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March 16, 2009



I tend to agree that there isn't very much in the world with a legitimate claim to immediacy. But then there aren't many people my age who don't have a cell phone, so I'm probably an outlier too.


I'm definitely not as informed as you are about the newspaper business. But I think there is another dimension to television and radio and the internets in addition to (but connected with) immediacy that newspapers wrongly tried to emulate. For whatever reason, they largely jettisoned investigation and journalism in favor of merely reporting the he-said/she-said.

The GOP said this today. The Democratic reaction was such and such. End of story. And what they call "analysis" is nothing more than instant reaction. Newspapers could have continued this role and provided a valuable service to uncover, oh maybe, an AIG.

justin f

Amanda and I just finished watching the BBC mini-series "State of Play." Really good series, by the way, but about halfway through it, I began to wonder if I was actually watching a fantasy movie ... reporters for a large newspaper doing this incredibly in-depth investigation of a political murder mystery.

Plano Michae;

When you said your students insist on immediacy, I was also thinking that they would have a tendency to think of transparency as an ingredient just as necessary.

If we could feel like we were part of the unfolding story, that might be something worth paying for. It would be quite an experience to follow the unfolding of a good thorough investigative piece. Do you know of any journalists who blog or twitter their way through a big story that they normally would have saved their goodies on?
Does a reporter not really know that she has a story until all the details are no longer too boring to follow?

I also was thinking about the only places I consume, what feels like, investigative journalism stories. The way that This American Life has been treating Gitmo over the last couple of years... and their treatment of the economic environment has been helpful in filtering through and making sense of the complicated. Jon Stewart is another example of investigative journalism being found in an unexpected place for me. Was his outing of CNBC last week this generations version of Murrow?


Polishing before publishing isn't just the process of thinking the matter through; it's also closing off the blind alleys. I can't tell you how many things I briefly, mistakenly attributed to an off-the-grid client while doing a background check. Obviously, in my actual situation, I wouldn't want to publish what is protected by privilege. But if I had been writing a story about him, someone who got distracted and stopped reading my feed halfway through would have completely false ideas about who he is/was, and a good many people completely unrelated to the person would have been dragged into the story for no defensible reason. I'm not even considering the potential for libel suits, and reporters being "encouraged" by generous PR firms to briefly mention their competitors in muckraking stories, only to later say "Oops, blind alley!"

If people like being part of investigations, one obvious solution is for them to take up investigation in their spare time. Lots of interesting background details behind almost every news story are available in the public domain.

Plano Michael

How does content licenses and rights currently work for reporters? Is it a shared license with their paper, or does the publisher own everything the reporter produces exclusively?



I've never worked for a paper that demanded exclusive rights. They may exist, but I've had work appear in two dozen large circulation newspapers and the rights always revert to me, including the stuff I've done for wire services.



Klosterman addressed the investigative angle; I should have mentioned that. He did say it was a mistake to move away from that model, as that is the best service the news media can provide: Watergate, Iran Contra, Enron, AIG, etc.

As for the he said/she said model, I'm past sick of it. It assumes all sides are equal in what they are saying and journalists aren't allowed to say, "By the way, that guy is full of shit," even when we and everyone else knows the guy is. I think it was an over-reaction to the disenfranchising and outright muting of some voices. The pendulum has now swung too far.

Plano Michael

The newspaper/magazine business was an early influence in moving towards the "free" economy. Subscription price has never paid for the cost of production. Newspapers were selling eyeballs to advertisers long before the web was invented and comodified the same way. They web learned everything they knew from print news and magazine.

The problem, as you first stated, is one of immediacy.

What if the newspaper had to go back to basics, before the web, and weren't allowed to sell eyeballs? If they sere forced to make money on subscriptions?

With technology, reporters could now sell microsubscriptions online. Dave Barry sells his column through syndication, he's big time. His single feed is pushed out by a bunch of people.

Do you know of a newspaper that would allow people to subscribe to individual reporters feeds. I don't want to subscribe to the whole paper. I could care less. But I would subscribe to your feed for 75 cents per month?

What problems would that model inadvertently create?


One nice thing about buying the stories of all the reporters or none is that it keeps the papers--and the reporters--from tracking the specific financial contributions generated by individual stories. If companies like Halliburton bought a few tens of thousands of subscriptions whenever a reporter brought up problems with switching to ethanol energy sources, it could serve as de facto campaign contributions to the media. As the system currently works, there is (or is supposed to be) a wall between editorial policy and ad management, but if the owners had a way of saying "X story affects our bottom line by Y thousands of dollars," it's hard to think that wall would stay intact for long.

Plano Michael

I would be OK with that wall crumbling as long as it completely crumbled. If everything about that process was completely transparent, wouldn't that push a reporter to pursue a wider, flatter, less corporate subscription base? Any reporter that had gigantic public subscriptions from specific corporate entities would fight to stay out of the public perception of "in the pocket of" whatever big business.

Newspapers already become owned by a certain political bent (like their brothers on cable news) Is there a reasonable expectation that it will improve if we give the power to the individual journalist to put himself into wide syndication?


If everything about that process was completely transparent, wouldn't that push a reporter to pursue a wider, flatter, less corporate subscription base?

I'm not sure why it would. I'm sure there would be individual reporters who would respond like that. But I suspect that most of them would behave like most politicians, who observe that the overwhelming majority of their campaign contributions come from corporations hoping for kinder, gentler regulators and more freedom to do what they like in their markets, and vote accordingly most of the time.

Obama was able to get his funding from the grassroots because he had staff members working full time to fundraise for him. Individual reporters--and most politicians, who aren't running for President--don't have those kind of resources, and corporate donations/subscriptions would make up most of the funding. Looking at what business models newspapers have adopted in the last 10 years, I think this funding would have a corrupting effect on most reporters themselves, and on the remainder by means of pressure from the owners who are looking at shareholder ROI.

Plano Michael

So, in the Old Testament tradition of the prophets, we are left with certain kinds of stand up comics to be our best expose' agents.


an article about twitter that relates to your discussion of immediacy, context, and perspecitve


Plano Michael

"With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem."

Here is the rest.
Good stuff.


Lindsay Beyerstein argues the case for the public funding of hard news (as opposed to the padding in newspapers like opinion, gossip, fashion and the like). Public funding of BBC seems to work pretty well in Britain; might be worth a shot.

Craig Craker

If you work full-time for a newspaper, then the newspaper owns the content.

As far as if you are just a contributor? I don't really know, I'd guess the writer owns the content then.

That said, companies have no bearing on what is reported, unless the management in editorial gives into advertising - which is what we are starting to see a bit, as newspapers are going down the crapper.

Also, I love the internet. Love it. But as a newspaper writer, I'd like to jettison the free web site.

People love their free web sites and say they won't subscribe, but when you can't get news - even Google news - because all of the newspapers are behind pay walls, well, things would probably change.

So, here's hoping newspapers survive, because they are a good-sized industry and it never made sense to me that anyone would root for their demise when it means a bunch of people will lose their jobs, and that newspapers force people to pay for their news.

Why are they giving the product away for free? TV does it and their news agencies are getting hit harder than newspapers as far as layoffs. Charge. Charge. Charge.

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