Friday, June 20, 2008

Just as the Plain Dealer is About To Undergo
Yet Another Round of Cutbacks in Coverage,
Alternative Weekly Landscape in Cleveland
Gets a Serious Overhaul, With Purchase and
Merger of Two Ailing Alternative Weeklies

Just two years after the Plain Dealer underwent a serious cutback in its editorial staff, which resulted in more than 60 newsroom employees accepting generous buyouts, the paper is again looking at further cuts in editorial space as well as staff. Last week, Roldo Bartimole broke the story of the latest cutbacks, which was picked up nationally via a link from the widely read Romenesko website, but until this morning the paper hasn't acknowledged that such plans were in the works (finally, publisher Terry Egger did so this morning on public radio station WCPN, on a show hosted by PD columnist Regina Brett, though he was tentative and refused to be pinned down about any details).

Against that backdrop, the news came this morning like an earthquake, via a press release, that the city's two ailing alternative weeklies, which have been locked in a grueling war of attrition for years, have been purchased by a once-modest but increasingly prominent newspaper chain (based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, of all places) and will be merged shortly, under the name Scene. While the Scene got the name (and the new paper will be located in the Scene's current space), the more important choice is that the Free Times' publisher will become publisher of the new operation, which suggests that paper will get much the upper hand in the merged entity, presumably including staffing choices.

A consolidation of Cleveland alt-weeklies has been tried before, in 2002, but was blocked by the U.S. Justice Department on antitrust grounds. The Free Times, then owned by the chain which also owned the granddaddy of American alternative weeklies, the venerable Village Voice of New York, colluded with the New Times chain (considered by some as the Evil Empire of the industry) to stop competing in Cleveland and L.A., carving up the markets and awarding one town to each. Even the ethics-challenged Bush Justice Department could tell that didn't pass the smell test, and moved to block it. Tim Rutten, then the media writer for the Los Angeles Times, did a heroic job of covering the story, breaking one development after another (eventually the NYT's David Carr, a veteran of alt-weeklies, caught up), thus adding even more pressure on the government.

The deal was eventually stopped, a consent decree was signed by both parties, and the papers went back to competing in a town, Cleveland, whose economy really can't support two healthy alt-weeklies. The Justice Department has continued to monitor the situation until recently, as former FT editor David Eden noted to the PD several months ago. Presumably, this new deal has at least the tacit blessing of the Justice Department.

Times-Shamrock Communications, which would be the new owner should the deal close, is not exactly a household name. But it does own and operate some familiar names. The Detroit Metro Times and Baltimore City Paper have long, proud traditions in their markets, and by all accounts, Times-Shamrock has been doing a reasonably enlightened job of operating them in an increasingly tough environment (alt weeklies have been hurt badly by the web, just as print dailies have). All that bodes well for how they would run the Cleveland paper.

UPDATE: Cleveland.com story is here, Crain's account is here.
UPDATE #2: Thanks to Jim Romenesko for the link to this posting (and welcome to Romenesko readers), which he posted mid-day along with the link to the Cleveland.com story. I've earned some Romenesko links in the past for media columns in the Free Times, and of course appreciated them greatly, but never before for anything written on this blog. We're honored.
UPDATE #3: Editor & Publisher magazine posted this article about the growing internal PD turmoil over expected cuts. Ironically, WKYC, which seems so interested in covering the PD's employment cutbacks, doesn't seem to have told its audience about its own recent reduction in personnel. It too has cut some jobs (as many as 10 people, we're told, including reporter Vic Gideon, a popular, longtime fixture in the Cleveland electronic media), no doubt a result of the mounting financial woes of its owner, the Gannett chain. If the station has covered this (please let me know, anyone), I'll be thrilled to apologize and correct the record. But I'd also likely pass out from shock.

Here's the original press release on the alt-weekly deal:

Times-Shamrock Communications today announced the acquisition of the Cleveland Scene and the Cleveland Free Times, alternative newsweeklies separately owned by Village Voice Media and Times Publishing Co. of Erie, Pa., respectively.Terms of the purchase were not disclosed. The deal is to close on June 25.The two alternative publications will continue to publish separately for their next three issues and then merge into a single newsweekly, the "Scene," on July 23, according to Don Farley, publisher of the Alternative Group for Times-Shamrock Communications.Mr. Farley said that Matt Fabyan, publisher of the Free Times, will be publisher of the combined Scene newsweekly."This is a great addition to our existing group of alternative newsweeklies," Mr. Farley said. "We look forward to serving the greater Cleveland community for many, many years."The Scene and Free Times each has won dozens of awards from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, the Cleveland Press Club and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. Times Publishing Co. has owned the Free Press since 2003. Village Voice Media, the nation's largest publisher of alternative weeklies, has owned the Scene since 1998.Scene will be Times-Shamrock's fifth alternative newsweekly. Times-Shamrock, which is wholly owned by the Lynett and Haggerty families of Scranton, Pa., also publishes alternative newspapers in Baltimore, Detroit, San Antonio and Orlando.Times-Shamrock also owns eight daily newspapers in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Virginia and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; community weekly newspapers in Northeastern Pennsylvania and Upstate New York; and radio stations in Scranton, Baltimore, Tulsa, Reno and Milwaukee.

36 Comments:

At 1:55 PM, Anonymous Afi Scruggs said...

Wow, I'm really shocked by this. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what this means as far as coverage, jobs, etc.

 
At 2:00 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Afi, thanks for stopping by. One financially strong paper is probably an improvement, and possibly a major improvement, over two weak ones. If the newly combined paper can capture all or most of the ads from both predecessors, that's a pretty well-funded paper. But of course it'll still be under the same kind of siege that all print pubs are. But at least it's bought itself some time to deal with the challenge in a more strategic fashion. And the deeper pockets of its new owner won't hurt any. The best thing, for me, is that the New Times/Scene's working-class-hero-chip-on-the-shoulder-bordering-on-skinhead ethos should be a thing of the past. Banished to where it belongs, the garbage heap.

 
At 2:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So somebody's gotta ask: Is this VVMedia's way of paying off that big tab for trying to undercut the Bay Guardian? Or is it just hurting financially like the rest of the biz? It seems uncharacteristic of VVM to let go of a link in the chain it so prizes.

 
At 2:14 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Interesting question, but too much inside baseball here for most of the audience, I suspect. It is a major retreat for what I still call New Times but which is now called Village Voice Media. They no doubt wanted to hang onto this paper in the worst way, if for no other reason than to not let the bastards beat 'em (meaning the feds who blocked their attempted deal, which they screamed about at the time as an appalling, politically tinged injustice). Since the chain has been backed by venture capital--a sector in distress--that's probably part of the story. But the fast-buck money is also beginning to leave newspapers. What's left are the slow and steady players like these folks in Scranton, who take the long view. They're potentially a giant improvement, if you ask me.

 
At 3:20 PM, Blogger Alexa said...

i'm sad about this. but it has been a long time coming.

cleveland just couldn't support two alt weeklies, the economy isn't strong enough.

i just hope everyone can plan nice after years and years of hating each other.

 
At 3:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting how Times Shamrock gets a pass on:

1- Owning a daily, yet operating the weeklies, something both the black-rimmed glasses set of alt folk and the old-school newsies seem to loathe.

2- Continually striving toward monopolistic situations and then underreporting in those markets.
See Scranton.

3- Their own release doesn't even mention that they own two second-tier weeklies in their home market, yet they are merging two together in Cleveland.

 
At 3:24 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, Alexa, and I found your blog interesting. You're right about the years of hate between these two papers. But I suppose it was as inevitable as it was unnecessary. Here's hoping the surviving paper will speak with a louder, clearer voice. And thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. I love it when new people add their take.

 
At 3:30 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Good analysis, dear anonymous. Yes, those are the kinds of questions we have to ask about the owners of any paper these days. But I just try to remember that the thing against which all of this must be judged is the Phoenix band from New Times/Village Voice media. They managed to do something that even Rupert Murdoch couldn't do when he owned it: ruin the Village Voice with their patented style of downmarket tough-guy tabloid approach. That's the devil we came to know. We'll see about this new group. But again, their record in Detroit, Baltimore (and I should have also included Orlando) speaks highly for them, and I happen to care more about track record than promises.

 
At 8:40 PM, Blogger Bob Mc said...

I was kind of surprised by the merger announcement today. To be honest, I don't think I've even picked up a Scene or a Free Times in recent memory.

Realistically, it seems to me that the dwindling Cleveland market and the move from print to the Internet played a role. I mean, in truth, If I'm looking for news not from the PD, I'd look at a blog before I'd wait for one of the alt-weeklies to come out.

Something that hasn't been mentioned, though, is Scene's involvement with backpage.com. Is that still going to continue post-merger?

 
At 12:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how to take this news, but I guess (as always) time will tell.

The only thing I can say is this: Both alt-papers have been so LAME in the last ten years (or so) it is not even remotely funny.

The writing in both papers these last few years has been so WEAK it is just, quite frankly, a sad shame.

I remember the days when both The Free Times and Scene had something substantial to say - each in their own way. And, sure, the Scene in the 80's and 90's was pure fluff, but it was entertaining and engaging nonetheless.

The writers and editors for both of these formerly fine papers are now just sorry hacks - equally bent on their own tired, self-serving agendas. And it shows on a WEAKLY basis.

Here's hoping something good will come of this new development - but I doubt it! If the new owners of this combo-alt-paper had any brains at all, they would hire back Cindy Barber as editor, and put the rest of the terrible trash out where they belong: On the curb.

Sincerely,
A former fan (of both papers)

 
At 12:17 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Bob and anonymous each nicely dramatize my point, though in different ways, about how the web has hurt alternative weeklies. A big part of what I was getting at is that the better blogs have stolen much of the heat and thunder from alt-weeklies in recent years, and have become the true go-to alternatives for many readers. That's a development which tends to build on its own momentum. I can't tell you how many smart people don't even read them anymore, which saddens me, as a alum of alt-weeklies.

At the same time, it's only fair to point out that it's also fairly traditional for people after about the age of 35 to begin moving away from alternative weeklies, partly because their lives are more immersed in the kinds of meat and potato issues that many alt-weeklies don't cover much, but should, and perhaps because they're offended by all the acres of sex ads in the back which have unfortunately become a staple of these papers.

Lastly, I think the chaining of the alt-weeklies has fundamentally altered how readers view these papers, which in turn has driven many readers to more independent media like blogs. This ownership consolidation by out-of-town entities has seriously damaged their moral authority, by far their most valuable currency, and perhaps even undercut their original reason for being. If you're going to act like the soulless daily, how is that an alternative, really?

 
At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Michael Gill said...

Well the name is confusing, but this deal certainly means the loss of a media outlet and some number of jobs.

As far as readership goes, it's undeniable that print readership is declining. But , I would suggest that the "smartest" people still do read newspapers and magazines. That's where you get Cleveland's most eloquent art critic, the most knowledgeable theater critics, the most thorough and documented investigation, and more. The blogosphere is more like the "letters" section of yore.

I'd also note that the vast, vast majority of what comes up in electronic media, especially blogs, is the re-use of or commentary on what has already been reported by print outlets. The links that are provided often come from outlets that are first print media, and also make their content available on line.

The reason for that is that the money is still in print. How many in Cleveland's blogosphere have full time jobs as reporters? How many spend their days on the phone gathering info, calling others for other perspective on it, then passing it to colleagues for editing before it sees publication?

How much news would WCPN or local TV have without the PD and the New York Times?

And where did the links in this blog post come from? Cleveland.com . . . Crain's . . . Editor and Publisher . . .

 
At 11:49 AM, Blogger Erin O'Brien said...

Dear anonymous "former fan:" kiss my ass.

Dear everyone else: Please keep reading me no matter where I end up.

Thank you and carry on,

Erin O'Brien

 
At 12:27 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Oh, boy, Mike, where to begin? You know I love your stuff and respect you greatly (because I've said as much in this space more than once), but I'm afraid your myopia about the web is symptomatic of why so many print pubs are having so much trouble of late. First of all, the Editor and Publisher piece to which I link and which you mentioned was published purely as a result of Roldo Bartimole having sent them his own thoroughly reported story--which broke on the web (and which they duly credited).

The moral of this story is that there are only good writers and reporters and bad ones, and the medium of choice in which they work (and many work in both) is incidental. It's merely a delivery system for the underlying work, and that work rests on the reputation of the writer who produces it, not on the distribution vehicle. Nobody heard of the all-web ProPublica until recently, but since it's run by the longtime managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, it has instant credibility. Similarly, Jim Romenesko spent about 30 years in newspapers and city mags before becoming a web-only guru. Credibility follows quality people, no matter where their work appears. Erin makes the same point wonderfully--please keep reading me no matter where I end up, she asks. If her current print column eventually is web-only, will you suddenly go from a fan of her writing to dismissing it entirely? Only a fool would say yes, and I don't think your mama gave birth to any fools.

Roldo Bartimole, who has been called "the conscience of Cleveland" by a member of the old guard in print (the Chicago Tribune) has built a reputation for believability over a career now stretching a little longer than you've been alive, and thoughtful readers study his writing closely, no matter where it appears. Shouldn't all this be self-evident, though?

 
At 12:34 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Sorry, I meant to mention that the Crain's article was also based on Roldo's reporting as well. They credited him by name, as they should have. So credit for underlying reporting upon which subsequent reports are built works in both directions. Shouldn't you know this by now?

 
At 4:13 PM, Blogger Erin O'Brien said...

I agree that good writing and good reporting can be found online and off, but I also agree there is still a level of professionalism that comes with, well, getting paid.

Isn't that the definition of "professional?"

Salon and Nerve are online, but they pay their writers. Their copy is vetted. Sure, Web 2.0 is democratic, but it's also inundated with trouble. Spend any real time on Wiki and you'll see how the powers that be over there are desperately trying to get uniformity within articles. There there's happy-go-lucky John Q. Public sailing on a libel wing like it's a joy ride.

Anonymity will do that to a guy.

So I think both you and Mike have valid points. This blog, my blog, or one such as Ed Champion's are online, but we're all accountable professional writers.

I will say this: if you're a writer or publisher in today's world, you'd better get makin' online because if you don't eat the Internet, it's going to eat you.

 
At 4:19 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Erin, point well taken. And yes, I did intend for my point to be mostly about professional writers. My thinking is that even if they do some unpaid web writing on their own blog or somewhere else, it's really only a loss leader, and (this is the crucial point) if they're any good at all, they understand that their byline is their brand name, and they can just as easily besmirch it by dropping their standards online as they can by paid writing in print.

 
At 4:20 PM, Blogger Bob Mc said...

Speaking of Roldo, you may have noticed that he's also embraced the Internet, as a regular columnist on the Lakewood Buzz Web site.

Speaking of Lakewood, I would furthermore like to point out how media seems to be evolving. The Lakewood Observer is a hybrid of interactive user-generated elements and print journalism. Community journalism, as they've called it, had spread into other 'burbs, such as Cleveland Heights, and is sure to grow elsewhere.

To me, I think this is the direction media is heading, providing the best of both print and online.

And I really think that we haven't seen the last of the competing alt-weeklies in this town.

-BMc

 
At 4:24 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Bob, I'm intrigued by your last comment, about the possibility of more alt-weekly competition in Cleveland. Care to expand your point?

By the way, the two citizen papers you mention, in Lakewood and Cleveland Heights, are kissing cousins. The former helped give birth to the latter, with the help of the group Future Heights. And I quite agree that the future is in merging the best of both worlds, which are already blending into each other at a rapid pace.

 
At 7:59 PM, Anonymous Michael Gill said...

As I said, It's undeniable that print readership is declining.

It's undeniable that the internet is taking its toll.

I'm not making judgements about individual people's skills based on where their work appears, John. I'm not sure why you need to tell me the credentials of people--especially people so familiar as Romanesco or Roldo--who write online.

And of course a person has to, as Erin said, eat the internet or it will eat you.

All I'm saying is that for now, the majority of paying full time jobs are in newspaper news rooms. For now, most other media get the basis of their material there, even if it be in an online version.

It's easy to find examples of people who break news online.

But (oh boy) is it a myopic view of the web to observe where people have full time journalism jobs?

As for Bob's note, of course it is inevitable that someone will start another so-called alt-weekly.

Like Erin, I hope someone will read my work wherever it ends up.

 
At 8:00 PM, Blogger Bob Mc said...

Well, John, if you recall, when Scene was originally bought by New Times, there was a splinter paper that ended up being created (The name of it, at the moment, escapes me). True, it didn't last very long, but remember that was a time when the Free Times already existed.

I think that something like that is bound to happen again. Whether it's a standalone paper like the Scene offshoot or a hybrid like the Observer(s), there are too many writers in this city for it not to happen!

-BMc

 
At 8:23 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Okay, Mike. Agreed (mostly). And by the way, I take zero joy in some of these trends, because I think they're generally bad for democracy and an informed citizenry. But we journalists ignore the inevitable changes at our peril. We have to understand how the business model that pays those salaries is changing so as to better understand how to adapt, or things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

 
At 9:50 PM, Anonymous Michael Gill said...

John, how many full-time with benefits, web-only journalism jobs are there in Northeast Ohio? If you don't know--and I certainly don't--maybe you could take a guess.

(*Eliot(8) wants it noted that I like pie. Meep!*)

 
At 11:04 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I'm quite sure you could count them on the fingers of one hand, or at least two hands, and most of them would be at Cleveland.com, with another (Jeff Stacklin) at Crain's. A handful of institutions such as the Cavs also employ web-only writers fulltime who have quasi-journalistic functions, but of course they're not journalists as you or I would define that term.

But of course this narrow lens doesn't begin to touch the people who actually do real journalism on the web and pay for their time with other forms of writing.

 
At 2:30 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

To widen this discussion and also add to the list of those previously mentioned, Mike (and all), I just remembered a couple of other quite germane developments worth mentioning. At least two of the PD editorial staffers who took buyouts in the last round two years ago (and there will be another shortly, by all accounts) have since set up shop on the web, doing their journalism all online while they (presumably) slowly or quickly blow through their transition pay (they're about to run out any day now, I think) and search for a sustainable business model online. They include former PD travel editor David Molyneaux, who started Travelmavens.net, and the longtime Cincy-based PD reporter Bill Sloat, who does a remarkable job of breaking real news at his blog, the Daily Bellwether (http://thebellwetherdaily.blogspot.com).

You'd also have to include Jill Zimon, who essentially spends fulltime on web journalism (when she's not being a mom), and regularly contributes to such outlets as a Newsweek-affiliated blog and as a guest commenter on the BBC. She happens to have a spouse who's a corporate lawyer, which underwrites her business model, but as I said earlier, all kinds of models help underwrite journalism.

Finally, two grizzled Cleveland journalism vets, Roldo Bartimole and Mansfield Frazier, write weekly columns (alas, for free) on Cool Cleveland.com, whose editor, by the way, Pete Chakerian, should be added to that list of fulltime online-only journalists (though I seriously doubt he gets benefits). I'll perhaps add some other things as they occur to me later.

 
At 5:29 PM, Anonymous Afi Scruggs said...

Since Pete Kotz is leaving Cleveland for the Nashville Scene, who is going to take his place?

Also, I'm wondering if this was a deal cut to move him aside for another person. Garrigan announced her resignation back in May

 
At 5:47 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

My take, Afi, as I kind of hinted at originally, is that it was FT editor Frank Lewis's job to lose from the outset, since his publisher is going to be the publisher of the new paper. Of course, that's not a done deal yet, but I think it's only a matter of time before that becomes a fact.

The Phoenix guys are famous for moving their editors willy nilly around the country (Kotz's longtime managing editor in Cleveland is now running their paper in the Twin Cities), not unlike their strategy of recruiting waves of young journalists from outside the market to keep moving in here and then pretending to know the soul of the city two weeks into living here. It was always a stretch, and never rang true to anyone who knows the town.

The New Times/Village Voice guys decided to finally pull the plug now for a simple reason: they recently lost a $15-million judgment in San Francisco for predatory pricing, and according to published reports, are having trouble even securing a bond to pay for appeals of that decision (much less the full amount should they lose). It was as good a time as any to stop the bleeding and turn their attention to stronger markets for their long-term growth. Of course, if they lose that case, as they well might (and it would serve them good for their thuggish behavior), growth won't be the issue. It'll be about mere survival.

 
At 11:46 PM, Anonymous Michael Gill said...

John, sounds like you could count the number of paid, full time web-only journalists on one hand, and all the full timers--including those supported by spouses or buy-out packages--without taking off your shoes.

Professional journalists have embraced the web, certainly, but for the profession to survive in that medium, the web has to embrace back.

 
At 9:08 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Mike, you've opened a rich vein here, and I won't try to do it all justice at one time (not that I could if I tried, actually. Perhaps I'll save that for a full-blown post). To me, the web is embracing and has embraced journalism in ways that amaze and astound me daily, even hourly. I must admit (and I'm biased) that I can't quite begin to understand how any journalist can't see that. It seems as plain as day. It's given the entire sector the largest shot of adrenaline that it's perhaps ever had. It's opening horizons to things, people, subjects, etc. that print alone never could. The real power, though, is in how they will work together, print and web, professional and amateur (and a number of other seeming opposites). This has come to be grouped under the heading of networked journalism, and that's where this is all heading, like it or not.

Of course, to your point, that's not remotely the same thing as saying that the web's embrace of journalism has helped the professional part of the trade figure out a perfectly sustainable business model yet, and I emphasize yet. Obviously it hasn't. But what I suggest you may not be appreciating is how we're in a historical transition stage now, and how these models will begin emerging (already are emerging), a mix of things we're beginning to discern now (like partnerships between foundation-endowed journalism shops and more traditional media, for instance, and such super-metro sites as LAObserved.com and national subject matter sites as Josh Marshall's Talkingpointsmemo.com, both of which do as good a job of real journalism as any print pub in the country, and are thriving financially) and no doubt some others neither you or I could not imagine at the moment. There is considerable speculation that the CWRU graduate Craig Newmark of Craigslist, often blamed for the erosion of daily papers' historic crown jewel, classified ads, will eventually divert millions of dollars to help underwrite citizen journalism. Actually, he's slowly and quietly begun to experiment with just that approach.

The real point here is in which direction is the momentum headed? The snapshot of where we stand today doesn't say much about the direction in which we're going. Your focus on the body count of journalists now doing substantial online journalism reminds me a little of the hoary old debate about TV network news vs. cable news. For years, the quality media looked down on cable news and wrote it off as the junior varsity of the networks. Even the late Tim Russert was famous for snubbing his own company's MSNBC channel vs. the broadcast network as a distribution arm of his own punditry. For years, the NYT, WaPo and others would make routine note of the fact that broadcast TV viewership dwarfed that of cable news, mostly ignoring the fact that the network audience was steadily eroding and growing older. So big surprise: eventually the slow erosion of energy, advertising and audience flowed toward cable news, and today it's the dominant side, with broadcast network TV news now a sad shadow of its former self. But the best of the breed, NBC, is wonderfully using the mix of its broadcast roots with the 24-hour availability of MSNBC into what might be called a great "networked" approach to TV news, which benefits from the best of both worlds. Again, that's the direction in which things are and should be headed.

Lastly, for now at least, I invite you to think about some other trends. General Motors recently announced that it will soon be shifting fully half of its advertising budget to the web. It's doing what advertisers have done since the dawn of advertising--following the audience. That hydraulic pressure will slowly begin to close the central gap that is dogging traditional media: the fact that (at present, mind you) web ads only garner perhaps one fifth of the total revenue that print ads do. Will it ever close that gap completely? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Will it do so fast enough for traditional media shops to continue to operate as they have, with the kinds of profit margins they've historically enjoyed? Almost certainly not. They're going to have to adapt and adjust, just as every company and every industry always has in a market economy. The strong, agile, smart players will thrive, and the less so will not. It feels Darwinian, yes. But journalism will thrive (eventually) and be reborn as something possibly even hardier, even if some or perhaps many individual journalists will not. There is, after all, a penalty in many professions for not staying on top of emerging trends and understanding emerging tools. Just as lawyers who don't stay on top of new case law or doctors who don't continue to study new surgery techniques will fall behind their peers, journalists and journalistic shops who don't heavily experiment with the web won't flourish. If that sounds harsh, I humbly suggest that if anyone is still resisting the web in 2008, fully 13 years after the Internet era dawned in full blossom (with the introduction of the Netscape browser), they're only getting what they deserve.

Mike, I invite you to continue the discussion here (and hope we can broaden it in person over a beer or coffee in the near future), and of course I invite other readers to weigh in also. Please, have at me and my web-centric ways (says the guy who can never foresee the day when his morning won't begin with a hard copy of the New York Times, available for free on the web, but just not quite the same thing, he's sure).

 
At 7:52 PM, Anonymous mgill said...

I don't have a blog except for the one the staff of our paper uses, John, but I use the internet all day, every day, don't know what I'd do without it. This isn't about luddite response to technology, which is what you're trying to scold.

It's about the fact that the internet offers almost no one the opportunity to pursue journalism as a profession at the moment. That's all.

 
At 10:10 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Sorry that you've interpreted this as scolding anyone, most of all you, Mike. That was hardly my intention, though I suppose I can understand how and why you took it that way.

I just take extreme issue with your characterization that it offers almost no one the opportunity to pursue journalism as a profession. That's just flatly and demonstrably false. I began to get into that earlier, and stopped after a few examples, but I could have gone on with hundreds more examples, and they're growing by the day. Ad networks and blog federations are sprouting up to represent many sites in selling ads, and they're underwriting hundreds of sites, soon to be thousands.

You just haven't been paying attention to that part of the emerging story, which is fine (and understandable, given your other duties), but I invite you not to think that means it hasn't been taking place regardless.

We also needlessly got bogged down in the idea of Internet-only journalism in earlier exchanges, which I don't think is the right way to think about it. The web and print should and do work together. I get plenty of new readers in each media when I co-publish/republish my work in each. And I value them equally. They reinforce each other wonderfully.

Finally, I hope you'll consider that you're perhaps putting this in a smaller box than it needs to be by thinking about the profession as equating to being an employee of some company or institution. Looming behind most of what I've said earlier is an important idea that I implied, but which I should have made explicit, so let me do so now: in the future, maybe journalism and journalists have to be more entrepreneurial (in the way that independent writers and freelancers have always been), and take control of their own careers and make some of their own hay. The Internet offers abundant opportunities to do that. At some point, serious writing has always meant striking off on one's own, refusing to be bound by the confines of an institution or a narrow-minded editor or publisher. Independents are forced to understand this in their marrow, and be hyper-aware of the right environment for their work. Maybe the web will spur (or force) more of us to excercise that independence.

 
At 1:36 AM, Anonymous Michael Gill said...

How many people in northeast ohio -- entrepreneurs or employed by others -- make a living on web-only journalism?

By the way, I enjoyed your links to the LA Times, Washington Post, and PD today.

 
At 11:34 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, Mike. And I have thought of a few more, and will continue to probably recall others in that category, so I'll be sure to post something about that sometime soon. Thanks as always for reading and commenting, and good luck with the coming integration of papers.

 
At 12:27 PM, Anonymous Michael Gill said...

Thanks, John. Hope to see you soon.

Coffee? Beer?

 
At 12:34 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You're on, Mike. I'll follow up and we'll get it scheduled. And for everyone else, this is the same Mike who we recognized earlier here:

http://workingwithwords.blogspot.com/2007/10/another-best-lead-of-month-in-last-days.html

and here:

http://workingwithwords.blogspot.com/2006/12/year-in-review-for-2005-our-year-end.html

 
At 12:06 AM, Blogger Chris McVetta said...

John,

As always, I'm a little late to the party. But I have to admit, this news makes me rather sad in a lot of nostalgic ways. It's like Dean Wormer is closing Animal House for the final time!

Again, I have no great insights about the alt-newspaper business as a whole, to be sure - other than that it's been very good to me along the way (for better or worse - mostly BETTER).

Well, at the very least, we finally did get a chance to meet and swap war-stories. You, sir, are truly a great asset to the city of Cleveland and journalism-at-large ...at least in my warped mind!

If nothing else, I enjoyed my time writing for these papers and working with such talented writers as yourself!

As Krypton explodes: Thanks for everything, my friend!

 

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