"Better to be more or less right, than exactly wrong" was a favourite saying of ex-IHT publisher Peter Goldmark Jnr. As he got the boot when the NYT took over the IHT, I guess he was exactly wrong.
But I think I would apply that analysis to the following interesting piece in the IHT last week, which is worth quoting in full, coming off the back of a couple of recent posts on Think! about newsroom cuts:
NEWSPAPERS AND THE WEB
Save the press
On the lobby wall of the newspaper where I got my first reporting job are the Thomas Jefferson words that U.S. journalists like to trot out as America's Independence Day nears:
"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
Of course, Jefferson also said the only reliable truths in newspapers were the advertisements, and that he was happiest when not reading the papers.
But as to his iconic quote, it's no secret that we're trending toward the former. And anyone who cheers the collapse of the newspaper industry should consider why Jefferson put aside his distaste for the vitriol and nonsense of the press for the larger principle of healthy democracies needing informed citizens.
Last week, almost 1,000 jobs were eliminated in the American newspaper industry, perhaps the bloodiest week yet of a year where many papers are fighting for their lives.
You read about the great names in American journalism - the Baltimore Sun, the Boston Globe, the San Jose Mercury News - as if reading the obituary page. Rich U.S. cities like San Francisco can no longer support a profitable daily paper.
Columnists, reporters, editors, cartoonists and photographers who brought to life the daily narrative of a city or region have been swept aside. What started as layoffs and buyouts is edging toward closures and bankruptcies.
And here's the great paradox: All of this bad news is coming at a time when the audience and reach of many newspapers has never been greater. The Internet may kill the daily newspaper as we know it, but it's allowed some papers to increase their readership by tenfold.
Those who revel in the life-threatening trauma that newspapers are going through, saying they brought it upon themselves by being too liberal, too sensationalistic, too banal - choose your insult - miss the point. People are not deserting these complex and contradictory summaries of our collective existence. Not by any stretch.
Measured purely by number of readers in all formats, many newspapers have never been more successful.
Newspaper Web sites attracted more than 66 million unique visitors in the first quarter of 2008 - a record, and a 12 percent increase over a year ago, according to a Nielsen Online analysis. Forty percent of all Internet users visit a newspaper site. A visitor, it should be noted, is different from a reader, but it's the measurement of choice.
The Web is the future. And yet, because online advertising accounts for only about 10 percent of total ad revenue, newspapers are hemorrhaging money. In its present form, and even in best-case projections, the Web format will never generate enough money to keep viable reporting staffs afloat at some of the nation's biggest papers.
That's the business model crisis, an old story by now, the millstones of capitalism crushing an outdated format. Something new will emerge, a print and Web model.
In the meantime, print reporters strap on the old Webcam, charge up their podcast recorder, grab their notebook and dutifully try to cover a story that now needs to be presented in three formats, or more.
What's the alternative? It's possible that some civic-minded nonprofits will end up owning one or two of the nation's great papers, and operating them as trusts, hands off.
But that's a limited solution, fraught with problems of control and flexibility, and it won't keep reporters at city hall in Sioux Falls or the statehouse in Santa Fe.
Another response is goodbye, and so what. Look at the auto industry numbers from this week, with General Motors slouching toward bankruptcy.
Besides, there's plenty of gossip, political spin and original insight on sites like the Drudge Report or The Huffington Post - even though they are built on the backs of the wire services and other factories of honest fact-gathering. One day soon these Web info-slingers will find that you can't produce journalism without journalists, and a search engine is no replacement for a curious reporter.
And just how much do most contributors at the The Huffington Post make? Nothing! "Not our financial model," as the cofounder, Ken Lerer famously said. From low pay to no pay - the New Journalism at a place that calls itself an Internet newspaper.
Yes, the Brentwood bold-face types who grace HuffPo's home page can afford to work for free, but it's un-American, to say the least.
Long ago, I was a member of the steelworkers union, and also a longshoreman. If any of those guys on the docks heard that I was now part of a profession that asked people to labor for nothing, they'd laugh in their lunch buckets - then probably shut The Huffington Post down. Doesn't the "progressive" agenda, much touted on their pages, include a living wage?
We could be left with a snark brigade, sniping at the remaining dailies in their pajamas, never rubbing shoulders with a cop, a defense attorney or a distressed family in a Red Cross shelter after a flood.
My lament this year as we Americans celebrate Independence Day is to ask readers to see newspapers as not just another casualty in the churn of business. Sure, reporters say stupid things and write idiotic stories. Everyone stumbles. But on its best days, a newspaper is a marvel of style and wit, of small-type discoveries and large-type overstatements, a diary of our deeds.
We may still prove Jefferson's preference wrong: Perhaps a nation can function without newspapers. But it would be a confederacy of dunces.
Timothy Egan worked for 18 years as a writer for The New York Times, first as the Pacific Northwest correspondent, then as a national enterprise reporter.
All noble stuff, but I want to pick out the key passage here in case you missed it:
The Web is the future. And yet, because online advertising accounts for only about 10 percent of total ad revenue, newspapers are hemorrhaging money. In its present form, and even in best-case projections, the Web format will never generate enough money to keep viable reporting staffs afloat at some of the nation's biggest papers.That's the business model crisis, an old story by now, the millstones of capitalism crushing an outdated format. Something new will emerge, a print and Web model.
The problem is that of course newspaper reach is growing (it's called the internet, stupid, and it's free - as I have written before) but the cost to advertisers per thousand readers/visitors/call it what you will (CPM) is gold bars to peanuts when compared with the CPM for those luxury adverts in the IHT and what www.nytimes.com can charge.
And peanuts don't pay for newsrooms.
So the question is, how do you increase the CPM on the web?
Answer: you can't, in fact it's trending down.
So what do newspapers need to do?
Answer: increase the CPMs on a medium that is trending down.
The elephant in the room that no one seems willing to address, is that indeed a new business model is required for newspaper companies, but that is going to require providing, and SELLING, a print product that people, younger people WANT.
They don't, evidently, want what I call Newspaper 1.0.
So someone needs to come up with Newspaper 2.0.
And that's doable.
Question is: will it be the NYT/IHT who show the way? I think they can.
Keep the faith.