Opinion

Bad for newspapers, good for readers?

Today's question: Assess the overall media landscape. Has it gotten better or worse for readers? For newspapers? Previously, Cooper and Frey discussed the possibility of a future without The Times and diagnosed the paper's most pressing problems.

New media and old: a marriage of conveniencePoint: Marc Cooper
Patrick,

After all my gloom and doom of the last few days regarding the state of The Times -- and of newspapers in general -- allow me a few hundred words of unfiltered glee. As a byproduct of the escalating, daily clash of Old and New Media, curious readers are reaping a historical bonanza.

At least, in the short run.

I think you'd agree that enthusiastic consumers of information are, at this very moment in time, getting the best of both worlds -- and mostly for free. The Earth-shaking emergence of new media, the stark fact that anyone can now publish globally at will, has forced the Old Media to provide us just about everything it's got, and more, for free, 24/7. For virtually zero cost, at any time of the day or night, we can log on to the site of the newspaper of our choice, from El Monte to El Salvador, and lavish ourselves with news, opinion or analysis that is likely to have been updated sometime in the last hour or two.

Meanwhile, the New Media -- blogs, aggregators, online journals and digital social networks -- further amplify, propagate, filter spin and push that same professionally reported material onto our screens, BlackBerrys and mobile phones.

That's not to say there isn't also enormous intrinsic value in the ever-expanding amount of original content produced by bloggers, writers, students, moms, truck drivers (even prosecutors!) on the Web. I mean, how would any of our days be considered complete unless we checked in with your own blog commentators to be reminded that all problems stem from the Reconquista of Aztlan, or with mine, who bemoan the structural inequities of the global market?

Yet who can deny there would be little sizzle to the blogosphere -- perhaps there might not be much of anything at all -- if its gears and cogs weren't being constantly lubed by the never-ending torrents of reporting (and punditry) spewed out by the dreaded mainstream media?

For the moment, both worlds are engaged in a marriage of convenience. I can't think of a single successful site on the right or the left that doesn't fundamentally rely on the MSM as its underlying engine of information -- or at least as its foil. Likewise, the MSM is not only forced to accelerate its own migration to the Web, but it is ever more dependent on purely Internet-based aggregators to help build its readership. As you know, in your role as commander in chief of the Patterico site, we bloggers are constantly deluged with requests from newspaper editors and publicists and by individual reporters and columnists begging for a link. For the suits at the Washington Post and the New York Times, the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post are seen not only as competitors but also as indispensable transmission belts and accelerants for Web traffic.

So, for the moment, it couldn't be a better environment for the readers. The catch, of course, is just who is going to pay to produce all this journalism in the years to come? Shut down the major newspapers or cripple and decimate their staffs, and then just who is going to provide all that nifty info that we bloggers link back and forth to?

The answer, broadly stated, resides in an ongoing and eventual fusion of old media and new. It's not something that either side is yet quite comfortable with. Nor has anyone quite figured out the devilish details -- especially at The Times.

Marc Cooper is associate director of the Institute for Justice and Journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. He writes a politics column for L.A. Weekly and serves as editorial coordinator of the Huffington Post's Off the Bus. He blogs daily at marccooper.com.


The arrogance of 'serious newspapers'Counterpoint: Patrick Frey
The overall media landscape has unquestionably improved for readers. Capitalism is about choices. More choices mean better options and greater consumer satisfaction.

Before the rise of the Internet, The Times was a natural monopoly. And with monopoly comes complacency and arrogance.

Technology has killed the monopoly, but the ingrained attitudes remain.

Even with record-setting losses in circulation and revenue, the paper is still complacent. Marc, you and I were on a radio show Tuesday with Times Editor Russ Stanton. The host asked what the paper could do to win back a longtime subscriber who had canceled her subscription. Stanton's answer, essentially, was to keep on keeping on.

That's not good enough. And for all your disdain for Tribune Co. Chief Executive Sam Zell, that's the message he has been trying to get across: It's time to compete. Get out there and do it!

Worse than the complacency is the paper's arrogance -- its overweening, unbearable arrogance.

L.A. Times editors view themselves as self-appointed shapers of public opinion. They dislocate their shoulders patting themselves on the back for their alleged "intellectual rigor and emotional self-discipline," to use Tim Rutten's memorably modest phrasing in 2003.

The hallmark of arrogance is casual, aloof dismissal of one's critics. Some snigger behind their hand as they dismiss bloggers as a "crew of dilettante verbal snipers" whose views can be safely ignored while the ever-so-serious newspaper people discuss the issues of the day.

That, my friend, is the attitude that is killing newspapers.

A little humility goes a long way. When The Times' Mary McNamara mistakenly wrote last April that George Washington served only one term as president, the blogs snickered. But she disarmed them by correcting her error with gracious, self-effacing humor: "I will try to comfort myself with the knowledge that a good, strong dose of humility is always good for the soul." Those endearing words should be inscribed on a plaque and hung on the wall in Stanton's office.

McNamara was told of her error within moments of its publication -- but it took a few days to correct. Speedy error correction -- and a greater willingness to make corrections -- is another way that the Internet is eating The Times' lunch. Mickey Kaus once said of an error in a Tim Rutten column, "It goes without saying that if Rutten were a blogger he'd have corrected his mistake by now, but since he works for a 'serious newspaper' the falsehood will probably stand uncorrected forever."

Do bloggers need big media? Sure. This paper's mistakes lead to 90% of my blog content. I've spent more than five years documenting The Times' errors, distortions and omissions. As a media critic, I love having a huge, lumbering dinosaur of a paper that constantly botches the facts. But as a news consumer, it wouldn't devastate me to see the dinosaur replaced by something nimbler and harder to mock.

Contrary to what you might hear at Brentwood cocktail parties, the critics don't want an ultraconservative paper that licks Bush's boots. We just want a newspaper that gives us the facts from all sides -- a newspaper that talks with, and not at, its readers. Simple as that.

If The Times can't give that to us, someone else can and will. The Internet gives us all a voice. And as a result, the news consumer is better off.

Patrick Frey blogs at patterico.com.

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