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

Dancing on the newspaper business’ grave

Former Wall Street bad boy Henry Blodget takes a look at the state of the newspaper business and asks an impolite question: So what? Blodget writes:

“Journalism” is alive and well, as evidenced by the still-robust health of companies like Bloomberg and Reuters, the survival of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other great news organizations, the hyper-growth of online news and commentary sites, and the rise of social media.

Interestingly, Blodget’s provocation coincides with news that conditions are improving at the New York Times Co., which, despite its financial woes, is almost certain to be one of the winners in the emerging media landscape.

And I don’t think anyone would disagree with Blodget’s assessment that “society doesn’t need hundreds of White House reporters.” Back in the day, many of us used to argue that at least a few newspapers ought to have the guts to leave the White House to the AP and instead dig into the undercovered federal agencies. It never happened, and the moment has long since passed.

But I can’t be as cavalier as Blodget. If major metropolitan newspapers like the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Miami Herald can’t reinvent themselves as robust local-news operations, or somehow be replaced, then democratic self-government will suffer.

As you know, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the New Haven Independent, a non-profit news site that stands as an interesting model of where local journalism may be headed. The local daily, the New Haven Register, is owned by the Journal Register Co., which is bankrupt. [Correction: The company emerged from bankruptcy in August.] The Register still does good work, but the Independent focuses more closely on the city, on urban issues and on community-building.

But the Independent employs just four full-timers, plus another two at an affiliate site. And it may never get much bigger than that.

I have very little nostalgia for the newspaper business, and I’m excited and energized about what’s taking place at the grassroots. But if we lose the capacity to throw bodies at certain kinds of complicated stories, especially local stories, then we’ll have lost a lot. (Via Jack Shafer’s Twitter feed.)

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4 Comments

  1. DM

    Journal Register Co. came out of bankruptcy. I think it was in July or August.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    DM: Thank you. Now fixed.

  3. Small note, without disagreeing with your larger overall point: the NHI is pretty close to the Register in numbers of people covering news in the city of New Haven. Remember they’re a regional daily covering something like 20 towns.

  4. Newshound

    Another small note – Journal Register Company, which is much more than the New Haven Register, did not earn its way out of bankruptcy.

    The major creditors reorganized the company taking out the stockholders.

    It isn’t that the fundamentals of the company are necessarily fixed. The equity was vaporized, and debt became equity.

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