viernes, noviembre 10, 2006

¿Tienen futuro los diarios?

La pregunta ya es repetitiva e, incluso, un poco aburrida. Los diarios son como el equipo de fútbol que está a punto de descender a segunda división: nadie quiere hablar de ellos a pesar de que siempre hay gente que los sigue. Para hablar en público, es mejor Internet. En todo caso, no parece razonable omitir la discusión. De los muchos artículos publicados sobre este tema, es importante destacar este que apareció Time. En especial porque plantea la estrategia de los mayores conglomerados en EE.UU. y la posibilidad de que en un futuro cercano se conviertan en empresas de medios online y dejen el papel. La semana pasada, nuevamente -salvo el NYT- los diarios más importantes en EE.UU. mostraron una caída en sus ventas y las noticias de recorte de personal en dichas compañías ya se hicieron habituales.,9171,1538652,00.html

Por Michael Kinsley
It seems hopeless. How can the newspaper industry
survive the Internet? On the one hand, newspapers are
expected to supply their content free on the Web. On
the other hand, their most profitable
advertising--classifieds--is being lost to sites like
Craigslist. And display advertising is close behind.
Meanwhile, there is the blog terror: people are
getting their understanding of the world from random
lunatics riffing in their underwear, rather than
professional journalists with standards and passports.

Ten years ago, it was a challenge for websites to get
people to spend time for pleasure in front of a
computer screen. "Your problem will be solved
actuarially," a computer-sciences professor assured a
group of Web pioneers, and sure enough, it was. Now
the problem is to get people under 50 or so to pick up
a newspaper. Damp or encased in plastic bags, or both,
and planted in the bushes outside where it's cold,
full of news that is cold too because it has been
sitting around for hours, the home-delivered newspaper
is an archaic object. Who needs it? You can sit down
at your laptop and enjoy that same newspaper or any
other newspaper in the world. Or you can skip the
newspapers and go to some site that makes the news
more entertaining or politically simpatico. And where
do these wannabes get most of their information? From
newspapers, of course. But that is mere irony. It
doesn't pay the cost of a Baghdad bureau.

Newspaper angst is now focused on the Los Angeles
Times, where I was editorial and opinion editor in
2004 and '05. Long the industry's leading example of
needless excellence, the Times has had bureaus around
the world, a huge Washington staff and so on. Yet it
had a near monopoly in its own town and made little
attempt to compete elsewhere. So what was the point?

The Tribune Co. of Chicago, which bought the L.A.
Times six years ago, has been asking that question and
answering it with demands for cuts in budget and
staff. One might ask what the point of the Tribune
approach is as well. The Tribune paid a premium for a
premium paper and seems intent on dragging it down
into mediocrity. That may improve margins in the short
run, but it does nothing to address the fundamental
crisis of newspapers. Two weeks ago the Times's editor
and publisher publicly refused to chop any further,
which doesn't address the crisis either.

Some believe that the answer is to restore local
ownership. Newspapers were born free, and yet
everywhere they are in chains, like Gannett. Fueled by
noblesse oblige and municipal pride, a wealthy local
won't need to squeeze the last dollar out of the
business. Just look at the Sulzbergers of the New York
Times and the Grahams of the Washington Post. Ah, but
there is a difference between folks who get rich
owning a newspaper and folks who get rich and then buy
a newspaper. As a rule, rich folks don't buy expensive
toys for other people to play with.
So are we doomed to get our news from some acned
12-year-old in his parents' basement recycling rumors
from the Internet echo chamber? Not necessarily. The
fact that people won't pay for news on the Internet
isn't as devastating for the old medium as it seems.
People don't pay for their news in traditional
newspapers: they pay for the paper, which typically
costs the company more than it charges for the
finished product. So in theory, giving away the news
without the paper looks like a good deal for
newspapers, if they can keep the advertising.

Once you've rented an apartment online, you know that
traditional newspaper classifieds, with their tiny
type, have no future. But only slow-footedness has
kept newspapers from dominating online classifieds.
Technology can be bought, but the brand value of a
local newspaper cannot (unless you buy the paper).
Maybe it's too late, but if newspapers have missed
this boat, it's their own fault.

Newspapers are not missing the blog boat. They are
running for it like the last train out of Paris. They
hold their breath and look the other way as their most
precious rules and standards get trampled in the rush,
and figure they'll worry about that later.

And later? The "me to you" model of news gathering--a
professional reporter, attuned to the fine
distinctions between "off the record" and "deep
background," prizing factual accuracy in the narrowest
sense--may well give way to some kind of "us to us"
communitarian arrangement of the sort that thrives on
the Internet. But there is room between the New York
Times and for new forms that liberate
journalism from its encrusted conceits while
preserving its standards, like accuracy.

I'm not sure what that new form will look like. But it
might resemble the better British papers today (such
as the one I work for, the Guardian). The Brits have
never bought into the American separation of reporting
and opinion. They assume that an intelligent person,
paid to learn about some subject, will naturally
develop views about it. And they consider it more
truthful to express those views than to suppress them
in the name of objectivity.

Newspapers on paper are on the way out. Whether
newspaper companies are on the way out too depends.
Some of them are going to find the answers. And some
are going to fritter away the years quarreling about
staff cuts.


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