martes, enero 30, 2007

Lo mejor y lo peor del 2006

La mejor forma de terminar este primer semestre de Hijo del Medio, antes de volver en marzo, es precisamente recogiendo la raíz de nuestra profesión: las buenas historias. Aquí tres notables historias publicadas en The Best American Magazine Writing 2006. Tres trabajos de investigación profundos sobre temas que hoy marcan la agenda mundial: Irak, el cambio climático y la manipulación de la prensa que realiza la administración Bush. Quedan pendiente los grandes artículos de habla hispana y abrir los espacios para este tipo de investigaciones en la prensa chilena, que muchas veces registra los mismos personajes y las mismas historias. Dentro de lo peor de este periodo, sin duda está la partida de Kapuscinski, el periodista polaco que marcó muchas generaciones y que pese a los cuestionamientos que recibió por las licencias creativas que se daba al narrar sus reportajes, sin duda abrió mundos que despertaron -y despertarán- a jóvenes periodistas por todo el mundo. Al final, dos enfoques para la vida de Ryszard Kapuscinski.

The Man Who Sold the War
The road to war in Iraq led through many unlikely places. One of them was a chic hotel nestled among the strip bars and brothels that cater to foreigners in the town of Pattaya, on the Gulf of Thailand.

On December 17th, 2001, in a small room within the sound of the crashing tide, a CIA officer attached metal electrodes to the ring and index fingers of a man sitting pensively in a padded chair. The officer then stretched a black rubber tube, pleated like an accordion, around the man's chest and another across his abdomen. Finally, he slipped a thick cuff over the man's brachial artery, on the inside of his upper arm. Strapped to the polygraph machine was Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a forty-three-year-old Iraqi who had fled his homeland in Kurdistan and was now determined to bring down Saddam Hussein.

For hours, as thin mechanical styluses traced black lines on rolling graph paper, al-Haideri laid out an explosive tale. Answering yes and no to a series of questions, he insisted repeatedly that he was a civil engineer who had helped Saddam's men to secretly bury tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. The illegal arms, according to al-Haideri, were buried in subterranean wells, hidden in private villas, even stashed beneath the Saddam Hussein Hospital, the largest medical facility in Baghdad. It was damning stuff -- just the kind of evidence the Bush administration was looking for. If the charges were true, they would offer the White House a compelling reason to invade Iraq and depose Saddam. That's why the Pentagon had flown a CIA polygraph expert to Pattaya: to question al-Haideri and confirm, once and for all, that Saddam was secretly stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

There was only one problem: It was all a lie. After a review of the sharp peaks and deep valleys on the polygraph chart, the intelligence officer concluded that al-Haideri had made up the entire story, apparently in the hopes of securing a visa. The fabrication might have ended there, the tale of another political refugee trying to scheme his way to a better life. But just because the story wasn't true didn't mean it couldn't be put to good use. Al-Haideri, in fact, was the product of a clandestine operation -- part espionage, part PR campaign -- that had been set up and funded by the CIA and the Pentagon for the express purpose of selling the world a war. And the man who had long been in charge of the marketing was a secretive and mysterious creature of the Washington establishment named John Rendon. Rendon is a man who fills a need that few people even know exists. Two months before al-Haideri took the lie-detector test, the Pentagon had secretly awarded him a $16 million contract to target Iraq and other adversaries with propaganda. One of the most powerful people in Washington, Rendon is a leader in the strategic field known as "perception management," manipulating information -- and, by extension, the news media -- to achieve the desired result. His firm, the Rendon Group, has made millions off government contracts since 1991, when it was hired by the CIA to help "create the conditions for the removal of Hussein from power." Working under this extraordinary transfer of secret authority, Rendon assembled a group of anti-Saddam militants, personally gave them their name -- the Iraqi National Congress -- and served as their media guru and "senior adviser" as they set out to engineer an uprising against Saddam. It was as if President John F. Kennedy had outsourced the Bay of Pigs operation to the advertising and public-relations firm of J. Walter Thompson. "They're very closemouthed about what they do," says Kevin McCauley, an editor of the industry trade publication O'Dwyer's PR Daily. "It's all cloak-and-dagger stuff."

Por David Foster Wallace
r. John Ziegler, thirty-seven, late of Louisville's WHAS, is now on the air, "Live and Local," from 10:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. every weeknight on southern California's KFI, a 50,000-watt megastation whose hourly ID and Sweeper, designed by the station's Imaging department and featuring a gravelly basso whisper against licks from Ratt's 1984 metal classic "Round and Round," is "KFI AM-640, Los Angeles—More Stimulating Talk Radio."

This is either the eighth or ninth host job that Mr. Ziegler's had in his talk-radio career, and far and away the biggest. He moved out here to LA over Christmas—alone, towing a U-Haul—and found an apartment not far from KFI's studios, which are in an old part of the Koreatown district, near Wilshire Center. The John Ziegler Show is the first local, nonsyndicated late-night program that KFI has aired in a long time. It's something of a gamble for everyone involved. Ten o'clock to one qualifies as late at night in southern California, where hardly anything reputable's open after nine. It is currently right near the end of the program's second segment on the evening of May 11, 2004, shortly after Nicholas Berg's taped beheading by an al-Qaeda splinter in Iraq.

Dressed, as is his custom, for golf, and wearing a white-billed cap w/ corporate logo, Mr. Ziegler is seated by himself in the on-air studio, surrounded by monitors and sheaves of Internet downloads. He is trim, clean-shaven, and handsome in the somewhat bland way that top golfers and local TV newsmen tend to be. His eyes, which off-air are usually flat and unhappy, are alight now with passionate conviction. Only some of the studio's monitors concern Mr. Z.'s own program; the ones up near the ceiling take muted, closed-caption feeds from Fox News, MSNBC, and what might be C-SPAN. To his big desk's upper left is a wall-mounted digital clock that counts down seconds. His computer monitors' displays also show the exact time. Across the soundproof glass of the opposite wall, another monitor in the Airmix room is running an episode of The Simpsons, also muted, which both the board op and the call screener are watching with half an eye. Pendent in front of John Ziegler's face, attached to the same type of hinged, flexible stand as certain student desk lamps, is a Shure-brand broadcast microphone that is sheathed in a gray foam filtration sock to soften popped p's and hissed sibilants. It is into this microphone that the host speaks: "And I'll tell you why—it's because we're better than they are."

A Georgetown B.A. in government and philosophy, scratch golfer, former TV sportscaster, possible world-class authority on the O.J. Simpson trial, and sometime contributor to MSNBC's Scarborough Country, Mr. Ziegler is referring here to America versus what he terms "the Arab world." It's near the end of his "churn," which is the industry term for a host's opening monologue, whose purpose is both to introduce a show's nightly topics and to get listeners emotionally stimulated enough that they're drawn into the program and don't switch away. More than any other mass medium, radio enjoys a captive audience—if only because so many of the listeners are driving—but in a major market there are dozens of AM stations to listen to, plus of course FM and satellite radio, and even a very seductive and successful station rarely gets more than a five or six percent audience share. "We're not perfect, we suck a lot of the time, but we are better as a people, as a culture, and as a society than they are, and we need to recognize that, so that we can possibly even begin to deal with the evil that we are facing."

When Mr. Z.'s impassioned, his voice rises and his arms wave around (which obviously only those in the Airmix room can see). He also fidgets, bobs slightly up and down in his executive desk chair, and weaves. Although he must stay seated and can't pace around the room, the host does not have to keep his mouth any set distance from the microphone, since the board op, 'Mondo Hernandez, can adjust his levels on the mixing board's channel 7 so that Mr. Z.'s volume always stays in range and never peaks or fades. 'Mondo, whose price for letting outside parties hang around Airmix is one large bag of cool-ranch Doritos per evening, is an immense twenty-one-year-old man with a ponytail, stony Mesoamerican features, and the placid, grandmotherly eyes common to giant mammals everywhere. Keeping the studio signal from peaking is one of 'Mondo's prime directives, along with making sure that each of the program's scheduled commercial spots is loaded into Prophet and run at just the right time, whereupon he must confirm that the ad has run as scheduled in the special Airmix log he signs each page of, so that the station can bill advertisers for their spots. 'Mondo, who started out two years ago as an unpaid intern and now earns ten dollars an hour, works 7:00—1:00 on weeknights and also board-ops KFI's special cooking show on Sundays.

As long as he's kept under forty hours a week, which he somehow always just barely is, the station is not obliged to provide 'Mondo with employee benefits. The Nick Berg beheading and its Internet video compose what is known around KFI as a "Monster," meaning a story that has both high news value and tremendous emotional voltage. As is SOP in political talk radio, the emotions most readily accessed are anger, outrage, indignation, fear, despair, disgust, contempt, and a certain kind of apocalyptic glee, all of which the Nick Berg thing's got in spades. Mr. Ziegler, whose program is in only its fourth month at KFI, has been fortunate in that 2004 has already been chock-full of Monsters—Saddam's detention, the Abu Ghraib scandal, the Scott Peterson murder trial, the Greg Haidl gang-rape trial, and preliminary hearings in the rape trial of Kobe Bryant. But tonight is the most angry, indignant, disgusted, and impassioned that Mr. Z.'s gotten on-air so far, and the consensus in Airmix is that it's resulting in some absolutely first-rate talk radio.

Por Elizabeth Kolbert
The Alaskan village of Shishmaref sits on an island known as Sarichef, five miles off the coast of the Seward Peninsula. Sarichef is a small island—no more than a quarter of a mile across and two and a half miles long—and Shishmaref is basically the only thing on it. To the north is the Chukchi Sea, and in every other direction lies the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, which probably ranks as one of the least visited national parks in the country. During the last ice age, the land bridge—exposed by a drop in sea levels of more than three hundred feet—grew to be nearly a thousand miles wide.

The preserve occupies that part of it which, after more than ten thousand years of warmth, still remains above water. Shishmaref (pop. 591) is an Inupiat village, and it has been inhabited, at least on a seasonal basis, for several centuries. As in many native villages in Alaska, life there combines—often disconcertingly—the very ancient and the totally modern. Almost everyone in Shishmaref still lives off subsistence hunting, primarily for bearded seals but also for walrus, moose, rabbit, and migrating birds. When I visited the village one day last April, the spring thaw was under way, and the seal-hunting season was about to begin. (Wandering around, I almost tripped over the remnants of the previous year’s catch emerging from storage under the snow.) At noon, the village’s transportation planner, Tony Weyiouanna, invited me to his house for lunch. In the living room, an enormous television set tuned to the local public-access station was playing a rock soundtrack. Messages like “Happy Birthday to the following elders . . .” kept scrolling across the screen.

Traditionally, the men in Shishmaref hunted for seals by driving out over the sea ice with dogsleds or, more recently, on snowmobiles. After they hauled the seals back to the village, the women would skin and cure them, a process that takes several weeks. In the early nineteen-nineties, the hunters began to notice that the sea ice was changing. (Although the claim that the Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow is an exaggeration, the Inupiat make distinctions among many different types of ice, including sikuliaq, “young ice,” sarri, “pack ice,” and tuvaq, “landlocked ice.”) The ice was starting to form later in the fall, and also to break up earlier in the spring. Once, it had been possible to drive out twenty miles; now, by the time the seals arrived, the ice was mushy half that distance from shore. Weyiouanna described it as having the consistency of a “slush puppy.” When you encounter it, he said, “your hair starts sticking up. Your eyes are wide open. You can’t even blink.” It became too dangerous to hunt using snowmobiles, and the men switched to boats.Soon, the changes in the sea ice brought other problems. At its highest point, Shishmaref is only twenty-two feet above sea level, and the houses, many built by the U.S. government, are small, boxy, and not particularly sturdy-looking.

When the Chukchi Sea froze early, the layer of ice protected the village, the way a tarp prevents a swimming pool from getting roiled by the wind. When the sea started to freeze later, Shishmaref became more vulnerable to storm surges. A storm in October, 1997, scoured away a hundred-and-twenty-five-foot-wide strip from the town’s northern edge; several houses were destroyed, and more than a dozen had to be relocated. During another storm, in October, 2001, the village was threatened by twelve-foot waves. In the summer of 2002, residents of Shishmaref voted, a hundred and sixty-one to twenty, to move the entire village to the mainland. Last year, the federal government completed a survey of possible sites for a new village. Most of the spots that are being considered are in areas nearly as remote as Sarichef, with no roads or nearby cities, or even settlements. It is estimated that a full relocation will cost at least a hundred and eighty million dollars.

Ryszard Kapuscinski
Whenever we met in Warsaw for dinner on one of my recent trips there, the drill was the same. Ryszard Kapuscinski--world traveler to the most dangerous hotspots in the Third World, the risk taker par excellence--wanted to meet at his favorite Italian restaurant in the city, order the same insalata mista, pasta pesto and bottle of Montepulciano that he always did. This writer of literary "collages" as he called them, nearly two-dozen books, treated Warsaw as his refuge, his island of normalcy and familiar routine in a life that overflowed with the extraordinary and the unpredictable.

The Lies of Ryszard Kapuscinski
Por Jack Shafer
The Washington Post obituary of Ryszard Kapuściński, who died Jan. 23, calls him "among the most celebrated war correspondents of his generation." The Los Angeles Times obituary proclaims him the "most celebrated of Polish journalists, whose work earned international acclaim." In the Guardian, director Jonathan Miller speaks of Kapuściński's "magnificent reportage" from Haile Selassie's royal court. The Daily Telegraph obituary describes him as "Poland's most renowned foreign correspondent and a witness to much of the turbulent birth of the Third World."

viernes, enero 26, 2007

El difícil camino del multimedia

La mayor parte de los websites de noticias -al menos los que dependen de los diarios más grandes del mundo- está mirando de cerca el cómo mejorar sus sitios y como implementar eficientemente -y con cierto criterio- las virtudes de la multimedia. Las empresas saben que los tiempos de permanencia en un sitio de noticias apenas supera los 10 minutos en promedio, por lo que se hace necesario nuevos lenguajes para atraer a los lectores, en especial los más jóvenes. Este artículo publicado por la Nieman Foundation muestra lo complejo que puede llegar a ser realizar un trabajo de este tipo, en especial con periodistas que fueron capacitados para un periodismo de pocas herramientas y poca flexibilidad. El autor del texto es John Solomon, director de multimedia e investigación de Associated Press.

Por John Solomon

When people first see the title on my new letterhead—Director, Multimedia Investigative Reporting—they often greet me with a blank stare or funny smirk. "What? Were all the good jobs already taken?" my brother joked during his recent visit to the Washington, D.C. bureau of The Associated Press. I can't blame my brother or numerous other wisecrackers for wondering what's going on. For years I held some of the more standard management titles in the AP, such as news editor or assistant bureau chief. But I'll confess that my new one is growing on me, much as is the work that goes with it. A little more than a year ago, Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll and Washington Bureau Chief Sandra Johnson put me in charge of an intriguing experiment to combine multimedia reporting with investigative reporting. Their idea was as straightforward as it was tantalizing: take a half.

Their idea was as straightforward as it was tantalizing: take a half dozen of AP's best print reporters, tell them they can pursue any investigative story across the globe but only if they can command audiences in the AP's four news formats simultaneously.
dozen of AP's best print reporters, tell them they can pursue any investigative story across the globe but only if they can command audiences in the AP's four news formats simultaneously. The challenge, which was a new one for many AP reporters, was to produce compelling journalism that would captivate a wide variety of news consumer tastes. It also meant adapting to the different attention spans and interests of print, Web, television and radio audiences. When I heard the proposal, I thought this would be easy. I'd made a few friends through the years in AP's TV division. I listened to NPR during my daily commute, and I'd even gotten into the habit of reading newspapers online, often leaving the print copies in the driveway for my wife to read. How difficult could this really be? Ask any of our team members today, and they'll explain. Arriving from our print orientation, this was the journalistic equivalent of "Survivor" contestants trying to fashion rocks into flints so they could light a fire. Every tool, term and colleague from another AP news division seemed completely foreign to us. Our first interactions with TV producers must have looked like American tourists in Paris rifling through a translation guide trying to figure out what was just said. None of us had ever worked in a "cutting room" before nor responded to a request for "b-roll."

At one of our first organizational meetings, I tried to introduce the team to software used to create Web interactivity. "Anyone here ever heard of Flash?" I asked innocently. "That's what the digital camera does when you press the button, right?" one reporter replied, relieving all of us of some of the tension attending our transition. Our first efforts bordered on comedy. A reporter new to carrying a digital video camera shot what he thought was compelling video—until he realized the lens cap was still on. Great sound, but a very black picture greeted his return. A loud scream (and a few choice words) reverberated through the office on the day when videotapes of interviews with September 11th survivors got lost in the mail between AP departments. The tapes were a key part of an investigative project looking into government disaster loans that went to companies that weren't hurt by the September 11th attacks. Headlines we proposed to tease Web stories came back to us reading in ways we found nonsensical. And an important interview recorded for its ambient sound had to be redone when the microphone on the recorder wasn't fully plugged in. Fortunately our growing pains were overshadowed by stories the team's reporters investigated and by the limitless possibilities these various formats provided us in presenting what we'd found in our reporting. It didn't take long for team members to rally around a concept that became our mission statement: "Don't just tell readers the news, let them experience it and interact with it." Here are some ways in which our mission has translated into work: When Ted Bridis obtained Pentagon memos showing a growing.

*When Ted Bridis obtained Pentagon memos showing a growing number of crashes caused by hot-dogging military pilots, he wasn't satisfied with just documenting the evidence. He wanted readers to be able to experience the consequences. So he persisted and eventually located video—shot from inside the cockpit of a helicopter—that showed a pilot ignoring the advice of his copilot as he tried to squeeze his Apache helicopter between two trees at a high speed. The rotors clipped the trees, the cockpit started shaking, and the copter crashed to the ground. Bridis's doggedness and ingenuity meant that our online and TV news consumers were introduced to what he'd uncovered from a seat inside that chopper.

*Sharon Theimer and Larry Margasak sought to expose the ruse of congressional caucuses. Even with their official sounding names, they often turn out to be nothing more than social clubs that collect special interest money to fund recreational activities for lawmakers. The reporters used a camera to "catch" lawmakers shooting with lobbyists at a gun range and playing golf with them while Congress was in session and they were supposed to be doing the people's business. The video footage anchored the Web and video packages, and this reporting provided the lead anecdote for the print story.

*Theimer and Margasak did video interviews with lawmakers running to catch planes at Reagan National Airport for the weekend to highlight another story that examined how lawmakers collected personal

*Frequent flier miles on airline tickets paid for by taxpayers and special interest groups. In documenting how former Congressman Tom DeLay spent one million dollars he'd raised from donors to fund lavish trips to Caribbean cliff-top resorts, outings at PGA golf courses, and meals at five-star restaurants, the Web, TV and print audiences were taken inside some of DeLay's favorite destinations. Web viewers could look at the menu for one of these restaurants and see that the prize of appetizers started at $35.

*Mishi Ebrahim, who joined AP from "60 Minutes," teamed with several colleagues to transport news consumers inside the Bush administration's briefing room on the day before Hurricane Katrina hit. Watching this scene, viewers saw how relaxed President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff were—unsuspecting of the magnitude of the tragedy that would soon befall the Gulf Coast.

*Ebrahim also found ways to tell the poignant story of two whistleblowers who were fired for exposing how their company stole September 11th relief supplies, only to become devastated when the company wasn't prosecuted. The reason: FBI agents had also stolen items related to September 11th.

Benefits to Traditional Print Media
One obvious question is whether we have left the traditional print media behind as we focus on making video, sound and Web widgets. The resounding answer is no. In fact, the pressure on the team's reporters to work with a 4-D vision serves to improve what we do in print. Reporters go back to videotapes they shot to review details that make their print stories richer, livelier and deeper. Rita Beamish and Frank Bass spent days going through their video footage and digital pictures—and their notebooks—before crafting their exposé on how the march of human development has spoiled the great vistas of America's national parks. As a result, their print stories sang like few I've seen before. Likewise, in getting the videotape of the hot-dogging helicopter pilot—and watching what his reporting had suggested was happening—Bridis's print story also became exponentially richer. This new approach to investigative reporting also prompted the AP to better leverage its geographic expanse and wide-ranging expertise. This, too, improved what we are able to do in print.

Reporters in every state and country were activated to investigate and report issues that crossed borders and transcended regional interests. As a result, reporters and editors in the field who had great sources and insight on issues in their statehouses or cities began proposing investigative projects that far exceeded their local resources. Two of the team's projects with the greatest impact started this way.

Dirk Lammers, a newsman in South Dakota, first spotted a September 11th disaster loan going to a local country radio station and questioned whether the federal government was giving away money unnecessarily. After months of investigation involving dozens of reporters, AP had an award-winning project that appeared in hundreds of newspapers. Likewise, Chicago News Editor Niki Dizon first spotted a loophole in the No Child Left Behind law that allowed schools to ignore test scores of underperforming minority students. Before long, another nationwide investigative exposé was under way. From the start, we'd expected this experiment to pay dividends in leveraging AP's global resources to change the genre of storytelling. But an intangible benefit surfaced once our efforts were underway. With the attention and feedback that our stories on the Web and television generated, the interest by newspapers in using our stories multiplied. Editors who had to make nighttime wire copy
With the attention and feedback that our stories on the Web and television generated, the interest by newspapers in using our stories multiplied. decisions would call me to say they'd heard about a story from bloggers or seen a clip on TV, and this was prompting them to consider using the AP story. Likewise, when AP obtained the videotape of Bush's final briefing before Hurricane Katrina, the footage received global play on TV newscasts within hours. This meant that morning newspapers were compelled to showcase the print story on their front pages. In other cases, some large newspapers have written editorials about subjects highlighted by AP investigative stories even when their paper has not run the original story in print. The reason: These stories had created such a buzz among bloggers that editorial writers felt compelled to weigh in.

Documents, Data and Transparency
We now have the ability to routinely offer readers access to multiple levels of reporting, including original documents, photographs and video, as we present our investigative work. This gives our reporting a new and welcomed transparency, and we believe it also expands its impact. Last year, we exposed that federal researchers had been using foster children to test experimental AIDS drugs with serious side effects. In most cases, the researchers had failed to get permission from parents or provide safeguards required by federal and state law.

AP brought Web and TV viewers inside the foster homes where these children lived and let viewers see and hear from the children and the foster parents. Documents we unearthed were put online to illustrate how researchers promised protections to the children that they never provided. Within days, congressional, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and local investigators had downloaded AP's information from the Web and begun investigations that led to sweeping changes. Readers now have a chance to interact with the news. When our reporting exposed bad decisions the Homeland Security Department made during Katrina, Margasak crafted a popular interactive quiz that let Web viewers play the role of homeland secretary. Six decision-making situations were presented, and they chose their option to each. After submitting their answers, they could see what Secretary Chertoff decided in the midst of the crisis and what the experts in the after-action reviews determined was the better course of action. Likewise, when we wrote about an obscure agency that has a four-letter acronym, Web readers got to play an "alphabet soup" game we created in which they tried to match federal agency acronyms with their missions. And when AP learned that the government was keeping secret the scores they had calculated for the health risks of the air Americans breathed in every neighborhood in the United States, we created an accessible database that was easy to use.

Hundreds of thousands of readers each day punched in addresses and got risk scores that most likely led to some interesting conversations at dinner tables across the country. The AP's member news outlets also benefited from our team's work by being able to report important stories in their local areas. On six major investigative projects we worked on during the past year, AP was able to obtain never-before released federal data that covered every city in the nation. AP's TV and newspaper members were given advanced access to the data and to our stories so they could highlight related stories in their communities to produce a local angle.

For example, Bass and Lammers' award-winning project exposing how September 11th recovery loans went to companies that were not hurt by the terrorist attacks demonstrated the power of this approach. In Utah, member news organizations reported on the Salt Lake City dog boutique that received such a loan at the same time that Caribbean news organizations focused on a Virgin Islands perfume shop. Similar stories engaged reporters at hundreds of news outlets—based only on our original reporting of this story and the access to the data we made possible. Likewise, Bass, Dizon and several colleagues across the country teamed together to expose how nearly two million mostly African-American students across the country were having their test scores excluded from being counted under the No Child Left Behind Act because of a loophole that was letting failing schools escape penalty.

Every AP member in the United States had the opportunity to highlight children being "left behind" in their local schools. And parents could look up the record of their schools on the Web. Our story—and the chorus of local reporting prompted by it—produced outrage and forced the Bush administration to quickly close the loophole. Interacting with readers. Localizing news. Experiencing the news. Influencing policy. These are the early byproducts of AP's experiment. And members of the multimedia investigative team feel liberated by their ability to tell their stories in multiple formats and by being able to reach and engage people who probably would not have seen similar investigative stories a few years ago. Our reporters continue to embody the journalistic values embedded in solid investigative reporting, even as they are emboldened to bring to their work more than just a pen and pad. In just a year, the digital video cameras, tripods and lavaliere microphones have become comfortable—dare I say nonexpendable—tools in their reporting arsenal


martes, enero 23, 2007

Cómo matar la crítica literaria

Esta columna de Javier Cercas aparece en el cuarto número de la revista Dossier, publicación de la Facultad de Comunicación y Letras de la UDP que edita Andrea Insunza y Alejandro Zambra. En ella, el escritor español desafía a la crítica literaria, una experiencia que muchos intentan (o han intentado hacer) con resultados bastante poco claros para ambos bandos. La crítica, en general, ha sufrido una transformación bastante negativa en los medios nacionales. Sin mucho curriculum -y menos información- muchos periodistas buscan en estos territorios su vocación de oráculos que muchas veces se convierte en un ejercicio de opinión liviana o un juicio de consumidor emocional. Esto genera un deterioro muy fuerte en la calidad y trascendencia de la crítica, que por suerte no ha golpeado de igual manera a todos los sectores de las artes. El autor de Soldados de Salamina, sin embargo, escarba en la literatura, el respeto por la obra y la labor del siempre cuestionado crítico.

Por Javier Cercas
Aviso: quien me haya empezado a leer atraído por el tono iconoclasta del título ya puede dejarlo correr cuando llegue a este punto y coma; el contenido de este artículo no responde en absoluto al título que lo anuncia. Si todavía queda algún lector que no haya pasado la página, se preguntará con razón por el motivo de una estupidez semejante; la respuesta es simple: la primera obligación de una persona decente es ganarse la vida y si, en vez de diseñador, uno no es más que un simple escritor de artículos y además no se llama Francisco Umbral, ni Fernando Savater, ni Quim Monzó, ya me contarán ustedes cómo consigue que alguien lea una sola línea de lo que escribe sin tener que inventarse cosas como ésta. ¿O es que habrían pasado del título si le hubiese puesto: “Defensa de la crítica literaria”; o mejor aún: “¡Viva la crítica literaria!”? Sean sinceros: ¿no habrían pensado que soy un salvaje que acaba de aterrizar en este inmenso corral postmoderno que es Barcelona sin haber leído a Derrida, ni a Enmanuel Bove, ni a Paul de Man, ni siquiera a Roger Scruton? ¿Eh? Bueno, ahora que me he quedado prácticamente solo ya puedo empezar.

Decía Francois Truffaut que cuando se pregunta a un niño qué querrá ser cuando se haga mayor no hay manera de que responda que querrá ser crítico. Es una verdad desoladora: al pobre crítico no lo pueden ver ni las criaturas. A pesar del aura beata que envuelve cualquier palabra adornada con el adjetivo “crítico” (espíritu crítico, lectura crítica, pensamiento crítico: como si en realidad pudiera haber un espíritu, una lectura o un pensamiento auténtico que no fuesen críticos), el infeliz a quien endosan el sambenito arrastra una vida amarga. Hoy día es prácticamente imposible abrir un libro sin leer cosas como ésta: “Hay una secta de sabios en la república literaria que lo son a poca costa: éstos son los críticos. Años enteros y muchos, necesita el hombre para saber algo en las ciencias humanas; pero en la crítica, cual se usa, desde el primero día es uno consumado”. Me equivoqué: la cita no es del día; es de hace un par de siglos: don José de Cadalso escribía esas palabras hacia finales de 1773, pero me gustaría saber cuántos escritores de 1989 no suscribirían el dictamen. Porque tampoco esta señora que se nos ha instalado en casa sin pedir permiso a nadie, la Postmodernidad (de la que hay quien asegura que se podría decir lo mismo que la Rochefoucauld decía del amor y que más o menos repitió don Antonio Solís en estos versos horribles: “Amor es duende importuno/ que revuelto al mundo tray:/ todos dicen que le hay,/ mas no lo ha visto ninguno”), tampoco esta señora, digo, le sienta bien a la crítica literaria. Acabo de leer que Joseph María Ruiz Simon, ultimísimo filósofo catalán, la considera “una reliquia despistada que se empeña en desconocer que su única y última función es hacer que funcione el mercado editorial”. Esta gente es una irresponsable: ¿Qué quieren? ¿Qué cerremos el chiringuito y nos volvamos para casa? ¿Y los niños? ¿Y la mujer? ¿Es que quieren condenarnos a todos al paro? Porque lo que no tienen en cuenta estos apocalípticos es que si la crítica literaria se va al garete la literatura la seguirá por el mismo camino al cabo de dos días, justo el tiempo que la gente tarde en darse cuenta de que una y otra son casi la misma cosa: la única diferencia es que la materia prima del escritor es sobre todo la realidad, mientras que la del crítico literario es sobre todo la literatura. Por eso, si la crítica literaria está muerta, también lo está la literatura.

Bien: pasemos al siguiente problema. ¿Qué debe hacer la crítica literaria para no ser un objeto decorativo perfectamente inútil, apto sólo para entretener los ocios de las señoras bien? En los años sesenta, en París –cuando París todavía era París–, se organizó un rifirrafe tan necio como se quiera, pero que resulta ilustrativo porque de hecho resume un contencioso que se plantea desde que la crítica literaria es crítica literaria. En una esquina del ring estaba la crítica digamos filológica; en la otra, la crítica digamos teórica. Los teóricos acusaban a los filólogos de no tener una sola idea en la cabeza, de enterrar los textos bajo una montaña de datos inútiles, de pensar: “Si los datos no explican el texto, la culpa es del texto”; los filólogos acusaban a los teóricos de tener demasiadas ideas en la cabeza, de lanzarse irresponsablemente a especulaciones sin ningún fundamento real en los textos, de ser, como diría Gabriel Ferrater, ignorantes propulsados sin control, de pensar: “Si la teoría no explica el texto, la culpa es del texto”. Si hubieran leído al joven Galdós, los teóricos habrían sin duda puesto como ejemplo del personaje que atacaban a don Severiano Carranza, una de cuyas obras trataba de si el Arcipreste de Hita tenía o no la costumbre de ponerse las medias del revés; si hubieran leído al viejo Lionel Trilling, los filólogos seguramente habrían citado unas palabras que en castellano deben de sonar más o menos así: “El error característico del intelectual de clase media de nuestro tiempo es su tendencia a la abstracción y el absoluto, su repugnancia a conectar la idea con el hecho, especialmente con el hecho personal”.

El veredicto del combate fue un nulo, pero por estos andurriales, aliñadas con ingredientes puramente cretinos (por ejemplo: el menosprecio de los críticos digamos periodísticos por los críticos digamos académicos, y viceversa), las bofetadas todavía continúan. En Inglaterra, en cambio, ganaron el combate al primer round. ¿Que cómo? Muy sencillo: convirtiendo la celebración pugilística en un pic-nic. La tradición de la crítica literaria inglesa enseña que sólo son pertinentes los datos que explican o enriquecen un texto, y que sólo son pertinentes las ideas que un texto nos autoriza a extraer de sí mismo. O dicho de otra manera: que los datos sólo se convierten en ciencia si están al servicio de una interpretación; Ortega no se cansaba de repetirlo: “Ciencia no es erudición, sino teoría. La laboriosidad de un erudito empieza a ser ciencia cuando moviliza los hechos y los saberes hacia una teoría. Para esto es menester un gran talento combinatorio compuesto en dosis compensadas de rigor y de audacia”. Rigor y audacia, desde luego, pero también una actitud de máximo respeto por la literatura, derivada de una modestia irrenunciable según la cual la primera condición para leer bien un libro es pensar que el autor es mucho más inteligente que uno mismo. Justamente era más o menos eso lo que W.H. Auden le exigía a un buen crítico. Y como ya está bien de hacerles perder el tiempo, mejor será que dejemos hablar a quien más sabe.

En un artículo recogido en The dyer’s hand, en medio de una serie de observaciones tan sensatas como brillantes (por ejemplo: un buen crítico tiene que ser antes que nada un buen escritor: por ejemplo: lo único que puede perseguir un crítico al hablar mal de un libro es lucirse), Auden enumera los servicios que este caballero puede prestarle al lector: 1) presentarle autores u obras que antes no conocía; 2) convencerlo de que ha infravalorado a un autor o a una obra porque no los ha leído con suficiente atención; 3) mostrarle relaciones entre obras de épocas y culturas diferentes; 4) hacer una lectura de una obra que aumente su valoración de ella; 5) aclarar el proceso de elaboración artística; 6) aclarar la relación del arte con la vida, la ciencia, la economía, la ética, la religión, etc. Los tres primeros servicios –continúa Auden– exigen erudición: ésta tiene que ser útil, es decir, debe enriquecer el texto y al lector. Los tres últimos exigen penetración, es decir, capacidad de plantear cuestiones importantes. Ya tenemos a los dos púgiles tomándose un gin-tonic en vez de hacerse una cara nueva.

Hasta aquí, excepto el boxeo, Auden. Ahora bien: ya sé que habrá quien asegure que sus palabras no tienen la menor vigencia en nuestra época, pues ignoran las condiciones objetivas de una sociedad mercantilizada donde el arte es un mero objeto de consumo, etc. Otros sostendrán que los argumentos de Auden carecen de sentido en un país donde no hacen ninguna falta artículos titulados “Cómo acabar de una vez por todas con la crítica literaria”, porque ya hay una peña de especialistas que se aplica con conocimiento y pasión dignos de mejor causa a esa labor en los suplementos culturales de los periódicos, no sólo duplicando de forma subrepticia la sección de humor, sino también poniendo en peligro el pan de los hijos de los demás críticos y de gente tan respetable como Perich y compañía. La verdad es que no me siento autorizado a rebatir la primera objeción; en cuanto a la segunda, diré esto: puestos a hacerle la competencia a Perich, que sea por lo menos una competencia leal. Quiero hacer una propuesta constructiva. No seamos hipócritas: ya que no somos capaces de prestarle al lector ni uno solo de los servicios que pedía Auden, dediquémonos abiertamente a hacer reír al personal. No seamos hipócritas: cambiemos con honestidad los títulos de nuestras secciones; nada de “Babelia”, nada de “La esfera”: pongámonos directamente “De l’any vuit i del dia” o, como mucho, “Sala de máquinas”. Ésta es, si no me equivoco, la única manera de que dentro de cuatro días no nos veamos todos en la calle y sin trabajo.

viernes, enero 19, 2007

La convergencia de IPhone

Nicholas Negroponte, el hombre fuerte del Media Lab del MIT, escribió una columna hace unos años en la afirmaba que los celulares sólo debían ser eso: teléfonos móviles. La convergencia, palabra que no puede quedar fuera del léxico de los periodistas, no debía estar alojada en un aparato para hacer llamados. En fin, Apple pensó diferente y en general la industria está convencida que Iphone será el paradigma de esta búsqueda. Este no es un blog de tecnología, pero es imposible hablar de periodismo sin tomar en cuenta las nuevas plataformas. La convergecia está en la tecnología y también en los contenidos. Muchos diarios electrónicos están pensando en un desarrollo exclusivamete basado en Flash, como Acá dos artículos sobre la apuesta de Steve Jobs. El primero, de Fortune, se adentra en la cultura empresarial de una de las empresas más atractivas del momento; el segundo, sobre los caminos comunicacionales del Iphone.

Por Peter H. Lewis
One of the most astonishing things about the new Apple iPhone, introduced yesterday by Steve Jobs at the annual Macworld trade show, is how Apple (Charts) managed to keep it a secret for nearly two-and-a-half years of development while working with partners like Cingular, Yahoo (Charts) and Google (Charts).

The iPhone, which won't be available in the United States until June, represents a close development partnership with America's largest wireless phone company (Cingular, now a part of AT&T (Charts), has 58 million subscribers), the world's largest e-mail service (Yahoo has a quarter-billion subscribers worldwide), and the world's dominant search company. Although speculation was rampant before the introduction that Apple would introduce a phone with iPod capabilities, actual details of the device were scarce. Even some senior Apple managers whispered during the keynote that they were seeing the iPhone for the first time, along with the 4,000 other Apple followers who crammed the Moscone meeting center here.
Indeed, Apple's emphasis on secrecy may have influenced Apple's choice of Cingular to be the exclusive provider for iPhone service in the United States.

Apple, legendary for the ferocity with which it safeguards new product announcements, had extraordinary challenges in keeping the iPhone under wraps for 30 months. Besides involving Cingular, Google and Yahoo, not to mention the unnamed Asian manufacturer, the project touched nearly every department within Apple itself, Jobs said, more so than in any previous Apple creation.

No one thinks Apple went to the draconian lengths of some rivals, like Hewlett-Packard (Charts), which bugged phones, read e-mail, riffled through trash and otherwise spied on board members, employees and journalists in order to track down leaks of confidential company information. However, Apple does make it clear to employees and business partners that they will be dismissed and possibly prosecuted for leaking company secrets. Apple has also played the bully role, suing bloggers and other independent journalists for posting purported advance information about unannounced Apple products.

Secrets - along with patents - protect Apple against competitive threats from foreign companies that have become expert at instant cloning of Apple's products and designs. But secrets also create a major buzz factor. As the giant Consumer Electronics Show opened this week in Las Vegas, where hundreds of the world's biggest gadget and gizmo companies show off their newest and greatest gear, everyone was talking about the company that was not there - Apple - and speculating on what Steve Jobs had up the sleeves of his trademark black mock turtleneck shirt.

Many of the country's top technology analysts and journalists flocked to the Las Vegas airport Monday night, on the first day of CES, to be able to see Jobs reveal his secrets here Tuesday morning. Although their applications will be crucial parts of the iPhone experience, neither Yahoo nor Google saw the actual phone until shortly before the keynote, Jobs said. The software development was done without needing to provide a hardware prototype. In some cases, Apple deliberately disguised software builds, known as "stacks", to keep programmers from seeing the actual interface.

The Cingular partnership was especially complicated. Cingular had been a partner when Apple made its first foray into the phone business, providing iTunes software for the ill-fated Motorola (Charts) ROKR, unleashed in 2005. The norm in the telecom business is for carriers to dictate to phone manufacturers which features and technologies they want to offer to their subscribers, which is anathema to Apple culture. But in the case of the ROKR - which I reviewed as the STNKER - it was Motorola's meddling that drove Apple nuts. When the ROKR finally emerged, clumsy and underpowered, Jobs held it up on stage with all the enthusiasm of a man holding a dead rat by the tail. Jobs came out of the ROKR experience even more determined to maintain total control over what he called the reinvention of the telephone.

However, he said, he enjoyed working with Cingular. And apparently the sentiment was mutual. Two years ago, Jobs and Cingular's chief executive, Stan Sigman, got together to forge a multiyear pact to work together on the iPhone. The Apple phone didn't even exist as a sketch at that point, but apparently Sigman trusted that Jobs and Apple would deliver on their promise to revolutionize the mobile handset. And Apple trusted Cingular not to meddle in the hardware or feature design. "They let Apple be Apple," one Apple executive said.

Cingular worked with Apple software developer on breakthrough features like visual voicemail - the ability to see a list of voicemail messages in a list and choose to listen to them in any order, instead of sequentially, as most carriers require today - while Apple focused on what it does best, the close integration of elegant hardware design with powerful but simple-to-use software. Even so, Apple didn't show Cingular the final iPhone prototype until just weeks before this week's debut. In some cases, Apple crafted bogus handset prototypes to show not just to Cingular executives, but also to Apple's own workers.

Meanwhile, Jony Ive, Apple's design guru, was refining the sleek, final design. At the Macworld keynote, with Cingular's Sigman on stage with him, Jobs hinted again that the exclusive, multiyear partnership with Cingular would yield more phones that just the two iPhone models unveiled today. (The two are basically identical: A $499 device with four gigabytes of internal memory, and a $599 version with eight gigabytes.)

In the end, Apple decided to reveal the iPhone several months ahead of its official June launch because it could not keep the secret any more. Apple has to file with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the permits needed to operate the iPhone, and once those public filings are made, Apple has no control over the release of that information. So, Jobs said, he made the decision to have Apple tell the world about its new phone, rather than the FCC.

Pillow talk was a challenge at the other end of the spectrum. Keeping secrets from loved ones is especially hard. Those stresses were amplified by the frantic race over the past half year to get the iPhone ready for launch. As Macworld approached, dinners were missed, kids were not tucked in properly, and family plans were disrupted, especially over the holidays.
And for what? "Sorry, that's classified" is not considered a satisfactory answer in many households when Mom or Dad misses the school play or the big wedding anniversary dinner.

Phil Schiller, Apple's head of marketing and one of the few Apple executives involved with the project from the start, said he had to keep the iPhone development secret even from his wife and children. When he left home for the official unveiling yesterday, Schiller said, his son asked, "Dad, can you finally tell us now what you've been working on?" Jobs paused during the keynote to acknowledge the strain and sacrifices that the past months have brought not just for the employees who kept the secrets so well, but also for their families. "We couldn't have done it without you," he said, with obvious sincerity.

Los Caminos de Iphone

Pocos dispositivos en tiempos recientes han logrado crear tantas expectativas como el iPhone de Apple, y aun menos han logrado sobrepasar tales expectativas como lo hizo este impresionante dispositivo.Sin embargo, los que vean en el iPhone tan solo un "teléfono celular moderno y fácil de utilizar, con capacidad de reproducir música y video, y de navegar el Internet" aun no han captado el significado real de este dispositivo.

Voy tan lejos como para decir que ni la mayoría de los medios más prestigiosos del mundo como Time, CNN o la BBC han captado el significado tampoco.Los que tenemos ante nosotros no es tan solo la plataforma de comunicación más avanzada del mundo, ni el celular que revolucionará la industria por completo (cosa que hará), sino el futuro de Apple mismo.

Noten el cambio de nombre de la empresa, de "Apple Computer Inc." a "Apple Inc." Steve Jobs sabe muy bien hacia donde va el mundo y hacia donde quiere llevar a Apple. El mundo de las computadoras tal cual las conocemos está pasando, y abriéndose paso están los dispositivos móviles, en cuyo mercado Apple piensa ser rey con su iPhone.

A donde voy con esto es a decir que Steve Jobs ve en el iPhone la convergencia de todos los productos de Apple en la palma de la mano. Que no nos sorprenda que el iPhone ejecuta una versión de OS X, el iPhone a largo plazo reemplazará a todas las Macs y MacBooks de hoy día. Las computadoras personales tal cual la conocemos hoy terminarán siendo un nicho para diseñadores gráficos, arquitectos, editores de video, y tareas por el estilo, pero aun estos nichos sucumbirán ante el iPhone al muy largo plazo, debido al incesante incremento en el poder de procesamiento, almacenamiento y comunicación de las computadoras, cada vez a menores costos.Para entender mejor lo que quiero decir, imagínense que dentro de 5 años el iPhone sea tan poderoso y tenga tanta memoria como las computadoras personales mas potentes de hoy día. Eso significaría que con agregar un teclado, ratón y pantalla externa (todos inalámbricos), que no hay razón para que el iPhone no sea nuestra computadora personal en cualquier lugar.

Noten además que más y más todo tipo de aplicaciones están migrando a un entorno Web, por lo que es menos crítico hoy día el poder de una máquina local, ya que todo el precesamiento ocurre usualmente de manera remota. Un ejemplo de esto es GMail de Google: Se siente como un cliente de Email instalado en nuestras PCs, pero en realidad se ejecuta casi por completo en los servidores de Google y nosotros solo vemos una vista de nuestros datos formateados como una página web.Lo mismo está sucediendo con procesadores de palabras, hojas de cálculo, programas vectoriales, etc. Que no nos sorprenda entonces que Apple demandó de Cingular Wireless (pronto a llamarse AT&T) una red que satisfacera las necesidades básicas de comunicación por Internet del iPhone como condición para trabajar con ellos.

En otras palabras, acabamos de reemplazar casi toda la linea de las Macs con un iPhone. Y desde ya el iPhone reemplaza al iPod, y a un reproductor de videos.Noten además que dentro de 5 años tendremos discos duros para el iPhone con capacidad en los cientos de GigaBytes, sino en el orden del TeraByte, y con tecnología como UWB (Ultra-Wide Band - tecnología inalámbrica de banda ultra-ancha), no hay razón para que el iPhone no reemplace al Apple TV recién anunciado, enviando TV en vivo y pregrabada desde Internet directo a nuestros televisores de alta definición.

Así mismo ya lo demostró Steve Jobs que el iPhone reemplaza al iPhoto de las Macs de una manera magistral, y el iDVD va a ser innecesario pronto en un mundo en donde los videos serán proveídos por el Internet y no por discos tradicionales. En cuanto a Garage Band (el programa de creación de música de Apple), no hay nada que le impida al iPhone comunicarse con un teclado utilizando USB inlámbrico para tener un estudio portátil en todo momento. Y en cuando a iMovie, dentro de 5 años el iPhone tendrá más poder y capacidad que cualquier iMac de hoy día para manejarlo.¿Ven hacia donde me dirijo?Así mismo aun desde hoy el iPhone tiene suficiente poder para actuar como un servidor de datos a otros dispositivos, tanto en el Internet como en una red local, por lo que va a poder reemplazar a cosas como el Windows Home Server recién anunciado.

Como ven, estamos en un punto de inflexión en el mundo de la tecnología global, es solo que casi nadie está viendo esto, pero no nos sorprenda que esta es la razón por la cual Steve Jobs dice que este es el producto más revolucionario de Apple, pues no es una teléfono avanzado lo que nos está presentando, sino una plataforma para el futuro del mercado de dispositivos electrónicos.Este, es el verdadero significado del iPhone, y razón por la cual estoy tan emocionado al respecto. Esto me acuerda la primerísima vez que vi el navegador de Internet Mosaic hace 14 años en un salón de máquinas de IBM (con AIX). Inmediatamente sabía que había dado un vistazo al futuro, y ese es el sentimiento que siento al ver esta primera versión del iPhone.


martes, enero 16, 2007

Las claves para sobrevivir

La credibilidad es uno de los soportes fundamentales del periodismo, pero que según estudios realizados en muchas partes del globo -por universidades, asociaciones gremiales vinculadas a la industria y grupos mediales-, no está a la altura de las circunstancias. La última investigación del Pew, por ejemplo, dice que sólo un 23% de los encuestados le da categoría de alta credibilidad a la TV y un 21% a los diarios. De hecho, suele decirse que esta es una de las consecuencia que hoy los tiene mirando el futuro desde una tormentosa y masoquista perspectiva. Este artículo del CJR, sin embargo, aborda las que debieran ser las claves para que los medios no se queden atrás, mantenga sus niveles de influencia y sigan siendo un negocio rentable. Mitchell Stephens, Profesor de periodismo de la Universidad de Nueva York y autor de La historia De las Noticias, hace un detallado análisis de los problemas de la prensa y apunta a considerar los puntos de vista, el análisis, la profundidad como los caminos para mirar el futuro del periodismo, por sobre internet. El énfasis es recuperar la audiencia que pide lo que muchas veces los medios no entregan.

Por Mitchell Stephens
Call it the morning letdown. Your muffin may be fresh, but the newspaper beside it is decidedly stale.

“Chavez bashes Bush on UN stage” reads the headline, to pick one morning’s example, on the lead story of The Miami Herald. That was a Thursday in September. But Yahoo, AOL, and just about every major news Web site in the country had been displaying that story — President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela had called President Bush “the devil” — since around noon on Wednesday. The news had been all over the radio, all over cable, too: Fox News had carried, with gleeful indignation, twenty-three minutes of the speech live. Indeed, when Katie Couric introduced the Chavez story on the CBS Evening News, at 6:30 Wednesday, her audience may have experienced an evening letdown. By then — half a day before Chavez’s name would appear in newsprint in Miami — his entry on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, had been updated to include an account of the speech in the United Nations.

Editors and news directors today fret about the Internet, as their predecessors worried about radio and TV, and all now see the huge threat the Web represents to the way they distribute their product. They have been slower to see the threat it represents to the product itself. In a day when information pours out of digital spigots, stories that package painstakingly gathered facts on current events — what happened, who said what, when — have lost much of their value. News now not only arrives astoundingly fast from an astounding number of directions, it arrives free of charge. Selling what is elsewhere available free is difficult, even if it isn’t nineteen hours stale. Just ask an encyclopedia salesman, if you can find one.

Mainstream journalists can, of course, try to keep retailing somewhat stale morning-print or evening-television roundups to people who manage to get through the day without any contact with Matt Drudge, Wolf Blitzer, or Robert Siegel. They can continue to attempt to establish themselves online as a kind of après AP — selling news that’s a little slower but a little smarter than what Yahoo displays, which is essentially what The Washington Post and The New York Times were up to when, about four or five hours after Chavez had left the UN podium, they published, online, their own accounts of his speech.
But another, more ambitious option is available to journalists: They could try to sell something besides news.

The notion that journalists might be in a business other than the collection, ordering, and distribution of facts isn’t new. In the days when the latest news was available to more or less anyone who visited the market or chatted in the street, weekly newspapers (at the time, the only newspapers) provided mostly analysis or opinion — something extra. The growth of cities, the arrival of dailies, and the invention of swift fact-transmitting and fact-distributing machines (the telegraph and the steam press) encouraged the development of companies devoted to the mass production and sale of news. Their day lasted more than a hundred years. But the sun is setting.
Information is once again widely available to more or less everyone, and journalists, once again, are having difficulty selling news — at least to people under the age of fifty-five. If news organizations, large and small, remain in the business of routine newsgathering — even if they remain in the business of routine newsgathering for dissemination online — the dismal prophesy currently being proclaimed by their circulation and demographic charts may very well be fulfilled.

"If we don’t do the basic reporting, who will?” journalists counter. Here’s John S. Carroll, former editor of the Los Angeles Times, presenting, to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, this notion of mainstream journalists as the indispensable Prime Movers: “Newspapers dig up the news. Others repackage it.” But the widely held belief that the Web is a parasite that lives off the metro desks and foreign bureaus of beleaguered yet civic-minded newspapers and broadcast news organizations is a bit facile.

For much of their breaking news, Yahoo and AOL often tap the same source as Drudge and The Associated Press, with Reuters, AFP, and a few others also playing a role. (Most of the early online Chavez reports linked to an AP story.) Nothing said here is meant to imply that the wire services, and whatever cousins of theirs may materialize on the Web, should stop gathering and wholesaling news in bulk.

However, the Web increasingly has other places to turn for raw materials: more and more cameras are being aimed at news events, and transcripts, reports, and budgets are regularly being placed on the Web, either by organizations themselves or by citizens trying to hold those organizations to account. We are still very early in the evolution of the form, but surely industrious bloggers won’t always need reporters to package such materials before they commence picking them apart. Mainstream journalists are making a mistake if they believe their ability to collect and organize facts will continue to make them indispensable.
There will continue to be room, of course, for some kinds of traditional, thoroughly sourced reporting: exclusives, certainly. Investigations, certainly. That’s something extra. Yahoo isn’t in a position to muckrake.

But the extra value our quality news organizations can and must regularly add is analysis: thoughtful, incisive attempts to divine the significance of events — insights, not just information. What is required — if journalism is to move beyond selling cheap, widely available, staler-than-your-muffin news — is, to choose a not very journalistic-sounding word, wisdom.
Here’s more historical precedent: In the days when dailies monopolized breaking news, slower journals — weeklies like The Nation, The New Republic, Time — stepped back from breaking news and sold smart analysis. Now it is the dailies, and even the evening news shows, that are slow. Now it is time for them to take that step back.

Insights into the significance of news events certainly do appear on one page or another in our dailies, in one segment or another on our evening newscasts; but a reader or viewer has no reason to believe that they will be there on any particular story on any particular day. It’s hit or miss. And outside of the small patch of the paper that has been roped off for opinion, the chances of coming upon something that might qualify as wisdom are not great. Most reporters have spent too long pursuing and writing “just the facts” to move easily into drawing conclusions based on facts. Their editors have spent too long resisting the encroachment of anything that is not carefully sourced, that might be perceived as less than objective, to easily welcome such analyses now.

So you sometimes get, under a “news analysis” slug or not, pieces that construct their insights out of the unobjectionably obvious — proclaiming that “some” have “voiced concerns,” that “developments” may have “profound ramifications,” but “on the other hand” “it is too soon to tell.” And you find situations as odd as this: In a column in June 2006, David Brooks of The New York Times introduced his “War Council” — the “twenty or thirty people” who, because of the soundness of their “judgments” and “analysis,” he turns to for wisdom about Iraq. One of those people works at Brooks’s own paper: the “übercorrespondent” — currently Baghdad bureau chief — John F. Burns. Brooks included two quotes from Burns about Iraq in his column, including: “I’d have to say the odds are against success, but they are better now than they were three months ago, that’s for sure.’’ However, neither of those quotes was taken from the newspaper that employs Burns, where he ventures beyond the facts only rarely and very cautiously. Instead they were comments Burns made on the PBS program Charlie Rose.
“We would be of little value in our television appearances,” Burns acknowledges, “if we offered no more than a bare-bones recitation of events, without any attempt to place them in a wider context, and to analyze what they mean.” But shouldn’t the same standard of “value” apply to Burns’s appearances in his newspaper? He denies that Times reporters “are muzzled in conveying the full range of our experience and impressions” under the proper rubrics in the paper. Nonetheless, the “impressions” from this Times correspondent that most interested a Times columnist had not originally appeared in the Times itself.

The Wall Street Journal got a taste of this the-best-stuff-doesn’t-make-the-paper problem two years ago when an e-mail found its way onto the Web from one of its reporters in Iraq, Farnaz Fassihi. It proved not only more controversial but arguably more interesting than the stories Fassihi had been filing from that country. For in this e-mail, intended to be private, Fassihi wrote in the first person and she noted what things looked like to her: “For those of us on the ground,” she said, “it’s hard to imagine what if anything could salvage [Iraq] from its violent downward spiral.”

Outside the strictures of mainstream journalism, Fassihi, in other words, did not have to attempt the magic trick American reporters have been attempting for a hundred years now: making themselves and their conclusions disappear.
The switch to a new product line is moving forward at a pretty good pace on the pages of at least two newspapers — one large and foreign, one small and local.

The Independent is a serious English national daily in a market with three other serious national dailies. So the Independent, looking for an edge, has begun devoting most of its front page, weeklylike, to a single story — a story covered with considerable perspective and depth, a story in which the paper is not shy about exhibiting a point of view. The Independent weighed in recently, for example, on the debate on global warming with this headline, and a picture of a large wave, dominating its front page: "Tsunami hits Britain: 5 november 2060."

Simon Kelner, the paper’s editor in chief, explains that his understanding of the situation of the daily newspaper “crystallized” during coverage in England of the American presidential election in 2004. The Independent reported and interpreted the results along with the other papers. “It was a really expensive, exhaustive exercise for us all,” Kelner recalls. Yet the next morning newsstand circulation actually fell. For up-to-the-minute results people had turned instead to the radio, television, and the Internet. However, he explains, “The next day The Independent published twenty-one pages of analysis and interpretation of the election — and we put on fifteen percent in sales.”

Kelner got the message. “The idea that a newspaper is going to be peoples’ first port of call to find out what’s going on in the world is simply no longer valid. So you have to add another layer: analysis, interpretation, point of view.” Kelner now dubs his daily a “viewspaper.”
Compare the Independent’s response to a visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the Middle East with that of The Washington Post. The Post reported on a joint press conference she held with the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, on page A26 under this headline: "Rice cites concern for Palestinians, but low expectations mark visit." The Independent, that same morning, emblazoned this headline on its front page: "The road map to nowhere: four years after George Bush unveiled his Middle East plan, Condoleezza Rice arrived to find peace as far away as ever."

It is not that shocking, by European standards, that the Independent has been saying what it thinks; what is fresh and vital is the magazine-like boldness and focus (think The Economist) with which it is saying it. Beneath the road map to nowhere headline on its front page, the Independent displayed a map of Jerusalem. Around the map were arranged five short items — each divided into the promise (headlined in red) and what happened — in which the paper compared what the Bush administration had claimed for its “road map for peace” with the little, nothing, or worse (the Lebanon war was mentioned), it has achieved. Inside the paper, an article combined the history of the Bush Middle East plan with a report on Secretary Rice’s current, seemingly futile visit to the region. Such a mix of graphic, list, and article — of news event, wider focus, and point of view — is now typical for the Independent.

Producing such a paper certainly makes for an interesting newsroom. “Our competitors each select the best news story of the day,” notes John Mullin, the Independent’s executive editor for news. “What we try to do is something much more holistic. We try to capture the entire feel of something. It makes life much more — some would say difficult, some would say rewarding.” Mullin adds that the effort to present a big chunk of news with a coherent viewpoint can be particularly “challenging” for journalists who are “used to thinking in the time-honored fashion: who, what, when and where.”

Nowhere in the world has that fashion been as honored, and for such a long time, as it has been in the United States. Mainstream journalists in America today live in fear of the charge of bias. To achieve more vigorous analysis, they may have to get over that fear. After all, opinions — from “these are the times that try men’s souls” to ford to city: drop dead — have, historically, managed to hold their own with facts as ways of understanding the world. And it’s not as if there aren’t things besides the effort to be balanced for which journalists might stand. Old-fashioned reason might, for example, do, too.

Journalists also might stand for honesty. Sure, the analytic journalist can prove wrong: Burns, on Charlie Rose, had one take on the situation in Iraq; in her e-mail Fassihi, writing at a different time, had another. But there is something to be said for being openly right or wrong rather than hiding an assessment behind the carefully choreographed quotes of various named and unnamed sources.

No one is suggesting that reporters pontificate, spout, hazard a guess, or “tell” when it is indeed “too soon to tell.” No one is suggesting that they indulge in unsupported, shoot-from-the-hip tirades. “It’s not like talk radio,” explains one of the champions of analytic journalism, Mike Levine, executive editor of the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, New York. But it’s not traditional American journalism either. Levine, a former columnist, had noticed that the analyses reporters unburdened themselves of in conversations in the newsroom were often much more interesting than what ended up in the paper. Some of that conversation is mere loose talk and speculation, of course. Yet “walk into any newsroom in America,” Levine says, “turn the reporters upside down, and a hundred stories will come falling out. They know so much about the communities they cover, but they don’t get it in the newspaper.”
When he took over the Times Herald-Record in 1999, Levine was determined to change that. “We simply asked reporters to give the readers the benefit of their intelligent analysis,” he explains. This means paying less attention to the mere fact that a hospital administrator resigned in nearby Sullivan County. It may even mean leaving the account of the resignation to the paper’s Web site. It definitely means more attention, in the paper, to what that resignation might signify.

“We’re not the infantry anymore,” Levine explains. “We don’t just go out to board meetings and take dictation. That’s not really much of a contribution to the community. What are needed are journalists who can connect the dots.” Levine, in other words, is not afraid of letting his reporters — after they’ve done the reporting, when they know as much about a subject as most of their sources — find meaning in the dots.

Accomplishing this at a newspaper that may not be at the top of the hiring ladder has required, in Levine’s words, relying on “some experienced people devoted to community journalism”; it has required finding and hiring some young reporters who are “curious” enough not to “shut down inquiry” and surrender to what Levine calls “a stale, petrified ‘objectivity.’” But Levine adds, “not every reporter on staff does this kind of reporting. We’re evolving into it.”
Here is an example of what happens when journalists do Levine’s kind of reporting, from a multipart Times Herald-Record series by the reporters Tim Logan and John Doherty, on a renaissance in the city of Newburgh:

"The city is shaking off three decades of inertia. It’s an exciting time. The real-estate market is hot. City politics are more harmonious. And there are plans galore. Plans for a community college on lower Broadway, plans for the long-empty stretch of land on Water Street, a master plan under way for the city as a whole. But there’s no plan for the city’s poor . . . . If this city is truly going to rebuild, if it will ever fill the void at its heart, if it can transform itself from a drain on the rest of Orange County into the thriving hub the county desperately needs, Newburgh can no longer ignore its poverty."

Note: That’s not, “Some observers suggest Newburgh can no longer ignore its poverty.” Nor is that an editorial or a column. The point is being made in news pages, at a small, local newspaper, by journalists — based on what they have learned on their beats (the Times Herald-Record employs a traditional, geography-based beat structure), and based on their own reasoned and informed appraisal of the situation.

Burned-out reporters can be forgiven for dreaming that the coming of this analyzing and appraising will lead to a life of leisurely speculation. But, alas, more industrious reporting, not less, will be required. You’d better know an awful lot about plans for rebuilding Newburgh before you contemplate criticizing those plans. Getting at the meaning of events will demand looking beyond press conferences, escaping the pack, tracking down more knowledgeable sources, spending more time with those who have been affected, even seeking out those whom Levine of the Times Herald-Record calls “the invisible people — people who are not at board meetings who may not even show up at the voting booth.” When Levine took over, his paper began a “sourcing project,” designed to force reporters to avoid “going to the same three or four sources [for] every story.” More and more diverse sources, the theory goes, should improve story ideas and stories, and help reporters know more when they say what they know.
Strategies developed at the Times Herald-Record might be of use at larger papers, too. As a source of timely and important analysis, our journalistic heavyweights are simply not — on a day-to-day, story-to-story basis — reliable. We will know that they have grasped their role in this staler-than-your-muffin news world only when they realize that being fast with the analysis is as important today as being fast with the news has been for the last hundred years.
For that to happen, our major news organizations — we need to begin thinking of them as “news-analysis organizations” — will have to develop a stable of knowledgeable analysts whom they can assign each day to the major stories — as they currently assign reporters. Some of these “wisdom journalists” might be obtained through raids on think tanks and weeklies. Smaller papers, less able to filch an expert on urban issues from the Brookings Institution, might regularly borrow some analytic talent from the less jargon-infested corners of local universities. But daily news-analysis organizations must also develop their own career path for analysts.
Working your way up through the metro desk, the Washington bureau, and a few overseas beats certainly has its value, but it does not necessarily qualify you for untangling the underlying causes of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. Some extensive university training might. News-analysis organizations will have no more room for the sort of scholars who never leave the library or their laptops than they’ll have room for the sort who stuff sixty words, two of them unfamiliar, into a sentence. “I have a degree in East-Asian studies,” Susan Chira, foreign editor of The New York Times, states. “But when I went to Asia myself and lived there, I found out a lot of things my teachers didn’t know.” We will continue — in journalism, not academic journals — to need theory to be tested and illuminated by experience, including on-the-street, eyes-open, with-the-victims experience. But an ability to go and get is simply no longer sufficient. The best journalistic organizations are going to be selling the best thinking on current events — and that often is furthered by deep, directed study.

The old saying is that reporters are only as good as their sources. We will require many more journalists who, when occasion demands, are better than their sources, journalists who are impeccably informed. Let’s call this one of the five I’s — a guide to what journalists need to be, now that at least four of the old five W’s are more widely and easily available. Intelligent would be another, along with interesting and a holdover from the previous ethos: industrious. But the crucial quality is probably insightful.

It is significant how many of the most respected names in the history of journalism — from Joseph Addison to Dorothy Thompson and Tom Wolfe, from Charles Dickens to Ernie Pyle and I.F. Stone — were, indeed, known for stories that were exhaustively reported, marvelously written, and often startlingly insightful. The disruptions caused by the new news technologies will prove a blessing if they allow journalists to stop romanticizing the mere gathering and organization of facts and once again aspire to those qualities.


viernes, enero 12, 2007

El Poder y la responsabilidad

A comienzo de los sesentas la administración de John Kennedy contrató a Walter Thompson para manejar comunicacionalmente Bahía Cochinos, operación que finalmente fue un fiasco. En 2001, George Bush hijo hizo repitió la experiencia para justificar la invasión a Irak un año después. Esta vez el contrao fue con Rendon Group, pero el resultado fue el mismo: demócratas, liberales, intelectuales, reputados académicos y sensatos periodistas apoyaron lo que hoy para muchos es una locura. Los medios habían logrado armar parte de la estrategia construida desde la Casa Blanca. Esta columna del historiador británico Timothy Garton Ash, analiza el poder de los medios y la conducta de los periodistas tomando como ejemplo la filial en inglés de Al Jazeera. Quizás un tanto condescendiente considerando las críticas que ha recibido la señal qatarí, pero poniendo el acento en la responsabilidad, una palabra que a veces parece alejar a los medios de las ventas, de los ratings y mayores porcentajes de audiencias. Timothy Garton Ash es el director del centro de estudios europeos St Antony´s College Oxford, columnista de The Guardian y colaborador del New York Review Books. El texto fue publicado en

Por Timothy Garton Ash
En este momento tienen ante sus ojos un arma más poderosa que la mayoría de las que posee el Ejército de Estados Unidos. Se llama periódico. Y junto a él, en el nuevo arsenal, figuran la radio, la televisión, los blogs, las difusiones por Internet y los mensajes de texto.El aumento del poder de los medios es uno de los rasgos fundamentales de nuestra época. En un repaso de su famosa Anatomía de Gran Bretaña, 40 años después de que se publicara en 1962, el periodista Anthony Sampson llegaba a la conclusión de que "ningún sector ha aumentado su poder en Gran Bretaña tan rápidamente como los medios de comunicación". Y no sólo en Gran Bretaña. En todo el mundo, gobiernos, terroristas, empresas y ONGs consideran prioritario transmitir su mensaje a través de los medios.

El 11 de setiembre de 2001, los terroristas de Al Qaeda utilizaron el poder de los medios para multiplicar de manera incalculable el efecto de su terrible acción. El 11-S sólo se convirtió en el 11-S porque la mitad de la humanidad pudo contemplar el derrumbe de las Torres Gemelas en las pantallas de sus televisores o en sus computadoras, gracias a que unos medios globalizados y presentes en distintas plataformas lo repitieron durante 24 horas al día y siete días a la semana.

Eso fue lo que creó el 11-S. Lo mismo pasó con la guerra de Irak. Muchos de los que estaban convencidos de que Sadam Husein tenía armas de destrucción masiva lo creían sólo por las armas de engaño masivo desplegadas por los gobiernos de Washington y Londres; es decir, la transmisión o "manipulación" de informaciones distorsionadas a través de The New York Times y otros medios normalmente creíbles, que hicieron pensar a la gente que una cosa que era falsa era verdad.

El motor de este aumento del poder de los medios, como el del poder militar, son las transformaciones tecnológicas. Cuando empecé a escribir informaciones en un Berlín dividido, hace casi 30 años, tenía una pluma, un cuaderno y una máquina de escribir manual. Para enviar mi crónica tenía que ir a una oficina de télex, picar o pedir que me picaran físicamente el mensaje e introducirlo en una máquina que funcionaba a los tropezones. Las oportunidades de que hubiera retrasos, malas comunicaciones y censura local eran inmensas.Hoy, los nuevos reporteros multimedia de The Guardian o la BBC pueden enviar imágenes de video digital sin censurar y de forma casi instantánea desde las alturas del Hindu Kush prácticamente hasta nuestras pantallas, gracias a las computadoras portátiles y los teléfonos vía satélite.

Por otro lado, con esa misma facilidad pueden difundirse también noticias falsas o exageradas e imágenes alteradas digitalmente. No hay más que ver el papel de las páginas Web yihadistas en el reclutamiento de terroristas en diversos países europeos.Por eso, lo que importa más que nunca es de qué manera se emplean estas herramientas tan extraordinariamente poderosas y eso depende de los valores en los que se inspiren los periodistas que las utilizan.

En lo que respecta a los valores, la semana pasada se ha producido un acontecimiento prometedor. El miércoles 15, a mediodía, me senté a ver la primera hora de noticias del nuevo canal en inglés de Al Jazeera, que se llama así, Aljazeera English. Hace ya tiempo que, por la calidad de los periodistas que Al Jazeera ha logrado arrebatar a BBC, ITN, CNN, Sky, Reuters y otras empresas, se ve claramente que tiene intención de derrotar a los principales medios occidentales en su propio terreno. Su código ético, publicado en la página Web, está salpicado de palabras tranquilizadoras y propias de la BBC: "imparcialidad, equilibrio, independencia, credibilidad", "objetivo y exacto", diferencia entre información y opinión, etcétera. Habrá que esperar a ver los resultados. Esta primera muestra resultó positiva.

El deseo expreso de Al Jazeera de "establecer las prioridades informativas" se reflejó en la elección y ordenación de las noticias, no en que se les diera un tratamiento sesgado: primero, la franja de Gaza; segundo, Darfur; tercero, Irán; cuarto, Zimbabue. Se trata de llamar sistemáticamente nuestra atención sobre los sufrimientos y experiencias de los países en vías de desarrollo y, en especial, Oriente Medio.

El informativo cargó las tintas a propósito de los sufrimientos palestinos en la franja de Gaza, pero es cierto que hay mucho sobre lo que cargar las tintas; y, mientras tanto, la cinta de texto de la parte inferior de la pantalla contaba, para ser imparcial: "una mujer israelí muere alcanzada por un cohete palestino".En resumen, fue una de las cosas más prometedoras que han salido de Oriente Medio desde hace tiempo. Pero la prueba de fuego la constituirán las noticias que se den cuando haya, por ejemplo, disturbios en Arabia Saudí, como las informaciones diarias sobre el descontento en otros regímenes árabes.


martes, enero 09, 2007

Cómo enfrentar el futuro de la Prensa

Las estadísticas no mienten. El NYT debe despedir mil empleados en dos años, acaba de vender sus estaciones de TV en un precio apenas estimable y las acciones del conglomerado siguen en baja en Wall Street. Todos culpan a internet, pero en este artículo del Atlantic, las responsabilidades aparecen compartidas. Malas estrategias comerciales, distancia con las audiencias, periodistas sobre la ola y, por supuesto, la diversificación y agresividad de los protagonistas de la web. Michael Hirschorn, quien fue editor de The New York Magazine y Esquire y hoy vicepresidente ejecutivo de VH1, hace una crítica a las predicciones más negras y entrega una serie de consejos que los medios deberían tener en cuenta para sobrevivir y ganar en esta nueva era.

Por Michael Hirschorn
If the twenty-first-century news business has a Zapruder film, it’s an eight-minute Flash-based movie called EPIC 2014. For reasons that will soon become obvious, it has not received a lot of attention in the mainstream media (MSM in “Web-ese”), but has propagated quietly among news geeks since it was released online in late 2004. I first saw it last year at a “Whither the News” klatch at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York, where glum top editors from the major dailies and news networks gathered with sallow, unmistakably smug representatives of the digital world.

EPIC, which is composed almost entirely of simple text, graphics, and narration, launched the proceedings, and I think it would be fair to say that it rocked the world of the MSM mandarins. This was because, speaking from the prospective perch of 2014, it mapped out in calm detail exactly how the MSM would meet its doom. Eighteen months, and hundreds of millenarian prophesies later, EPIC 2014 (and its updated version, EPIC 2015 , released in 2005) already seems quaint, even a bit absurd. And its camp retro-futurism (Toffler by way of Epcot) is much funnier now that I’m watching it on my computer and not with ashen-faced news execs. The movie, ostensibly a product of the fictional Museum of Media History, begins:

In the year 2014, people have access to a breadth and depth of information unimaginable in an earlier age. Everyone contributes in some way. Everyone participates to create a living, breathing
mediascape. However, the press, as you know it, has ceased to exist. The Fourth Estate’s fortunes have waned. Twentieth-century news organizations are an afterthought, a lonely remnant of a not-too-distant past.

In 2008, we learn, Amazon and Google merged to form Googlezon, which allowed this most excellently named new conglomerate to use its “detailed knowledge of every user’s social network, demographics, consumption habits, and interests to provide total customization of content and advertising.”
Six years later, Googlezon has launched the ultimate killer app: EPIC, or “Evolving Personalized Information Construct,” a “system by which our sprawling, chaotic mediascape is filtered, ordered, and delivered.” Under EPIC, anyone can create news, the users subscribe to independent editors based on their interests, and everyone is paid from the billions in advertising Googlezon sells across this vast mediaverse. The film ends with an Orwellian prediction—“EPIC is what we wanted, it is what we chose, and its commercial success preempted any discussions of media and democracy or journalistic ethics”—and a joke:

Today in 2014, The New York Times has gone offline, in feeble protest to Googlezon’s hegemony. The Times has become a print-only newsletter for the elite and the elderly.

As a piece of pop futurism, EPIC 2014 is both brilliant and brilliantly self-subverting (at once inevitable and preposterous). But what’s remarkable is how many of its ten-years-out predictions have already come true—if not materially, then de facto: the mass migration of everything to the Web, the explosion of blogging, the near-instant embrace of social media (see YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Wikipedia), the growing sophistication of Google’s AdWords and AdSense (the latter soon to be extended to user-customized RSS file format and other feeds), the TiVo-ization of television, and on and on. Instead of buying Amazon, Google bought YouTube, an Evolving Personalized Information Construct that didn’t exist in 2004—GoogleTube instead of Googlezon. Thus does two-year-old futurism already seem hopelessly recherché.

The Times Company hasn’t thrown in the towel, but it is inarguably in extremis. It plans to cut more than 1,000 jobs in the next two years, and its profits continue to fall along with its stock price; only the most purblind of optimists could deny that this is a harbinger of further miseries. A study released in late October by the Audit Bureau of Circulations showed that daily newspaper circulation had dropped about 2.8 percent over the previous year, while Sunday circ dropped 3.4 percent. More worrisome, the Project for Excellence in Journalism noted in its annual report on newspaper audiences, this slide is both persistent and

In 2004, the newspaper circulation losses that had been building slowly over 15 years began to accelerate. In 2005 things got roughly three times worse.

This would seem like the moment to get on my high horse and defend the daily newspaper, with its omnibus approach to everything from your town to the world, its high/low pastiche, its editorial ordering function that allows readers to weigh and sort multitudinous news inputs into a coherent worldview. But this is what I would call, to borrow a Wall Street term, sell-side logic. It flatters the people who have a vested interest in preserving the gatekeeper function and the economic margins provided by dead-tree media, or who see news­papers as a cultural bulwark against the barbarians. The barbarians, on the other hand, don’t seem to care; they’d rather get the news they want, not the news the mandarins say is good for them.

And while it’s true that fewer and fewer people are purchasing newspapers, it’s also almost certainly true that more and more people are reading news.
This thanks to portals, newspaper Web sites, search engines, syndication feeds, and millions of blogs—a goodly percentage built on the hard labor of professional journalists, whose work the bloggers link to, praise, mock, and recombine with the hard labor of other professional journalists.
Meanwhile, many of these blogs, produced on the cheap, have become profitable businesses that generate virtually no revenue for the journos who provide the constantly updated fodder. Feasting on the rotting corpse, if you will, while making polite chitchat.

For all the many things blogs do, their most disruptive application has been to provide an alternate portal into news, bypassing, or “disintermediating,” the sorting traditionally done by newspaper editors and TV news producers. Drudge, Huffington, and their tens of thousands of less-popular competitors effectively offer alternate front pages targeted to audiences grouped by similar interests and affections. And because most newspapers (and their dot-coms) have so far been too proud to integrate the work of other publications, the smartest blogs can provide deeper and wider-ranging news experiences than any individual newspaper does. John Vinocur writes a great weekly column for the International Herald Tribune, but anyone who cares about Europe can tap hundreds of other sources in a matter of minutes.

Meanwhile, top reporters and columnists at major newspapers are realizing (or will realize soon) that their fates are not necessarily tied to those of their employers. As portals and search engines and blogs increasingly allow readers to consume media without context or much branding, writers like Thomas Friedman will increasingly wonder what is the benefit of working for a newspaper—especially when the newspaper is burying his article behind a subscriber wall. It will require only a slight shift in the economic model for the Friedmans of the world to realize that they don’t need the newspapers they work for; that they can go off and blog on their own, or form United Artists–like cooperatives to financially support their independent efforts.

So what should newspapers do?
They could stop printing. It may happen eventually, or perhaps newsprint will find a financially sustainable market among the elite and elderly (or perhaps it will have a nostalgic vogue not unlike that of, say, heirloom tomatoes), but that’s not what I’m getting at. The current Web-publishing model that newspapers are using isn’t likely to become financially viable anytime soon. With few exceptions, the media businesses thriving on the Web either are low-cost blog-like efforts or follow a many-to-many model, in which communities create, share, and consume content. Publishing an article on the Web gets you one click; getting your users to write the article for you gets you a thousand clicks, and costs less to boot. In other words, turning your users into contributors increases their engagement with your site—each click is, after all, also an “ad impression”—while simultaneously generating more content that you in turn can sell to advertisers.

That, I’d venture, is how you start rethinking the newspaper business. Not only do you allow your reporters to blog; you make them the hubs of their own social networks, the maestros of their own wikis, the masters of their own many-to-many realms. To take but one example, Kelefa Sanneh is the pop-music critic for TheNew York Times. He is very likely the best music critic in the country, and certainly the best new Times music writer in years. Let’s say that Sanneh creates his own community around the music he likes. Or The Washington Posts Dana Priest creates an interactive online universe around her intelligence reportage. With editorial oversight only for libel and factual accuracy, Sanneh or Priest are allowed to do whatever they want on their sites (while their mother ships pour their resources into marketing them). In Sanneh’s case, allow other people to write music reviews under the Times/Sanneh “brand.” In Priest’s case, turn the site into a clearinghouse for global intelligence information, rumors, conspiracy theories, and so forth (obligatory disclaimer: “The views of posters do not necessarily represent those of the Washington Post Company”). Go even further: incentivize the critics and reporters by allowing them to profit based on the popularity of their sites; make it worth their while to stick around.

Gaming this out in the most baldly capitalistic fashion, the papers then stand a chance of transforming one Sanneh review (one impression) into the organic back-and-forth of social media (1,000 impressions). This, in turn, would allow TheTimes (or The Post) to start achieving the scale, and the cost efficiency, that make online publishing profitable. In fact, there’s a rough model for this emerging already: it’s called, a desperately unglamorous site that features hundreds of freelancers who can tailor their part of the site to the needs and desires of their users. The Times bought it last year for $410 million, and it is currently the company’s primary growth area.

Playing this logic out, the next task would be uniting the Sanneh or Priest site to the Times or Post whole. You could essentially self-syndicate, sending your regular Times or Post headlines to Sanneh’s and Priest’s sites, luring readers back to the mother ship while increasing the number of times each story is read. Indeed, the logic could be (and in some circles already is being) played out even further. What if you essentially exploded the central function of the newspaper and “microchunked” (to borrow a current term) the content, syndicating all of it to bloggers or other news sites in return for a share of any advertising revenue each site generates? The Associated Press has made this the centerpiece of its digital-age strategy: it recently signed a potentially breakthrough deal with Google, in which Google will pay the AP for access to its stories; and the AP has launched a broadband player that Web sites can use to access AP video content. Its content goes where the readers are, and the AP gets paid, no matter what. Remarkably, this most old-school of services is a lone bright spot in the MSM landscape. The AP’s revenues have increased from more than $593 million in 2003 to more than $654 million in 2005; its digital revenue grew at a rate of 66 percent from 2004 to 2006. Of course, the AP has always been a syndicator, so no conceptual leap of faith (indeed no leap whatsoever) was required to move the business from analog to digital.

The Times, in particular, seems increasingly aware of the gargantuan leap of faith it will need to make to avoid the curse of EPIC 2014. If you go to the Times site, you can find a button on the top navigation bar for something called “My Times.” The paper is promising “a new service that lets you create a personalized page with what you like best in The New York Times and your favorite sites and blogs from all over the Web.” (If it works, I still intend to take credit.)

So what does this mean for newsprint? Counterintuitively, I’d argue that this disaggregation strategy could provide a renewed logic to the printed product. As news itself becomes more of an instantly available commodity, readers will crave an oasis of coherence and analysis (which is also why books, and magazines like TheAtlantic and The New Yorker, are potentially brilliant counterprogramming for ADD’ed info burnouts). Online news, microchunked, consumed on the fly, is fast food; the newspaper, fed by its newly invigorated journalist-brands, is the sit-down meal. In this marginally more optimistic future history, the roles of print and digital are inverted. Original news—in the form of stories, postings, and community—begins online, while print offers an intelligent digest/redaction that readers—and not only the elite and elderly—can peruse at their leisure. You could even call it Reader’s Digest.