Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tomlinson: Newspapers and Stories

I’m going to tell you a quick story about my friend, Charlotte Observer columnist and Nieman Fellow Tommy Tomlinson. I’m not going to tell you about all the awards he won or the time he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist or how many people live for his column.

No, instead, quickly, I’m going to tell you about a time when we worked together in the Rock Hill Bureau of the Charlotte Observer. We were called the “York Observer,” and the idea was that we were going to write about three small counties in South Carolina -- York, Lancaster and Chester Counties, affectionally known as the YLC -- like they were New York City. We would cover high school sports like they were the Alabama football. We would cover softball games and church group meetings and garage sales and everything in between. It was a noble experiment. And for a 22-year-old sportswriter -- which is what I was at the time -- it was maddening. There’s something about being 22 that makes you believe you deserve something bigger.

Tommy is only a couple of years older than I am, and his job was to cover Lancaster (pronounced LAN-cas-tur) -- best known, to me at least, childhood home of Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs who sang the song “Stay,” the shortest song to ever reach No. 1 on the charts. When you drove out of Lancaster, there was a sign that read “Wish you could have stayed ... just a little bit longer.” Tommy had a little office there, and I mean little.

So here’s the story: That year, the two biggest high schools in town -- Rock Hill and Northwestern -- both had remarkable football teams. They were both undefeated, they were probably the two best teams in the state, and so when they played the last game of the season it was, for the York Observer, the biggest thing in the history of the world. I’m not entirely certain of this, but I’m pretty sure that I never wrote more leading into a sporting event than I wrote that week.

That Thursday, I was spent. We all were spent. So, the editors wanted to get something fresh, so they called Tommy in Lancaster (he had just started) and they asked him to write something about the game.

Here’s what he did: He cold-called a bunch of people in town to ask them what they thought about the game coming up. And, in an afternoon, he weaved together the best story of the week, one that really got to the heart of a small town and a big football game. I remember one woman said she couldn’t watch the game because she would be washing her underwear.

Tommy is my newspaper barometer. Here he is on newspapers and stories:

* * *

When I think about newspapers dying I think about Butterfly McQueen and the Board of Zoning Appeals. This probably requires an explanation.

The Board of Zoning Appeals was part of my beat covering local government for the Augusta Chronicle (the morning paper) and Herald (the afternoon paper) at my first newspaper job in Augusta, Ga.* When the full Zoning Commission made a ruling that one of the parties involved didn’t agree with, it went to the Board of Zoning Appeals. Most of the disputes were about things like somebody’s maple tree dropping leaves in the neighbor’s yard, or somebody building a shed too close to the property line. Like the People’s Court, but less interesting. They met in a room about the size of a McDonald’s restroom. I was always the only reporter there.

*True Pozheads will know that Joe also worked in Augusta. I was there first, then got hired in Charlotte, where Joe and I worked together and became great friends; then he went on to Augusta. We share a love for Squeaky’s Tip Top and horrific tales of playing on media day at Augusta National. I hit balls so far in the woods it will take archaeologists to find them.

So I show up one day and the clerk tells me this is going to be a great meeting, probably the best Board of Zoning Appeals meeting ever, because Butterfly McQueen was coming. If that name doesn’t ring a bell: Butterfly McQueen played Prissy, Scarlett O’Hara’s maid in “Gone With the Wind.” I don’t know nothin’ about birthin’ babies – that’s Butterfly McQueen. She was born in 1911. When I saw her it was probably 1987 or ’88 and she was living in Augusta. I think a couple of folks at the Board of Zoning Appeals wanted her autograph. But not after they saw her. She was frail and tired and sad.

It turned out, if I’m remembering right, that she had put a trailer in her backyard – maybe a relative was living there – and some of the neighbors had complained. Both sides told their version of the story. The Board of Zoning Appeals ruled that she had to get a special permit. You could tell from the look in her eyes that getting a special permit would take an effort she wasn’t capable of. She slowly rose and thanked the Board of Zoning Appeals for their consideration. Once a famous actress in one of the greatest movies of all time. Now a broken-down old woman shuffling out the door.

I don’t remember the story I wrote. I wasn’t very good then so the story probably wasn’t either. But I did do something – I wrote a story – and that’s the point I want to make about dying newspapers.

It is absolutely true that when newspapers go, we the people will go without crucial information in our lives. A million people are willing to fact-check Obama or break down the NFL draft. Not many people are willing to cover the zoning board, week after tedious week, piecing together tidbits into something bigger. Corrupt local politicians, crooked cops, shady developers, scam artists: They can’t wait for newspapers to die. No one else will watch them as hard and for as long as newspapers did.

But that’s not the worst part.

The worst part is that we’ll lose so many stories. Not analysis, not commentary, but real stories from the little corners of our lives. Bloggers and podcasters and folks with Flip cameras will tell some of those stories, and some of them will be better than the best newspaper work. Some of them will be done by former newspaper people. If it comes to that, I hope I’m one of them.

But there aren’t nearly as many people who make a living telling stories as there were a few years ago, and it’s obvious that there will be even fewer. Next week, next month, next year, there won’t be as many people out hunting for those stories, doing the fieldwork, talking to people, digging dry hole after dry hole, searching for paydirt.

Newspapering is not strenuous work compared to most other jobs. Once you learn a few moves, it’s not that hard to tell a good story. The hard part is finding one worth telling – not just a funny anecdote or a slice of melodrama, but a story that’s deep and broad and richly human, one that helps us make sense of our world.

We newspaper people screw up a lot – we miss things, we get things wrong, and Lord knows we have been slow to understand the revolution in our very own business. But one thing we can do is tell a true story. I suspect that will turn out to be a rarer skill than most people think.

I’m not sure how many people read that Butterfly McQueen story, or remember it. Some, I hope. And now you. It was just a little thing I came across one day, working for the newspaper.

30 comments:

  1. Austin Rhodes - Augusta, Ga.April 16, 2009 at 7:36 AM

    Great insight from a wonderful old friend and colleague...

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  2. OK, I hate to be such a party pooper, but no. Tommy's assertion is completely off-base. Those stories will be told - perhaps not very skillfully, but they'll be available to you.

    They will be told by the participants themselves.The barriers to publication of thoughts and ideas have been reduced to near-nil here. We don't need a professional beat reporter to sit in on this. You will find that those present, those who have an interest, will get the material out there quite fine, thank you, now that they don't have to go through a far-off gatekeeper to do so.

    But how will I come across the story, you ask? News aggregation and flagging is a bit of a separate topic, but I think the argument that, without a newspaper, such aggregation will be ineffective or overly narrow in focus utterly fails to comprehend how easy it is right now, let alone ten or twenty years down the line, to collect a very diverse amount of information with very little effort.

    Asking the question “How will newspaper functions be duplicated?” is asking the wrong question. They will not be duplicated, but they will be replaced. And the replacement almost has to be better, not because newspapers did a poor job, but because the revolution in information distribution is so profound.

    Journalists' romance with their own profession, with its myths and ideals, gets out of hand at times. Unfortunately, this piece is one of them.

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  3. I couldn't agree more with Tommy's observations. I'm a former newspaper person working online these days. The skills I picked up in the five newsrooms I worked at over the years have served me well on the Internet. But new media can't fill the huge gaps left by local newspapers as they retrench or, in worst case scenarios as in Denver and Seattle -- disappear altogether. Thanks Tommy.

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  4. "They will be told by the participants themselves"

    Of course they will. Because you work at hospital, Grunthos, that makes you a doctor or a nurse, right?

    Why bother studying the conventions of writing, reporting, distillation, separating fact from fiction? You can do that for yourself without any help whatsoever. No need to let someone else edit you or guide you.

    No, the participants themselves will be *perfectly capable* of doing that and won't let their interests cloud their judgment at all. A real-estate developer wants to build, so he'll naturally consider all the effects before asking, right?

    It's not romance, dumbass, it's reality.

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  5. Thanks, Wooden. You said that much better than I would have. I was going to go with something about people making their own horseshoes when blacksmithing died out.

    Reporting is a skill, and like all skills, it is learned over time, and with a great deal of boring repetition. (Seriously, how much FUN do you think even Tiger Woods has hitting 1,000 balls on the range each day?)

    Blogging is not reporting, and it never will be. Stories told by participants may be first-hand, but not necessarily accurate or useful. And, quite obviously, stories told by participants are full of enormous bias and selective details. Do you really want to read a summary of Kyle Farnswoth's latest disaster as written by Mr. Farnsworth himself? Would Richard Nixon have reported Watergate in any way, shape, or form resembling the truth?

    I am all for different forms of media and information dissemination. But whether in the dead-trees version or the online version or whatever version may come in the future, reporters will do a different -- and almost always better -- job of truth-telling.

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  6. Let's pretend, Grunthos, that Hemingway's "Old Man and the Sea" was a true story. Here's what it would look like if if writing were just about information gathering.

    Santiago went fishing. He didn't catch anything for many days. Finally, he caught a big Marlin, and fought it for 3 days. When he finally killed it and tried to take it back to shore, sharks attacked and ate almost all of the big fish. Finally, he got it back, and other people saw that it was very big.

    Hmmm. Lacks a little something, doesn't it. Writing, to me, is not just about gathering information. I read newspapers, and columns from people like Tommy and Joe, because they make stories interesting. I would rather sit down and read a column by Joe Posnanski about what you had for breakfast, than hear you tell me "Cheerios".

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  7. Dear David in NYC (the kos one?).
    No, I wouldn't expect to have Richard Nixon report the truth on Watergate. But Mark Felt could have had an anonymous blog. Bob Woodward has gone on to since write so many books in the 'As told to Bob Woodward' style. Did the info come from Hadley or Powell - then that's the hero of the book and the frame of the story. Heck, how many reporters speak a foreign language. few. Know about finance? Almost none.

    More over: Do I want Kyle Farnsworth's latest disaster to be written by himself? well, maybe. Not every reporter is as thoughtful as Poz. Some reporters just have favorites. Or players or coaches they get inside info form who they have to protect. (See RedSox v Manny; Cutler v. Broncos; Favre v. everyone; Torre; etc. etc.) Maybe Kyle's blog won't be even as good as semi-bad 38pitches. But who knows? Rafael Nadal writes great blogs during the French Open and Wimbledon. Paul Shirley wasn't bad. Shaq twitters.
    Further, yes local news (zoning.crooked cops) isn't as sexy to some people. But the same people who show up to those meetings can now get there own story out. Will I read it all the time or even know about the sites? Maybe, maybe not. But a important story will get linked and forwarded around a big issue in a small town.

    We will have more reporters in the future, just fewer editors and publisher.owners.

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  8. Well, far be it for me to puncture the echo-chamber, then.

    I'm actually in sympathy with some of the argument. But the above responses are not addressing the issue at all.

    "No, the participants themselves will be *perfectly capable* of doing that and won't let their interests cloud their judgment at all. A real-estate developer wants to build, so he'll naturally consider all the effects before asking, right? "

    You're still married to the myth that objective reporting is the be-all, end-all of information dissemination. Sure, those with interests will be biased. And those with countervailing interests will be raising their own versions, also with bias. To the degree that something akin to objective fact is important, that too will have a much easier time being brought to light.

    "Do you really want to read a summary of Kyle Farnswoth's latest disaster as written by Mr. Farnsworth himself? Would Richard Nixon have reported Watergate in any way, shape, or form resembling the truth?"

    Sure, their discourse on the issues involved will be substandard. Those will hardly be the only discourses available.Nothing in my original comment suggested that blogging would replace reporting. This is not about blogging. This is about the near-total elimination of costs and barriers to expression, dissemination, and fact-checking.

    Tommy's piece is ignoring, flat-out ignoring, the ability of the public as a whole to investigate and question on a scale journalists never could. It is expressive of a worldview that believes journalists are sheepdogs to the otherwise powerless sheep - which was true when nobody could get their ideas in print by themselves.

    None of this is an ode to the "army of Davids" or the power of the common citizen. I'm no activist, nor do I believe that people are generally wonderful, capable writers and thinkers. But this "we've done a tough job, such that the common citizen doesn't have to think or act, and you'll be sorry when we're gone" stuff is horse hockey. It's wallowing in the idealized myth of the journalistic crusade and creed. Get off your damned exclusive pedestals and face the reality here. There will be new demands for information. There will be new mechanisms for information aggregation. There will be new ways to perform the jobs that newspapers have done. And...

    "But whether in the dead-trees version or the online version or whatever version may come in the future, reporters will do a different -- and almost always better -- job of truth-telling."

    Where, in what I wrote, was there any suggestion that there will not be "reporters"? You think the *profession* is dead? That's even more overdramatic than what I've commonly seen so far on this issue.

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  9. "Santiago went fishing. He didn't catch anything for many days. Finally, he caught a big Marlin, and fought it for 3 days. When he finally killed it and tried to take it back to shore, sharks attacked and ate almost all of the big fish. Finally, he got it back, and other people saw that it was very big.

    Hmmm. Lacks a little something, doesn't it. Writing, to me, is not just about gathering information. I read newspapers, and columns from people like Tommy and Joe, because they make stories interesting. I would rather sit down and read a column by Joe Posnanski about what you had for breakfast, than hear you tell me "Cheerios"."

    False dichotomy. You won't need to read me, or pay attention to me. You'll be reading the people who actually have some ability to write. Or do you think that The Old Man and the Sea itself, as written by Hemingway, would remain utterly unread and unappreciated if its first appearance were twenty years from now?

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  10. I'm going to side more with Grunthos here - these stories are being told by bloggers far more often than they're told by newspapers, and often just as well or better. I have a handful of personal blogs that I read, and I find they tell the story as well or better than most of the stories I read (or, to be honest, no longer read) in newspapers. These stories will be told; sometimes they will be biased, sometimes they won't be told all that well, but sometimes they will be told much better because they are not constrained by the formatting and stylistic limits of newspapers or by the rather small group of people who are professional journalists. You can write a great story without having worked at a newspaper or gone to journalism school - that can certainly help, but it's by no means a prerequisite for a good story. Now, disseminating the story is a different matter, and some will no doubt be read by all too few; on the other hand, some great stories that otherwise might have been buried in a local paper have a greater opportunity than ever to be read worldwide.

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  11. There's no reason for stories like the ones talked about here to stop being reported, just because the delivery system changes from paper to internet.

    Newspapers' problems are not due to the internet, they aren't due to bloggers, they're due to the inability of newspapers sales department to come up with enough internet ad revenue. That problem needs to be solved.

    It'd be easier if newspaper ad departments hadn't spent the past few years telling their advertisers that internet ads are ineffective and a waste of money. Now they have to go back to them and explain that they were wrong, internet ads are effective and are worth the money, because that's where people's eyes are.

    This is a business problem and a sales problem, and it can be solved. "Newspapers" can be produced and delivered without spending money on paper or ink or presses or distribution, and this should be a great thing for newspapers.

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  12. Ironic (and semi-absurd) that after such a buildup, he doesn't even remember the actual Butterfly McQueen story he actually wrote!
    Kinda defeats his own diatribe in that regard.
    But don't get me wrong.
    I agree with the principal.
    Just wish he would have remembered the Butterfly McQueen story itself.
    Would have really proved his point!
    ~Moondogg~

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  13. Thanks to everybody for the thoughtful comments. Just a couple quick points.

    Grunthos: "Tommy's piece is ignoring, flat-out ignoring, the ability of the public as a whole to investigate and question on a scale journalists never could."

    I'm not sure it's the ability as much as it is the will. Part of the journalist's job is to look into things other people don't have the time or inclination to look into, because they have their own jobs or families to raise or whatever. "Scale" is misleading here, I think. On some stories -- where citizens are interested and motivated to crowdsource and investigate -- of course they'll end up doing as good or better than the pros. But I think there a lot of other stories that won't ever get covered because the army of Davids lose interest, or don't follow up, or don't have sources to help them know what to look for.

    People outside the traditional outlets are doing some great original journalism now. But most of it still comes from the traditional places, mainly newspapers. We'll see how the transition goes.

    Buchholz Surfer: "Newspapers' problems are not due to the internet, they aren't due to bloggers, they're due to the inability of newspapers sales department to come up with enough internet ad revenue. That problem needs to be solved."

    Mainly I just wanted to say Buchholz Surfer is maybe the greatest tag I've ever seen. But to the quote: If that problem were easy to solve, none of us would need to have this discussion. That's the key issue. It's obvious that the future of journalism is online. It's also obvious that no one knows how to make real money doing it -- the kind of money that would support a big-city news operation. The world my man (or woman) Grunthos describes is, I think, inevitable. Mostly for the better, I think. But not completely.

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  14. Grunthos said: "Nothing in my original comment suggested that blogging would replace reporting."

    Nothing in your original comment said anything about who was going to pay reporters either.

    Grunthos also said: "There will be new mechanisms for information aggregation. There will be new ways to perform the jobs that newspapers have done."

    You also have a lot of faith in future technologies that haven't been invented yet. Maybe there will be new mechanisms etc., but we don't know yet if they will meet our needs. And by the time we figure that out, all of the professional reporters will be out of work.

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  15. Thanks, Tommy, for taking the time to stop by and read through.

    "'Scale' is misleading here, I think. On some stories -- where citizens are interested and motivated to crowdsource and investigate -- of course they'll end up doing as good or better than the pros. But I think there a lot of other stories that won't ever get covered because the army of Davids lose interest, or don't follow up, or don't have sources to help them know what to look for."

    But how does this compare to the stories that aren't covered now by the existing army of reporters? It's far from clear that we will lose on aggregate, as a society. As to whether the army of Davids will lose interest, well, I think you and I have differing expectations, but no way to tell for sure until some time has passed. I will suggest that the answer looks very different depending on which generation is envisioned to be involved in the information-gathering process.

    From bigsteveno: "You also have a lot of faith in future technologies that haven't been invented yet."

    No, the technologies aren't predicates to this argument. The essential technologies already exist. I do have a strong expectation that society's demand for information will remain high, and even increase, and that information delivery will respond to that demand with good solutions. We have already seen, in the last five years, major improvements in referencing for commonly accepted facts (Wikipedia and its evolution), in search mechanisms that increase the variety of information we have access to (RSS feeds, multi-interest blogs with frequent links, topically focused sites that primarily aggregate links relating to that topic), and in accessibility for the average user (via the various advances in blog hosting). I see no reason to expect that this sort of adaptive progress will not continue, regardless of whether the technological underpinnings are improved or not.

    As to reporter pay and employment... I agree that this is an important issue. But, again, some (not all, but some) of the function of reporters has simply been removed from the realm of paid employment and will now devolve to the unpaid citizen as a matter of course. We don't have milkmen anymore, but we still have milk. Some of that income has moved into paying the grocery store. Some of it became unnecessary, and the people involved had to find a different line of work.

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  16. We are in a transition period that has no clear end game regarding print vs. interweb media and what will make that end game clear is supply and demand. Tommy's referencing this zoning appeal piece is a pretty clear indication why print media needs to change, if something is not demanded by the public why waste time and money covering it. People should drive what is reported and in what shape or form, not the journalists/bloggers/whatever, unfortunately most journalists seem to think they “know” what we need to read despite our ignoring of their product. The only people that are really rallying against newspapers dying are newspaper journalists, which should indicate how satisfied people are with what they are getting on-line currently. If too many newspapers die and people start missing what was previously covered by them, something will be created to fill that gap in some shape or form. Journalists should be hugely embracing the interweb as the best thing that could have happened to them unless they aren't good (Poz is probably a good reference for this, I don't live in Kansas City, don't care about Kansas City sports, and yet I read all of his work regardless of the source or topic. Good journalists should prosper in this interweb environment because of the huge access it provides as Joe has demonstrated). If they aren't good people won't read them because they aren't "forced" to anymore and they will get laid off. It’s not that simple but that's really what I get from all these save the newspaper pieces, writers are worried that they are going to be losing a paycheck and their friends that aren't good at their job won't be able to find an interweb audience. Newspapers and/or journalists that don’t survive are just part of the transition and should take a cue from the racing folks Joe referenced previously. And to the blacksmith corollary that was brought up, blacksmith died out because people didn’t need horseshoes anymore. Same thing here, once we don’t need the horseshoes the blacksmiths go out of business. Pretty simple. John

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  17. The storyteller, writing under a newspaper banner is a member of a "known community". Each time a new reporter byline appears, regular readers will be looking to see where this new voice fits into the newspaper chorus. Does it replace one that has left or is tired...or does it extend the newspaper's range? And that journalist will then exhibit the ability to tell a story in a voice that will help the regular readers HEAR and UNDERSTAND and perhaps even CARE ABOUT someone else...perhaps someone living a completely different life than that of the majority, while living in the same community.
    THAT is the value of the newspaper. Sure, you can have someone tell their own story...but communication can be tricky. You can't MAKE ME care about what you care about through authenticity alone. I don't know you. Who ARE you? And I'm CERTAINLY not going to go through this exercise every day. With a newspaper, there is the promise that we will NOT let any segment of the broader community be neglected for very long. And we journalists have done the work to gain access to "their" community, be it gated, or scavenged and under the overpass, and ask them questions and give their viewpoint fair representation in the court of public INFORMED opinion.
    What is really at stake is the level of understanding of all aspects of the community and where they intersect and where they overlap and where they are at conflict and where in harmony. The better those data are understood, the more effective the lawmaking and the fiscal apportionment, and the policing and the courts. Yes, newspapers are all about storytelling. But they're also about KNOWN MESSENGERS trying to bring understanding to the community.

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  18. Couple of thoughts. So Known messengers are superior to the public just because their viewpoint is written on paper constantly? I think if these known messengers were really held in such high regard and valued as much as they "should" be from the comment, we wouldn't be having this conversation. The last post also gives a feeling that again, these known messengers know what we should care about and read. And of course are unbiased and morally superior (sentence fragment, I obviously am not a journalist). I find this post and the comments very illuminating since they basically confirm that those in the journalism industry still don't get it (meaning that they are not given a divine right to dispose information once they get hired by a paper or get a degree in journalism). I'd suggest hoping down off that 5 story horse and take a look at the surroundings as some of these comments suggest such a level of arrogance and superiority its disturbing. John L.

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  19. "If that problem were easy to solve, none of us would need to have this discussion. That's the key issue." Thanks Tommy, I'm glad you agree that that's the key issue.

    It seems to be ignored in a lot of these discussions though, as they always seem to turn into "newspaper reporters are out of touch and smug and we don't need them" vs. "bloggers are unqualified and have biases and no editors," etc., etc.

    There is some truth to a lot of what both sides are saying, but that discussion seems irrelevant to me. Either the ad problem will be solved by newspapers, and they will succeed online, or it won't be solved, and they'll disappear. The other stuff is secondary.

    The advertising and financial problem can be solved. It will be solved eventually, by someone with good new ideas about how to sell. If newspapers can't figure it out soon enough, most will go out of business, which would be bad in the short term for society (and obviously for writers.) But it will be solved eventually by someone, and then good writers will get paid again.

    Advertisers are still going to need to reach customers, and the money they spent on print ads will still get spent somewhere in efforts to reach those customers. I think it's inevitable that that money will eventually go into web ads. And sites that can find a way to show the value of their traffic to advertisers will make a lot of money. Those that can't, won't.

    The racing writers forming their own website is a great idea. If they get some good salesmen, they can make that site work.

    It's not a good time to make money as a writer right now. Hopefully this transition period won't last too long, and new ways of paying good writers will be found soon. Maybe a group of quality, experienced journalists will find a way to generate web revenue, and become internet millionaires from their journalism website. That would be the best outcome possible.

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  20. Since I've been pretty negative in my comments I do want to clarify one thing. We do need many of the journalists writing for newspapers today and we do need what they provide. But we don't need it in paper form as that is an inefficient and outdated medium, and we don't need those segments which not are in demand by consumers. So the issue is not that we don't want or need any of what they provide but that they need to redefine how we get that information/product and find ways to create revenue from what they provide. Hanging onto newspapers in their current form, or maybe more to the point in their current saturation as paper newsprint will never absolutely go away, is pointless. And certainly the value creation of journalism for journalists will become more demand based and those who's product/writing is not in demand will fade off. Papers are a business, not a right as was the point in my previous comment. As much of a dick as I have been in some of the comments, its meant to be a further wake up call to current paper journalists to accept change and embrace the new competition on the internet. If you are as competent and dynamic as you portray, prove it to us by dominating the internet in both page views and creative ways to generate revenue for those page views (even if its by generating a following, writing a book and pimping it on your blog 10 times per blog post!). John L.

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  21. You know, the thought about newspapers telling all these stories, and holding people accountable, and investigating, and all that may have been true at one point, but it seems to me like it went by the wayside years ago. I think a large part of the dying of newspapers has to do with the reporters and content (the internet is by far the biggest though). There is no integrity, no standards anymore. Everything is rumor, and unnamed sources, and half of it turns out to be untrue. A paper will print a big expose based on unnamed sources and when it turns out to all be a lie it will get a tiny correction buried in the paper and the unnamed source is nowhere to be found. You can't believe anything anymore and it's digusting.

    Sorry, but your head is stuck in the sand and the industry has to take some accountability and stop crying about their plight.

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  22. Anonymous wrote: "(Poz is probably a good reference for this, I don't live in Kansas City, don't care about Kansas City sports, and yet I read all of his work regardless of the source or topic. Good journalists should prosper in this interweb environment because of the huge access it provides as Joe has demonstrated)."

    Yeah, but you're reading him for free aren't you? He can only write what he does because someone else (the KC Star, SI, etc) is paying his salary. Joe won't exactly "prosper" if those sources' revenues decline to the point where they can't pay him.

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  23. Big Steve

    Internet revenue is there, its just not as large yet as traditional newspaper revenue. The extra traffic currently generates revenue and will most likely generate more revenue in the future (as fewer print newspapers are alive and advertisers will go more and more to webads with their advertising dollars). Plus his on-line popularity should increase his book revenue as well, which will contribute to him keeping up blogs, etc. as a source to stay relevant. The comment was more around how poor journalists will be left in the dust by the extra competition versus having jobs merely because they have a journalism degree and got a job at a newspaper. Joe (being a great writer) is an example of someone who's popularity increased tremendously by his work being available on the web, which contributes to increased earnings for him via the new SI gig, books, etc. I'm not sure if Joe's reads these comments, but are you banking more cash than 5 years ago? Is it because of your web following? I'd assume yes, but obviously could be wrong here.
    John L.
    I'm writing John at the end of these since I don't want to sign up for an account since I don't comment much (hard to believe based on this) but don't want to be the anonymous guy either.

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  24. Thanks...that was really appreciated.

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  25. Mike, I have to disagree with you. Have some papers lost sight of their ethical standards? Sure. Have we all? No. I think what you're referring to happens more often on TV and Web sites. As much as I read it daily, ESPN uses anonymous sources A LOT. Guess you gotta have it first if you want to be the Worldwide Leader.

    I'm not sure of your background, but every newspaper I've come in contact with has strict standards about what sources can be used. Last week I had to hold a story I knew to be 100 percent true because I didn't have anyone on the record with direct knowledge of the situation who would confirm it. Nevermind that I had six off the record sources. Came out a day later and I was absolutely right in my reporting.

    My point is, while you raise a concern, what you're talking about is the least of our problems right now.

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  26. A few other things I wanted to add ---

    Tommy, thank you for writing that, first of all, and for coming back to respond.

    In response to the general discussion, I believe there is a type of journalism that only trained journalists will do well. Tommy is right about the time commitment and interest from citizen journalists. Citizens might take the time to report on something when you talk about a environmentally unfriendly plant coming to town. But will they sit through every city council meeting, wade through pages and pages of documents and write stories that root out corruption? Probably not.

    No matter what happens to newspapers, I firmly believe there is a type of journalism that we do best. That doesn't mean there won't be room for other journalists. Everything has already changed so much. But when newspapers eventually die, I hope there will be a place for the quality journalism they produce on the Web.

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  27. Joe, I believe good journalists will weather this just as many, many years ago, newspapers weathered the addition of TV news. We will continue to adjust how we get our information out. And great, celebrated storytellers like you and Tommy will continue to get their start in towns like Augusta where print circulation will find its new comfort zone, and world-changing reporting will continue to be read that way, as well as new ways -- and more ways by more people. The Internet will continue to be a way we get our message out (in fact, I found this -- and my old friends and former colleagues Tommy and Poz -- via Twitter and a retweet from sports writer Rachel George). The Internet shows us repeatedly that it is a small world. Glad to see you guys continue to excel across the world.

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  28. I'm disappointed by all the hostility directed at Grunthos by posters at this site. I don't recall ever seeing hostility like this on Joe's sports blog. It's OK to disagree, but name calling just sounds like sour grapes.

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  29. I have an observation about newspapers I just discovered today:
    I was doing a 'Royals' Google News search, looking for some articles on my favorite team, and I came across a few headlines. There was "Teahen Comfortable Back at Third Base" or something similar by Bob Dutton, among others. For some reason, I just passed right over that one. My inner dialogue went something like this "Sure, I'll bet Teahen is comfortable at third. Sounds like a pretty reasonable statement, something you'd expect. Is there really anything else to say about it? Probably not...". I never clicked on it. And then I realized, 'you know, if I'd seen this article in a paper version of the Star, I most definitely would have read the article.' It's true, I have no doubt in mind whatsoever that I would have read that article in the paper version. And I'm sure I would have enjoyed it. But it just didn't appeal to me sitting there in my google news search window. Now why is that?

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