Spotlight: Two views on newspapers

In the last couple of days, I’ve come across two really good posts on the future of newspapers, both written by former Virginian-Pilot journalists who have moved on.

The first was written John-Henry Doucette, who remains in Norfolk although not in the newspaper business. He argues that it is not newspapers that people need; instead, it is the newsgathering capability:

… I think we need to stop talking about saving specific businesses and start talking about defending our capability to gather news that is in the public interest.

Doucette continues to advocate for some type of public financing of these newsgathering activities.

The second was written by Olivia Hubert-Allen, who left The Pilot earlier this year and now works for The Baltimore Sun. That paper has recently adopted a paywall, which seems to be the trend these days and is definitely something I wish The Pilot would consider. She raises several significant points about the value of newspapers, including this one:

Big media still plays an important part in the local news ecosystem.

Even if you’ve never opened an edition of The Baltimore Sun or visited the website, you have still been impacted by its journalism. … The Sun functions as an extension of many of those smaller newsrooms. Stories originally uncovered by Sun reporters end up on nightly newscasts and rehashed on the local blogosphere.

Two different conclusions to the conundrum of what to do about newspapers. My own thoughts are published in today’s Pilot, which I will post about tomorrow.

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One thought on “Spotlight: Two views on newspapers

  1. Hi Vivian,

    Thanks for linking to the post on the Vox Voices blog.

    Just to clarify:

    As I’ve written at length elsewhere, I love The Pilot, subscribe, regard it as the best newsgathering operation we have here, and truly hope it succeeds so I can reand it until I die. And, while I’ve written at length about public financing for journalism, my preference is for a non-profit or not-for-profit model rather than public funding, though I think we need to discuss public financing for public-interest newsgathering in a rational, non-political way.

    I say this because I have shown in an essay that many of the concerns about a government organization funding the free press have clear parallels to business relationships between newsgathering organizations and business partners, including advertisers. That means some arguments against public financing are not well reasoned.

    Additionally, I’m not sure Hubert-Allen and I have particularly different views, per se. I suggest we’re looking at two related-but-actually- different things, basically what needs to be done now for a specific business compared to my long-term suggestion of protecting newsgathering capabilities for a community. I don’t disagree with anything by her that you cite, or anything I saw in quickly reading through her post.

    Let me point out this line from her post, however, about the type of cost cutting we have seen much of here:

    “But all this cutting costs hasn’t really saved us. It’s been a quick-fix to keep newspaper companies afloat. The root of the problem is that our primary service — news production — doesn’t pay the bills right now.”

    I’m not sure that a pay wall fixes that problem, though it think it might help. And I don’t know if the recent cuts at The Pilot are all about paying bills. I agree that The Pilot should be able to be compensated for “clicks” if it can be done.

    Again, my recommendation is that people who care about local newsgathering should divorce themselves from a brand name they care about for a moment and truly, deeply consider what they need in public interest local newsgathering. Additionally, I suggest that newspapers use an awful lot of resources producing certain kinds of news that are not particularly in the public interest. Which is fine, but also something for consumers to consider when considering what the role of a newsgathering organization should be. Do we want newspapers to continue to do everything,with less and less staff, and less and less well, while losing money? Or do we want a sustainable newsgathering organization that, while certainly lean and mean, at least covers the important community news we need?

    If anyone is interested in reading about my thoughts on public financing for newsgathering, as well as my concerns, that link can be found here: http://jhdoucette.com/reporting-essays/the-case-for-publicly-funded-journalism-2010/

    Thanks again, Vivian.

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