Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The future of the newspaper, without the newspaper

Hal Crowther, former Buffalo News reporter, Newspaper Guild member and veteran journalist wrote a long (very long) column on what he believes are the not-so-positive forward-thinking changes happening in our industry that threaten professional journalism's survival. Interesting read, but here's what caught our attention:

The Tribune Company, the grasping conglomerate owner that strangled the Los Angeles Times, has been entertaining a buyout offer from an "angel," Chicago real estate megabillionaire Sam Zell, who's on record saying "there is no difference" between running a newspaper and managing any other for-profit business. If that isn't irony enough, Zell's nickname is "The Grave Dancer," for his ability to spot moribund properties and exploit them profitably. How I'd relish the opportunity to lecture him on the difference between owning a newspaper and owning a mall. [Former LAT editor John] Carroll argues that these corporate leviathans are "genuinely perplexed" by journalists—"people in their midst who do not feel beholden, first and foremost, to the shareholder. What makes these people tick, they wonder. The job of any employee, as they see it, is to produce a good financial result, not to indulge in some dreamy form of do-gooding at company expense. ... Our corporate superiors regard our beliefs as quaint, wasteful and increasingly tiresome." If we believe Carroll, who ought to know, nothing we ever held sacred is safe from jungle capitalism and its harsh ideology, as we might have guessed from the awful mess the free market has made of American health care. Citing Carroll and Washington Post owner Donald Graham as his star witnesses, [Russell] Baker comes to the radical conclusion [in an Aug. 16 essay] that "free-market capitalism doesn't really work very well in the newspaper business, and if rigorously applied, tends to destroy it."

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