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

Baron on journalism’s uncertain future

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.

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10 Comments

  1. BosPhotog

    It's very relevant and important that Mr. Baron cites the coverage of the tragic fire deaths of Acia and Sophia Johnson. THIS is where newspapers need to reinvent themselves on the web. Tip O'Neill said "all politics is local." Citizens still want to find out what's up in their communities. Now if journalism institutions can find out how to make money off the web….While we are on the topic of that Southie fatal fire, please view this important LOCAL video coverage from that day by the Herald's Lisa Hornak here…http://news.bostonherald.com/news/regional/general/view.bg?articleid=1085709&srvc=home&position=1Important LOCAL coverage in a piece that differs greatly from a TV news report too.

  2. O-FISH-L

    How long before Bill Keller says, “Saving the Globe ranks with saving Liberia”?

  3. NewsHound

    Mr. Baron is living in fairytale land. He should be in Boston doing the job he is being paid to do, and that is managing a news department and trying to save the Globe, rather than giving talks on Oregon. If the Globe goes under next month then he can go back to Oregon and stay and talk his fantasy as along as he wants but right now his employer and employees were depending on him to be real, not an imaginary, pompous figurehead in Oregon.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    BosPhotog: Not to pick on trivia, but will the Herald ever stop letting its content slip behind a pay wall after 7 or 14 days or whatever it is? I’d be shocked if it were making more than a few cents on the side. Most people know that, with a library card, they can access all the free Herald archival material that they want.Meanwhile, bloggers like me are reluctant to link to Herald content, knowing that the links will expire soon.

  5. lkcape

    The decline of The Globe under Mr. Baron’s editorial leadership has been staggering.Perhaps it is time form HIM to go, too.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Ikcape: I don’t know enough (OK, any) Latin to describe your logical fallacy, but it’s easy enough to lay out: Baron was editor when the newspaper business fell apart. Therefore, it must be Baron’s fault that the newspaper business fell apart. Huh?

  7. NewsHound

    Dan: Not everyone in Massachusetts can get a useful library card anymore. If they are a resident of a community which does not financially support its library to the state’s satisfaction, the library card becomes useless except for the publications in its own hometown or city library. This problem is increasing right now for reasons I think we all know about. Sadly, too, many towns which choose public safety and education first do not get major daily newspapers.

  8. lkcape

    No Dan, you missed the point. Mr Baron has succeeded in very little that would arrest the slide. He is not to blame for what came before his tenure. He is, however, a very prominent stakeholder in what has happened since. But such is the price of leadership.It’s sort-a-like the crap that President Obama could well find himself in if he doesn’t succeed in rescuing the economy. His continuation as the one in charge becomes a very real question.Mr. Baron was brought in to provide a new direction and a fresh perspective. The new direction looks much like the old, and the fresh perspective seems to have gone stale.Time for a change?Legitimate question.Now where’s the logical fallacy?

  9. Dan Kennedy

    Ikcape: Nice comeback — much better. Still, I would argue that you’re faulting Baron for not making the Globe a better paper even as its resources were being pulled out from under it.I think Baron had a pretty good run up until the business model collapsed. Terrific coverage of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and (at least early on) Iraq. The pedophile-priest scandal, leading to the Pulitzer for Public Service.Then the deluge.

  10. lkcape

    The task of leadership, Dan, is often under trying circumstances.The number of awards you win, or the attaboys that you collect are not the measure of success.It is whether or not you succeed… or, in the case of The Globe, whether or not you survive.

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