Monday, May 07, 2007

Do newspapers deserve to live? (Part II)

Yes, if they maintain the gumption and independence the San Antonio Express-News demonstrates in its coverage of a recent Al Gore speech to an architects group.

The speech, to an audience of thousands, was supposed to be closed to the media -- but the newspaper sent a reporter in under his own name without declaring himself as a journalist. We can discuss the ethics of this practice, but I'm persuaded by the argument of Express News public editor Bob Richter, who explains the paper's decision in his column.

The point is, here we have a newspaper that recognizes its role in the community and its duty to the public -- which is to share information that citizens have an interest in, even if that means annoying powerful people. The last paragraph of the news story sums it up: " On the request of Gore's media handlers, Saturday's event was closed to the media. Because of the importance of the issue and Gore's status, the San Antonio Express-News chose to cover it anyway."

This paper knows who it's working for.

Thanks, as is often the case, to Romenesko, for spotlighting these stories.

Do newspapers deserve to live?

Not at the rate they're going. Here's nationally syndicated columnist James Lileks, a sharp and witty writer with an audience that seeks him out, explaining that his bosses at the newly commoditized Minneapolis Star Tribune are killing his column and moving him to a local straight news beat. In other words, rather than trumpeting its unique voices, the paper is stamping them out. It's being bland on purpose.

This is so ridiculous that it feels like it might be one of those hoaxes perpretrated to get people like me all riled up, only to end up with egg on our faces because we didn't bother to check it out before we started commenting about it. If that's the case, congratulations to the joker who pulled it off. Unfortunately, the news business has reached the point where, as blatantly stupid, short-sighted and mean-spirited as this move is, it's entirely believable.