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Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

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Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

Eschaton by Atrios (pen name of Duncan B;ack) is one of the most well established political weblogs, with big traffic and very active comment threads. Left-liberal.

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Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

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Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media. This is his blog about it.

A former senior editor at Pantheon, Tom Englehardt solicits and edits commentary pieces that he publishes in blog form at TomDispatches. High-quality political writing and cultural analysis.

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Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

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Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

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Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

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Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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March 17, 2006

Twelve Newspapers in a State of Nature

All the ex-Knight-Ridder newspapers could become active agents in their own future. Exactly what they never were when HQ was in Miami and San Jose. Q: Where is HQ now? And who is there to get orders from? Who's going to tell you: no, you can't use a newspaper for that?

Now this is more like it. New site, new statement. Save the Merc. The ultimate adventure in civic journalism…

We, leaders and residents of Silicon Valley and Santa Clara County, are concerned about the future of the San Jose Mercury News, a highly valued institution here for 155 years.

We do not want the sale of the Mercury News to lead to a smaller, less ambitious newspaper.

Without an experienced news-gathering and advertising sales staff, the quality of the newspaper’s coverage and effectiveness as an advertising tool would be diminished.

Without vibrant, in-depth reporting of valley life, residents and workers will not be as well- informed or have the information they need to engage fully in civic life.

Without a civic-minded owner, many civic, cultural and charitable groups could lose a major financial supporter.

We encourage all potential new owners of the San Jose Mercury News to preserve its excellence and learn of our community’s expectations for its daily newspaper.

Right on, Silicon Valley bigs. My only edit: “And we warn potential buyers that our expectations will be voiced loudly, clearly and often.”

Check out some of the the signers. They’re not journalists or media people. Susan Hammer, former San Jose mayor; Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group; Pat Dando, head of the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce; Don Kassing, President, San Jose State University; Tom Campbell Dean, U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business; David M. Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize winning history professor, Stanford University. And more.

Like the head of the SEC realizing the value of investigative reporting, the heads of some Silicon Valley institutions are realizing the value of the Merc’s reporting and forum.

Jump to Philadelphia, where the Daily News and the Inquirer are in the same limbo. Editor and Publisher reported it (March 15):

A former high-powered Philadelphia advertising executive has received commitments “well in excess of $100 million” to buy The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News in an ownership structure similar to the community-owned Green Bay Packers pro football team, he told E&P Wednesday.

Brian Tierney said he has lined up 20 “super-successful” Philadelphia businesspeople in an investment group ready to partner with others, including the Newspaper Guild, to buy the papers… Tierney said the group was committed to long-term ownership. “We’re looking at this as partly a good economic investment, and partly as good community involvement,” he said.

And there are other Pennsylvanians lining up bids, E & P said. (This adds a new layer onto the many in Michael Shapiro’s superb account of Inquirer history and present-day fortunes in the current CJR.)

A lawyer friend once explained to me that in any large transaction there is a moment, which might only be conceptual, and happen on paper, when the asset being transferred isn’t owned by anyone. “And for that,” he said, “you need good lawyers.”

The remarkable thing in San Jose and Philadelphia—and nine other cities where Knight-Ridder once owned newspapers that McClatchy, the new owner, doesn’t want—is that this moment is going to last for three to fourth months, the estimated time it will take to complete the larger acquisition. “We’ll sell them as groups or individually,” McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt said Monday. “We’re open to all possibilities.”

Did you hear that? All possibilities. That’s the signal to all to start generating possibilities. Do we have to spell it out for you, orphans of Knight-Ridder who still have newspapers that circulate widely and serve as local forums?

Maybe we do.

This means that in St. Paul and Duluth, MN.; Grand Forks, N.D.; Aberdeen, S.D.; Akron, Ohio; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Contra Costa, San Jose and Monterey, Calif.; Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; and Philadelphia there are newspapers that could become community-owned, locally-owned, owned by a non-profit trust, owned by an educational institution, owned by a family with a special sense of stewardship (there are some) or owned in some new combine, uninvented as of today, that incorporates the lessons of the previous era in newspaper ownership— and its contradictions.

Lovers of mystery in Philly: got one for you. In a sense the Inquirer and the Daily News aren’t owned by anyone right now. So who is actually publishing them? What “person,” if you will.

Knight-Ridder has said: we had to sell you, and we’re sorry. McClatchy has said: we’re sorry, we don’t want to own you. It’s like a sudden state of nature, where there’s just the newspaper, putting its editions out, and no social organization around it.

Shapiro on the situation in Philly in December:

It was a moment unlike any other at the Inquirer. The potential sale of the chain had, at once, left the newsroom in limbo and effectively removed Knight Ridder from the everyday business of the paper. Bennett had been freed to proceed without corporate interference.

That’s Amanda Bennett, the editor. If she felt free in December, she’s even more free now.

“For the 12 newspapers that will be sold, the uncertainty is not over, and I regret that very much,” outgoing boss Tony Ridder said in a prepared statement this week. But at the end of the week we can see that this uncertainty, which is nerve-wracking, could also be life-giving.

Uncertainty means something new and unexpected could happen. (And I suspect that behind the scenes people in Philly, San Jose and maybe elsewhere are working on just that.) It’s even possible that a new social organization for the newspaper could come about, as with the model of the Green Bay Packers. What other schemes are there? We barely know. But a newspaper makes an excellent forum for finding out. So does a blog.

Now a newspaper state of nature is a condition so rare, and so wild, that some of the people who are “in” it don’t realize how unbound they actually are. Here’s St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Dave Beal (May 14):

McClatchy faces the job of finding a qualified buyer for the Pioneer Press, one that many of us at the paper and throughout the Twin Cities hope will value good journalism enough to continue to provide worthy competition for its very own Star Tribune. Will McClatchy be up to the challenge?

McClatchy faces… Will McClatchy be…? What about St. Paul? (What about Dave Beal?) Are the people there up to the challenge of finding a qualified local buyer who gives a hoot about journalism, and about St. Paul, who might also have some business acumen? Beal speaks in a strangely passive voice, probably bred into him during the era of corporate ownership. He seems to think that all the moves will be made in Sacramento; but that is just not correct. (Save the Merc is a move, initiated by the newspaper’s staff.)

John Welbes and Jennifer Bjorhus, reporters for the Pioneer Press, showed some awareness of the state of nature. By writing about a vacuum of activity (a dog that hasn’t started barking) they imply there ought to be some.

There was little immediate buzz Monday about any local groups expressing interest in pursuing the Pioneer Press.

“It’s been almost too quiet, for whatever that means,” said Dan Foote, president of St. Paul ad agency Foote & Co. “I just hope that we’re not being complacent.”

Indeed. “The Pioneer Press’ [publisher Par] Ridder said Monday that he had received ‘no serious phone calls’ from interested buyers yet.” With no calls coming in, Welbes and Bjorhus made some calls out.

Gene Carr, chief executive of American Community Newspapers in Eden Prairie, said in an interview that he was very interested in growing his cluster of Twin Cities publications.

“Anything that comes to market we will take a serious look at, without question,” Carr said.

Carr is a player to get other players thinking: should I play? It’s basic journalism. Report into a vacuum and people will fill that vaccum if you’re onto something. “Carr wouldn’t discuss financial information but said that it would not be a stretch for the company to consider buying the Pioneer Press.”

And it’s not a stretch for any of the ex-Knight-Ridder newspapers to become active agents in their own future, which is exactly what they never were when HQ was in Miami, or San Jose. Think about it, Duluth, and Contra Costa: who is there to get orders from? Who is going to tell you: no, you can’t use your newspaper (your column) for that?

Another columnist too stunned or beaten down to see this is Diane Evans at the Akron Beacon-Journal. Instead of phoning around Akron to see who is talking about local ownership, community involvement and long term investment, or the Green Bay Packers model, she wrote about the long last days of Jack Knight, who started his newspaper empire in Akron.

Evans described what it used to be like before the money-changers entered the temple. “People believing so much in what they do that they get worked up if the results don’t meet their expectations for greatness,” she writes (March 16). “I relay this only to try to shed a small bit of light on the Knight tradition and what it has meant to so many of us.” Then like Dave Beal she goes spectatoring:

My fear is that whatever happens to the Beacon Journal in the future will be more about profit margins and less about doing the best we can for the community.

Yes, times are different. In Mr. Knight’s day, “profit margin” wasn’t even an expression you heard in the newsroom. Now it has forced the sale of a fine newspaper that continues to make money, yet not enough for a handful of investors.

Today when I hear journalists get worked up, it’s over this perversion of the Knight ideal: Instead of thinking about what more we can do for readers, we worry about taking too much away from them.

I hope for the best. Right now, we wait to see.

You wait to see? I’m sorry, but no. You get off your columnizing butt to see if there’s a Brian Tierney plus ten investors in your town. Or some better combo, a neater idea. And if there isn’t, at least write an angry column about people in Akron who won’t step up. Don’t give us hope-for-the-best, wait-and-see when you can do a lot more than that.

You can tell the people what other forms of ownership exist for successful newspapers, beyond the “likely buyers” who hypnotize the financial press, and the Knights of a golden past. You can even get involved in the events that might bring a better buyer to the fore.

What are the bosses going to do, get mad and sell you?

Back in November, Will Bunch at his Philadelphia Daily News blog Attytood wrote about an unlikely buyer. “We only see one good solution here, and it’s a long-shot — but I’m going to throw it out there. It’s clearly possible that some Knight-Ridder papers could be sold off individually. Wouldn’t it be great if the stock in a new Philadelphia Daily News Corp. were owned by the non-profit Pew Charitable Trusts?”

Actually, I don’t know that it would be great. We would have to see their plan. We would have to know their agenda. We would have to ask some good hard questions of the Pew people, who later said they weren’t in the game.

Bunch pointed out that the mighty good St. Petersburg Times (the 22nd largest newspaper in the U.S.; the Inquirer is 20th) is owned by the non-profit Poynter Institute. For smaller markets, there’s the Anniston (Alabama) Star and the Ayers Family Institute.

In both cases, an educational mission is intertwined with the newspaper’s public service creed, and business model. Where do the profits go? To the school. No one’s trying to take them out and put them somewhere else. You can get better journalism that way.

In the U.K. the Scott Trust owns the Guardian, and the Guardian is leading the way as the British press meets the Web. What does that tell you?

This state of nature is only going to last a few months, during which the social contract for newspapering could be re-written in one or more of these limbo towns. But here’s the thing. The journalism contract has to be up-for-grabs too.

Shapiro in CJR captures this. With all the cutbacks and setbacks Amanda Bennett had to recognize the end of an era: “The Inquirer could not and would not continue trying to be Philadelphia’s paper of record.” It’s similar to what Andrew Heyward of CBS News said in his PressThink post: The Era of Omniscience is Over. It’s too expensive to manufacture authority that way.

Instead, you grow your credibility by not claiming as much for the news, and then delivering big on the fewer things you do claim to do well.

“That, in turn, meant that the shrunken staff was now free from the burden of covering everything, and given that freedom, the paper would begin to be filled with the boldly conceived and written pieces that had once been its hallmark,” Shapiro writes.

Which sounds like a new social contract for the news from that newspaper. Classically, that is how a state of nature ends.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

Bob Stepno reminds me that The Day of New London, Ct. is also organized as a trust dedicated to community service.

See also Jeff Grammage in the Inquirer: Newspapers as a public trust.

Dan Gillmor (March 19): Saving the Mercury News: Could Yahoo Help? He’s a former columnist for the Merc, and knows Silicon Valley well. “Some impressive people have endorsed the Save the Merc campaign,” Gillmor says.

Missing from the list, at least so far, are members of another and I believe much more important Valley power structure, namely the technology crowd. Where are the CEOs of major corporations, venture capitalists, investment bankers and the like. Where are the Web 2.0 and 1990s superstars — the younger entrepreneurs, programmers, etc. who don’t run big tech companies but who have massive credibility with the tech world’s rank and file. Were I running this campaign, these are folks I’d pursue.

Chris Nolan of Spot-on, also a former columnist for the Merc, e-mails: “The short version is that there is no one on that the list who can get anything done in Silicon Valley. It’s a list of San Jose movers and shakers, mostly civic and political activists. No John Chambers, no Andy Grove, no John Doerr. Those folks could care less about the Merc. They read and the WSJ.

“I would support community involvement in saving the Mercury News, if the Mercury News would become a pioneer in community journalism, writes Dave Winer. “…To get people excited enough to rally behind it, they’re going to have to do something exciting.”

I agree, which is why I said in my post that “the journalism contract has to be up-for-grabs too.”

Ryan Sholin’s J-School Blog: The Mercury News, Silicon Valley, and the Future of Newspapers. Interesting.

Here’s the Los Angeles Times on the launch of Save the Merc:

The newspaper’s executive editor, Susan Goldberg, cautioned that although she appreciated the support, the situation wasn’t so dire. “We intend to continue doing great journalism.”

That kind of caution is going to get you Dean Singleton.

Tom Mangan, an editor at the Mercury News who also has a blog, says in the comments: “What a lot of folks in these towns need to understand is that they’re looking at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore local ownership to their bedrock news institution.” Agreed. He adds: “If there were to be a Poynter of the Pacific Rim, the Merc would be the place to make it happen.”

Also see Mangan’s post, Why I’m not bailing on the Mercury News.

The American Spectator: “The purchase of Knight Ridder Inc. by McClatchy Co., announced Monday, presents possibly the best opportunity to date to experiment with the next inevitable leap in journalism: jettisoning print.”

American Journalism Review on the fate of Knight-Ridder’s DC bureau after the McClatchy takeover.

And here’s the LA Times on the limbo in Philly: Feeling Like an Orphan in Philadelphia, by David Zucchino, staff writer who once worked at the Inquirer. It has this sketch of the situation:

The paper’s circulation is 357,000 daily and 715,000 Sunday; in the 1980s, it was more than 500,000 daily and 1 million Sunday. The newsroom staff has been trimmed to 425 from a peak of 721 in 1989. The operating profit margin of Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., publisher of the Inquirer and the Daily News, is about 14%, according to company insiders — compared with 16.4% for Knight Ridder and 22.8% for McClatchy.

Possible bidders for the Philadelphia papers, and the other former Knight Ridder properties up for sale, include MediaNews Group of Denver, whose chief executive, W. Dean Singleton, recently toured the Inquirer and Daily News. Several Philadelphia-area investors also are interested, according to the Inquirer.

Also in play is a bid by the Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America, which represents workers at both Philadelphia papers and eight of the others for sale. The guild is partners with Yucaipa Companies, an equity group in Los Angeles that is controlled by billionaire investor Ron Burkle, a Democratic fundraiser who has a history of working well with organized labor.

Joseph N. DiStefano of the Inquirer has an informative FAQ about the Philly newspapers’ predicament (March 18). Here’s the page for all the Inky’s Knight-Ridder sale coverage.

Jill Porter, Daily News: Telling doomsayers to shove it since 1925. Inspired.

Will Bunch of the Daily News is quite skeptical about the local buyers who have surfaced so far.

Chris Satullo, the Inquirer’s editorial page editor, in the comments here: “Let me assure you that a great deal is being thought, dreamed and done in Philly right now by people who care about the papers, the web site and about journalism.” And see his follow-up: “I just don’t see that this is game over. With the right owners and attitude, it could be game on.”

Also in comments, PressThink regular Daniel Conover has a different idea— go all-Web:

Why not get your investors together, create a business model for a great news website to go head-to-head with your troubled former KR paper? Then hang out your shingle and start hiring away its staff. Offer them what they’re making now — or better…

Start up your online news organization and kick the old paper’s ass. No, you won’t have all that print revenue, but you won’t have any of its overhead, either.

Recommended… Susie Madrak: I Heart the Daily News. Snippet… “The columnists aren’t so hot anymore (HIRE ME HIRE ME HIRE ME), but we do like their blogger. And the beat writers’ beatific, twisted humor still runs deep, like an undertow…”

They should hire her, when they get to hiring again.

McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt visits the Kansas City Star and tells the staff: “You’re the last mass medium left in this community.”

Julio Garcia, who used to work there, goes over the history of Knight-Ridder Digital. “Let’s face it; KR/D didn’t have the best decision making track record.” Read why he says that. Also see this analysis by Bill Mitchell of Poynter comparing McClatchy’s online strategy to Knight-Ridder’s.

Star-Tribune: Hefty price of Pioneer Press may rule out local buyers.

Lex Alexander comments on this post: “Could we be reaching a tipping point?”

Diane Evans of the Akron Beacon-Journal thickens the plot in the comments:

Jay, I’m going to give you news for your blog. I am part of a small group of very talented journalists, steeped in the Knight tradition, and WE ARE TRYING TO DO SOMETHING to reclaim some of the Knight legacy in a new way. You say I should get off my “columnizing butt.” Well, I’ve been busy, and so have the others working with me. We have plans that are nothing short of pioneering in our field. We’ve got the people to carry out these plans, but now we need the financing. We’ve had some success, in terms of investment, but now we need more. Any ideas? You can email me.

I wrote about some of these possibilities in November: The Main Street Strategy For Selling Knight-Ridder.

Shareholders expecting what Wall Street expects—margins of 20 percent and higher—are to be exchanged, in the Main Street Strategy, for owners who understand that at 10 percent newspapers can have excellence and longevity and make money. When critics ask: why would local owners succeed any better than current management? the answer is: they can succeed at 10 percent; Knight-Ridder executives could not.

Just came across this beautifully designed blog— a local press review for the Quad Cities area in Iowa. QC Media Review, started by three local journalists.

From Fort Wayne—where one of the 12 McClatchy orphans is published—comes Fort Wayne Observed, which recently published Nancy Nall’s essay and extended report: What’s black and white and troubled all over? The newspaper industry’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad year. Aside from the quotes from me, there’s a lot of good stuff in her overview of the troubles.

The model for all such “city media” sites is LA Observed.

Posted by Jay Rosen at March 17, 2006 1:48 AM   Print


Excellent, Jay. It's so simple as to illicit a "Duh, why didn't I think of that?" Who'd a thunk that local deep pockets might want to own the local paper? Back to the future.

Posted by: Terry Heaton at March 17, 2006 9:16 AM | Permalink

Jay, you are so right. This is a big opportunity for people who live in the communities with papers still on the block to do something amazing.

I suspect that most of the papers make money, and that they might be an even better investment if they were pulled out of the corporate profit-making scheme, and refocused on local news that matters to readers.

I think the big question is whether the editors in place can shift their notion of what's valuable and important. For example, when was the last time a skilled and experienced reporter got cover local news? Most moves like this take the skilled reporters farther away from the communities and closer to bigger government. They join a pack of other skilled reporters chasing a governor, or president, rather than covering news that closely affects people's real lives.

When I was at the Hartford Courant, they tried this as a way to increase circulation. It worked but it was very expensive. Plus, the minute a local reporter began to shine, the reporter and editors began thinking of how to take the reporter off local news and into some specialty or into the Statehouse.

I think the future of newspapers might be in changing that mindset, in applauding great local news coverage, and seeing that as the goal, rather than a stepping stone for reporters.

Posted by: Jenny D at March 17, 2006 9:25 AM | Permalink

AS a former resident of Little Rock, who watched the long slow demise of Pulitzer Prize winning Arkansas Gazette after sale by the Patterson family to Gannett, followed by insufficient profit, beaching and burning for the iron (sale to the hated cross-town rival Democrat), whatever you can to do assure continuing local ownership is absolutely necessary for a good paper. I now live in Tampa, and believe the St. Pete Times is the best example of a local newspaper.

Posted by: Jim Shirk at March 17, 2006 10:28 AM | Permalink

Dear Jay,

Thank you for writing this and making reference to a column I wrote for the Akron Beacon Journal. Jay, I'm going to give you news for your blog. I am part of a small group of very talented journalists, steeped in the Knight tradition, and WE ARE TRYING TO DO SOMETHING. We are working to reclaim some of the Knight legacy in a new way. You say I should get off my "columnizing butt." Well, I've been busy, and so have the others working with me. We have plans that are nothing short of pioneering in our field. We've got the people to carry out these plans, but now we need the financing. We've had some success, in terms of investment, but now we need more. Any ideas? You can email me at

Diane Evans

Posted by: Diane Evans at March 17, 2006 10:38 AM | Permalink

The problem with buying a newspaper, whether you're a publicly traded corporation or a group of civic-minded investors looking to create a non-profit news operation, is that you're buying a bunch of 20th century overhead.

A traditional investor will buy up a devalued property like an unwanted newspaper at a discount, then run all the profit out of it (and yes, even "failing" newspapers still turn out good margins). When the profits are gone, they'll shut down the operation and sell off the assets. This is capitalism as an extraction industry, and it isn't conducive to good journalism.

The problem for those who might wish to set up a civic-minded journalism foundation is that to get the infrastructure they want (editors and reporters and photographers and institutional knowledge and connections and archives and access and talent), they have to buy up a bunch of expensive stuff that has nothing to do with journalism.

How much of your purchase price covers the cost of classified advertising departments that are going to have to be overhauled or downsized? Or decaying physical plants? Or, for that matter, presses and trucks?

And if you're a non-profit, community-first, quality-journalism outfit, do you really want to be in the printing business? If you buy the newspaper, you are. Plus you'll get all the union relationships and rules. You'll have purchased a change-resistant institution, and you'll inherit all its existing internal problems. Have a nice day.

So what about this: Why not get your investors together, create a business model for a great news website to go head-to-head with your troubled former KR paper? Then hang out your shingle and start hiring away its staff. Offer them what they're making now -- or better. If it's a union town, work with the Guild. Hire the best people and leave the hacks and stuffed suits in their musty holes. Hire their good web people and their brightest advertising account managers and business people. If the new owners are in the extraction business, they won't compete on salary.

Start up your online news organization and kick the old paper's ass. No, you won't have all that print revenue, but you won't have any of its overhead, either. Lease some office space, rent some servers, pay salaries and benefits. You can get by on less, because you're only paying for your core operation and you don't have shareholders demanding double-digit returns every quarter.

Then, six months later, work out a deal with the new owner of the old paper. Offer to provide them content for their print product. Become a contractor instead of competitor.

In essence, the newspaper's job would be to edit for print the independent web content you sell them.

If the newspaper's new ownership starts abusing the content your web-first reporting staff provides, then refuse to renew the contract. No more kow-towing to the bean counters.

What I'm suggesting is that we let journalism be about journalism. Not printing.

And if you just can't imagine what a successful online-first business model might look like, feel free to contact me. I've got a few ideas.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 17, 2006 11:11 AM | Permalink


Jay is urging me to reveal more about the new venture I mentioned in an earlier post, involving a group of journalists trying to do something. Jay says it will be good for business if I tell more. (Sure, sure. Whose business? His or mine?)

Actually, Jay may be right. He and I had a very nice phone conversation a little while ago. For the moment, I'll give a hint: What we're planning is entirely Web-based, and it borrows from John S. Knight's notion of building communities. As for the full scoop, that will be reserved for the Akron Beacon Journal when the time is right.

Diane Evans

Posted by: Diane Evans at March 17, 2006 11:49 AM | Permalink

It's interesting that it took a financial/ownership crisis to really shake out some innovative ideas, some new owners, some alternatives. But isn't that always the case? It's always about the money, as Woodward and Bernstein learned.

Posted by: Jenny D at March 17, 2006 12:27 PM | Permalink

Just a few more thoughts, having to do with the value of having serious Web-based journalism in the future.

First: In a previous post, I made a really stupid grammatical error that I simply overlooked before hitting the Post key. I had no way to correct it, other than by calling Professor Rosen. If it is not corrected, I will left to feel embarrassed. (I trust the fix will be made.) Regardless, in a traditional news operation, everything goes through an editing process. That is necessary for the sake of accuracy, reliability and credibility. So often on the Web there are few or no checks and balances - even in a forum such as this, hosted by New York University. It is also why traditional newspaper values need to be applied to Web reporting in the future.

Second point: As a journalist, I wouldn't think about publishing information about someone, or worse yet drawing a conclusion about someone, without first checking with that person. That is basic to responsible journalism. Here in this blog, an obviously insightful college professor suggested that I, Diane Evans, should get off my behind and do something more than whine in a column. The fact is that I have been working incredibly hard with a group of others on a new venture that does represent an alternative. Professor Rosen never contacted me in advance, or I would have shared this information with him. I can tell you one thing: The content on the new Web site we are planning will be reliable. Good journalism requires the hard work of checking facts. It's not as simple as shooting off opinions. Our new venture will be committed to good journalism.

Diane Evans

Posted by: Diane Evans at March 17, 2006 12:50 PM | Permalink

What a lot of folks in these towns need to understand is that they're looking at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore local ownership to their bedrock news institution.

If they pass it up, another chain'll come in and milk their hometown paper dry. Once it's gone they'll look back on this little moment in time and wish they'd have done something.

I'm proud to see my co-workers at the Merc stepped up -- a Web site is a good start, but well-meaning statements will not purchase a newspaper worth hundreds of millions of dollars. That takes contacts, and capital, and most of all, leadership and determination.

If there were to be a Poynter of the Pacific Rim, the Merc would be the place to make it happen.

Posted by: Tom Mangan at March 17, 2006 1:25 PM | Permalink

Far out.

So, to pull back just a hair:

1. Craigslist undermines traditional newspaper advertising revenue by offering the same for free.

2. Blogs and Alt-press websites (and even newspaper websites) provide outside sources of information, harming subscriptions by offering the same for free.

3. Bottom line of corporate-controlled print media is damaged to the point where corporate control may no longer make sense ... to the corporation, that is, whose bottom line pursuit is not to provide worthy news content, but to show annual revenue growth on the bottom line.

4. Corporations begin to unload unprofitable newspapers -- leaving them in a "state of nature" in which they are free from corporate constraints on content.

5. Jostled loose from the corporate tree, newspapers are free to go back to work for and in the public interest.

It sure looks like this may be a picture of the Internet -- in several ways -- subverting not only the "mainstream press" as far as content is concerned, but subverting corporate control over the flow of information, by making the business of flowing information less profitable.

Craigslist leading to the break-up of a long trend toward media consolidation? The disestablishment of corporate hegemony over the printing press?

That is downright revolutionary.

Could be another important chapter in how the Internet saved democracy.

Posted by: Richard B. Simon at March 17, 2006 3:34 PM | Permalink

Regardless, in a traditional news operation, everything goes through an editing process. That is necessary for the sake of accuracy, reliability and credibility. So often on the Web there are few or no checks and balances - even in a forum such as this, hosted by New York University. It is also why traditional newspaper values need to be applied to Web reporting in the future.

Yes, everything goes through a pre-publication editing process -- and even then, we get things demonstrably wrong. This doesn't even count the sins of ommission that go on every day. Nor does it address the fact that readers don't find us particularly reliable or credible despite our best efforts. But OK.

I'm all for applying the best of our journalistic values to the Web. But if the thought here is that "traditional newspaper values" (prepublication controls, one-way communication, non-transparent gatekeeping, trust-us "news judgment" and other print-pub traditions) are somehow the solution for web-based journalism, then I disagree.

Every technology offers unique opportunities and risks, and when I hear newspaper people (like myself) talking about how much better print pubs are because we have editors and standards, I get an enormous headache.

The goals of accuracy, fairness, context and timeliness require different policies for a print pub than they do for an electronic publication that can be changed on the fly. You don't get great web journalism by imposing newspaper controls on it.

As for stupid grammatical errors, we all make them. Don't sweat it. In the new forums, its your ideas that count.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 17, 2006 5:06 PM | Permalink

Those stupid grammatical errors: In the new forums, it's your ideas that count.

Posted by: David Crisp at March 17, 2006 6:41 PM | Permalink

Thanks a lot, Terry, Jenny.

So often on the Web there are few or no checks and balances - even in a forum such as this, hosted by New York University.

No checks and balances? You just corrected me on my own blog, and criticized me for not checking with you, Diane. So where do you get "no checks and balances?"

And where's the interface at the newspaper site where I can correct what was complacent and nostalgic in your column at the Akron Beacon Journal?

Tom Mangan: I couldn't agree more. Good to hear from you, too.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 17, 2006 7:13 PM | Permalink

Those stupid grammatical errors: In the new forums, it's your ideas that count.

Ha! Perfect!

Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 17, 2006 8:20 PM | Permalink

Appreciate the energy and feeling behind Jay's original post. Let me assure you that a great deal is being thought, dreamed and done in Philly right now by people who care about the papers, the web site and about journalism.

But let's not abandon journalistic skepticism and logic in service of a inspiring oration. If one were a Philadelphian and knew a little more about the history of those being styled as a "Green Bay Packer model," one would have as much trepidation as hope about this particular group, which is one of several groups looking to craft a bid.

And remember: This is an auction, not a charitable donation by McClatchy. The company is interested in reaping maximum cash for the assets it's selling, to reduce the debt load from the KR deal. So to buy a Merc or a Philadelphia Newspapers Inc. you have to win the auction. Which means you have to raise hundreds of millions, through the equity markets and/or through debt. Funny thing about the people who finance such deals: They have this bizarre notion that they should get a return on their investment. And they have little patience for high minded discourse about the future of journalism.

What you hope is that you can find someone who will seek to maximize return through building the value of the journalism company over time, rather than extract it quarter by quarter.

It's doable. It's possible to do deals for these papers that will produce returns to satisfy a certain type of investor, and still leave space and capital to experiment, innovate and rebuild community connection.

But it's hard (god, I sound like W.!), it takes time and is more likely to happen out of sight of friendly kibitzers, than in public view.

So everyone should be patient. This could be good. It could be a disaster. We're doing what we can as journalists to make it the former. One week will not tell the tale.

Chris Satullo
Inquirer Edit Page Editor

Posted by: Chris Satullo at March 17, 2006 8:57 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Chris. I suspected as much. It was too quiet, so I figured there must be stuff happening away from public view. Some of my more strenuous comments were really about other orphaned cities, not Philly.

I hope I'm not under too many illusions about how hard it is to get this done. I guess the most likely scenario is purchase by a Gannett or a Singleton, or a profit-harvesting private capital firm-- the same possibilities floated for Knight-Ridder itself.

But there's nothing to say about those options. They aren't worth a PressThink post because there's no new life there, just slow death. All the same, we'll try to keep our expectations in check, and remember just how out-of-reach the price tag is here.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 17, 2006 9:51 PM | Permalink

Hey, Chris.

Long time, no see.

You make a good point. Even in this market, it takes a ton of money to acquire a Philadelphia Inquirer, and another ton (or one helluva of a credit line) set aside to carry on until revenue can somehow be re-aligned with content.

Here's hoping you guys find someone (or several someones) who is not in the extraction biz, but in the building biz.

But, as you say, that takes "a certain type of investor" -- a patient one, who is willing to "leave space and capital to experiment, innovate and rebuild community connection."
Frankly, I don't know who that might be, since I've been away from Philadelphia for a while now.

But I do know that there is ample local capital right there in your backyard that is burning a lot of holes in a lot of pockets -- and that Gary Pruitt of McClatchy has no clue as to the burgeoning demographic profile that makes Philadelphia and its environs a bet worth making.

So go get 'em, son. And best of luck.


Posted by: Steve Lovelady at March 18, 2006 12:59 AM | Permalink

Brian Tierney! Hah! What sweet irony. The leading Republican fundraiser in Philadelphia arranging for a bail out of the Inquirer. If that deal goes through, expect an exodus of journalistic "talent" from Philadelphia.

Is it just me, or is there also something ironic about a group in San Jose setting up a WEB SITE to advocate not making changes to a NEWSPAPER? You can't make this stuff up.

Finally, what's the difference between a national holding company and a group of local investors running a capital intensive operation like an old newspaper. Hint. Access to capital. Result. Local newspaper pays more in capital costs, balance sheet is weakened, declining market has greater impact, newspaper cuts costs. Final result? Philadphelphia, San Jose, etc are left with cheap freebie sheets with the names of former newspapers. Savy investors thank God they bailed out soon enough, local investors get taken for a ride by the big city boys, and eveyone goes on reading their news on the internet.

Face it people, The Metro is the newspaper of the future. (At least it reports the news, instead of creating it!)

Posted by: Jake at March 18, 2006 10:06 AM | Permalink

Hello Jay:

Could this be a wave of the future. Can local ownership compete with natinoal advertising pressure, or can they work together. Does this mean fewer journalists or more journalists. i think it is time there was more international news in America's newspapers. People should be able to figure out where Iraq is or where Israel is, and to understand what is going on in the rest of the world.
Living in Paris and going to Israel and Palestine, I can tell you, a lot is going on.


Brett Kline
journalist, Paris, France

Posted by: Brett Kline at March 18, 2006 11:05 AM | Permalink

Here is an edited version of what I wrote at

When McClatchy kicked the papers like the San Jose Mercury and Philadelphia Inquirer out of bed, it not only kicked out the papers it also kicked the communities and cities out of bed too.

Here is what it says in its own press release:

As part of the transaction, McClatchy intends to divest 12 Knight Ridder newspapers, mainly located in cities that do not fit the company's longstanding acquisition criteria, chiefly involving growing markets...

I know these cities. I was born in Wilkes-Barre, worked in St. Paul, visited Duluth, and lived in Allentown, not too far from Philadelphia. Philadelphia, surprises me the most because when I visited last year with my kids, who are in their twenties, they went out with friends and really had great things to say about the city. Still McClatchy kicked it out of bed. No growth, no McClatchy.

I agree with Daniel Conover above who says it makes no sense to buy the whole operation as a nonprofit, but just set up an alternative, 21st Century newsroom. It would be heavy on the web, hire away the best of each paper's staff and kick the butt of the old institution, without its financial debts and without its institutional debts to the past.

Remember, McClatchy has turned its back on the citizenry with its no growth, no McClatchy investment. The citizens should say fine, keep your papers and try to sell them without us, your audiences. Neither the staffs nor the citizenry need show any allegiance to these 12 newspapers or their owners. None.

Imagine communities and news folks being reborn together, finding a 21st-Century news operation where the community and journalists find a real common agenda, begin a community conversation, and work together to make these "no growth cities," great places to live and work.

I know this sounds like pie in the sky, but look what Craig Newmark could create with almost no staff and no money. Compare craigslist to the classified operations of all those 12 papers.

There is a hell of a lot of money floating around. Last September in its own story, the Inquirer reported that the Inquirer and Daily News' parent company Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.'s revenues " totaled a little more than $500 million last year...Advertising sales constitute about 80 percent of the revenue..." and it estimated the total profits were about $50 million.

Here are more Philadelphia numbers garnered from the Knight Ridder website: The papers have a combined circulation of about 500,000 weekdays and 748,000 on Sunday. That’s almost 4 million papers a week. The Knight Ridder corporate website says its readership of the combined papers is about 1,553,900 daily; 1,844,200 Sunday. That's a lot of eyeballs.

Not long ago, I wrote of using an open source, think tank model to help reinvent journalism. Now the time is right to help these newspaper staffs and citizens see an alternative way of doing business, while improving journalism and community life. Give me a high traffic platform and I will get it started. Jay, how about having your nephew Zack at CivicSpace provide us the format and how about getting an open source Linux like idea-creation started here and now. I will pledge a month of my free time to help organize things. Who else is in? As Jay has pointed out this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Lots of thinkers working together openly should be able to come up with a rapid-fire workable plan.

Posted by: Leonard Witt at March 18, 2006 11:06 AM | Permalink

Len: I'm not exactly sure what you mean, a rapid-fire workable plan for ...what, exactly?

I can tell you there's a whole lot of people who are interested in creating a new kind of local news organization, Web-based, blending social networks with the discipline of professional journalism.

I've had a feeling for a while that it will happen (still do, only stronger) just don't know where it will be tried, or how. Daniel Conover has a lot of it down, though, so he'd be one person I would hire.

I don't see any great barrier to doing the "new" newsroom part, but I am not saying it would be easy to do. (Not easy, hard.) The barrier is in how to finance it, which means how to get the advertisers to come with... or some other means. If you invent the new kind of news organization, and it works amazingly well to produce good coverage and commentary, but it's not sustainable, you haven't invented anything.

Right now, the most likely way it will be tried is when the first daily newspaper makes a break for it, drops print production as the standard, goes all-digital, and tries to pull its advertisers with. (See my last post for more.) The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has been mentioned as candidate. For a while, it was that could have gone that route.

What would excite me is kinda sorta (but not exactly) what Mike Phillips said last year: "There are days when I’m tempted to gather a few friends, move into a nice town with a newspaper run by one of the slower-moving publishers, start up something that’s digital and citizen-driven and make a nice living picking the big guy’s pocket."

I like the image of a raid on a complacent publisher. Picking a fat juicy target is key. Then you go in there with the immediate goal of taking away the local news franchise online. Meaning: you become the destination of choice for those seeking the latest news and commentary, by being better, faster, livelier, more interactive, less generic.

On the other hand, you can't just "go in there." You have to know the town and be of it.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 18, 2006 11:41 PM | Permalink

On the other hand, you can't just "go in there." You have to know the town and be of it.

Exactly, exactly, exactly. The talent, knowledge, memory and connections have been basically locked down by the dominant papers. Even if all this McClatchy sell-off does is to shake that dominant position in 12 cities, maybe that destabilization will be enough to encourage some healthy competition.

Lords knows most towns could use it. Local competition is bad for the guys who want to dictate advertising rates, but it's great for journalists -- because in a competitive market, your skills and knowledge are worth something (as opposed to a media monopoly, in which you're worth what they say you're worth).

So if the instability means that the best staffers from the former KR papers are more willing to move, that's a huge advantage to a start-up. Most towns have some kind of freebie indie paper, and many are awfully good. But rarely are these start-ups able to steal the stars from the dominant sheet.

My gut tells me there's a lot of great journalistic talent around this country that's just stuck shoveling shit in moribund institutional newsrooms. What would happen if all that talent was allowed to reach its potential?

Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 19, 2006 12:29 AM | Permalink

I think you're right, Dan. The play has to be for the local talent journalistically, but also people who could be good at it who aren't on anyone's staff, or who'd just help the operation in some way. You also have to go in and talk to some advertisers who are fed up, and get their commitments to switch IF you can get to a certain level of user loyalty.

P.S. This NY Times article on the Knight-Ridder sale is subheadlined "Media Frenzy." But I can't find the frenzy it refers to. Can any of you?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 19, 2006 1:11 AM | Permalink

That really is a bad headline.

Knight Ridder's problem (one of them) is that there was no frenzy.

It reluctantly put itself up for sale, and only one serious bidder took the bait -- and even then only contingent on reselling off a third of the company.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at March 19, 2006 11:25 AM | Permalink

Much of this sounds interesting, but it comes down to this question: How will McClatchy pick its buyers for the 12 papers?

Group A offers $100 million (I'm just making up a number for purposes of illustration) for the San Jose Mercury News. Under its financial plan, it can offer its investors a 10 percent return and do good journalism.

Group B offers $200 million. Its financial plan calls for a 20 percent return, cutting staff and expenses at the paper, etc.

Which group is McClatchy going to pick?

It has to pick Group B, unless it wants to make itself vulnerable to shareholder lawsuits.

Posted by: Dexter Westbrook at March 19, 2006 11:53 AM | Permalink

What is your point, Dexter, and what rhetorical purpose is served by treating us like morons deal-wise, people who would not know that a higher price would win out?

Really, the de-bunking of what you imagine to be the idealists here is insufferable sometimes.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 19, 2006 12:08 PM | Permalink

Jay you say: I'm not exactly sure what you mean, a rapid-fire workable plan for ...what, exactly?

What I mean is a plan that answers the questions that are being asked here including: 1) financing 2) sustainability 3) quality journalism 4) delivery 5) citizen, audience interest. Questions that each of us can’t answer individually, but which I believe collectively can be answered relatively quickly.

What you do here is the perfect of example of how it can be done. You put out a kernel of an idea, then people come in, or you search them out, and they respond to your kernel. However, what is left undone is a rebuilding of your kernel. You or someone else should refold the best of these ideas back into your kernel to make an idea that evolves into a workable solution.

Let’s take one of the questions. 1) Financing -- Anyone who has read my stuff knows that I am not an expert in the field. But I do know that the Philadelphia Daily News and Inquirer’s revenues are some $500 million a year; that they sell, and I keep thinking my numbers must be off on this, but I think they are correct, about 200 million individual newspapers annually, using 2004 numbers. I would then get someone like Phil Meyer, who knows something about newspaper financing, to help make more sense of those numbers, and how they might be transferable into a paperless newspaper. Others can then vet his ideas.

I also see that a year’s subscription to the Inquirer is $275. So what if you told the subscribers, you will give each two hand-held digital readers with which to read their news and with the other $75 you will make each subscriber an investor in the company. But you will no longer get a hard copy paper. We would need someone like David Winer or the MIT guys who are building the $100 computers to let us know what might indeed be possible. Other experts could give us information on what might motivate subscribers to make the move.

Of course, lots of other questions would be raised, some like Dexter’s which would force us to find more answers. Remember the mantra of the open source software folks was release early and release often. Don’t worry about the bugs, the users will identify them and the hackers, in this case the worldwide PressThink audience, will help answer them. At least that’s the initial pool, eventually probably a smaller self-selecting group would do the lion’s share of the thought work.

You and your core of volunteer editors, will identify the best ideas and the best thinkers and keep going back to them for more information. Together we will have a more perfect journalism thought out more deeply and more rapidly than can be accomplished by any small proprietary, closed shop. All of which sounds like pie in the sky, but that’s what Microsoft thought until the open source Linux crowd produced something that anyone earlier would have thought impossible.

Posted by: Leonard Witt at March 19, 2006 2:02 PM | Permalink

More on the rapid-fire plan:

I am not sure what the final plan would like, the collective thought would help determine that. It could vary from:

1. A for-profit plan that closely resembles the present Knight Ridder set up, but in which journalism is equally as important as financing.

or to the other extreme:

2. A plan that produces an all new nonprofit entity that makes journalism all important and uses financing as only a means to that end.

The goal is to collectively figure out what might actually work over the long haul and best serve the audience and the democracy. Personally, I like plan number 2.

Posted by: Leonard Witt at March 19, 2006 2:45 PM | Permalink

Dexter, suppose I am the $200 million buyer and I need to slash a ton to make my return. Show me the business plan that says I can do that and still produce at product that will give returns?

You've set up kind of a silly scenario with this. Here's a better way to look at it:

Suppose there are two buyers. One offers $100 million cash. Another offers $120 million, with $75 million cash and the rest to be paid over several years as the owners slash and burn to up the return. Which would you take?

There are lots of better ways to consider the situation.

Also, I need to o gback to Diane Evans. I almost wrote this earlier, but I needed some time to think about it.

Diane, get a grip! The people who write and comment here are more interested in seeing your newspaper succeed than perhaps anyone else except its staff.

What you don't see is that your paper is failing in its current state and organization. If it weren't, it wouldn't be in this spot. And neither the beloved Knights and Ridders, nor the McClatchys know what to do with your newspaper besides sell it.

And maybe that's actually a good thing for you. Finally, you'll be out from under the deadening institution that is a "corporate newspaper" and be free to reinvent and grow and become a product for the future, rather than one from the past.

But for starters, you have to start listening, and stop talking. You have to understand that the whole world doesn't need to ask your permission to write you about your work. And that your ideas are far important than your typos.

I'm really hoping something good comes out of this. Please stop fighting people like Jay Rosen, and start seeing what remarkable resources he could bring to you and your paper through his writings.

Posted by: Jenny D at March 19, 2006 3:14 PM | Permalink

I wonder if there are any software millionaire fans of Edward Bellamy, or from New London, Conn.?

Bob in Knoxville

Posted by: Bob Stepno at March 19, 2006 3:29 PM | Permalink

We would need someone like David Winer or the MIT guys who are building the $100 computers to let us know what might indeed be possible.

I can't predict what a Dave Winer-owned news site would be or do, but wouldn't you love to watch it unfold?

Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 19, 2006 5:09 PM | Permalink

Dan Gillmor just posted this: Saving the Mercury News: Could Yahoo Help? He's a former columnist for the Merc, and knows Silicon Valley well.

Chris Nolan of Spot-on, also a former columnist for the Merc, e-mails: "The short version is that there is no one on that the list who can get anything done in Silicon Valley. It's a list of San Jose movers and shakers, mostly civic and political activists. No John Chambers, no Andy Grove, no John Doerr. Those folks could care less about the Merc. They read and the WSJ."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 19, 2006 8:30 PM | Permalink

What a refreshing, idealistic, and necessary thread. Thank Gary Pruitt for putting parlor conversations about the future of jouranalism on steroids. Here's a suggestion: The Media Giraffe Project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has convened a roundtable summit and conference for June 28-July 1 entitled: "Democracy and Independence: Sharing News and Politics in a Connected World." We've already got an evening session planned entitled: "Can media ownership make a difference?" It will explore options to the institutional-investor/Wall Street approach. Would a physical convening help? Could we turn some of this energy to ramping up that session into a full-day's discussion on Friday, June 30, entitled: "The Knight Ridder 12 -- Orphans or Pioneers?" Who's willing to majordomo such a gathering? Jay Rosen, could you do it? Len Witt? Could Diane Evans' group participate? The Newspaper Guild? RSVP here, or by email. The end of June should be just about when things are coming to a head.

Bill Densmore,
The Media Giraffe Project
Journalism Program / Communication Studies
108 Bartlett Hall / Univ. of Mass.
Amherst MA 01003
OFF: 413-577-4370 / CELL: 413-458-8001
ATTEND: "Democracy and Independence: Sharing News in a Connected World"
Conference: June 29-July 2, 2006 /

Posted by: Bill Densmore at March 19, 2006 11:06 PM | Permalink

Bill: I don't know if I am going to be in the country June 28-9; and uncertainty has kept me from getting involved in what looks like a pretty cool event. I admire what you are doing. I think it's necessary; more impressive to me: it's creative.

If I am able to make it those dates, I would be open to moderating a session having to do with civic innovation in news delivery: the new kind of local, Web-based news organization that we're all trying to spot in the mist. We know it's out there. The shape of it keeps a-changing. Still, we have enough sightings by now...

For me a lot of these numbers are too abstract. It takes $400-500 milllion to "buy" the Inquirer and the Daily News. Maybe I can grasp it, but I can't relate to it.

And putting together a deal like that is beyond my range of hearing. Chris Satullo: you have my full admiration and I wish you all the luck there is.

But lemme ask something: If I buy all the talent at the Daily News and go online with it, haven't I "bought" you for a lot less?

So, for the event... maybe it would be like: let's plan a new media guerilla action that takes over a town in the USA and inflicts better journalism on it, via the Web, via great work, via participation by the many, not just the few, in the journalism part.

How do we do that? What do we know that will help us succeed? And how is something like that sustained? Come to this session with your ideas for the guerilla action. No panels, no experts, the people formerly known as the audience are the authorized knowers. (BloggerCon model, via Dave Winer and others.)

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 20, 2006 12:14 AM | Permalink

Jenny D,

The scenario I've outlined has occurred many times in the newspaper business. Dean Singleton's papers are only one example. It works, and it would work again, if the buyer is prepared to be a managerial brute. Unfortunately, there haven't been a shortage of those.

My point is, McClatchy as a seller has a legal obligation to look after its shareholders. It will seek the best price for its papers, and it won't give a damn how those papers are run once it's divested itself of them. It doesn't have to make the choice you are suggesting. McClatchy won't care if the papers are owned by a hedge fund or the NYU journalism school, as long as its sale provides the best value for shareholders.

The community ownership idea is all well and good, but it works only if you don't have serious competition to buy a KR orphan, and the buyer is willing to accept lower returns, over the long term, on their invested capital than they could get elsewhere.

That is a tough combination to find when you're talking about the kind of money it would take to buy the Philly papers, or the San Jose Mercury News.

I'm actually more optimistic about this kind of a scenario that Prof. Rosen has outlined being workable in Aberdeen, S.D., Duluth, Minn., or Grand Forks, N.D., to give examples of papers with which I'm familiar. The papers are smaller, the sale prices are lower, the whole shebang would be less complex. Better to try something like this on a smaller proving ground than the Philly Daily News.

Another possibility for those papers is the Forum Communications Co., a family-held business in Fargo, N.D., that owns the Fargo newspaper, several others, and radio and television stations. The company CEO is Bill Marcil (pronounced mar-SEEL'), who has a track record of investing in good journalism.

I do agree, strongly, with your comment about refocusing on local news. It appears that McClatchy's takeover of the KR Washington bureau will bring more of that mind-set to the bureau, i.e. emphasis on issues that are closer to home with readers.

I'll give you an example. There's been a lot of stuff recently about the sainted KR Washington bureau, all of the sterling work they've done that's been ignored by their journalistic betters. While some of the bureau folks have been working diligently churning out stories that few people read, and that carry little influence, a paper like the Grand Forks Herald has no regional correspondent in Washington at a time when the future of its nearby Air Force base was threatened and the future viability of the region's sugarbeet industry was in question. However, the Herald's readers do have a story about all of Sam Alito's appellate court opinions! That, to me, represents misplaced priorities.

Posted by: Dexter Westbrook at March 20, 2006 12:57 AM | Permalink

Even though the numbers still boggle the mind of we mere mortals -- $450 million or more to buy the Philadelphia papers -- the more telling fact is that five years ago it would have taken double that to buy the joint.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at March 20, 2006 12:36 PM | Permalink

Well, Dave Winer certainly has some ideas:

Save the Merc?

I would support community involvement in saving the Mercury News, if the Mercury News would become a pioneer in community journalism. There are hundreds of thousands of potential journalists in the South Bay who could cover every school board, zoning commission, shareholder meeting. They could report on housing prices and gas prices, traffic patterns and other quality of life issues. How about helping us understand why mass transit doesn't better serve the area. Integrate the South Bay universities, which include some of the best in the world, with the communities.

A newly configured Mercury News would include daily reports from sister publications in Bangalore and Shanghai.

This is how news will work in the 21st Century. The South Bay would become one of the best-served metro areas in the US, after being one of the worst.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 20, 2006 7:05 PM | Permalink

Great discussion. But I'm struck by how much either/or, take sides thinking is going on. Why the urgency to declare print dead? The Inquirer, for all the darts KR and KR's critics have fired at it for years, still has reader loyalty and satisfaction numbers that most companies would kill for.

And, Steve L. is right, the city is rebounding in a major way; so what if McClatchy can't see it. Frankly, I've had my fill of working for Californians who don't understand or appreciate the market. And much of the market is rooted, traditional and loyal. They're not clamoring to kill off newspapers; they just want newspapers that do a better job.

So why not a both/and discussion. Let's learn to do a better job on the Web, both to expand the audience and to enable us to do a better job in print. Migrate to an outlook where we do our journalism first online, then reverse publish into print for the very large audience that still wants to hold the damn thing in their hands.

Obviously doing a better job involves tapping far more aggressively yet humbly into the community-building power of the Web. And it involves experimenting with multilayered forms of journalism that reinvent traditional story telling to take advantage of all the things the Web can do that ink on paper can't.

For all the grouchy, sad-sack quotes my beloved, talented colleagues in the newsroom (Yeah, this means you, Tom and Dick) love to give visiting reporters, I just don't see that this is game over. With the right owners and attitude, it could be game on.

Why couldn't an experienced journalism organization with more than 400 freaking journalists at its disposal, and a better sense of the region, its history and its issues than anyone else, figure out a way to put out a stellar print newspaper, while exploring and expanding the journalistic possibilities of the Web? Particularly since learning to love what the Web can do would lead us to find much more vivid, timely, people-rooted stuff to print.

Dan, I'd love to talk to you about what you have in mind. I just think you're premature in assuming it means moving beyond ink on paper.

KR is a corpse. So be it. I haven't a tear to shed. It's yesterday's news. If we're lucky--and no law says we will be, but no law says we can't be--we'll get a chance to build something way more interesting.

Posted by: chris satullo at March 20, 2006 10:33 PM | Permalink


You say: With the right owners and attitude, it could be game on...If we're lucky...we'll get a chance to build something way more interesting.

If you wait for luck and new owners to solve your problems, you may as well throw in the towel now. Get proactive. Get a plan going. Show the world that you, in fact, can build something way more interesting. Want help, start soliciting it from everyone here, your readers, your non readers and everyone else you can think of. If, on the other hand, it is luck you desire, pool all the newsroom's dollars and go buy some lottery tickets. The odds of winning the lottery are probably infinitely better than finding an owner who will improve YOUR newsroom; only journalists within newsrooms can be the catalysts for that kind of change.

Posted by: Leonard Witt at March 20, 2006 11:47 PM | Permalink

I just don't see that this is game over. With the right owners and attitude, it could be game on.

I agree entirely, Chris, and I'm cheering you on without hesitation. I think you are eloquent in your comments here, so thanks for that.

We should not discard the printed newspaper. Nor should we discard the possibility that all-Web has a bright future.

We agree that we need a new kind of news organization, I think.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 21, 2006 12:12 AM | Permalink


You observed: " . . . Migrate to an outlook where we do our journalism first online, then reverse publish into print for the very large audience that still wants to hold the damn thing in their hands."

Richard and Derek Anderson at, in Maine have done exactly this, on a small scale. As profiles by both the Media Giraffe Project and J-Lab show, they started in about 1968 with just a website, and got used to doing 24/7 news on the web. Only a couple of years ago did they START a couple of weekly newspapers. Now about 30% of their revenue is still from the web -- probably four times the ratio of any daily. Imagine if 30% of the Inquirer organization's revenues were coming from the web? But that's what happens when, as you suggest, you switch from being print centric to being web centric. At least that's the theory. Can it work in a metro environment? That's what we all should discuss on Fri., June 30, at the Media Giraffe Project summit with this mini-track: "The Knight Ridder 12 -- Orphans or Pioneers?" I'm still hoping Len or Jay will agree to emcee things -- but you and Richard Anderson could help, too!

Posted by: Bill Densmore at March 21, 2006 12:20 AM | Permalink

I just posted an IM Interview at I did with Philip R. Goldsmith, former managing director and deputy mayor of Philadelphia and onetime Inquirer reporter and editorial writer.

He says in part:

"Philadelphia is a city that is going through a reemergence.... If the McClatchy organization had sent some reporters here it may have come up with a different conclusion."

But he also says:

I would think that this represents an opportunity and a new start. This is not a new situation. This city had many more newspapers before. It was probably a worst situation when the Evening Bulletin folded in the early 80s. In fact, I think that contributed to the downward slide of the Inquirer. The Bulletin represented competition and without that competition, I think the Inquirer lost some of its edge. I would tell the investors to know who the market is, to have a focus and stick to it. And as I indicated before they need to make friends with the new world of technology we live in. I would put money in it if I thought the strategic focus was there and the right people were running the papers, many of whom are still at both papers.

Posted by: Leonard Witt at March 21, 2006 1:27 AM | Permalink

Dan, I'd love to talk to you about what you have in mind. I just think you're premature in assuming it means moving beyond ink on paper.

Chris, I'm sorry my words conveyed that conclusion. I was trying to suggest a low-cost tactical alternative, not write an obituary. In no way do I believe that newspapers are dead. Newsprint is just too good of a delivery medium.

But what struck me as I wrote that comment has stuck with me. Once we migrate our news reporting to a web-first format, then we'll truly free our newspapers to do what they do best: edit. I think the future of newspapers will be based on their ability to save us time, to orient us rapidly to huge streams of information.

We'll go to the Net for the timely stuff and to investigate in greater detail those things that particularly interest us. But if we treat the newspaper as a thoughtful, intelligent, snapshot summary briefing on the world, it can thrive. This isn't really want we do today, because in our minds we think that the newspaper comes first, and then the web augments it.

When you reverse that equation, the web comes first and the newspaper summarizes it. I think that once we cross that mental Rubicon, all sorts of things become possible -- even practical.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 21, 2006 12:03 PM | Permalink

The newspapers in question seem in most cases to face a need to innovate without any idea how that gets done. It seems to go with the territory. Most newspapers are about as conservative as the military and hospitals when it comes to innovation -- doesn't happen much, happens grudgingly, with great mistrust. The great weight holding all three in place seems to be the emphasis placed on doing things the way they have always been done because it's important that they get done; doing anything differently might bring the whole thing crashing down -- kill people, lose a war, don't publish.

So while overwhelming stockholder greed seems to have presented the staffs at these newspapers with a great opportunity, I'm not sure confidence can be justified in expecting the moment to be seized. The leadership in place at each newspaper essentially presided over the erosion of each newspaper, demonstrating no leadership -- no vision, no courage, no commitment, no ability to communicate a vision. The staffs at each newspaper seem by and large to have indulged in sanctimonious mopery and defensive behavior. Why should anything think this will suddenly change? There's an article making the rounds now about the demise of the Inky, it quotes the editor as saying she's relieved the last changes were so drastic because it will force a change. Does that give you the essence of the problem or what? Nothing changes until the alternative is nonexistence?

The idea of a media outlet owned by a community is pretty exciting. It's certainly more attractive than a media outlet owned by blood sucking stockholders, because the paradigm's foundation shifts from making great choking wads of money to providing a useful service. To the extent that inches us back to the reason we have a privileged existence -- freedom of the press exists because those guys who drafted the bill of rights saw a redeeming social benefit in the unobstructed flow of information and opinion -- we're better off. That's our zen.

Maybe the various shakeups will accidentally propel some crazy but effective visionary to a position of leadership at one or another of these media outlets. Stranger things have happened.

Posted by: Bill Watson at March 21, 2006 4:15 PM | Permalink

Very often, I write about things that I'm hoping will happen, or in my view should. Invariably I am told, by way of reply, that I should not expect them to happen. Which is fine because I usually don't.

It's usually the case that deep-seated trends and settled patterns win out. People go with what they know.

So I'm with you, Bill. I'm not "expecting the moment to be seized." Look at everything weighted against it. I'm expecting sales to the Singletons and Gannetts and Lee Enterprises of the world. I'm expecting a certain newsroom passivity in most of the 11 towns: hope-for-the-best, wait-and-see.

I found revealing this moment in the Inquirer's story on the "newspaper trust" solution. Why couldn't a foundation buy a newspaper and run it as a trust?

It just was not what the foundation was designed to do. And that is still the biggest problem with the idea, he said.

"The foundations that have the money to do it don't think they're in that business," [Hodding] Carter said. "And the ones that think they're in that business don't have the money to do it."

And so even though it could happen it probably won't.

It could happen that the people at the Merc have the presence of mind to say, "Save the Merc... and we'll change it into a true community newspaper for the (global) people of Silicon Valley," but what they're probably going to do is just, "Save the Merc" without the changed newspaper part. And that is pretty much what they did.

It's similar to what I told John Harris, political editor of the Washington Post: Bush changed the game on you, and while you could have changed your game in response, he knew you probably wouldn't.

This is actually a deep conflict--really a tension--in human affairs between behavior, which is predictable and falls into patterns we can try to anticipate, and action, which brings something new into the picture and is unpredictable. (It's not my distinction, but the philosopher Hannah Arendt's.)

Journalists are behaviorists in the way they look at others, and they tend to behave rather than act when they have choices about their own biz. I may write about the possibilities of action, but someone will always remind me that behavior is the norm.

Of course, they're right.

Almost every time I have tried to get a journalist to write about the alternative possibilities for newspaper ownership--local ownership, trust ownership, non-profit ownership--they say back to me how unlikely these are. That's press behavior. When we say, "Oh that is sooooooo CNN," the sooooooo is our way of calling out behavior.

Creative action is always unlikely, but it does happen. Before it does, journalists tells us how impossible it is. After it happens, they write about the genius who saw it when no one else did. If they simply reminded themselves to cover behavior and action the narrative wouldn't veer so wildly, and the news might be more credible.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 21, 2006 5:08 PM | Permalink

Jay, I have this habit of digressing into academic think, perhaps because although I was a journalist I'm becoming an academic. And it's going to happen now.

When did newspapers start to resemble what the were in the heydey of the 1960s, 1970s? You know this better than I, but I have a hunch that newspapers during the Progressive Era and Depression began to take shape, and that some of what they are now grew out of the ideas of the Progressive Era--that institutions could help people, that there was virtue in an efficient organization, and that there was expertise in doing this work.

I bring this up because a couple other organizations that took shape during the same period were public education and the US auto industry. Both of these assumed Progressive ideals, and although both also became entangled with unions, even the unions bought into the ideals. The work was basically good for country and good for people. The organization could best do the work. The people who worked there had expertise.

Newspapers seem to hold these same values.

Think of other organizational values that aren't prominent in this model: flexibility is valuable; outsiders might have better ideas; expertise is changing and must be renewed; the organization can easily be supplanted by something else; the technology of the work is not static and always changes.

So it's interesting to sit just a few dozen miles away from Detroit and watching the auto industry suffer from its belief in its invincibility. The unions can't believe it, nor can the executives. Meanwhile, the Detroit schools have lost more than 20 percent of students, as people flee an institution stuck in its past and seemingly unable to change. Both these institutions have spokespeople who remind us regularly about the virtue and importance of the work of their members.

And then I read here about newspapers, and being stuck, and about virtuous work. I wonder if the institutions that took all their cues from their early 20th century, and its hardcore belief in virtuous work and big organizations, rather than change and growth, are doomed.

Posted by: Jenny D at March 21, 2006 6:40 PM | Permalink

Bill Watson has some valuable comments:
"The leadership in place at each newspaper essentially presided over the erosion of each newspaper, demonstrating no leadership -- no vision, no courage, no commitment, no ability to communicate a vision. The staffs at each newspaper seem by and large to have indulged in sanctimonious mopery and defensive behavior. Why should anyone think this will suddenly change?"

The Philadelphia Inquirer has one advantage over the other newspapers involved in this morality play; it gone through this cycle before. (The cycle being one of rot, replaced by regeneration, replaced by rot.)
Gene Roberts -- who did institute seminal change at that wrecked institution throughout the 1970's and the early 1980's -- did it by gently but systematically and relentlessly weeding out the behavioralists and replacing them with activists, one at a time. But that took years, not months -- about 15 years, as I recall. Before he was done, Roberts had disposed of 200 or more people and hired 400 people.
As Roberts told Michael Shapiro, as quoted in Shapiro's brilliant piece in CJR about the Inquirer's current dilemma, "After all, it's your [current] staff that has given you your existing newspaper."
Now the activists that Roberts hired have grown up, taken on marriages, mortgages and looming college tuition bills, and they have become the behaviorists that they once replaced.
That -- as much as idiotic corporate mandates -- is the burden that Amanda Bennett (and Chris Satullo) bear today as they try to see their way clear to a new world.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at March 21, 2006 9:41 PM | Permalink

"And then I read here about newspapers, and being stuck, and about virtuous work. I wonder if the institutions that took all their cues from their early 20th century, and its hardcore belief in virtuous work and big organizations, rather than change and growth, are doomed."

Virtue is one of those slippery concepts. Saddam Hussein undoubtedly considers himself a virtuous man. So did Nero. My preference is to merely see the satisfying confluence of interests: We have a Constitution that institutionalizes unfettered media as necessary for the successful functioning of government; we have a certain number of otherwise unemployable folks, the hard-core journalists, who wish only to go where things are happening, find out about them, and be socially redeemed and personally fulfilled by telling others. That we get paid for it is undoubtedly a happy accident for most of us. But I don't know if that all rises to the level of a virtue or not. People do what they do because it's what, in the long run, they want to do.

Posted by: Bill Watson at March 21, 2006 9:59 PM | Permalink

Jenny: have a hunch that newspapers during the Progressive Era and Depression began to take shape, and that some of what they are now grew out of the ideas of the Progressive Era.


Most historians of the American press and academic critics familiar with their writings would say that professional journalism as we know it (projawki, for short) has its roots in the progressive era and in notions of cultural authority that won out then over older and weakening ideas.

Now it is the thinking of that era that is older and weakening.

The progressives--who could be writers, professors, activists, reporters, politicians, publicists, teachers, bureaucrats, statesmen, even president (T.R.)--believed in applying knowledge to public problems. And they thought it was possible to have "good" government if institutions were founded on good knowledge and the governors had clean intentions. Typically, they wanted sunlight reforms that would weaken the power of the machine, and strengthen the hand of the individual voter. They attacked waste and corruption in government, starting with the urban machines.

They also had a picture of the ways things worked in a modern democracy with huge complex problems to confront every day.

Joining the 1.) experts who had good data and could give knowledge-based advice; and the 2.) "progressive" public officials who believed in applying knowledge to public problems, were to be the 3.) voters who go out and equip themselves with the knowledge needed to make an independent decision election-by-election, and 4.) the schools, who would be educating people to be good citizens, the kind who sought out good knowledge, along with 5.) the press, which would shine the light on abuses of the public trust, and let the powers of publicity do their magic.

Also important is that the progressives rode to public visibility via journalism-- specifically muckraking. Lincoln Steffens was in many ways the prototypical progressive; his best known investigative journalism (The Shame of the Cities) exposed the corrupt urban machines that ruled places like New York, Philly, St. Louis and Minneapolis. The progressives had their biggest effects at the level of city government. Every town with a strong city manager and a weak mayor, or "non-partisan" elections has the progressive era to thank. The League of Women Voters is a typical outcome of the progressive mind.

In journalism, projawki's highest honor, the Pulitizer Prize for Public Service, is not a Pulitzer invention but a progressive one. All the key ideas are in there. The professionalization of journalism dates from just after this period (1890s to 1920s.)

But more important is how progressive-era ideas are the background or common sense framework of the mainstream press: the belief in experts, the idea that non-partisan is best; that notion that knowledge-is-neutral but politicians aren't; the association of "politics" with what's grubby, dirty, corrupt, closed and merely partisan; the unconscious bias toward the atomized voter; the call for reforms but never for revolution; the lionizing of exposure, and the cleansing powers of publicity-- that's just some of the legacy.

There are all kinds of problems with the progressive era's take on things, and these too were passed onto professional journalism, which eventually lost its awareness that its key ideas (its press think) were ideas--arguable ideas--that had social histories, social consequences, and could be challenged, even replaced.

This was an intellectul disaster that, I regret to say, my own institution, the J-school, has been unable to prevent or reverse. Alas, J-school is a progresssive era invention too.

Which brings us to the culture war and today, and the religion of the press.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 21, 2006 11:00 PM | Permalink

I have this vivid memory of an old Quaker I knew, who when things had to get done, would hold out his arms, look at his palms and say, "If not these hands, then whose?"

Meaning if tough work had to be done, then why wait for someone else to do it.

Here at PressThink I would ask given the readership and the commentators, "If not these brains, then whose?"

Why can't the hard work of reinventing journalism start here. I just did a quick count of newsroom employees in the 12 papers. It's well over 1,200 people. Total employees is more than 7,000. Technorati says Jay has some 1,100 links to his site. How many thousands of people with ideas is that?

Am I the only one who believes that all of us working together can reinvent journalism. It can be done, but it takes what Jay called "creative action."

Jay, you have the power to muster all these great minds, they will listen to you. Assemble them online and let the work begin.

Posted by: Leonard Witt at March 22, 2006 12:29 AM | Permalink

Actually it's 3,449 links from 1,118 sites.

Am I the only one who believes that all of us working together can reinvent journalism....Jay, you have the power to muster all these great minds, they will listen to you. Assemble them online and let the work begin.

Uhh, well, I really don't think the work can begin here; and in any case I don't know how to do that.

However, I will think about what you said, Len.

Maybe there's a brainstorming role for PressThink somewhere.

Congrats on making Romenesko today with your Q & A.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 22, 2006 1:00 AM | Permalink

Jay, to belabor my academic leanings a little longer. Projawkis (love that term!) and others with ideological and organizational roots in the Progressive era share some beliefs.

One belief that is implicit rather than explicit is that there is one virtuous truth, one virtuous culture. They must believe this because otherwise their work might always be suspect by someone. Journalism, the white light shining on potential wrongdoing, is always virtuous, always correct.

And because there is one good truth, one virtue, any notion of non-neutrality must be wrong.

Not surprisingly, journalism grew strongest during a time when American culture and society looked homogeneous. And it began its decline as that homogenity gave way to the more real view of America as something less than a single culture with a single virtue.

(Interestingly, journalism's finest moments may have taken place as the homogenity started to crack. I'm thinking of Watergate, and the coverage of civil rights disturbances, etc.)

And that was even fine until another technology gave the audience the power to talk about the Balkanized world of journalism, and its blindness to some thoughts and beliefs that didn't fall into its aging Progressive perspective.

What's a little funny about the handwringing over the loss of newspapers is that no one talks about the great sins of some of these same papers. How many of these cities had black newspapers because those citizens wanted some news outlet to cover their communities? Why did these alternative papers exist? Because the big city newspapers didn't cover black communities much. And this was during the great era of newspapering.

One of the toughest lessons that public schools have had to learn is that they virtuously and successful served all children; some have been shortchanged despite the institution's stated goals and beliefs. Newspapers are going to have to learn the same lesson, and then reinvent themselves in a way that expunges the virtuousness ideal that blinds them to flaws, and sets them up to be stronger organizations with room for many voices, perspectives, and possibilities.

I know I'm covering old ground here, but I continue to be astonished at how this narrative endures, becomes stronger, as events unfold. Maybe if we tell the story enough, someone will get it who can really enact change.

Posted by: Jenny D at March 22, 2006 9:54 AM | Permalink

Jenny: Journalism, the white light shining on potential wrongdoing, is always virtuous, always correct.

I know what you mean. Stories can be wrong. The newspaper can be incorrect. But "journalism" and its professional mantras basically cannot be. Our religion has it right, the projawki tribe says, but sometimes we don't live up to it.

For illustration purposes (and not because there's any exceptional about them) I give you some lines from a column this week by John Winn Miller, publisher of The Olympian in Washington State. His background is classic newsroom: Executive editor of the (State College, Pa.) Centre Daily Times from 1996 to 1999. At the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, city editor 1992 to 1996, capitol bureau chief 1987 to 1992 and reporter. Rome bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal in 1986; AP from 1979 to 1986 as a reporter and copy editor.

He's blasting conservative columnist Cal Thomas for one more liberal bias screed, which means he is defending "journalism," and the religion of the projawkis. What he says here is press think so deeply set, so automatic, so right for all time that the only way it will change is when the people who talk this way die or retire. Even then it may go on. Changes in the world have no effect on it. Arguing with it is futile. It is always virtuous, always correct, and always apt. Miller:

I know that any reporter or editor working for me who shows a bias one way or the other is in deep trouble.

Of course, journalists are different from the general public. We’re not “conservative” like you. That’s because we are skeptical of everyone and everything, particularly those in positions of power. That’s our job.

At the same time, we are acutely aware of the need to be fair. We seek all sides to a story. We agonize every day on whether we have been balanced in our coverage. No one is harder on editors for mistakes or bias than editors.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve had left-wing protesters at my door and right-wing protesters cancel their subscriptions. That’s how I know we are being fair.

Newspapers are unlike every other business. We are not doing our jobs if we don’t make some of our customers mad every day.

You'll note that there is no difference between the explanation and the insulation.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 22, 2006 10:59 AM | Permalink

Off topic, I know, but you might find this interesting. Here's a head's up.

A lot of liberals, like Jane Hamsher, to name one, have blogged the hiring of Ben Domenich, and his history of comments deriding the poor and people of color, seems like the Post has some internal marketing surveys that indicate a much bigger audience for a blogger that denigrates African American culture and Coretta Scott King right after her funeral than for hiring someone with an association of the large, historic black community of DC.

If I were African American and lived in DC, I'd be tempted to organize a late night effort to spray paint every Post newspaper rack with RACISTS in bright red letters (get the pun? Domenich's blog is entitled RED STATE, and the racks would be painted RED . . . )

Indeed, being African American has nothing to do with it, I'd be tempted anyway. Where are the anarchists when you really need them? Domenich is one of the banes of American social life, that person who elevates himself by promoting bigotry towards people of color and the Post hires him. A great, great move.

Looking forward to his first efforts to malign African Americans, Asian Americans or Latinos on the Post site as soon as some prominent figure from one of these communities dies. Pandering to white racists is an apparently untapped market for a paper like the Post.

But, I digress, although you might consider addressing how such a decision by the Post is going to enable it to reach a broad, diverse audience by hiring someone who considers African Americans culturally deficient. Next time you see Brady, you might ask him. You might also ask him how this will help the Post in seeking to recruit journalists of color, a problem faced by most major newspapers in America.

Anyway, I know you focus on the technological transformation of the industry, and do it well, so this is what I really wanted to bring to your attention (from Domenich's blog):

[Comments About Comments

A few notes are in order after the impressive reaction to the premiere of this blog.

First off, a note of thanks to the liberal side of's readership, which has weighed in on Red America in this comment thread. I'm happy that no one's engaged in any ridiculous hyperbole, unfounded accusations or unintentionally hilarious name-calling. We can all agree that such things lower the quality of debate on the Internet, play to the worst side of our knee-jerk partisan nature and have no place in the modern public square. I look forward to engaging you in a serious, respectful discussion on the issues that matter most to the future of our nation.

To that last point, we'll be rolling out comments here shortly. Because this is an opinion blog, and not a work of unbiased journalism, it is sure to spark responses from a few fringe members of this Internet political community, who might be motivated to deluge comment systems with offtopic concerns (or perhaps go after other members of the Washington Post family, who have nothing to do with this blog - silly, I know, but I'm told it happens). Comments will be coming after the initial launch is finished, when I've gotten used to the rhythm of posting and you, gracious readers, have gotten used to it, too.

In the meantime, I'll be posting worthwhile reader reactions from the comment thread mentioned above and from email. It's great to be part of the Opinions section, and I hope this column proves to be an interesting and worthwhile read for all of you.]

I will not even dignify this bigot's request for "serious, respect discussion", except to say, that he's already demonstrated that it is a whites only endeavor.

For your purposes, however, it appears that Brady isn't quite that the proponent of openness for the Post blog, because people have to wait until they have proven that they can be nice before comments will be opened. In other words, Post management is well aware of the firestorm that this selection will ignite, and has preemptively shut down Domenich's blog.

One wonders, when will the blog open for comments, May 2007? I always thought that a blog without comments was kind of like a car without tires, but, maybe, an amateur like me doesn't understand new trends in the industry.

Whatever the Post website is, the Guardian it ain't.

Posted by: Richard Estes at March 22, 2006 2:02 PM | Permalink

Jay following up on the fate of those 12 newspapers is a piece in the LAT today about the potential buyer Denver press baron William Singleton. The article does not paint a pretty picture of Singleton's reign at other papers. It sounds exactly the opposite of a community buyout.

I too am interested in your opinions on the WaPo's most recent hire.

Posted by: Julia Rosen at March 22, 2006 2:59 PM | Permalink

For hate, vitriol, narrow-mindedness and outright intolerance for diversity, it would be tough to beat Estes' rant above. Here are a few of his "tolerant" comments concerning Ben Domenich, whose opinions he obviously despises: "banes of America social life", "promotes bigotry", "pandering to white racists", "bigot". so much for the liberal trope that they are "tolerant" and conservatives are "bigoted". Whatever.

Personally, I applaud WaPo for what they have done. While I don't agree with all of Domenich's opinions, many in this country do. Furthermore, I'm hoping WaPo will open up blogs for other opinions. That the press is liberal, is a given----this isn't just my opinion, it's backed up by Pew studies, and Pew isn't exactly a right-wing organization. But liberals in the press are latent, not blatant, due to all the hoohaw we've hashed over here over the years. So I challenge WaPo to bring on some blatant liberals/left-wingers. Forget Josh Marshall and his ilk---they're too mainstream. Let's have blogs by Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, The Firedoglake Lady or George Clooney. How about Cornel West for a blog concerning blacks---Jesse Jackson is too mainstream. For the women's POV, how about that lady who swears that all sex is rape (can't remember her name)?

So I totally disagree with Estes that the only opinions that should be voiced are those approved by NYTimes, CBS, NBC, etc. WaPo should be encouraged to air diverse POVs, and not denigrated.

Posted by: paladin at March 22, 2006 3:22 PM | Permalink

I have no problem with a wide variety of opinion. Some are criticizing Domenech for advocating intelligent design, for absurd evaluation of the basis for the war and the success of it, for crazy ideas about feminism and abortion, etc. Go to Daily Kos and firedoglake and you can find numerous examples.

If the Post wants to hire someone with these views, even if I don't agree with them, I wouldn't necessarily make a big issue about it.

But I know what this Domenech guy is about. He likes to piss on black people when Coretta Scott King dies, and culturally insult them, because he and the people that he associates don't like black people, and see them as pawns for their own self-promotion.

By the way, he sees gay people the same way. My suggested advertising campaign for the Post: "The Post: THE SOURCE for racist and homophobic opinion."

Just wait until you see who defends him. They are already coming out of the woodpile at the Post blog.

And, the broader questions are important. How does the Post see its mission when it considers the hiring of a racist columnist more important than outreaching to the large African American community in DC? How do journalists of color at the paper feel about Domenech's hiring? How does the Post intend to increase the diversity within its newsroom, when it seems to define diversity as the need to expand their audience to people who want to read insulting attack upon African Americans?

Posted by: Richard Estes at March 22, 2006 3:55 PM | Permalink

Richard,since this isn't the Oprah Show, and some of us do not want to deal in just hysterics and emotion, please show me the direct quote from the link you provided to prove that Domenench "pissed on black people", "culturally insulted them (blacks)", "don't like black people" and "see them (blacks) as pawns for their own self-promotion". My guess is that you are projecting here, but please, prove me wrong. And please, no emotional diatribes---don't turn PressThink into Oprah.

Posted by: paladin at March 22, 2006 4:40 PM | Permalink

You're not hijacking this thread for standard culture war jousting that is 100 percent off topic. If and when I post on this you can have at it. So that is all; we get it already. Future posts on the matter will be terminated.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 22, 2006 4:59 PM | Permalink

Well OK Jay, but I stand by my statement that we need more diversity in the press, not less, and that Wapo should be encouraged to provide more POVs and not denounced for their efforts of inclusion.

Posted by: paladin at March 22, 2006 5:37 PM | Permalink

Dan - Exactly right. Thanks.
Leonard - Sorry if I betray a little impatience when I say I get a little weary of people not grasping the role that capital plays in an enterprise as a large as a metropolitan journalism company.
I didn't say we weren't working on a strategy in Philly; we are. We're not just waiting for the new guys to show up and tell us what to do.
But strategies cost money to put into action; if you don't get an owner who is inclined to invest in your strategy, you are nowhere. You can always go off and try to pursue your ideas independently - but you are walking away from the largest ready-made audience your region has to offer. That's a sad thing to have to do.

Posted by: Chris satullo at March 22, 2006 6:04 PM | Permalink

Hope you get around to it, Jay. This is a big one, and goes to the heart as to why newspapers are having so much difficulty in communities of color. It's much more important than the Froomkin and Deborah Howell episodes....

[remainder cut-- JR]

Posted by: Richard Estes at March 22, 2006 6:24 PM | Permalink

Chris wrote: I didn't say we weren't working on a strategy in Philly; we are. We're not just waiting for the new guys to show up and tell us what to do.
But strategies cost money to put into action; if you don't get an owner who is inclined to invest in your strategy, you are nowhere. You can always go off and try to pursue your ideas independently - but you are walking away from the largest ready-made audience your region has to offer. That's a sad thing to have to do.

To me, the "strategy" that makes the most sense is one that is the most cost effective....

right now, people are talking about a price of about $350 million for the Philly papers.

Now, consider what happens if someone puts up $50 million (like the Newspaper Guild) to put out a new publication that is primarily web-based (with maybe a free "weekend" print edition that would attract "weekly" advertisers) that stole the best journalistic talent Philly has to offer.....

I think that the value of the Daily News and Inquirer would drop precipitously --- indeed, the very *threat* of the Journalist Union threatening to drop $50 million into a competing web-based publication should be enough to drop the price of the two dailies to a reasonable amount....


You're not hijacking this thread for standard culture war jousting that is 100 percent off topic.


Posted by: plukasiak at March 22, 2006 8:20 PM | Permalink

> I like the image of a raid on a complacent publisher. Picking a fat juicy target is key.
> ...
> Let's plan a new media guerilla action that takes over a town in the USA and inflicts better journalism on it, via the Web, via great work, via participation by the many...

What size town? Would 100k (in coverage area) be too small?

Posted by: Anna Haynes at March 22, 2006 9:09 PM | Permalink

I would think 100,000 circulation in the current franchise holder or thereabouts would be the cut off. Not population, circulation.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 23, 2006 1:00 AM | Permalink

I suggest that if we're going to pull off this raid, that we hurry. I just saw this article about a Pew study that says people under-35 are interested in news.....on the web.

So the pressthink on this will be...if it's on the web, it's not news?

Posted by: Jenny D at March 23, 2006 8:52 AM | Permalink

Seems that Diane Evans of Akron took that "get off your columnizing butt" comment to heart. Crain's in Cleveland reports: Beacon Journal columnist, former editor plan web site.

Sounds daring. I defy anyone to read the article and figure out what the idea is, what the site would have, what they plan to do... But Evans knows she's holding back the critical details.

Prodded by my friend Len Witt and conscience, I'm considering putting together over the weekend a PressThink thought experiment post, using the image of this hypothetical raid on a sleepy publisher in a market ripe for innovation, where the point is to win the local news and commentary franchise online by out-innovating the big providers.

Exactly how would we do that if "we" were to try? That's the thought experiment.

One question might be where in the U.S. to try it, but I wouldn't want to fixate on that. The experiment works fine without the name of the town filled in. What does a born on the Web, readers know more than we do (but they still need journalists) Newsroom 2.0 operation actully look like? How would we pull off our (wholly imaginary!) new media guerilla operation? And what regime should be established if the action is successful?

I might have a few ideas about it, but if the purpose is to pull together the ideas of many, and make this prospect seem not so far off, what's the best way for PressThink, with its ways and means, to do that?

If you have thoughts on it, post them here.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 23, 2006 12:13 PM | Permalink

No, JennyD, I think the pressthink may be, "Hey, anyone know about this internets stuff?"

But the Pew report on the young getting their news online raises another question that may be particularly relevant in the discussion of transforming print to internet: what do we do with those folks who don't go online.

Another Pew study from last year (you can find it here tells us that 53 percent of home users in America have highspeed connections and that broadband connections are slowing.

Another Pew study tells us that 68 percent of Americans use the internet either through highspeed or dial-up connections. That means roughly a third of America doesn't.

In that same demographic report, we find that 20 percent of Americans have never sent an email or have an internet connection in their home.

What do we do with these folks when the news go to the Web?

Posted by: Dave McLemore at March 23, 2006 12:25 PM | Permalink

Exactly how would we do that if "we" were to try? That's the thought experiment.

I can think of any number of small cities where a hyper-local version of something like Slate might work.
Like Slate, you would rely not so much on comprehensive reporting, but on a few carefully-chosen reported essays each day, some staff-created, some solicited from friends and neighbors, all of them playing off the news of the day or of the week.
Something like that done right -- an animated conversation -- could slice readers away from the fat, dumb and sleepy local newspaper. And the capital requirements would be do-able. No ink, no newsprint, no trucks, no presses.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at March 23, 2006 12:45 PM | Permalink

You're jumping the gun. Save that for the thought experiment. My immediate question was: what's the best way for PressThink, with its ways and means, to run that thought experiment?

Simplest way: post and comment thread.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 23, 2006 12:52 PM | Permalink

Simple is good. We could always do something more complex with the results of that post-and-comments-thread later, if the results prove valuable.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at March 23, 2006 1:06 PM | Permalink

Oops, sorry.
Misread the marching orders.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at March 23, 2006 1:25 PM | Permalink

Jay, help in getting started:

When I did my interview with Phil Goldsmith about the Inquirer it got linked by Philly Future, a blog by Karl Martino. I checked out his site. Martino has a news and technology background and wants to look for ways to preserve great journalism. He should be contacted to help build a technological platform on which we can develop this reinvention of journalism. In fact, I already emailed him; an email from you too would reinforce that.

My only reservation so far is gearing it just towards a media guerilla action. Maybe it could be that, or maybe it could be working with the folks, let's say, at the Philadelphia Daily News, who seem seriously interested in reinventing themselves and their newspaper. Here are some background links on what they are doing.

Or maybe it can be a plan for all the Knight Ridder papers, these are seriously motivated folks, and if they are not, well then they will lose anyway and we need not fret over their fate.

Any how, I will pledge a month of my free time to help make this happen. Probably much more once it cranks up. I was a magazine editor for more than 12 years so know how to synthesis information. We'll need folks with specialized talents like Martino in technology and probably some copy editors too.

Here is the most important message that Eric Raymond wrote in his groundbreaking open source essay The Cathedral and Bazaar:

“When you start community-building, what you need to be able to present is a plausible promise. Your program doesn't have to work particularly well. It can be crude, buggy, incomplete, and poorly documented. What it must not fail to do is convince potential co-developers that it can be evolved into something really neat in the foreseeable future.”

This reinventing journalism can and will evolved into something really neat in the foreseeable future.

Posted by: Leonard Witt at March 23, 2006 2:41 PM | Permalink

Thought experiment format:
a "me too" vote for post and comments.
(with the off topic ones chopped off at the knees)

the post need not be full-fledged though, since the brainstorming is the point.

One suggestion though - I don't know what your readership is now, but people might have drifted off when you weren't posting frequently; plus a comments thread that catches fire isn't that visible from the front page, so is easy to miss in a cursory "anything new at PressThink?" check.

So you might want to send up signal flares for this upcoming one, esp. to get the attention of those who tend to have their heads down working.

Posted by: Anna Haynes at March 23, 2006 10:56 PM | Permalink

I would like to see an experiential news source over the 'net. I think that Kent Bye has some good ideas for journalism in the 21st Century.

But subjective perceptions need to be balanced with objective facts. By Phase 7 of post-production, I hope to address how to fully implement a New Media Ecosystem that uses many insights from the field of intelligence analysis.

Posted by: Sisyphus at March 24, 2006 6:28 AM | Permalink

From the Intro