By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Future news tidbits

I didn’t want to let the week go by without mentioning a few developments on the “what’s happening to the newspaper business” front. No übertake from Media Nation. Nevertheless, here are a few things you should keep an eye on.

The week began with a perversely fascinating story in the New York Times. Steve Lohr reported that some news services are deliberately sticking flat, dull headlines on the Web versions of their stories so they’ll be more likely to get chosen by the robots at Google News, Yahoo News and the like. Lohr explains:

In newspapers and magazines, … section titles and headlines are distilled nuggets of human brainwork, tapping context and culture. “Part of the craft of journalism for more than a century has been to think up clever titles and headlines, and Google comes along and says, ‘The heck with that,’ ” observed Ed Canale, vice president for strategy and new media at The Sacramento Bee.

“Tulsa star: The life and career of much-loved 1960’s singer” is example of an evocative headline designed for human eyes. The bots’ choice? “Obituary: Gene Pitney.”

Also last week, Christopher Lydon’s consistently excellent public radio program, “Open Source,” did an hour on the future of the newspaper business. You can read a summary and download the audio here. Lydon’s lead guest was Alan Rusbridge, editor of The Guardian, the British newspaper that has become something of an international phenomenon thanks to its well-executed Web version.

Rusbridge made the rather astonishing assertion that The Guardian’s 14 million American readers exceeds the online circulation of the Los Angeles Times. I guess it makes sense; though the Times is a great paper, it’s seen as essentially regional. The Guardian’s frankly liberal orientation, easy-to-navigate Web tools and emphasis on smart but short articles are bound to make it a favorite in Blue America.

Rusbridge made one other observation that leads me to my final destination. Lydon at one point noted that, as publicly owned companies begin to flee the newspaper business, nonprofit foundations such as the one that owns the St. Petersburg Times (and runs the Poynter Institute) may become the wave of the future. Rusbridge agreed, and noted that The Guardian is actually owned by such a foundation.

Yet one of the outstanding examples of such subsidized journalism — the Christian Science Monitor — would appear to be in some danger, as the financially troubled Christian Science Church last week announced a series of moves aimed at putting the church on more stable footing.

The Monitor is a terrific paper with an international focus that has already morphed into a pretty much Web-only news source. (When was the last time you saw a paper Monitor?) The Boston Globe’s Tom Palmer reported (fee req.) on Friday that the church intends for the Monitor to be self-sufficient by 2009 after having received millions of dollars in subsidies in recent years. But it’s hard to imagine how that could happen without seriously downgrading the journalism.

The church would be an ideal patron for the Monitor’s journalism. It’s a shame that its own financial problems may make that impossible.


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3 Comments

  1. Neil

    Re the Guardian, herewith an amusing conceptual loop, or a neat conceptual knot, or some knitting-related metaphor like that.In the earlier blog entry about Nuclear Iran, the last comment by Sven contains a reference to the loyalty oath-loving Captain Black which I followed. It’s a good post apropos to the discussion but it’s not clear who wrote it. Following the links reveals the writer to be Daniel Davies, who is among the extensive list of contributors at the Guardian (at last, my point!) meta-blog called “comment is free“. Check it out to see an example of how a newspaper should run the opinion and comments section of a newspaper. Lots of contributors. You can sort by author and subject. None of this pantywaist “no comments allowed” baloney–comments, plenty of which are unapologetically lengthy, are rampant. Thus the name of course. Impressive!Finally, picking by subject, you can find this entry about the Euston Manifesto, which is worth a look and ties, you see, back to the comment by Bill in the original post, that led to Sven’s Captain Black reference.

  2. Kevin

    Hey, I still pick up the paper Monitor whenever I’m at South Station. 😉

  3. Anonymous

    As much as I am tempted to join the funeral talk about the state of Newspapers today, I’ll just say I join the worries about the Monitor’s future. It would be a shame to lose an excellent and thorough paper like that. I still hope the strength of its content and reach of its reporters will find lucrative homes and options.Speaking of NPR and PBS, I want to draw attention though, to a noteworthy programming note of interest to many here proabably that is out of place in the ‘Sox blog’Today, Monday April 17th, PBS is showing the much controversial “Armenian Genocide” on most stations….except it seems on among others, our Boston chapters. Odd..Very odd.This NYT review is useful:http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/17/arts/television/17stan.html?_r=1&oref=slogin…with a jarring quote for the rest of us, NPR and PBS fans:”…But the fact that so many stations caved is a measure of something else: PBS’s growing vulnerability to pressure and, perhaps accordingly, the erosion of viewers’ trust in public television.”Oh Boy..What’s next???The program is supposed to be followed by a discuccion panel on some thorny opinions. A third of the stations canceled that portion, including it seems, Boston stations.WGBH2 is not screening the show today but oddly enough, GBH44 is offering it first at 4 AM Tuesday morning(????) BEFORE it shows it primetime on GBH2 at 10PM on Tuesday evening.At 11PM tomorrow, there will be no follow-up discussion but the regular Charlie Rose programming, unlike for example NY stations that are allowing the half-hour panel talk at 11Pm.So what is going on here???Why is Boston being censored like this??? And why is it being delayed a day for this area?? Are they gauging reactions first???This is disturbing and extremely disappointing for one of PBS’ most venerable stations.Armenians’ plight has been pushed under the rug way too many times and GBH seems to not mind doing it again to accomodate so many agandas and desires.Why?I am not sure if there are any reactions lately from stations managers. I hope the half-hour discussion will available online PBS sites.What a pity!N.

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