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  • The death of The New York Times?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Michael Hirschorn has an interesting piece in The Atlantic about the media's economic depression, where he focuses on the dim business prospects of the Times' print edition. Hirschorn asks:

    But what if the old media dies much more quickly? What if a hurricane comes along and obliterates the dunes entirely? Specifically, what if The New York Times goes out of business—like, this May?

    He notes the possibilities are slim, but not quite out of the question as the company's debt and credit woes mount while advertisers flee. And that it's really just a matter of time before the print edition, "and with it The Times as we know it," no longer exists.

    I fear Hirschorn's right. I also fear that my local New Jersey paper might not make it through to 2010. This is a daily, the Newark Star-Ledger, that I've been telling friends in recent years was certainly among the best mid-size metro dailies in the country; smart, aggressive, and intensely local. But I wonder if it will make it through the decade simply because it's virtually ad-free right now. The idea of New Jersey not having its major newspaper, to me, is frightening in terms of what it would mean to day-to-day life. And I'm not even talking about the state's famous corruption, which would be allowed to flourish even more openly if the Star-Ledger were to fold.

    According to Hirschorn's piece, newspaper like the Star-Ledger wouldn't be alone:

    In December, the Fitch Ratings service, which monitors the health of media companies, predicted a widespread newspaper die-off: "Fitch believes more newspapers and news­paper groups will default, be shut down and be liquidated in 2009 and several cities could go without a daily print newspaper by 2010."

    As another quick example, I have doubts that the New Haven Register will be publishing twelve months from now.

    Still, it would be one thing for Connecticut to lose the Register. It would be quite another for everyone to lose the Times, the most important news gathering outlet in the world.

    As Hirschorn notes, the current plight is mostly because of the Internet and because Times' readers online don't pay for the newspaper and advertisers won't pay that much to reach those readers at nytimes.com. Hirschorn estimates that if the Times had to rely solely on web advertising, the newspaper would have to lay off 80 percent of its newsroom staff, thereby decimating the operation.

    Where Hirschorn loses me though (and he's not alone on this; lots of online commentators seem to subscribe), is his hope that maybe a smaller, more nimble web-based Times could find its niche. Or that it could "resemble a bigger, better, and less partisan version of the Huffington Post."

    Look, I love the blogosphere (and the Huffington Post), and journalism potential the Internet holds. I love the blogosphere so much I'm writing a book about it, which I need to finish so it will be out in the spring. I think blogs have changed both the politics and the press in hugely important ways in the last four years.

    But I don't buy the notion that maybe blogs or upstart online news sites could replace gigantic news operations like the New York Times and the extraordinarily important work it does each day. (Even though, as a critic, if I wish it did a better job with its final product.) I just think people are being naive if they think blogs or some Internet collective could do what the Times does and that, in the end it wouldn't be that big of a deal if the Times ceased to exist in the form it has for the last century.

    Hirschorn concludes:

    Ultimately, the death of The New York Times—or at least its print edition—would be a sentimental moment, and a severe blow to American journalism. But a disaster? In the long run, maybe not.

    I disagree. The death of the Times as we know it would be a disaster. And it would be a man-made disaster caused by the Internet.

    P.S. I also have trouble with Hirschorn's suggestion that, in this current, dismal media/economic environment, some star Times reporters and pundits could actually make a better living striking out on their own on the Internet.

    Their current jobs, featuring beefy six-figure salaries, paid vacations, travel, health benefits and the prestige of working for the Times, could be easily replicated as "brands of one" online?

    I just don't see it.

  • Will the media derail health care reform?

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    The Century Foundation's Niko Karvounis has a must-read piece warning that the news media could "derail health care reform":

    Policy can get pretty complicated; so the public will rely on the media to help it navigate the ins and outs of the issue.

    ...

    Unfortunately, reporters aren't health care policy experts. In fact, they rarely ever talk about the issue. In a December report, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that, out of 3,513 health news stories in newspapers, on TV and radio, and online between January 2007 and June 2008, health care policy made up less than 1 percent of news stories and just 27.4 percent of health-focused stories.

    ...

    history shows that when health care reform efforts are actually under way, the media ignore policy in favor of more sensational stories.

    During President Bill Clinton's efforts at health care reform in the 1990s, for example, media reports disproportionately focused on politics rather than policy. In their 1998 book Politics, Power, and Policymaking: The Case of Health Care Reform in the 1990s, Missouri State University professors Mark Rushefsky and Kant Patel found that that in 1993 and 1994 -- the height of public debate over Clinton's plan -- the New York Times reported just 257 stories about policy considerations (proposed reforms and solutions, analyses of options) and a whopping 549 on politics (personalities, disagreement, partisanship). When the nation's health care system was at stake, spats received more coverage than substance.

    There's more.

  • NYT can't find any journalists to quote in an article about journalism

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Ethan Bronner in the Times reports on how the Israeli government has banned journalists from entering Gaza to report on Israel's invasion or the previous bombing missions. The issue has been a hotly debated one in recent days and seems central to the question of covering international conflicts.

    Yet amazingly, the Times does not include a single quote from anyone at the Times itself--an editor or correspondent--regarding the Gaza ban and how it impacts their efforts to try to cover the conflict. In fact, the Times article doesn't quote any journalists in the region about the ban. The article simply references a statement issued by the foreign press association.

    Last night, CNN's Anderson Cooper also reported on the Gaza ban and, quite logically, he interviewed journalists in the region (including those who work for CNN) to get their opinion. For some reason the Times had no interest in interviewing journalists for an article about journalism.

    The Times did however, quote four separate Israeli government officials.

    BTW, if Howard Kurtz thinks the ban on journalists in Gaza is such a big deal, as he claims today it is in his online column with a passing reference, than why doesn't he write about it for the Washington Post newspaper? To date, the Post has not published a single news article about the ban.

  • CBS' Harry Smith: "I'm still not satisfied that we served any public good" by hosting Coulter

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Of course they didn't.

    More from Smith: "The thing is, there are things she says that have a real place in our ongoing political conversation in terms of issues of importance to everybody."

    Ok. Name one.

    Smith: "The point I was trying to make to her was that if she was more serious, she would be taken more seriously."

    What Ann Coulter understands and Harry Smith does not is that Coulter is taken seriously. She is taken seriously by Harry Smith and CBS, who provide her a national television platform from which to sell her books and peddle her sleaze and lies.

    And that reflects on Harry Smith and CBS.

  • Time for another blogger ethics panel

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    To discuss the work of former Laura Bush flack and Los Angeles Times blogger Andrew Malcolm, who wrote glowingly about Laura Bush this week while failing to inform readers that he used to work for her. Oh my.

    Meanwhile, Ezra Klein suggests we need yet another blogger ethics panel to address a different LA Times editorial miscue this week.

  • Still waiting for the Rightroots movement, cont'd

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Conservatives were anxiously awaiting this week the debut of a new group blog that's supposed going to change the way people think about pop culture. No really. And it must be a big deal because Howie Kurtz invited the blog's founder, Andrew Breitbart, onto CNN to hype the site even before the blog went live!

    It's called Big Hollywood and it's where lots of (unknown) right-wingers congregate and discuss how rotten and evil and unpatriotic movie studios are. (Early BH theme: The war on terror has been a success!) The site's been up for less than two days and already the anti-Hollywood topic feels like it's been beaten to death. The coming months should be just fascinating.

    And conservatives still wonder why the Rightroots movement online has so little political influence as compared to the liberal blogosphere?

  • LA Times ignores Harry Reid's denial, cont'd

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Former Laura Bush flack and LA Times blogger Andrew Malcolm returned to the topic of Sen. Harry Reid and how people now think he's biased against blacks. And why do they think that? Because of people like Malcolm.

    Over the weekend, as CF noted, Malcolm hyped a nasty Chicago Sun-Times article, leaked by Blago sources, that pretty much suggested Reid insisted a black not be appointed to fill Barack Obama's senate seat. Malcolm thought that revelation added to the "molten stew" that was the Blago scandal.

    Again, as CF noted, Reid appeared on MTP over the weekend and categorically denied ever making that claim to Blago about black candidates. But for some reason Malcolm never found time/space to update his "molten stew" post to include Reid's unequivocal denial.

    Now in his follow-up post, Malcolm stresses that there's a "public perception" that Reid's biased against blacks. Who helped plant that perception? People like Malcolm.

  • The Drudge collapse, cont'd

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Yet more distortions. This one regarding Obama's pick to run the CIA, Leon Panetta. Here's the Drudge headline:

    Feinstein rips CIA-Panetta pick: 'I was not informed'...

    But the Los Angeles Times article Drudge links to contains no Feinstein criticism of Panetta; she doesn't "rip" him. This is the only Feinstein quote/mention in the article:

    "I was not informed about the selection of Leon Panetta to be the CIA director," Feinstein said. "My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time."

    Maybe Drudge was too distracted talking to NBC "insiders" about banning Ann Coulter for life to get the LA Times facts straight.