Daily Archives: February 20, 2008

How to fix newspapers IV: Go beyond the wires, join the Web party

(Also see Prelude and Parts I, II, and III)

Scott Karp has written a post defining his vision for a new kind of Web journalism: one in which linking to the vast sea of information beyond a newspaper’s walls becomes a key part of bringing news to readers. He writes:

“Do what you do best, and link to the rest” is Jeff Jarvis’ motto for newsrooms — the imperative is to reorient newsrooms from a resource-rich, monopoly distribution approach to reporting, where a newsroom could reasonably aim to do it all themselves, to a resource-constrained, networked media reality, where newsrooms must focus on original reporting that matters most — SUPPLEMENTED by links to other original reporting done by other newsrooms — and by individuals.

The idea is that journalists, editors, and newsrooms need to LEVERAGE the web, leverage the network to help them do more — in so many cases now, with less.

But I would take Jeff’s web-savvy advice a step further: “Make linking to the rest an essential part of what you do best.”

It’s a compelling vision, and the examples of forward-thinking papers already using Scott’s Publish2 network show it can be done. [After-the-fact disclosure: I now work for Scott at Publish2.] But as I’ve discussed with Scott, while this may be a great idea for newspaper Web sites, there are no hyperlinks in print. How can we marry this vision of newspaper-as-linker to the print product?

Return for a moment to the question of why newspapers are boring. I’ve suggested two answers: that the kinds of stories papers typically run aren’t interesting or relevant to average readers, and that non-local stories send the strongest signal that papers are boring. I described some institutional reasons papers run those kinds of stories, but I left out a main one: Those stories are a majority of what the wires provide.

Most newspapers rely for their non-local news and opinion on some combination of the AP and the Washington Post/LA Times, New York Times, and McClatchy-Tribune wires. These wire services are important and necessary for putting out a paper. But they deprive readers of so much more. “Horrible as it may sound, on many days the newsprint front page tastes of already chewed gum,” Jack Shafer writes in Slate. He’s right — because newspapers’ narrow pool of sources has been outpaced by the Internet.

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Can we have some democracy, revisited

I recently wrote a plea to scrap the absurd, undemocratic primary process we’ve seen this year. The New Republic has an editorial in the current issue calling for the same, with the added bonus of actually suggesting an alternative:

The Republicans can do whatever they like, but Democrats should adopt a simple, fair system for the next election cycle. Superdelegates ought to be eliminated, and each state’s delegates awarded to candidates in proportion to their share of the statewide vote. As we have previously recommended, the states should be organized into a system of rotating regional primaries to end their self-defeating contest to leapfrog each other on the calendar.

Democrats have long crusaded against Republican efforts to constrict democracy by limiting participation in elections. It would be nice if the party lodging these complaints did a better job of living up to its own principles.