Black and white and brain dead all over.

newspaper image from mixedink blog






























The dearth of decent ideas designed to save newspapers--or reinvent them
for the digital age in ways that preserve their crucial democratic
functions--is curious and depressing....

Take the example of the Tribune Company's new owner, Sam Zell..... To advise him on long-term strategy, he has appointed as "chief
innovation officer" Lee Abrams, a man who was apparently surprised to
learn that reports datelined "Baghdad" are actually produced by
reporters in Baghdad. His suggestion: "photos of the reporter with Iraqi
kids" to advertise this fact.

Writing on his blog, Abrams mused that newspapers were "TOO NPR," (caps
in original), which he found "a bit elitist." He would rather have
newspapers "study the feel of a well honed All News Radio station,"
which he defines as "being INTELLIGENT... not intellectual."

The more one listens to the men and women at the top of the industry,
the more it becomes obvious that the survival of the newspaper--the
primary information-gathering and knowledge-disseminating
instrument of American democracy--is going to have to come from
somewhere else

  • Scott McLemee (and book/daddy in the comments section) on the loss of book review pages -- in part because of the abandonment by newspaper management of their public service commitments:

People at newspapers - not a majority by any means, but a significant core - once held respect, verging on reverence, for the
printed word as such. A sort of continuum existed between the world of
newspapers and that of books. The examples of H.L. Mencken, Carl
Sandburg, Ernest Hemingway, and Walter Lippmann seemed to prove it.
Each had been a journalist and gone on to write things of a more
durable nature; and knowledge of this possibility left its mark on
others. . . .

Over the years, book-review sections have existed because somebody in charge had a commitment to them - an old editor, perhaps, with an
unfinished novel in the drawer, stored beneath the shot glasses. The
oft-repeated claim that shrinking or abandoning book coverage is
economically justified because publishers have stopped buying enough
ads is nonsense. They never did; and anyway, no sports page depends on
business from the teams it covers. The willingness to keep book
sections alive was never rational in the narrowest sense. It manifested
a sense of participation in print culture; it tried to pay a debt of
honor.

Somewhere along the way, however, the book ceased to function as a reference point - an ideal model, a standard of seriousness, the outer
limit of one's sense of possible aspiration. Television took over that
role. (But only, it turns out, as a wedge: TV was only the first of the
screens that would define the way we live now.)

Image from Mixed Ink blog
July 26, 2008 8:49 PM | | Comments (3)

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3 Comments

The papers don't express the real world anymore because they can't--no one wants to listen because everyone is afraid of saying what they think. So papers write about things that most people are not interested in. Two things are at work here: general apathy of the average American, and the subtle chill on free speech resulting from the change in culture in the last 10 years. These two reinforce one another. In a culture in which free speech is no longer free, newspapers and books are casualties.

I agree, Bill. I've said the same, repeatedly. It's also why I quoted Steve Wasserman, with whom I often disagree, at length in the comments section of Scott McLemee's column:

"The real problem was never the inability of book-review sections to turn a profit, but rather the anti-intellectual ethos in the nation’s newsrooms that is—and, alas, always was—an ineluctable fact of American newsgathering. There was among many reporters and editors a barely disguised contempt for the bookish.”

Today's announcement of even bigger cuts to the Dallas Morning News' staff -- 14 percent or 500 positions -- means that the DMN has lost something like 20 percent of its workforce in less than five years. To paraphrase Alterman: Sure, you can put out a good newspaper with that level of staffing; what you can't put out is a newspaper as good as it was.

Jerome,
You come from the business. Of those who manage and run newspapers, how many do you think read books? For that matter, how many journalists do you know who are avid book readers? It's journalism's dirty little secret, but only a few journalists these days read anything beyond the newspaper itself and an occasional magazine. There are conspicuous exceptions -- and it shows in their writing.
I remember a party at the house of a certain editor, pretty high up on the food chain. There was not a single book, not one, visible anywhere in the house.
It's actually worse. There is among far too many journalists a deeply embedded anti-intellectualism, a reverse snobbery that looks down upon books, and any "literary" writing, as effete and pretentious.
I'm tempted to say this wasn't always so, but anyone who's been in the business long enough remembers the crusty old city editor who gave a reporter hell for that novel in his desk drawer.
So it's not all that surprising that books have come to occupy less and less space in daily newspapers -- as they have in daily life.

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This page contains a single entry by book/daddy published on July 26, 2008 8:49 PM.

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