Thursday, March 19, 2009

Imagining Hartford without its daily

Even though my media history class was discussing "What 'missing the newspaper' means," I missed David Folkenflik's NPR piece last month that used my alma mater, The Hartford Courant, as a "what if?" example of just that topic. I'm glad I stumbled on it today. And, thanks to NPR's use of the Web, a transcript and the original audio are online...

See Imagining A City Without Its Daily Newspaper. As Folkenflik mentions, the Courant is the nation's oldest continuously published newspaper, as well as being the main source of news in the capital city of one of the wealthiest states in the union.

Here's one telling scene:
"In the State House press room, unopened mail was piled high on the desk set aside for The New York Times on a recent day. The Times stopped covering Hartford altogether last year. Some in-state dailies no longer send reporters either. The retreat by other news organizations makes even the diminished Courant more relevant than ever."

Folkenflik's follow-up story discusses the nonprofit model for newspapers, and one of his examples is another Connecticut publication, the online-only New Haven Independent, started a few years ago by former newspaperman Paul Bass.

Note: "What 'Missing the newspaper' means" is a classic study by Bernard Berelson, conducted during a newspaper delivery strike in New York City more than 50 years ago. For a good summary, and a follow-up, see "No newspaper is no fun--even five decades later," by my friend Clyde Bentley.

Related stories:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Growing a new forest of news while dead-tree media fall

A picture named sbjnewsflow.jpg

Seeing a new media ecology

My headline takes some liberties with Stephen Berlin Johnson's ecological metaphor for the current transition in the reporting and delivery of news, but I recommend his essay, one of several good ones this week on saving the news or finding a sustainable model for civic or public affairs journalism. Johnson's discussion leads to his information flowchart at the right.

For more about the trend in newspapers going online-mostly, online-only or out of business, see these:

Johnson's thoughts came out of the much-blogged-about South by Southwest (sxsw) conference, while a panel discussion on the future of The San Francisco Chronicle -- and local news reporting -- inspired Salon co-founder Scott Rosenberg and blogger Dave Winer to write equally thoughtful essays, each finding some room for optimism -- if not about newspapers, about the future of news itself.

(Also see Rosenberg on journalism schools, and Clay Shirky's piece I mentioned a few days ago.)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Learning from history: Saving journalism, not newspapers

As part of this essay, Clay Shirky goes back to Gutenberg to analyze what happens in a communication revolution: Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.

Among his conclusions:
"Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.
"When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work."

There's a lot more in his essay, which I'm going to assign to media history students and to students looking for journalism careers.

Who's Clay? See his home page

Footnote: I had a sense of deja vu after writing that headline... See Saving journalism may not mean saving newspapers from December 2004.