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History > 2009 > USA > Journalism (I)

 

 

 

 

 

Ross Macdonald

News You Can Endow

NYT

 28 January 2009

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/opinion/28swensen.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Reporter’s Lonely Beat,

Witnessing Executions

 

October 21, 2009
The New York Times
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA

 

Of all the consequences of shrinking newsrooms, one of the oddest is this: Fewer journalists are available to watch people die. But Michael Graczyk has witnessed more than 300 deaths, and many of those were people he had come to know.

An Associated Press reporter based in Houston, Mr. Graczyk covers death penalty cases in Texas, the state that uses capital punishment far more than any other, and since the 1980s, he has attended nearly every execution the state has carried out — he has lost track of the precise count. Whenever possible, he has also interviewed the condemned killers and their victims’ families.

What makes his record all the more extraordinary is that often, Mr. Graczyk’s has been the only account of the execution given to the world at large. Covering executions was once considered an obligatory — if often ghoulish — part of what a newspaper did, like writing up school board meetings and printing box scores, but one by one, such dutiful traditions have fallen away.

A generation ago, he had plenty of company from other journalists at the prison at Huntsville, about an hour’s drive north of Houston, where executions in Texas are carried out. But then Texas executions went from rare to routine, and shrinking news organizations found it harder to justify the expense of what was, from most parts of the state, a long trip.

“There are times when I’m the only person present who doesn’t have a stake in the outcome,” he said.

Seeing inmates in the death chamber, strapped to a gurney and moments away from lethal injections, he has heard them greet him by name, confess to their crimes for the first time, sing, pray and, once, spit out a concealed handcuff key. He has stood shoulder to shoulder with other witnesses who stared, wept, fainted, turned their backs or, in one case, exchanged high-fives.

No reporter, warden, chaplain or guard has seen nearly as many executions as Mr. Graczyk, 59, Texas prison officials say. In fact, he has probably witnessed more than any other American. It could be emotionally and politically freighted work, but he takes it with a low-key, matter-of-fact lack of sentiment, refusing to hint at his own view of capital punishment.

Given a choice between the death chamber’s two viewing rooms, he usually chooses the one for the victim’s family rather than the side for the inmate’s, partly “because I can get out faster and file the story faster.”

“My job is to tell a story and tell what’s going on, and if I tell you that I get emotional on one side or another, I open myself to criticism,” he said.

The A.P. attends every execution, a policy that newspapers around the state encourage.

“Our staff is half the size it was three years ago, and so it’s just much more difficult to send somebody,” said Jim Witt, executive editor of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “But we know we can depend on The A.P., so I can send my reporters to something else.”

Newspapers sometimes use The A.P.’s reporting rather than their own — or they do not cover the executions at all. What was once a statewide story has become of strictly local interest.

A few papers, like The Houston Chronicle, still routinely cover executions in cases from their home counties, but not those from other parts of the state. Only one paper regularly covers executions no matter which part of the state the cases come from: The Huntsville Item, a small publication based near the prison.

This year, the state has put to death five inmates in cases from Tarrant County, which includes Fort Worth. The Star-Telegram covered one, wrote about two other cases in the days before the executions, and on the remaining two did not publish any articles, either its own or The A.P.’s.

“It depends on whether the crime was particularly newsworthy,” Mr. Witt said.

This year, a case from El Paso County resulted in an execution for that county for the first time in 22 years, but rather than send a reporter to Huntsville, some 650 miles away, The El Paso Times quoted extensively from Mr. Graczyk’s report.

“We actually put in to attend that one, and we were granted a spot, but when the editors explained the case to me, and the local connection was minimal, I said it wasn’t a compelling enough case,” said Chris V. Lopez, editor of The Times.

He said the expense of traveling to Huntsville was not a major consideration, but “it has to be a case that has a lot of local impact,” adding that the paper plans to attend a scheduled execution in a more prominent case.

Mr. Graczyk, who also writes on a wide range of other topics, developed his unusual specialty in the mid-1980s, a few years after Texas resumed executions after a long hiatus. He often covers the crimes, the trials and the appeals, immersed in details so gruesome it is hard to imagine they are real.

At first there were just a handful of executions each year, but the pace of capital punishment in Texas stepped up sharply through the next decade. The state has put 441 inmates to death since 1982, more than the next six states combined. That includes 334 since the start of 1997, a period in which Texas accounted for 41 percent of the national total.

“The act is very clinical, almost anticlimactic,” Mr. Graczyk said. “When we get into the chamber here in Texas, the inmate has already been strapped to the gurney and the needle is already in his arm.”

Witnesses are mostly subdued, he said, and while “some are in tears, outright jubilation or breakdowns are really rare.”

They stand on the other side of a barrier of plexiglass and bars, able to hear the prisoner through speakers. And the only sound regularly heard during the execution itself, is of all things, snoring. A three-drug cocktail puts the inmate to sleep within seconds, while death takes a few minutes. Victims’ family members often remark that the killer’s death seems too peaceful.

But before the drugs flow, the inmate is allowed to make a last statement, giving Mr. Graczyk what even he acknowledges are some lasting, eerie memories.

One inmate “sang ‘Silent Night,’ even though it wasn’t anywhere near Christmas,” Mr. Graczyk said. “I can’t hear that song without thinking about it. That one really stuck with me.”

    One Reporter’s Lonely Beat, Witnessing Executions, NYT, 21.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/21/business/media/21execute.html

 

 

 

 

 

William Safire, Political Columnist and Oracle of Language, Dies at 79

 

September 28, 2009
The New York Times
By ROBERT D. McFADDEN

 

William Safire, a speechwriter for President Richard M. Nixon and a Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist for The New York Times who also wrote novels, books on politics and a Malaprop’s treasury of articles on language, died at a hospice in Rockville, Md., on Sunday. He was 79.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, said Martin Tolchin, a friend of the family.

There may be many sides in a genteel debate, but in the Safire world of politics and journalism it was simpler: There was his own unambiguous wit and wisdom on one hand and, on the other, the blubber of fools he called “nattering nabobs of negativism” and “hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.”

He was a college dropout and proud of it, a public relations go-getter who set up the famous Nixon-Khrushchev “kitchen debate” in Moscow, and a White House wordsmith in the tumultuous era of war in Vietnam, Nixon’s visit to China and the gathering storm of the Watergate scandal, which drove the president from office.

Then, from 1973 to 2005, Mr. Safire wrote his twice-weekly “Essay” for the Op-Ed page of The Times, a forceful conservative voice in the liberal chorus. Unlike most Washington columnists who offer judgments with Olympian detachment, Mr. Safire was a pugnacious contrarian who did much of his own reporting, called people liars in print and laced his opinions with outrageous wordplay.

Critics initially dismissed him as an apologist for the disgraced Nixon coterie. But he won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, and for 32 years tenaciously attacked and defended foreign and domestic policies, and the foibles, of seven administrations. Along the way, he incurred enmity and admiration, and made a lot of powerful people squirm.

Mr. Safire also wrote four novels, including “Full Disclosure” (Doubleday, 1977), a best-seller about succession issues after a president is blinded in an assassination attempt, and nonfiction that included “The New Language of Politics” (Random House, 1968), and “Before the Fall” (Doubleday, 1975), a memoir of his White House years.

And from 1979 until earlier this month, he wrote “On Language,” a New York Times Magazine column that explored written and oral trends, plumbed the origins and meanings of words and phrases, and drew a devoted following, including a stable of correspondents he called his Lexicographic Irregulars.

The columns, many collected in books, made him an unofficial arbiter of usage and one of the most widely read writers on language. It also tapped into the lighter side of the dour-looking Mr. Safire: a Pickwickian quibbler who gleefully pounced on gaffes, inexactitudes, neologisms, misnomers, solecisms and perversely peccant puns, like “the president’s populism” and “the first lady’s momulism,” written during the Carter presidency.

There were columns on blogosphere blargon, tarnation-heck euphemisms, dastardly subjunctives and even Barack and Michelle Obama’s fist bumps. And there were Safire “rules for writers”: Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors. Proofread carefully to see if you words out. Avoid clichés like the plague. And don’t overuse exclamation marks!!

Behind the fun, readers said, was a talented linguist with an addiction to alliterative allusions. There was a consensus, too, that his Op-Ed essays, mostly written in Washington and syndicated in hundreds of newspapers, were the work of a sophisticated analyst with voluminous contacts and insights into the way things worked in Washington.

Mr. Safire called himself a pundit — the word, with its implication of self-appointed expertise, might have been coined for him — and his politics “libertarian conservative,” which he defined as individual freedom and minimal government. He denounced the Bush administration’s U.S.A. Patriot Act as an intrusion on civil liberties, for example, but supported the war in Iraq.

He was hardly the image of a button-down Times man: The shoes needed a shine, the gray hair a trim. Back in the days of suits, his jacket was rumpled, the shirt collar open, the tie askew. He was tall but bent — a man walking into the wind. He slouched and banged a keyboard, talked as fast as any newyawka and looked a bit gloomy, like a man with a toothache coming on.

His last Op-Ed column was “Never Retire.” He then became chairman of the Dana Foundation, which supports research in neuroscience, immunology and brain disorders. In 2005, he testified at a Senate hearing in favor of a law to shield reporters from prosecutors’ demands to disclose sources and other information. In 2006, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. From 1995 to 2004, he was a member of the board that awards the Pulitzer Prizes.

William Safir was born on Dec. 17, 1929, in New York City, the youngest of three sons of Oliver C. and Ida Panish Safir. (The “e” was added to clarify pronunciation.) He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and attended Syracuse University, but quit after his second year in 1949 to take a job with Tex McCrary, a columnist for The New York Herald Tribune who hosted radio and television shows; the young legman interviewed Mae West and other celebrities.

In 1951, Mr. Safire was a correspondent for WNBC-TV in Europe and the Middle East, and jumped into politics in 1952 by organizing an Eisenhower-for-President rally at Madison Square Garden. He was in the Army from 1952 to 1954, and for a time was a reporter for the Armed Forces Network in Europe. In Naples he interviewed both Ingrid Bergman and Lucky Luciano within a few hours of each other.

In 1959, working in public relations, he was in Moscow to promote an American products exhibition and managed to steer Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev into the “kitchen debate” on capitalism versus communism. He took the photograph that became an icon of the encounter. Nixon was delighted, and hired Mr. Safire for his 1960 campaign for the presidency against John F. Kennedy.

Starting his own public relations firm in 1961, Mr. Safire worked in Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller’s 1964 presidential race and on John V. Lindsay’s 1965 campaign for mayor of New York. Mr. Safire also wrote his first book, “The Relations Explosion” (Macmillan, 1963).

In 1962, he married the former Helene Belmar Julius, a model, pianist and jewelry designer. The couple had two children, Mark and Annabel. His wife and children survive him, as does a granddaughter, Lily Safire.

In 1968, he sold his agency, became a special assistant to President Nixon and joined a White House speechwriting team that included Patrick J. Buchanan and Raymond K. Price Jr. Mr. Safire wrote many of Nixon’s speeches on the economy and Vietnam, and in 1970 coined the “nattering nabobs” and “hysterical hypochondriacs” phrases for Vice President Spiro T. Agnew.

After Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, publisher of The Times, hired Mr. Safire, one critic said it was like setting a hawk loose among doves. As Watergate broke, Mr. Safire supported Nixon, but retreated somewhat after learning that he, like others in the White House, had been secretly taped.

Mr. Safire won his Pulitzer Prize for columns that accused President Jimmy Carter’s budget director, Bert Lance, of shady financial dealings. Mr. Lance resigned, but was acquitted in a trial. He then befriended his accuser.

Years later, Mr. Safire called Hillary Clinton a “congenital liar” in print. Mrs. Clinton said she was offended only for her mother’s sake. But a White House aide said that Bill Clinton, “if he were not the president, would have delivered a more forceful response on the bridge of Mr. Safire’s nose.”

Mr. Safire was delighted, especially with the proper use of the conditional.

    William Safire, Political Columnist and Oracle of Language, Dies at 79, NYT, 28.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/28/us/28safire.html

 

 

 

 

 

Times Reporter Escapes Taliban After 7 Months

 

June 21, 2009
The New York Times
By THE NEW YORK TIMES

 

David Rohde, a New York Times reporter who was kidnapped by the Taliban, escaped Friday night and made his way to freedom after more than seven months of captivity in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mr. Rohde, along with a local reporter, Tahir Ludin, and their driver, Asadullah Mangal, was abducted outside Kabul, Afghanistan, on Nov. 10 while he was researching a book.

Mr. Rohde was part of The Times’s reporting team that won a Pulitzer Prize this spring for coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan last year.

Mr. Rohde told his wife, Kristen Mulvihill, that Mr. Ludin joined him in climbing over the wall of a compound where they were being held in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. They found a Pakistani Army scout, who led them to a nearby army base, and on Saturday they were flown to the American military base in Bagram, Afghanistan.

“They just walked over the wall of the compound,” Ms. Mulvihill said.

The driver, Mr. Mangal, did not escape with the other two men. The initial report was that Mr. Rohde was in good health, while Mr. Ludin injured his foot in the escape.

Until now, the kidnapping has been kept quiet by The Times and other media organizations out of concern for the men’s safety.

“From the early days of this ordeal, the prevailing view among David’s family, experts in kidnapping cases, officials of several government and others we consulted was that going public could increase the danger to David and the other hostages,” said Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times. “The kidnappers initially said as much. We decided to respect that advice, as we have in other kidnapping cases, and a number of other news organizations that learned of David’s plight have done the same. We are enormously grateful for their support.”

Since the men were abducted, there had been sporadic communication from them and from the kidnappers. Ms. Mulvihill expressed relief at the end of the ordeal and gratitude to the many people — official and unofficial — who offered information, advice and support.

“The family is so grateful to everyone who has helped — The New York Times, the U.S. government, all the others,” Ms. Mulvihill said. “Now we just hope to have a chance to reunite with him in peace.”

“We’ve been married nine months,” she added. “And seven of those, David has been in captivity.”

Both Mr. Keller and Mr. Rohde’s family declined to discuss details of the efforts to free the captives, except to say that no ransom money was paid and no Taliban or other prisoners were released.

“Kidnapping, tragically, is a flourishing industry in much of the world,” Mr. Keller said. “As other victims have told us, discussing your strategy just offers guidance for future kidnappers.”

Mr. Rohde, 41, had traveled to Afghanistan in early November to work on a book about the history of American involvement there when he was invited to interview a Taliban commander in Logar Province outside Kabul. Mr. Rohde, who years before had been taken prisoner while reporting in Bosnia, had instructed The Times’s bureau in Kabul about whom to notify if he did not return. He also indicated that he believed that the interview was important and that he would be all right.

His father, Harvey Rohde, said that while he regretted that his son had made the trip, he understood his motivation, “to get both sides of the story, to have his book honestly portray not just the one side but the other side as well.”

“I guess that personifies my son,” Mr. Rohde said.

As security has deteriorated in Afghanistan, kidnappers have increasingly singled out affluent Afghans as well as foreign contractors, aid workers, church members and journalists. Last fall, Melissa Fung, a reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, was held captive in a dank underground hole for nearly a month until Afghan authorities pressured her kidnappers to release her. Mr. Rohde’s captivity was one of the longest in the country.

Mr. Rohde joined The Times 12 years ago after winning a Pulitzer Prize in international reporting in 1996 for documenting the massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica.

He is known by colleagues as an intrepid yet unassuming reporter who conducts himself modestly around the office, predictably attired in neatly ironed Oxford shirts and, often, his weathered Boston Red Sox cap. Affable and soft-spoken, he is not one to regale colleagues with war stories, instead saving his storytelling for articles.

“David Rohde is one unbelievably dogged reporter who brings an open mind and big heart to every story,” Mr. Keller said.

Mr. Rohde’s keen interest in Afghanistan was ignited in the intense three months he spent there after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and cemented during his tenure as co-chief of The Times’s South Asia bureau from 2002 to 2005. He continued to travel to Afghanistan after he returned to New York, where he is a member of The Times’s investigations department.

Mr. Ludin, 35, the Afghan reporter who was assisting Mr. Rohde as an interpreter, has worked with The Times of London and other news organizations. A Pashtun originally from Zabul Province, he fled with his family to Quetta, Pakistan, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. He attended high school there, learning English, before returning to his country and settling in Kabul, where he is now the father of seven children under the age of 8 and the sole breadwinner for an extended family of 17.

Mr. Mangal, 24, who had regularly driven Mr. Ludin, ran a car service with his brother.

Mr. Rohde, who grew up in a tight-knit New England family, majored in history at Brown University. Mr. Rohde’s big opportunity as a reporter came in the mid-1990s, when The Christian Science Monitor sent him to cover the conflict in the Balkans. His tenacious reporting played a crucial role in exposing the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Bosnia.

Mr. Rohde had been the first Western journalist to travel into Bosnian Serb territory to search for evidence of mass graves. What he found seemed to confirm the suspicions: blood and human feces in a soccer stadium where Muslim prisoners had most likely been shot; bulldozer tracks leading to three rectangles of freshly turned dirt; empty ammunition boxes and a decomposing human leg. But Mr. Rohde did not think his findings drew sufficient attention to the massacre, said Faye Bowers, his former editor at The Monitor. He decided to venture once more into rebel territory, this time secretly and alone.

“I got a long e-mail saying that he couldn’t live with himself if the massacre went unheeded so he was going back for more evidence,” Ms. Bowers said.

Shortly after sending the e-mail message, Mr. Rohde vanished.

During the trip, he had discovered additional grave sites and photographed piles of clothing and human bones near an earthen dam. But he was detected by a plainclothes watchman and turned over to Bosnian Serb authorities and imprisoned.

It was late November 1996, and Mr. Rohde’s editors joined 11 of his relatives on a trip to Dayton, Ohio, where the Bosnian peace talks were being held, to urge American diplomats to demand his release. After 10 days of imprisonment, during which he was interrogated relentlessly and deprived of sleep, Mr. Rohde was freed. When he arrived in Boston, he was greeted by a phalanx of cameras at the airport, which made him cringe, said his older brother, Lee.

“He’s old school,” Lee Rohde said. “The last thing he ever wants is to be the story. He’s supposed to be the storyteller.”

    Times Reporter Escapes Taliban After 7 Months, NYT, 21.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/21/world/asia/21taliban.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Looking to Big-Screen E-Readers to Help Save the Daily Press

 

May 4, 2009
The New York Times
By BRAD STONE

 

The iPod stemmed losses in the music industry. The Kindle gave beleaguered book publishers a reason for optimism.

Now the recession-ravaged newspaper and magazine industries are hoping for their own knight in shining digital armor, in the form of portable reading devices with big screens.

Unlike tiny mobile phones and devices like the Kindle that are made to display text from books, these new gadgets, with screens roughly the size of a standard sheet of paper, could present much of the editorial and advertising content of traditional periodicals in generally the same format as they appear in print. And they might be a way to get readers to pay for those periodicals — something they have been reluctant to do on the Web.

Such e-reading devices are due in the next year from a range of companies, including the News Corporation, the magazine publisher Hearst and Plastic Logic, a well-financed start-up company that expects to start making digital newspaper readers by the end of the year at a plant in Dresden, Germany.

But it is Amazon, maker of the Kindle, that appears to be first in line to try throwing an electronic life preserver to old-media companies. As early as this week, according to people briefed on the online retailer’s plans, Amazon will introduce a larger version of its Kindle wireless device tailored for displaying newspapers, magazines and perhaps textbooks.

An Amazon spokesman would not comment, but some news organizations, including The New York Times, are expected to be involved in the introduction of the device, according to people briefed on the plans. A spokeswoman for The Times, Catherine J. Mathis, said she could not comment on the company’s relationship with Amazon.

These devices from Amazon and other manufacturers offer an almost irresistible proposition to newspaper and magazine industries. They would allow publishers to save millions on the cost of printing and distributing their publications, at precisely a time when their businesses are under historic levels of pressure.

“We are looking at this with a great deal of interest,” said John Ridding, the chief executive of the 121-year-old, salmon-colored British newspaper The Financial Times. “The severe double whammy of the recession and the structural shift to the Internet has created an urgency that has rightly focused attention on these devices.”

Perhaps most appealing about this new class of reading gadgets is the opportunity they offer publishers to rethink their strategy in a rapidly evolving digital world. The move by newspapers and magazines to make their material freely available on the Web is now viewed by many as a critical blunder that encouraged readers to stop paying for the print versions. And publishers have found that they were not prepared to deal with the recent rapid decline of print advertising revenue.

Publishers could possibly use these new mobile reading devices to hit the reset button and return in some form to their original business model: selling subscriptions, and supporting their articles with ads.

The current version of the Kindle has proved in a limited way that this is possible. Even though its six-inch black-and-white screen is made for reading books, Amazon offers Kindle owners subscriptions to more than 58 newspapers and magazines, including The Times, Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal. (The Journal subscription costs $9.99 a month, The Times is $13.99 a month and The New Yorker is $2.99 a month.)

Subscribers get updates once a day over a cellular network. Amazon and other participating publishers say they are satisfied with the results, although they have not released data on the number of subscriptions that have been sold.

For the all the hope publishers are placing in dedicated electronic reading devices, they will be encumbered at the start with some serious shortcomings. Most use display technology from E Ink, a company in Cambridge, Mass., that was founded in 1997 based on research started at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology M.I.T. Media Lab to develop thin electronic displays capable of mimicking the readability of regular paper, while using a minimum amount of battery power.

The screens, which are currently in the Kindle and Sony Reader, display no color or video and update images at a slower rate than traditional computer screens. That has some people in the magazine industry, in particular, keeping their hopes in check until E Ink evolves.

“I don’t think we would be anywhere near as excited about anything in black and white as we would about high-definition color,” said Tom Wallace, the editorial director of Condé Nast, publisher of glossy magazines like Vogue and Wired. “But technology changes at a pretty high clip these days, and if we are now in the Farmer Gray days, it will be only a very short while until we are in the video game era.”

Another hitch is that some makers of reading devices, like Amazon, want to set their own subscription prices for publications and control the relationship with the subscriber — something media companies like Condé Nast object to. Plastic Logic and Hearst have said publicly that they will take a more open approach and let media companies deal directly with readers and set their own prices.

Then there is the looming presence of Apple, which seems likely to introduce a multipurpose tablet computer later this year, according to rumor and speculation by Apple observers. Such a device, with a screen that is said to be about three or four times as large as the iPhone’s, would have an LCD screen capable of showing rich color and video, and people could use it to browse the Web.

Even if such a device has limited battery life and strains readers’ eyes, for many buyers it could be a more appealing alternative to devices dedicated to reading books, newspapers and magazines.

Such a Web-connected tablet would also pose a problem for any print publications that hope to try charging for content that is tailored for mobile devices, since users could just visit their free sites on the Internet. One way to counter this might be to borrow from the cellphone model and offer specialized reading devices free or at a discount to people who commit to, say, a one-year subscription.

Then there is the possibility that all these devices from Amazon, Apple and the rest have simply not appeared in time to save many players in the troubled realm of print media.

“If these devices had been ready for the general consumer market five years ago, we probably could have taken advantage of them quickly,” said Roger Fidler, the program director for digital publishing at the University of Missouri, Columbia. “Now the earliest we might see large-scale consumer adoption is next year, and unlike the iPod it’s going to be a slower process migrating people from print to the device.”

“And all of us are very worried about how newspapers are going to survive in the next few years if we don’t see any turnaround in the economy,” Mr. Fidler said.

Whether or not the situation is hopeless, newspapers and magazines now find themselves weighing offers of aid from outsiders. When asked at the debut of the Kindle 2 in February whether the Kindle could help the print media, Jeffrey P. Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, said he thought there were “genuine opportunities” to save journalism.

“And we’re excited about helping with that,” he added.

    Looking to Big-Screen E-Readers to Help Save the Daily Press, NYT, 4.4.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/04/technology/companies/04reader.html

 

 

 

 

 

At Deadline, No Deal Yet on Boston Globe’s Future

 

May 4, 2009
The New York Times
By TIM ARANGO

 

Negotiations between the New York Times Company and the Boston Newspaper Guild over concessions that could avert the closure of The Boston Globe apparently reached Sunday’s midnight deadline without a deal.

Little more than an hour before the deadline, the Times Company said it would file a notice under federal law stating its intention of closing The Globe within 60 days.

The union put out its own statement saying it had made a proposal that exceeded management’s demands. The union called the company’s statement that it would file the closure notice, “representative of the bullying manner in which the Times Company has conducted itself during these negotiations.”

The two sides could continue negotiating during the 60-day period, if the notice is filed, that is required under federal law to close a business of The Globe’s size. A first deadline for a deal was Friday at midnight, but the two sides agreed to keep talking after the union said the company had made an accounting error that increased the amount of concessions the company was demanding from the union.

In early April it emerged that the company had threatened to close The Globe if labor unions refused to accept major concessions such as pay cuts and reductions in pension contributions as well as the end of some lifetime job guarantees.

The Times Company has said The Globe is on track to lose about $85 million this year amid the worst advertising decline for newspapers since the Great Depression. The company has been looking for $20 million in labor concessions, including about $10 million from the Boston Newspaper Guild, the largest union that represents Globe employees.

In 1993 the company paid $1.1 billion for The Globe, which is the highest price ever paid for a single American newspaper.

While the industry overall has been severely affected by the recession and the flight of readers to the Internet, the advertising decline has been worse in Boston than elsewhere in the country.

In the recent quarter, advertising in the Times Company’s publishing segment fell 28.4 percent, but the worst fall came in the New England Media Group, of which the largest portion is The Globe. Advertising in that unit fell 31.6 percent.

The Times Company has also been seeking to sell its stake in the Boston Red Sox baseball team and the regional sports network NESN.

    At Deadline, No Deal Yet on Boston Globe’s Future, NYT, 5.4.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/04/business/media/04paper.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

US Newspaper Circulation Continues Decline

 

April 27, 2009
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 8:50 a.m. ET
The New York Times

 

NEW YORK (AP) -- Circulation at the nation's newspapers continues to fall.

The Audit Bureau of Circulations said Monday that average daily circulation declined 7.1 percent in the October-March period from the same six-month span in 2007-2008.

That was faster than the 4.6 percent fall recorded in the April-September period of 2008.

Sunday circulation fell 5.4 percent in the latest period.

USA Today remains the No. 1 newspaper, though its circulation dropped 7.5 percent after several periods with little change.

Newspaper sales have been declining since the early 1990s, but the drop has accelerated in recent years. Circulation revenue has largely held up, though, because of price increases.

    US Newspaper Circulation Continues Decline, NYT, 27.4.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/04/27/business/AP-US-Newspaper-Circulation.html

 

 

 

 

 

Detroit Journal

Detroit’s Daily Papers Are Now Not So Daily

 

March 31, 2009
The New York Times
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA and MARY CHAPMAN

 

DETROIT — Maybe once a year, a city has a news day as heavy as the one that just hit Detroit: The White House forced out the chairman of General Motors, word leaked that the administration wanted Chrysler to hitch its fortunes to Fiat, and Michigan State University’s men’s basketball team reached the Final Four, which will be held in Detroit.

All of this news would have landed on hundreds of thousands of Motor City doorsteps and driveways on Monday morning, in the form of The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News.

Would have, that is, except that Monday — of all days — was the long-planned first day of the newspapers’ new strategy for surviving the economic crisis by ending home delivery on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Instead, on those days, they are directing readers to their Web sites and offering a truncated print version at stores, newsstands and street boxes.

“This morning, I felt like something was missing,” said Nancy Nester, 51, a program coordinator at a traumatic brain injury center who is from West Bloomfield and has subscribed to both papers for four years. “There was this feeling of emptiness.”

She did not even bother to pick up the condensed print versions that were offered free on Monday. “I don’t have time to stop at the store,” she said. “That’s why I have home delivery.”

To Carol Banas, a retired city planner and longtime Free Press reader, the idea of not having a printed paper is unimaginable. “I’m at the age where I like my newspapers in hand,” said Ms. Banas, 56, who read a hard copy of Monday’s abbreviated Free Press in an Einstein Brothers Bagels shop in Royal Oak. “I know that’s English online, but it’s not the same.”

On Monday, The News and The Free Press, which share business functions under a joint operating agreement, distributed more than half a million free copies of their condensed print editions, but they will begin charging (50 cents, as always) on Tuesday. The Free Press, the larger of the papers, will still make home deliveries on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, and The News, which does not have a Sunday issue, will deliver on Thursdays and Fridays.

They have been heavily promoting not just their Web sites, but also online “e-editions” that look just like the printed papers. The e-editions have been open to everyone, but executives say that soon, only paying customers will be able to see them. For a day, at least, there was no doubt about the demand: the computers delivering the e-editions could not keep up on Monday morning, and many people were unable to load them.

“We had an overwhelming — literally overwhelming — number of people trying to get onto the e-edition site this morning, and it’s gratifying on one hand, but it slowed things down,” said Jonathan Wolman, editor and publisher of The News, which is owned by MediaNews Group.

The papers went to great effort to prepare readers, printing warnings and guides to the new format, but not everyone got the message. “A lot of people were prepped for it, and yet we’ve also been hearing from folks who were surprised that today was the day,” Mr. Wolman said.

With profits shrinking fast, newspapers are grasping for the formula that will ensure survival, and a few have decided to save on printing and distribution by publishing only on the most profitable days of the week — potentially a step toward an all-digital future. The Detroit papers are not going quite that far, but clearly the impetus is the same. Executives have called it a calculated gamble, but they say that Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays account for more than 80 percent of their advertising revenue.

About 50,000 people tried to click on the e-editions Monday, five times as many as usual, said David Hunke, chief executive of the Detroit Media Partnership. And squeezing all of the day’s news into a 32-page print edition “certainly tested our theories on design and editing.”

In a speech to the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, Mr. Hunke presented a strategy for winning readers electronically. The papers will soon be available on Amazon’s Kindle reader and, possibly by early next year, on another device from a company called Plastic Logic, said Mr. Hunke, who is also the publisher of The Free Press, which is owned by the Gannett Company.

Despite the added demand and confusion, it probably worked to the papers’ benefit that the new strategy began with a crush of news, said Bob Giles, who held Mr. Wolman’s posts in the 1990s and is now curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. “It reminds people how valuable their newspapers are, even if it’s online,” he said.

The future no doubt lies in that direction, but for now, it is a tough sell for some readers of a certain age.

Howard Waxer, 60, dropped his longtime Free Press subscription in anticipation of losing seven-day delivery and said he would not read online. He leafed through The Free Press while eating a club sandwich at Country Oven Family Dining restaurant in Berkley and said this would be his approach from now on — pick up a copy and read it over lunch.

“There’s always going to be this,” he said, holding up the paper. “I can’t picture this city without a paper coming out.”

 

Mary M. Chapman reported from Detroit, and Richard Pérez-Peña from New York.

    Detroit’s Daily Papers Are Now Not So Daily, NYT, 31.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/31/business/media/31paper.html

 

 

 

 

 

Op-Ed Columnist

The Daily Me

 

March 19, 2009
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

 

Some of the obituaries these days aren’t in the newspapers but are for the newspapers. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is the latest to pass away, save for a remnant that will exist only in cyberspace, and the public is increasingly seeking its news not from mainstream television networks or ink-on-dead-trees but from grazing online.

When we go online, each of us is our own editor, our own gatekeeper. We select the kind of news and opinions that we care most about.

Nicholas Negroponte of M.I.T. has called this emerging news product The Daily Me. And if that’s the trend, God save us from ourselves.

That’s because there’s pretty good evidence that we generally don’t truly want good information — but rather information that confirms our prejudices. We may believe intellectually in the clash of opinions, but in practice we like to embed ourselves in the reassuring womb of an echo chamber.

One classic study sent mailings to Republicans and Democrats, offering them various kinds of political research, ostensibly from a neutral source. Both groups were most eager to receive intelligent arguments that strongly corroborated their pre-existing views.

There was also modest interest in receiving manifestly silly arguments for the other party’s views (we feel good when we can caricature the other guys as dunces). But there was little interest in encountering solid arguments that might undermine one’s own position.

That general finding has been replicated repeatedly, as the essayist and author Farhad Manjoo noted in his terrific book last year: “True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.”

Let me get one thing out of the way: I’m sometimes guilty myself of selective truth-seeking on the Web. The blog I turn to for insight into Middle East news is often Professor Juan Cole’s, because he’s smart, well-informed and sensible — in other words, I often agree with his take. I’m less likely to peruse the blog of Daniel Pipes, another Middle East expert who is smart and well-informed — but who strikes me as less sensible, partly because I often disagree with him.

The effect of The Daily Me would be to insulate us further in our own hermetically sealed political chambers. One of last year’s more fascinating books was Bill Bishop’s “The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart.” He argues that Americans increasingly are segregating themselves into communities, clubs and churches where they are surrounded by people who think the way they do.

Almost half of Americans now live in counties that vote in landslides either for Democrats or for Republicans, he said. In the 1960s and 1970s, in similarly competitive national elections, only about one-third lived in landslide counties.

“The nation grows more politically segregated — and the benefit that ought to come with having a variety of opinions is lost to the righteousness that is the special entitlement of homogeneous groups,” Mr. Bishop writes.

One 12-nation study found Americans the least likely to discuss politics with people of different views, and this was particularly true of the well educated. High school dropouts had the most diverse group of discussion-mates, while college graduates managed to shelter themselves from uncomfortable perspectives.

The result is polarization and intolerance. Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor now working for President Obama, has conducted research showing that when liberals or conservatives discuss issues such as affirmative action or climate change with like-minded people, their views quickly become more homogeneous and more extreme than before the discussion. For example, some liberals in one study initially worried that action on climate change might hurt the poor, while some conservatives were sympathetic to affirmative action. But after discussing the issue with like-minded people for only 15 minutes, liberals became more liberal and conservatives more conservative.

The decline of traditional news media will accelerate the rise of The Daily Me, and we’ll be irritated less by what we read and find our wisdom confirmed more often. The danger is that this self-selected “news” acts as a narcotic, lulling us into a self-confident stupor through which we will perceive in blacks and whites a world that typically unfolds in grays.

So what’s the solution? Tax breaks for liberals who watch Bill O’Reilly or conservatives who watch Keith Olbermann? No, until President Obama brings us universal health care, we can’t risk the surge in heart attacks.

So perhaps the only way forward is for each of us to struggle on our own to work out intellectually with sparring partners whose views we deplore. Think of it as a daily mental workout analogous to a trip to the gym; if you don’t work up a sweat, it doesn’t count.

Now excuse me while I go and read The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page.



I invite you to visit my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.

Roger Cohen is off today.

    The Daily Me, NYT, 19.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/19/opinion/19kristof.html

 

 

 

 

 

As Cities Go From Two Papers to One, Talk of Zero

 

March 12, 2009
The New York Times
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA

 

The history of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer stretches back more than two decades before Washington became a state, but after 146 years of publishing, the paper is expected to print its last issue next week, perhaps surviving only in a much smaller online version.

And it is not alone. The Rocky Mountain News shut down two weeks ago, and The Tucson Citizen is expected to fold next week.

At least Denver, Seattle and Tucson still have daily papers. But now, some economists and newspaper executives say it is only a matter of time — and probably not much time at that — before some major American city is left with no prominent local newspaper at all.

“In 2009 and 2010, all the two-newspaper markets will become one-newspaper markets, and you will start to see one-newspaper markets become no-newspaper markets,” said Mike Simonton, a senior director at Fitch Ratings, who analyzes the industry.

Many critics and competitors of newspapers — including online start-ups that have been hailed as the future of journalism — say that no one should welcome their demise.

“It would be a terrible thing for any city for the dominant paper to go under, because that’s who does the bulk of the serious reporting,” said Joel Kramer, former editor and publisher of The Star Tribune and now the editor and chief executive of MinnPost .com, an online news organization in Minneapolis.

“Places like us would spring up,” he said, “but they wouldn’t be nearly as big. We can tweak the papers and compete with them, but we can’t replace them.”

No one knows which will be the first big city without a large paper, but there are candidates all across the country. The Hearst Corporation, which owns The Post-Intelligencer, has also threatened to close The San Francisco Chronicle, which lost more than $1 million a week last year, unless it can wring significant savings from the operation.

In a tentative deal reached Tuesday night, the California Media Workers Guild agreed to less vacation time, longer workweeks and more flexibility for The Chronicle to make layoffs without regard to seniority. Union officials say they have been told to expect the elimination of at least 150 guild jobs, almost one-third of the total, and management is still trying to negotiate concessions from the Teamsters union.

Advance Publications said last fall that it might shut down The Star-Ledger, the dominant paper in New Jersey, but a set of cutbacks and union concessions kept the paper alive in much-downsized form.

The top papers in many markets, like The Star Tribune in Minneapolis, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New Haven Register, belong to companies that have gone into bankruptcy in the last three months.

The owners insist they have no intention of closing publications, but the management making those assurances may not be in charge when the companies emerge from reorganization.

Other publishers, like the Seattle Times Company and MediaNews Group, owner of The Denver Post, The San Jose Mercury News and The Detroit News, are seen as being at risk of bankruptcy. Many newspapers — from The Miami Herald to The Chicago Sun-Times — have been put up for sale, with no buyers on the horizon.

Ad revenue, the industry’s lifeblood, has dropped about 25 percent in the last two years (by comparison, automotive revenue for Detroit’s Big Three fell about 15 percent during the same period, although it has accelerated recently), and that slide, accelerated by the recession, shows no sign of leveling off in 2009.

Web sites like Craigslist have been to classified ads what the internal combustion engine was to horse-drawn buggies. The stock prices of most newspaper publishers have dropped more than 90 percent from their peaks.

And magnifying the problem, for many chains, is a heavy burden of debt that they took on, mostly in a spree of buying other newspapers from 2005 to 2007, just before the bottom dropped out of the business.

The Tribune Company, for instance, owner of The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and other papers, filed for bankruptcy in December, largely because of its debt load. The reality is that even though the economic climate is hard for newspapers, without their debt payments the publishers in bankruptcy would still make money, as do most newspapers around the country.

But profits are shrinking fast; taken together, major chains had an operating profit margin of about 10 percent in 2008, down from more than 20 percent as recently as 2004, according to research by John Morton, an independent analyst.

The recent closures and threatened closures point to an ominous new trend. For The Chronicle, The Rocky, The Star-Ledger, The Citizen and others, debt was never the problem and they belonged to solvent companies, but still they have been losing money.

Analysts say that many other major papers have also slid into red ink recently, including The Washington Post and The Boston Globe (which is owned by The New York Times Company).

The steady trickle of downsizing that sapped American papers for almost a decade has become a flood in the last few years. The Los Angeles Times still has one of the largest news staffs in the country, about 600 people, but it was twice as big in the late 1990s. The Washington Post had a newsroom of more than 900 six years ago, and has fewer than 700 now. The Gannett Company, the largest newspaper publisher in the country, eliminated more than 8,300 jobs in 2007 and 2008, or 22 percent of the total.

On Wednesday, The Miami Herald, once the celebrated flagship of the Knight Ridder chain, said it would trim an additional 19 percent of its already diminished staff.

Nearly every large paper in the country prints fewer pages and fewer articles, and many have eliminated entire sections. Bureaus in foreign capitals and even Washington have closed, and papers have jettisoned film criticism, book reviews and coverage of local news outside their home markets.

Many papers are sharing coverage with former competitors in an effort to save money. (The New York Times has also suffered from declining revenue, but has been able to avoid serious newsroom cuts so far.)

For more than two centuries, newspapers have been the indispensable source of public information and a check on the abuses of government and other powerful interests. And they still reach a vast and growing audience. Daily print circulation has dropped from a peak of 62 million two decades ago to around 49 million, and online readership has risen faster, to almost 75 million Americans and 3.7 billion page views in January, according to Nielsen Online.

But no one yet has unlocked the puzzle of supporting a large newsroom purely on digital revenue, a fact that may presage an era of news organizations that are smaller, weaker and less able to fulfill their traditional function as the nation’s watchdog.

“I can’t imagine what civil society would be like,” said Buzz Woolley, a wealthy San Diego businessman who has been a vocal critic of the paper there, The Union-Tribune, and the primary backer of an Internet news site, VoiceofSanDiego.org. “I don’t want to imagine it. A huge amount of information would just never get out.”

Not everyone agrees. The death of a newspaper should result in an explosion of much smaller news sources online, producing at least as much coverage as the paper did, says Jeff Jarvis, director of interactive journalism at the City University of New York’s graduate journalism school. Those sources might be less polished, Mr. Jarvis said, but they would be competitive, ending the monopolies many newspapers have long enjoyed.

A number of money-losing papers should “have the guts to shut down print and go online,” he said. “It will have to be a much smaller product, but that’s where we’re headed anyway.”

Industry executives who once scoffed at the idea of an Internet-only product now concede that they are probably headed in that direction, but the consensus is that newspapers going all digital would become drastically smaller news sources for the foreseeable future.

Until then, papers have turned to measures that would have been unthinkable just a year or two ago, including many that are weighing whether to begin charging readers for online access, as The Wall Street Journal does.

Starting March 30, the major Detroit papers, The Free Press and The News, will deliver to subscribers only three days a week, to save money on printing and trucking. The Christian Science Monitor will print its last daily edition on March 27, becoming primarily an online operation, with a printed weekly paper.

“It’s not so much that everyone has a great plan,” said John Yemma, editor of The Monitor. Rather, he said, “everybody is so desperate, they’re looking at every possibility.”

    As Cities Go From Two Papers to One, Talk of Zero, NYT, 12.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/12/business/media/12papers.html

 

 

 

 

 

Letters

Imagining Newspapers of the Future

 

January 31, 2009
The New York Times

 

To the Editor:

Re “News You Can Endow,” by David Swensen and Michael Schmidt (Op-Ed, Jan. 28), which says endangered newspapers can be saved if we “turn them into nonprofit, endowed institutions — like colleges and universities”:

The writers don’t seem troubled by the rule that endowed status would prevent newspapers from attempting to “influence legislation.” Candidate endorsements are not the only thing this would suppress. Wouldn’t this also prevent newspapers from editorializing about any pending legislation?

Isn’t that one of the most important jobs of a newspaper?

Lynn Klyde-Silverstein
Greeley, Colo., Jan. 28, 2009

The writer is an assistant professor of journalism and mass communications at the University of Northern Colorado.



To the Editor:

Let’s play this chess game a few moves in advance. How do Google, Yahoo and other Web sites get their news? Answer: They simply take the free stories from major newspapers around the world.

Now imagine that there are no newspapers left. Does the demand for news go down? No. A very big vacuum will emerge, to be filled by different forms of collecting, analyzing and distributing news.

Many of the people who were involved in that endeavor before will find a place in the new structure. Maybe even more people than before. Maybe in a more democratic fashion.

We should not be afraid of the future. There will always be news and news-somethings.

Elliot Neaman
San Francisco, Jan. 28, 2009

The writer is a history professor at the University of San Francisco.




To the Editor:

Before newspapers gallop off into the political prairie of wooing endowments from those who have agendas and pressuring personalities, I suggest the newspaper industry edit its self-image and start thinking of itself as the “publishers of news,” skip the “paper.”

Just as television did not strive to replicate its print predecessors’ revenue stream with still ads locked onto the tube, the re-edited newspaper industry will start to shape its online format to the movie-screen dimensions of computer monitors and flat-screen TVs. It will surround the printed word with the stunning color ads of slick magazines combined with the video action of television to woo readers and advertisers alike.

“Click to enlarge” will be to the publishers of news what “downloading” is becoming for the music industry: a viable future and a new delivery system for something we love.

Tim Straus
Springfield, Mo., Jan. 28, 2009



To the Editor:

There are two gaping problems with the suggestion that newspapers become nonprofit institutions financed by endowments.

Who exactly is going to provide the money? University endowments rely heavily on contributions from alumni. And the unspoken truth is that many if not most alumni (and others) give money to colleges for selfish reasons: to curry favor with the admissions office or to help their alma mater retain its standing in the marketplace.

And though endowment-financed newspapers would be less beholden to advertisers, they would instead be beholden to their large donors — and remain unlikely to bite the hands that feed them.

Martin Kimel
Potomac, Md., Jan. 28, 2009



To the Editor:

As a former newspaper publisher running a startup nonprofit news site, I agree with the writers that the eroding business model of for-profit newspapers is endangering the profession of journalism and the quality of democracy.

But their solution — very wealthy individuals and large foundations endowing a handful of newspapers — would give enormous power to a few newsgathering organizations, probably national in scope. Such concentration of power would not foster innovation or competition.

It would not solve the problem where it is most acute — in metropolitan areas around the country; there are not enough billion-dollar donors to go around.

Here is an alternative for wealthy philanthropists: Create an endowment that will match donations to nonprofit enterprises doing public-affairs journalism anywhere in the country.

Numerous metropolitan areas and states have new not-for-profit news sites, which are experimenting with new ways to finance high-quality journalism in their communities. Matching their donor contributions would greatly increase the vibrancy of public-affairs journalism, and it would back the journalism that people are willing to support.

Joel Kramer
Minneapolis, Jan. 28, 2009

The writer, former publisher of The Minneapolis Star Tribune, is chief executive and editor of MinnPost.com.



To the Editor:

Why not move over to the well-established British system in which a small universal fee paid by all citizens finances a public media system. Today the British Broadcasting Corporation is a towering example of journalism, freed from the constraints faced by commercial media companies. So great is the BBC that it has recently begun invading our borders with BBC America, though that channel is not allowed to use the citizen fees.

There is a demand for the good, thorough and informative coverage that can be delivered by a nonprofit media institution. But it is a shame that this demand is being met by the British, instead of us.

Jessica Wanke
New York, Jan. 28, 2009



To the Editor:

We certainly cannot afford to lose the careful reporting offered by American newspapers, but sending a check is not the answer.

Even if we were able to financially ensure the continued existence of American newspapers, how can we ensure citizen engagement? It is far easier to browse oversimplified headlines on the Internet than it is to pick up a newspaper and read an article in depth.

This is why only a small handful of students at my boarding school read newspapers. The failing newspapers are a reflection of our failure to keep my generation interested in issues of national and international importance.

Louise Dufresne
Charlotte, N.C., Jan. 28, 2009

    Imagining Newspapers of the Future, NYT, 31.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/31/opinion/l31endow.html

 

 

 

 

 

Op-Ed Contributor

News You Can Endow

 

January 28, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID SWENSEN and MICHAEL SCHMIDT

 

New Haven

“THE basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in January 1787. “And were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter.”

Today, we are dangerously close to having a government without newspapers. American newspapers shoulder the burden of considerable indebtedness with little cash on hand, as their profit margins have diminished or disappeared. Readers turn increasingly to the Internet for information — even though the Internet has the potential to be, in the words of the chief executive of Google, Eric Schmidt, “a cesspool” of false information. If Jefferson was right that a well-informed citizenry is the foundation of our democracy, then newspapers must be saved.

Although the problems that the newspaper industry faces are well known, no one has offered a satisfactory solution. But there is an option that might not only save newspapers but also make them stronger: Turn them into nonprofit, endowed institutions — like colleges and universities. Endowments would enhance newspapers’ autonomy while shielding them from the economic forces that are now tearing them down.

In the standard business model, newspapers rely on revenues from circulation and advertising to pay for news coverage and generate healthy profits. In the past decade, however, as Americans embraced the Internet, newspaper circulation has declined every year. Advertising revenues, which are tied to circulation levels, fell even faster. Classified ads, in particular, suffered as the Web offered cheaper, easier and more effective alternatives.

America’s pre-eminent papers exemplify the distress. Average profit margins at The Washington Post over the past five years have been about 25 percent less than what they had been in the previous 15 years. At The New York Times, the decline was more than 50 percent. The debt-laden Tribune Company, which operates The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and six other daily papers, has filed for bankruptcy protection.

Newspapers nationwide, struggling to survive the economic turmoil, seek to refinance debt, issue equity and dispose of nonessential assets. These actions are short-term solutions to a systemic problem, Band-Aids for a gaping wound.

News organizations have cut costs, with grave consequences. Over the past three years, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and The San Francisco Chronicle have trimmed their staffs. The number of American correspondents reporting from abroad fell by 25 percent from 2002 to 2006, and only a handful of American newspapers now operate foreign bureaus.

In a move that would have been unthinkable just last year, The New York Times recently began selling display advertising on its front page. Some papers have even shrunk physically, eliminating sections and decreasing paper size.

As long as newspapers remain for-profit enterprises, they will find no refuge from their financial problems. The advertising revenues that newspaper Web sites generate are not enough to sustain robust news coverage. Though The New York Times Web site attracted 20 million unique users in October, Web-driven revenues support only an estimated 20 percent of the paper’s current staff.

As newspapers go digital, their business model erodes. A 2008 research report from Sanford C. Bernstein & Company explained, “The notion that the enormous cost of real news-gathering might be supported by the ad load of display advertising down the side of the page, or by the revenue share from having a Google search box in the corner of the page, or even by a 15-second teaser from Geico prior to a news clip, is idiotic on its face.”

By endowing our most valued sources of news we would free them from the strictures of an obsolete business model and offer them a permanent place in society, like that of America’s colleges and universities. Endowments would transform newspapers into unshakable fixtures of American life, with greater stability and enhanced independence that would allow them to serve the public good more effectively.

As educational and literary organizations devoted to the “promotion of social welfare,” endowed newspapers would benefit from Section 501(c)(3) of the I.R.S. code, which provides exemption from taxes on income and allows tax deductions for people who make contributions to eligible organizations.

One constraint on an endowed institution is the prohibition in the same law against trying to “influence legislation” or “participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.” While endowed newspapers would need to refrain from endorsing candidates for public office, they would still be free to participate forcefully in the debate over issues of public importance. The loss of endorsements seems minor in the context of the opinion-heavy Web.

Aside from providing stability, an endowment would promote journalistic independence. The best-run news organizations insulate reporters from pressures to produce profits or to placate advertisers. But endowed news organizations would be in an ideal situation — with no pressure from stockholders or advertisers at all.

How large an endowment would a newspaper need? The news-gathering operations at The New York Times cost a little more than $200 million a year. Assuming some additional outlay for overhead, it would require an endowment of approximately $5 billion (assuming a 5 percent annual payout rate). Newspapers with smaller newsrooms would require smaller endowments.

Note that just as endowed educational institutions charge tuition, endowed newspapers would generate incremental revenues from hard-copy sales and online subscriptions. If revenues were to exceed the costs of distribution, the endowment requirement would decline.

Many newspapers will not weather the digital storm on their own. Only a handful of foundations and wealthy individuals have the money required to endow, and thereby preserve, our nation’s premier news-gathering organizations. Enlightened philanthropists must act now or watch a vital component of American democracy fade into irrelevance.



David Swensen, the author of “Pioneering Portfolio Management,” is the chief investment officer at Yale, where Michael Schmidt is a financial analyst.

    News You Can Endow, NYT, 28.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/opinion/28swensen.html?ref=opinion

 

 

 

 

 

James Brady, Columnist Chronicling the Power Elite, Dies at 80

 

January 29, 2009
The New York Times
By WILLIAM GRIMES

 

James Brady, who helped start the Page Six gossip column at The New York Post, chronicled the doings of the New York power elite in columns for Advertising Age and Crain’s New York Business and wrote a gripping memoir of his combat experience in the Korean War, died on Monday after collapsing at his home in Manhattan. He was 80.

His daughter Fiona Brady said that the cause had not been determined but that he had a stroke several years ago.

For more than 30 years Mr. Brady turned a knowing eye on the literati, fashionistas and tycoons who defined life at the top in Manhattan. He also interviewed Hollywood celebrities for Parade magazine. But nearly any topic that caught his fancy made it into his columns.

In his final “Brady’s Bunch” column in Advertising Age in 2005, he reviewed some of the subjects that he had written about over the years. They included Paris and Coco Chanel, war and peace, “the Hamptons, football, red wine, TV, Scott Fitzgerald, skiing with my grandchildren and Elaine’s restaurant.”

The list went on. And on.

“He was a throwback to the Damon Runyon days of newspapermen,” the gossip columnist Liz Smith, who worked for Mr. Brady at Harper’s Bazaar and The Post, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “He did just about everything, and probably 28 other things I don’t even know about. He worked hard, and he made it seem effortless.”

James Winston Brady grew up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and worked his way through Manhattan College as a copyboy at The Daily News in New York. After being called up from the reserves by the Marine Corps, he went to Korea in 1951 and wound up leading a rifle platoon in some of the heaviest combat of the war.

He later wrote about his Korean experience in an acclaimed memoir, “The Coldest War” (1990), one of his several books about Korea and the Marines, including “The Scariest Place in the World” (2005), “Why Marines Fight” (2007) and the novels “The Marines of Autumn” (2000) and “The Marine” (2003). Just days before he died, he finished editing “Hero of the Pacific: The Life of Legendary Marine John Basilone,” to be published by Wiley in November.

On returning to the United States, he was hired as a business news reporter by Women’s Wear Daily. Its parent company, Fairchild Publications, later sent him to Washington to cover Capitol Hill and to London and Paris to run its bureaus there. In Paris he became a good friend of Coco Chanel, who, for reasons unknown, called him “mon petit indien” (“my little Indian”).

In 1958 he married Florence Kelly, who survives him. In addition to his daughter Fiona, of the Riverdale section of the Bronx, he is also survived by a brother, Msgr. Tom Brady of Brooklyn; another daughter, Susan Konig of Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.; and four grandchildren.

Mr. Brady returned to New York as publisher of Women’s Wear Daily in 1964 and later started its spinoff publication W. In 1971 he took over the editorship of Harper’s Bazaar, but his efforts to inject a more youthful note into the publication earned him a quick exit, although he put his misadventures to good use in the publishing memoir “Superchic” (1974).

He was quickly hired by Clay Felker to develop and write the “Intelligencer” column for New York magazine, and, just as quickly, lured away by the publisher Rupert Murdoch, then extending his reach from Australia and Britain to the United States. Mr. Brady initially edited The National Star (now The Star), the supermarket tabloid, and then moved to The Post after Mr. Murdoch bought it in 1976.

Whether Mr. Brady alone gave birth to Page Six remains in dispute, but he was present at the creation, gave the column its name and was its first editor, briefly, before being called on to edit Mr. Murdoch’s latest acquisition, New York magazine. He returned to Page Six as editor in the early 1980s.

A taste for the high life and an upbeat, gregarious nature made Mr. Brady a marathon chronicler of the upper reaches of Manhattan social life, where he was a curious enthusiast rather than a climber. He began writing a column for Advertising Age in 1977, and when Crain’s New York Business started up in 1984, he simply doubled his output with a column there, too. The social material that did not find its way into his columns fed into a series of novels set in the Hamptons. (He had a summer house in East Hampton, N.Y.)

Beyond New York, he was familiar to millions of readers as the author of “In Step With,” a weekly celebrity profile for Parade magazine, which he began writing in 1986. His last Parade column, on Kevin Bacon, is scheduled to appear on Feb. 15.

    James Brady, Columnist Chronicling the Power Elite, Dies at 80, NYT, 29.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/29/arts/29brady.html

 

 

 

 

 

Washington Post Names 2 Editors

 

January 14, 2009
The New York Times
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA

 

The shake-up of The Washington Post continued on Tuesday, as the paper named two managing editors, including one from outside the newspaper and another who becomes the first woman to hold such a high position in its newsroom.

The new editors are Elizabeth Spayd, who has held top posts in the paper’s digital and print newsrooms, and Raju Narisetti, who spent years at The Wall Street Journal, and most recently led a paper in India.

Like most major papers, The Post has an insular history, mostly putting its own veterans into top positions. But with the new managing editors reporting to Marcus W. Brauchli, the executive editor who joined The Post in September after spending most of his career at The Journal, two of its top three editors will be newly arrived outsiders. Both of them also have extensive backgrounds in business news, another shift in The Post’s traditions.

The pair will succeed the paper’s former second-ranking editor, Philip Bennett, who said earlier this month that he would step down to allow Mr. Brauchli to name his own team.

The appointments point toward a goal of the new publisher, Katharine Weymouth — tighter integration between the Post’s print newsroom and its online news operation, which has maintained an unusual degree of independence. Ms. Spayd, who is close to the publisher, is the editor of washingtonpost.com, giving her more intimate knowledge of its operations than her predecessors.

But it is Mr. Narisetti, a long-time colleague and friend of Mr. Brauchli’s, who “will be responsible for washingtonpost.com’s day-to-day operations,” according to the paper’s announcement, putting the Web site more directly under the control of the main newsroom.

Ms. Spayd, 50, has worked at The Post for more than 20 years as a reporter and editor, including several years as assistant managing editor for national news, before she went to the Internet side two years ago. She will oversee the primary “hard news” coverage, including political, local, national, foreign and business news, as well as the production of the printed paper.

Mr. Narisetti, 42, was the founding editor of Mint, a two-year-old, business-focused newspaper in India. Before going there, he was a reporter and then an editor at The Journal, rising to the position of deputy managing editor, and editor of The Journal’s European edition. At The Post, in addition to heading the Web operations, he will oversee the Style, Weekend and Sunday magazine sections, and the design and video features of The Post and its Web site.

    Washington Post Names 2 Editors, NYT, 13.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/14/business/media/14paper.html