Thursday, June 14, 2012

In New Orleans, nostalgia is not good for journalism

Let's not cry any more about the decision of Advance Publications, a profit-driven enterprise, to reduce its newspapers in New Orleans and Alabama to publishing three days a week. It is sad for the people who were laid off, and we who love print are disappointed.

But this was inevitable. The big newspaper chains have shown little interest in adjusting to the new digital news competition. Instead they have continued to squeeze whatever they can out of print for as long as they can, prolonging the agony through layoffs rather than investing significantly in digital.

As proof of the lack of investment, Mathew Ingram points out that Advance's newspapers have awful websites, including the one for my hometown newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer. (Will it be the next one to go to three days a week?)

Old guard can't innovate

In other words, the big newspaper companies are not going to be the innovators in the digital news world, and they will not bring us the kind of aggressive public-service journalism that was possible during their fat years.

David Carr laments the loss eloquently in a piece for the Times that almost made me indulge in a bit of nostalgia. Almost. It makes for good reading but not for good thinking.

The question we all should be trying to answer is how to get the best of the old in a way that encourages aggressive investigative journalism and pays professionals a dignified wage to produce it.

The only major newspaper company to put all its chips down on digital and away from print is Digital First, which is transforming two former newspaper chains into multimedia interactive online news organizations.

Optimism for smaller organizations

Hundreds of small, digital startups are trying to fill the void left by the big dailies, which have abandoned coverage of entire geographical and subjects areas. At the moment, they have still not replaced what we've lost. Mark Meyer of Columbia University, who has compiled a database of hundreds of these organizations, notes in an analysis that many of them have no business sense and have poor prospects for survival.
Still, I am an optimist. The J-Lab has identified more than 700 nonprofit news organizations that have sprung up across the country. Given time, the new media that emerge will serve us better, I believe, because they will better reflect the variety of interests of their communities. They will be more responsive and interactive than the institutional voices of daily newspapers that dictated to us from on high.

Someday in the future I will be one of the few willing to pay, say, $25 for the luxurious experience of reading the weekly Sunday newspaper in print. I will indulge my nostalgic impulses at leisure, basking in a tactile pleasure developed over a lifetime.  But most of the world will have moved on, and the leaders of news organizations should be the ones in the vanguard. No nostalgia. No turning back.


Robert Niles: How to Make Money Publishing Community News Online
Making money Part I: Advice from Mark Briggs
You don't need all the skills to get started
How much to charge advertisers? As much as possible
More paywalls won't save journalists' jobs
Google takes magic out of advertising sales process
How I ran my newspaper monopoly
Language barrier helps publisher paywalls
How to tailor news for 4 different platforms? 'Responsive design'

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