Howell Raines column on Romenesko inadvertently reveals all that's ailing current newspaper biz
There are about 2,000 other things I should be doing right now, and a stack of pre-written blog posts I should be uploading here. But I could not resist putting up a quick post to comment on a column written for Portfolio magazine by former New York Times editor Howell Raines about the online town crier of the newspaper and media business, Jim Romenesko.
I'll admit, I have a fondness for this site which aggregates much of the news worth knowing about media, especially newspapers, in one handy blog -- and not just because Jim links my work regularly and has given me a national profile in ways I would never have anticipated.
What caught my eye was the way in which Raines --seemingly by accident -- encapsulates the backward thinking which still hobbles some parts of the print media as it struggles to deal with the biggest economic challenge of its history.
1) Raines seizes on Romenesko's original title for his blog -- Media Gossip -- as an excuse to compare his site to Gawker and other media blogs with far more attitude and far less reliable information. He ignores the fact that most of Romenesko's links are to news stories in mainstream newspaper and magazine web sites -- in particular, his former employer, the Grey Lady. So if their work is "fact free journalism," then who exactly is doing real journalism?
2) Raines also quotes a young, unnamed New York journalist to prove that young media figures are more interested in Gawker than Romenesko, ignoring the fact that Gawker is so obsessively focused on New York media culture, that it makes perfect sense a young aspirant in that world wouldn't care so much about Romenesko. It's not about whether Romenesko is turning into a geezer -- that young reporter is reading the site which speaks directly to his/her interests, which is really what the Internet is all about providing.
3) Raines notes that editors are complaining about the doom and gloom fed by the flood of stories detailing layoffs at newspapers across the nation. Didn't we wind up in this pickle, in part, because newspapers got too complacent about their success to seriously develop new products until our main source of revenue was disintegrating beneath us? Don't we need now to take a tough, consistent look at the state of the industry so we can make clear-eyed decisions about where it's headed? Doesn't it help everybody to know, in an instant, where the trajectory of the industry is going across the country? Shouldn't we be facing that truth instead of trying to hide from it? And how exactly do people who earn a living printing facts others would rather keep hidden wind up complaining about a blog which prints facts about the newspaper industry?
OK...I shouldn't get my dander up so much (and I definitely should tone down on the rhetorical questions). But it does bother me that Raines refers dismissively to "the disgruntled newsies" who "manipulate their bosses" by posting memos to Romenesko, without considering that these people -- who are, by the way, the backbone of a newspaper industry many are trying to save -- may be trying to rescue themselves from unfair or unwise decisions in the only way a journalist knows how. You know, by revealing the truth. And, you know, holding the powerful accountable. Like newspapers are supposed to do for the rest of the community.
And the ultimate, inexorable lesson fo the Internet is that these changes are based on consumers' changing needs based on technology. So if Romenesko wasn't doing his thing, Mediabistro would have a bigger audience, or the Huffington Post's media page would do it or Editor and Publisher's web operation would offer it.