Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Newspapers Are Dying, by Richard Perez-Pena, With Reporting By No One.

Is it any wonder newspapers are dying, when the reporter covering their decline doesn't even bother to do his own job properly?

Look at today's page-one story by Richard Perez-Pena, which purports to report that upstart websites threaten to challenge the role of newspapers in covering local news. It's an interesting theory, perhaps. but he offers us only one example, and that only sketchily reports on a San Diego website that uncovered corruption Perez-Pena couldn't be bothered to explain.

"Some of the city's darkest secrets have been dragged into the light," Perez-Pena tells us cryptically," habving to do with conflicts of interest, pay raises, misleading crime stats, etc. What were they? How did the local newspaper cover the story? Who were the reporters who broke the story? Don't count on Perez-Pena for any of that.

Instead, it shifts gears to become a standard-issue trend story with quotes from experts bemoaning the trend (rich benefactors will control the news!) and journalism profs praising it ("This is the future of journalism," one says -- well, duh!). It's a laundry list of websites in Minneapolis,San Diego and Seattle -- only three examples to justify page-one treatment -- and with scant information about the economics and potential of the websites to seriously compete. They want advertising to support them, but do they get it? Perez-Pena doesn't say.

One has a $1.5 million budget, Perez-Pena tells us; another has staff meetings in a coffee shop. Okay, but what do they do? What's their reportorial agenda? Do they cover day-to-day news, or only pursue scandals and investigative journalism? How do they form an alternative to the print publications that still dominate the landscape? This might have been a fascinating window onto the culture of the alternative press in the 21st century, but instead it's a superficial skim of an industry that warrants much more attention.

One other point: aren't there news websites in New York City that compete with the Times for coverage? Of course there are. But that's just another relevant area of interest that Perez-Pena ignores -- at his peril, and that of the paper that published this below-par piece.

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