Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Newspaper Economics

It has been a while since I lamented the decline of the newspaper industry, or more precisely, the decline of quality investigative journalism.  So let me dive in once more.

Anyone who is paying attention could hardly miss the children's crusade that is going on at the Oregonian. After the massive bloodletting of experienced (and expensive) reporters, there is a whole new gaggle of fresh faced (and cheap) reporters who look (thanks to the new little pictures that accompany their bylines on-line) all about 16 years old.  Apparently this is happening everywhere.  I have no doubt that these are skilled and well-trianed reporters, but they lack the experience and connections of those they replace.  It could be that the energy and eagerness of the new crop might make up for this, but I have some reservations.  I think we are losing a huge amount of human capital.

Anyway, what prompted this is a fascinating (and a bit troubling) article on the youth of the campaign press corps in the New York Times:

A group of five fresh-faced reporters from National Journal and CBS News clicked away on their MacBooks one recent afternoon, dutifully taking notes as seasoned journalists from the campaign trail shared their rules of the road.

The journalists were mostly in their 20s, learning the basics: never get too close to a source; master the art of eating while driving; never rely on a hotel wake-up call.

For decades, campaign buses were populated by hotshots, some of whom covered politics for decades, from Walter Mears to David S. Broder to Jules Witcover. It was a glamorous club, captured and skewered in Timothy Crouse’s best-selling “The Boys on The Bus,” about the 1972 campaign.

Now, more and more, because of budget cutbacks, those once coveted jobs are being filled by brand new journalists at a fraction of the salary. It is not so glamorous any more.

By the way, I still link to the NYT frequently despite the paywall (which I pay for) because apparently the paywall is easy to circumvent and, in fact some believe that it is intentionally so.  So those that want to hassle with deleting part of the url can do so and get the content for free.  Here are instructions. But even more to the point apparently if you follow a link to the NYT, you will never hit the paywall. Here is Felix Salmon: "The NYT paywall is so porous that it can be considered to be a genuinely freemium model. If you follow a link to the NYT site, you will never run into the paywall — no matter how many times you do so or how many NYT articles you’ve read that month."


Unknown said...

Patrick: You are, of course, entitled to your opinion but your post regarding The Oregonian is both demeaning to a talented group of journalists and factually incorrect. Yes, we have taken hits in our staffing as have all businesses the past few years. But there remain many, many talented, experienced and award-winning reporters at the paper, whose work is evident every day. In total, we have far more reporters than any other news organization in the state has total staff. In addition, we have hired experienced, veteran reporters this year as well as the extremely able reporters to which you refer. Calling them children is wrong and insulting. They are not replacements for those who have left; most are assigned to local coverage of communities around the metro area, an area of coverage we have stepped up in the past year. They are all graduates of top-flight universities and journalism schools and skilled in the new technologies journalism requires today. We are fortunate to have them, as are our print readers and online viewers. A blog is a blog, but please report before commenting.

Peter Bhatia
Editor, The Oregonian

Patrick Emerson said...


In my bloggy flippancy I occasionally speak a little too loosely, and this may be one of those occasions, but I think I was reasonably fair in general. I was, of course, joking about the children and the 16-year old thing, and I apologize if I have caused offense. A blog is a place, in my opinion, where irreverence is part of the modus operandi.

I think, however, that I am pretty accurate in terms of the economics of newspapers these days and I have in the past sounded the alarm. I think we, as a society, will suffer from the decline in investigative reporting if current trends continue. I also often point out that no one should mistake the opinion found on blogs for real reporting and I do not believe that blogs are any substitute for newspaper reporting. Which, is of course, why I worry about the hardship daily newspapers are facing.

Regarding the staffing at the O, I think I was pretty reasonable in saying: " I have no doubt that these are skilled and well-trianed reporters, but they lack the experience and connections of those they replace. It could be that the energy and eagerness of the new crop might make up for this, but I have some reservations." This is a statement of opinion and pretty fair I thought.

I do take your point about the newly trained reporters and new media, it could be that these reporters will be better than ever. It is an interesting question and one to which I have no answer.

The Oregonian is a wonderful local paper and I am a loyal subscriber (and will be as long as there is a paper to subscribe to). I am very grateful for all the great work the reporters and editors do there. I have interacted many times with quite a few reporters from the O and have always come away very impressed. I think daily newspaper reporting is, as I said in previous posts, a valuable public good.

So let me be very clear, I appreciate what all the reporters at the Oregonian do and I sincerely apologize if I have caused any offense, it was not my intent. I am also worried about the newspaper business in general and think that our society needs to think seriously if the free market can provide an optimal level of investigative reporting. That is really the point of my post.