Profit. That’s where the experimentation and funding for long-term projects came from.
As the near monopoly on the distribution of information that powered the advertising business that kept newsrooms well-stocked has faded, so too has the profitability of the companies that back them. And it has coincided with tightened budgets and, therefore, fewer commercially viable journalism products.
Nationally and in some cases statewide, there is a growing patchwork of meaningful journalism practitioners. Though lacking in many ways, there is a wealth of niche and hyperlocal news providers developing in many corners of the country.
But the hole remains in broader metro regions, where broader metro daily newspapers have been hardest hit. They were, largely, the purveyor of these common sets of facts to build broader community.
We aren’t witnessing the end of this powerful form, I believe, we are simply waiting for the transition.
The importance, sway and influence of one of the world’s most dominant 20th century newspapers was the focus of the 1998 collection of essays about the once powerful Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, edited by its former education reporter Peter Binzen, who also wrote Whitetown USA.
A central story line of the book was the Bulletin’s battle with the Inquirer, its chief rival, and how, in the end, the Inquirer, considered by many to be the chain response to the family-owned operation, won. Through all the bluster, I thought there were four primary reasons that rang most true to me:
The Bulletin fundamentally failed to innovate, remaining an afternoon daily as circulation fell with growing TV news audiences, increasing transportation costs due to traffic and changing news cycles.
The Bulletin failed to develop the revenue to stay competitive, including a premature sale of its nascent TV station, denying alcohol advertising and other funding methods that kept it lagging behind the Knight-Ridder funded Inquirer.
The Bulletin resisted aggressive editorial reconfiguration, following the investigative spirit of the 1970s that soared the reputation of the Inquirer behind editor Gene Roberts, and pushed out its own innovative editor George Packard.
The Bulletin came up short in following the suburban trend, having its 1947 purchase of the Camden Courier Post denied by the U.S. Department of Justice for anti-monopoly concerns was a large blow.
As I often do when reading something relevant to the news and innovation conversations I so adore, I wanted to share some choice thoughts from the book.
If you cover a big city with rambling and varied regions and neighborhoods, your reporting and writing should reflect that.
Yet, from a culture of journalism that cycled reporters through various markets to urban decay that encouraged too many of them to live outside those big cities they covered, one of the more common complaints I have from established, legacy media is a frightening disconnect from where they report.
There’s surely no better example of that than the wildly popular Right NEast/Wrong NEast column from Northeast Philadelphia hyperlocal news site NEast Philly, which skewers the very common mistakes by TV and newspapers here, when the get the wrong neighborhood name, street name or worse: tiny details that matter very little to reporters who have never been to those places but matter a great deal to those who live there.
But there’s a more subtle example of this that has long frustrated me, particularly here in Philadelphia.
Print is going to last longer than we might think because we can prove print in a way we cannot prove with digital.
Someone recently mentioned to me that in 10 years, we’ll still be predicting the death of newspapers. I think sitting here, in my office, looking at a copy of the Wall Street Journal that I stuffed into my pocket after finding it on a bench at the 2nd Street station in Old City Philadelphia, I believe that to be true.
Let me say something controversial: newspapers mean something more than news sites. Just like printed photographs mean something more than Facebook pictures.
Digital media still should amaze in their flexibility, utility and reach. But their printed counterparts are also still remarkable for all the reasons their future seem limited: they are inflexible, expensive and in-viral.
It was sometime this month two years ago that, while still an undergraduate at Temple University, I started tossing around what I hoped to be a new tagline for The Temple News, the college newspaper on North Broad Street.
Weekly in Print. Daily online, I suggested.
I wrote it on a piece of paper and posted it in my cubicle, as editorial page editor. In the mid-1990s, our newspaper staff rather presciently decided to move from printing three days a week to just once, having already dropped from a daily a few years earlier.
The intent, a front-page story read at the time, was to reduce costs at a time when the Internet would soon be the source of all news. Gosh, they were a bit too early, but dead on. So, they’d update daily online and follow-up with the biggest stories weekly.
“So forget about blogs and bloggers and blogging and focus on this – the cost and difficulty of publishing absolutely anything, by anyone, into a global medium, just got a whole lot lower. And the effects of that increased pool of potential producers is going to be vast.”
It’s the seemingly unintentional, passive-aggressive jab that I sometimes get from older or otherwise more established journalists, writers and editors. Most often and in many ways, I’m sure the sentiment is pristine in its accuracy, often abutted by the never-to-be-defended-against “it takes time,” which, of course is always true.
But I can’t help but think what’s happened since, say, 2007 or even later, is something bigger that is changing the value of a lot of once rock solid professional advice for young and otherwise aspiring journalists, and making it awfully hard out there.