The New York Review of Books
Volume 56, Number 13,
August 13, 2009
Edited by Andy Ross
Dismal and discouraging numbers are emerging from the world of newspapers.
The New York Times executive editor Bill Keller deplored the
"diminishing supply of quality journalism" at a time of "growing demand." By
quality journalism, he said, he meant the kind "that involves experienced
reporters going places, bearing witness, digging into records, developing
sources, checking and double-checking, backed by editors who try to enforce
David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun reporter and the
creator of The Wire, said the Internet "leeches ... reporting from
mainstream news publications, whereupon aggregating websites and bloggers
contribute little more than repetition, commentary, and froth. Meanwhile,
readers acquire news from the aggregators and abandon its point of origin,
namely the newspapers themselves."
This image of the Internet as
parasite has some foundation. But such statements seem as outdated as they
are defensive. The practice of journalismis being reinvented by the Web.
Unless the editors and executives at our top papers begin to take note, they
will hasten their own demise.
The two bloggers most commonly
recognized as the medium's pioneers, Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan, are
still at it. Kaus, who started the blog kausfiles in 1999, is now at Slate,
and Sullivan, who began The Daily Dish in 2000, now posts at The Atlantic.
Both still use the style they helped popularize — short, sharp,
conversational bursts of commentary and opinion built around links to
articles, columns, documents, and other blogs.
For the most part, the
coverage of the financial crisis in the daily press has been episodic,
diluted, cloaked in qualifiers, and neutered by comments and disclaimers
from businessmen and their paid spokesmen, to whom mainstream journalists
feel obligated to give equal time. Bloggers who reject such reflexive
attempts at "balance" make the blogosphere a lively and bracing place.
A fundamental change is taking place in the world of news. The current
turbulence in the news business is like the disorder brought about by the
invention of the printing press. A profound process of decentralization and
democratization is under way.
Internet News 2
The New York Review of Books
Volume 56, Number 14, September
Edited by Andy Ross
The first quarter of 2009 was the worst ever for newspapers, with sales
plunging $2.6 billion. Yet statistics from the Internet suggest that
interest in news has rarely been greater. According to one survey, Internet
users in 2008 spent 53 minutes a week reading newspapers online, up from 41
minutes in 2007. And the traffic at the top fifty news Web sites increased
by 27 percent.
For publishers, the key is to find a way to maximize
revenues from print and the Web. With the steady fall-off of advertising
since 2006, there is growing recognition of the part that free access to the
Web has played in the hemorrhaging of circulation. In the next year, many
publishers are expected to erect "pay walls" around their sites.
Financial Times allows visitors to FT.com access to a few free articles a
month, but to get more they have to subscribe. This has netted the FT
117,000 subscribers paying up to $299 a year. The Wall Street Journal allows
visitors to WSJ.com free access to all articles about general-interest
topics. Only those seeking entry to business and finance reports must pay.
Introduced by The New York Times in September 2005, TimesSelect placed
the paper's columnists behind a pay wall and charged online readers $49.95 a
year for admission. Two years later, the Times, concerned by the fall-off in
traffic, reinstated its free-for-all policy.
A restless array of
entrepreneurs, innovators, and idealists has emerged, testing new ways of
delivering the news.
Slate was founded in 1996 with the help of
Microsoft. Since being purchased by the Washington Post Company in 2004, it
has generally been profitable.
The online arm of Foreign Policy
magazine, ForeignPolicy.com offers free access to both punchy articles from
the magazine and a roster of contentious, thoughtful blogs. It also has
offered some original reporting.
After not quite three years,
Politico attracts on average about 3.2 million unique visitors a month. Its
founders say it's in the black. Fully dependent on ad revenue, Politico gets
much of it from its print edition.
Talking Points Memo has turned a
profit without the aid of print or a sponsor. In nine years, Josh Marshall
has built it from a one-man blog into a bustling political journal with 1.5
million unique visitors a month.
The Huffington Post has conjured up
a cast of bloggers numbering in the thousands, a Washington staff of seven,
an investigative unit, and local editions in Chicago and New York. Ad
revenue has been growing briskly.
Global Post was launched in January
with close to $10 million in start-up funds from private investors The site
already has 74 part-time correspondents in 50 countries.
The image of
the Times and the Post protected by huge endowments is entirely unrealistic.
In the last two years, nonprofit sites have sprung up in Austin, San Diego,
the Twin Cities, New Haven, Seattle, St. Louis, and Chicago. The same
entrepreneurial spirit has led to a surge of interest in investigative
reporting not seen since the days after Watergate. America has enthusiasm
and initiative that are creating the opportunity for fresh structures to
AR The Web is the future and Sir Tim is the new
Gutenberg. A viable micropayment infrastructure is needed to put the world
of web news on a sound footing.