Sunday, February 20, 2005

Hard News

I'm unabashedly borrowing the Washington Post's headline from today's story by Frank Ahrens looking at the troubles and uncertainty besetting the newspaper industry. There's not a lot groundbreaking in this, but it's a nice roundup of a lot of the issues. Among other things:
  • "I could argue forcefully that the free model and the non-newsprint model is what we're looking at in the future." -- San Francisco Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein. Also from Bronstein: "Things are moving far quicker than we thought a few years ago."
  • Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. on the previously reported problem of young adults saying the paper simply is too big: "It's the only way for us to present news plus advertising in the package. It can't get smaller and it shouldn't get smaller."
  • From Randall Birkwood, recruitment director for T-Mobile, which has moved most of its help-wanted ads from newspapers to its own Web site: "There are more opportunities for us to spend our dollars in other places to attract talent."
And while Ahrens notes the potential for Internet advertising to be more valuable to advertisers, he also notes the revenue gap: The Post had $433 million in ad revenue for the first nine months of 2004; Washingtonpost.com had $45 million. (Yet, if things are moving more quickly than expected, as Bronstein says, perhaps that gap will narrow more quickly as well.)

As Aherens notes, Sports Illustrated President John Squires said last year, "Print is dead." But Post Publisher Boisfeuillet Jones Jr. is more hopeful: "If we focus on doing the business of journalism well, the newspaper and Web site should both be able to grow revenues."

This is where Aherens' piece falls short, however, as do many of these snapshot, hand-wringing looks at the current state of affairs. What exactly is "the business of journalism"? We all needs to take an extended look at that core question. What is journalism, and what is it worth to anyone? Aherens does a nice job in rounding up the problems. Now, it's time to bring the public into the conversation on solutions.

(And for more, see Jeff Pelline's thoughts -- he's a former "print" type who helped start news.com -- on how traditional media and Internet companies are finding true love: This year will no doubt go down as a time when Internet and print media companies danced like never before.)

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