On Thursday, Boston Globe editor Marty Baron delivered the 2009 Ruhl Lecture at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. It’s worth reading in full, but Nicholas Kristof has the highlights. Here’s an excerpt:
We do not know, long-term or really even short-term, what our actual financial resources will be.
All the nipping and tucking, and shaving and trimming, and chopping and full-scale amputation raises perhaps the most important question: Will news organizations — the Globe and many others — be able to adequately cover their communities when the financial pressures are so severe and so unrelenting?
I believe we can. But that is a belief and maybe just a hope. It is not a prediction — and well short of a promise. And it will require us to get our costs in line with the reality of diminished revenue and to be more creative at making money, both in print and online. It requires us to move quickly because the pace of economic decline is breathtakingly rapid, entirely unforgiving of timidity, delay, and nostalgia for old ways or attachment to old work rules.
Baron closes with the story of 14-year-old Acia Johnson and her 3-year-old sister, killed in a fire traced to their mother’s dysfunctional life. Baron continues:
The story elicited an outpouring of sympathy, but fortunately there was more than that. There was action.
The child welfare agency instituted reforms that would affect the placement and monitoring of about 500 children a year. Shortly, the governor asked the state’s child advocate to launch an investigation. The advocate issued a report in December describing fundamental failures by the state and calling for better training for social workers, improved information-sharing with law enforcement, and more comprehensive documentation of neglect and abuse. The governor pledged to follow through.
Baron is no nostalgist, and he frankly acknowledges that perhaps newspapers can’t be saved. But how, he asks, will journalism be saved? Even if bloggers and community Web sites do some of the things that local papers used to do, who will provide deep, time- and money-intenstive investigative reporting?
Tonight, that question seems more unanswerable than it did just a few hours ago.