Monday, December 08, 2008

Tribune Company Is Bankrupt

Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.
John 11:9–10

Here's an email I sent to David Lazarus of the LA Times last year in response to a rather scathing column he wrote dissing free online news (and blogs):

Date: Wed, Dec 26, 2007 at 8:53 AM
Subject: RE: Free news online will cost journalism dearly

Hey David-

Just read your column (online, of course) and I think you should explore this idea further. As a blogger myself, I bristle at your analogy of blogs as "crabgrass" and "utter hokum". Although there are countless blogs that are as you've described, there are many others that are giving you guys in the mainstream a decent run for your money. The fact is, you guys are generalists. You take journalism classes in college. How can you honestly say you know enough about any given topic to know when you're being manipulated by your sources? Many bloggers, on the other hand, are topic experts. We have passion for what we report on, often because it's our life's work.

For the first time in history, newspapers are being challenged. Not by oppressive governments, but by the free flow of information itself. What you guys need to think about is not how to preserve your information monopoly, but how to use your skills as reporters and editors to tap into this flow. Give it value and context. Organize and present it. Filter out the junk, and give the rest the credibility it deserves.

There is a huge opportunity here for your industry to lead the way into this new frontier. Get to it, before your left in the dust.

His reply:
Thanks very much for the feedback (and apologies for the generalization). I encourage you to send your thoughts as well to for publication.

David Lazarus
Mine back:
No apologies necessary. Also, I'm not actually interested in having my thoughts published by the LA Times (I can publish them myself, thank you very much.) Which was kind of my point...
After rereading Lazarus' column and my response, I may have been a little hard on the guy. (Which was why he was so smug.) At least he was willing to put the issue in print for his readers to ponder. If there are any left.

There is a growing recognition in the mainstream that blog writers might have something to offer. The problem is, that realization may have come too late. Blogs have captured the informed debate away from the printed media. For the "fuzz and wuzz," we have TV. What role, then, for the daily fishwrap?

I don't pretend to know, but the answer isn't the status quo. Aggregation and contextualization is one idea. Tapping (but not trying to control) the blogosphere for ideas and answers is another. One thing is for sure: the flow of news and information will not die along with the newspaper. They can either stumble through the night into oblivion, or rise from the dead and embrace the new world.

The choice is theirs.


Anonymous said...

Max, you commented in the last post:

"Isn't it funny how the collective mind works? Everyone thinks it's preordained when they do well, and it's "bad luck" when they fail. They have it 100% backward. I had a guy tell me the other day that I was "lucky" I didn't buy a house three years ago! :) I didn't let that go by uncorrected"

This relates to the current post very well. You had information about the housing bubble that the other guy didn't have and you acted on it. The RE bubble was well-documented at CR, Mish, Ben Jones, and your blog to name a few.

The question I have is why wasn't the MSM more on top of this story? The Sacbee in particular was extremely late on reporting about this and most of their stories were blatant bubble-denials. A lot of the so-called "experts" that the Bee would quote were actually Realtors or mortgage bankers - folks that had a vested interest in sustaining the housing bubble and the other side of the debate was never presented. Platitudes about how RE prices would continue to rise because of the great Sacramento job/lifestyle scene, or boomers really needed three houses, or immigrants would support prices forever, etc. No independent analysis, no balanced presentation, no examination of the toxic loan environment, no discussion of appraisal fraud. None of these things were presented.

I canceled my subscription to the Bee not because I no longer wanted to read a newspaper, I just didn't want to read the constant lies any longer. Probably they are still spouting lies and platitudes, but I wouldn't know because they have lost my trust and it will be hard for them to gain it back. Good, balanced reporting is what sets apart a WSJ from a Sac Bee. Even in the online world there is a need for great reporting - that will never change, and the online versions of these newspapers need to get the reporters out there to do their damned jobs and stop being shills for one industry group or another, or for the government or for some political cause. That is just pure laziness and isn't good reporting. A good free press is essential to maintain a free society and the Internet has taken the mantle by providing truth and honest reporting because the papers REFUSED to do it - plain and simple. People still know the truth when the read it apparently.

There is one solution for the papers (online or otherwise) - DISCOVER THE FACTS AND REPORT ON THEM OBJECTIVELY. This isn't rocket science, but it is a tough and important job. One that the papers used to do many years ago.

patient renter said...

Good, balanced reporting is what sets apart a WSJ from a Sac Bee

If you read Dean Baker's blog Beat the Press regularly, you'll find that even the WSJ isn't beyond poor journalism on a regular basis.

word verification: cowwormo

Max said...

The question I have is why wasn't the MSM more on top of this story?

I combination of vested interest, laziness, and hubris. Front line reporters are overworked, underpaid slaves to the editor. Challenging the status quo at that level creates enemies and ruins careers. Reporters that I know have 2-3 stories per day requirements, they follow a beat, and they're always under pressure trying not to be scooped and staying ahead of the coworker who's gunning for their job. Moving up the chain, feature reporters and editors face a highly political environment, where the need to cultivate sources and staying on their "good side" might trump reporting concerns. There's also the need to protect the paper's interests, which is why you never saw a critical story on the housing bubble until after the ad money dried up.

It's only when faced with ruin do the newspapers begin to lose their myopia. From what I understand, the Bee is highly factionalized, with the younger staffers wanting to embrace newer tech and reporting styles, while the old guard is skeptical and suspicious. Right now, it looks like they're choosing a solid path with their new web site design, open comments, reporter blogs, live blogging, and collaborations with people like BT.

It remains to be seen if the Bee is successful this late in the game, but at least they're trying.

Anonymous said...

I think WSJ has been renewing for free for awhile.... I know no more $$ are coming from me as the information is readily available via blog and other sources, but maybe I help puff up the ad demos (boy that was arrogant:).

SacBee is for business purposes and the funnies.... if they keep making 'em smaller I'll have to stop... or maybe get some specs for these old eyes. Their blogs are much more informative than print...

The Tribwhon? is an artifact. Cat litter is cheaper.

DT - its hard to blame the sources they used when even the PHeD and the rest of the brain trust in Wall Street weren't coming clean.... rating services giving AAA to garbage.

Its hard for me to ID this as solely a housing crisis/crunch/bubble when clearly the common denominator in all the failures we see will be extreme leverage supplied by Wall Street.

What will be the future crisis faced by our children once oil/energy is solved? our reliance on imported food?


Anonymous said...

governator just said the current state shortfall will be $14.8B instead of the projected $11B and called the situation fiscal Armageddon.

Now where are those state worker pink slips at?

patient renter said...

Another slap in the face, GS is recommending CDSs against various muni debt, including the State of California. That's a pretty rude wakeup call.

Anonymous said...

They guys writing checks might actually get their attention!