Monthly Archives: August 2008

Newspapers should sell the press — and use the mailman

I’ve been mulling over Doug Fisher’s intriguing and, at first glance, entirely sensible suggestion to disentangle newspapers from their printing presses. I wonder if this could be the first part of a radical two-step that might help papers prepare for or transition to the online future in a way they haven’t been able to do yet. Fisher writes:

Many smaller newspapers have had their printing done by contract for years. Headlines have come recently, however, as big-city newspapers (think San Francisco, Boston and now New York) explore outsourcing or consolidating printing, even in the absence of a joint operating agreement. Chains such as McClatchy and Media News are also consolidating printing, even if it means earlier deadlines and longer truck routes.

They should go one step further: Move their printing operations into a separate subsidiary with no ties to the newsroom. Newsrooms would pay to print the paper and be free to take their business to a less expensive or more responsive competitor.

This would get the albatross of “big iron’s” debt and depreciation off newsrooms’ backs. It would position those printing operations better for sale. And it would make the pressroom and the newsroom more efficient in accounting for costs and generating new business.

I would go even a step beyond that.

If, as David Sullivan wrote a couple months ago, “newspapers are essentially a logistics business that happens to employ journalists”; and if, as Fisher writes, “Newsrooms need an honest accounting of the costs and revenues associated with producing, distributing and selling the news,” selling off the press is only half a solution. Here’s a possible other half:

Newspapers should get out of the delivery business and send papers through the mail.

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Why substance-free campaigns and journalism are bad for America

I’ve written before about annoyingly substance-free political journalism (and the substance-free politics on which it’s based). Here are two perfect articulations of why this kind of journalism and politics isn’t just annoying — it’s bad for America. First, from Andrew Sullivan:

We have war criminals as president and vice-president, and a constitution staggering after one serious terror attack. But the campaign is about whether Obama is like Paris Hilton.

The threat of Rove and his ilk is not that their petty, deceptive and irresistibly subjective tactics are evil in a petty, deceptive, childish kind of way. It’s that their venial sins distract from their mortal ones. It’s the mortal ones we have to be worried about. And the mortal ones that they are getting away with.

And from Ta-Nehisi Coates:

The housing market is collapsing, Iran is pursuing the bomb, climate change is peeking over the horizon–and we are discussing power-bars and Honest Tea. Look, all campaigns do their share of unfair attacks. And at the end of the day, it’s Obama’s job to come back with a devastating counter. He’s excelled at that all year. I expect him to do no less here. But–and I this will sound totally syrupy and naive–I really thought John McCain was a little better than this.

Jonathan Chait explains the political side of this state of affairs in his latest New Republic column:

In the late 1980s, the popular revolt against government that had bubbled up in the mid-’60s began to peter out, sapping the power of straightforward anti-government appeals. And, starting in 1992, Democrats ruthlessly purged nearly all their political liabilities by embracing anti-crime measures, welfare reform, and middle-class tax cuts, and, more recently, by abandoning gun control. What’s left is a political terrain generally favorable to Democrats, which has, in turn, forced Republicans to emphasize the personal virtue of their nominees.

And so, every four years, we have a Democratic candidate campaigning on health care, the minimum wage, education, Medicare, or Social Security, and a Republican candidate campaigning on themes like Trust, Courage, and so forth.

Why journalists play along with this game is another matter.

UPDATE: Michael Grunwald pushed back against this nonsense in a good Time column Monday, and Obama himself had a pretty good rejoinder at a town hall meeting (hat tip: The Plank):