of my experience. I've written about this before (more than once): The great thing about growing up in the heyday of the newspaper era is that we didn't have to worry about the bottom line. This is what has allowed me to stay true to my Art.
But obviously we live in perilous times. Everybody's got an idea about how to save newspapers. Here's are some ideas from Hugh Hewitt, written as a memo to LA Times owner Sam Zell:
'The obvious thing is to begin to let the readers who remain have some input, at least by noting via visitor counters on every story showing how many readers are pausing on every bylined article and by allowing comment boards on each of them....
'Award a daily bonus to the most visited story. Sure, it is American Idol meets the newsroom, but the point is readership, isn't it? (Not for many of your staff, I know. But for you and shareholders it is.) I am not proposing you violate the sacred trust a reporter has to tell his or her story as his or her professionalism obliges it be told. I am just suggesting that the feedback be instant and public. Does it make sense to spend thousands of dollars researching and writing a story that very few people read? If you want to engage the audience, recognize that they are the audience, that their choices matter, and give them a voice.
'And how about a bit of Survivor thrown in? List your columnists. Ask your readers which one gets to stay. Vote someone off the island. Repeat process...'
Well. Give Hugh points for bold thinking. We do need to shake things up. Though the Survivor concept makes me, with my roughly one dozen known readers, exceedingly nervous. I'd have to take the radical step of writing about things that people were interested in. [Is there a website where they list that kind of thing?]
But let me suggest that this page-view obsession is a recipe for turning a newspaper into AOL News, which, with all due respect, is thoroughly execrable. AOL News is an operation that can't resist teaser headlines about Bigfoot and celebrity sex. I am pretty sure they've got a full-time Cryptozoology Editor.
The great newspapers of the modern era -- and I'm privileged to work at one of the very best -- invest money in journalism that might not yield that many readers. Like foreign coverage. How many people are closely following the appalling events in Zimbabwe? Maybe not as many as are reading the Horoscope. But good newspaper editors actually care about their country and their planet.
The easiest way for any news organization to save money is to close the foreign bureaus and shut down the investigative reporting. Sure, a splashy investigation might get a lot of page views for a few days, but those investigations take many months, if not a year or more, to put together. Americans have grown tired of reading about Iraq, we're told. But doesn't someone have to run a bureau there?
To answer Hugh's question -- "Does it make sense to spend thousands of dollars researching and writing a story that very few people read?" -- yes, it makes sense if you think you're not just in the widget-selling business. It makes sense if you care about good journalism and don't judge every story by how many eyeballs it attracts. [Or how many column inches each journalist produces -- link via Romenesko.]
And as you know by now: The guy stepping down as the boss here is someone whose mantra has always been "accountability journalism." Not "let's sell papers."
As for what to do about the business model...um, let me get back to you on that.
(But here's a start: People who like their local newspaper and don't want to see it evaporate should devote some time to reading it rather than letting it pile up in the corner. Vote with your time. If people still read it, it'll stick around. And maybe, what the heck, you might actually click on one of the ads on the website. Go crazy!)
Smart piece at Politico on make-believe "political strategists."
McCain, right now in Vegas, says keep on drillin', and skewers "timid litany of limitations":
'This is a matter that has confounded nearly twenty Congresses and seven presidents. Yet even now our energy debates carry the echoes of ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago. We hear the same calls for new energy taxes, instead of new energy production. We are offered the same agenda of inaction -- that long recitation of things we cannot do, energy we cannot produce, refineries we cannot build, plants we cannot approve, coal we cannot use, technologies we cannot master. The timid litany of limitations goes on and on. And it says more about the culture of Washington than it does about the character of America.'
Hmmmm....not a word in the speech about changing behavior, conservation, etc....That stuff still has the Jimmy Carter stigma.
Here's the Supreme Court decision in the Louisiana death penalty case.
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