The Speed of Light at the End of the Tunnel
By Carter Clews
New York Times correspondent John Harwood may be the most misunderstood man in America today. And since someone clearly needs to come to the distinguished journalist's defense, C'est moi.
Appearing Tuesday morning on MSNBC's “Morning Joe,” Mr. Harwood was presented with the sorry state of the Times' finances and queried as to what would become of the Old Gray Lady. To which, Mr. Harwood emphatically replied, “The New York Times isn't going anywhere.”
That's when the boo-birds sat upon him with talons extended. On rightwing forums like Free Republic, they were simply relentless. One “Freeper” (as these iconoclasts like to call themselves), “Zakeet” by name, had the unmitigated gall to post the following gratuitous recitation of the Times' trifling difficulties:
• Ad revenues down 16 percent from prior year -- with no bottom in sight.
• Readership dropping -- with no bottom in sight.
• Stock lost 95 percent of value in past year.
• Dividend slashed more than 75 percent in past month.
• Bonds reduced to junk status.
• Locked out of commercial paper market.
• Line of credit tapped out and due to expire in a few months.
• Rapidly seeking financing using last major asset (billion dollar office building) as security.
• Large balloon payments due in about six months.
And another Freeper, one “Straight Vermonter,” went so far as to throw up the chart below – as if plummeting stocks have anything to do with the Times' fortunes:
Let's face it, anyone could manufacture a chart like that denigrating those they disdain. After all, even the Titanic had its detractors.
What the gentle reader really needs to understand is that all this gainsaying of the good Mr. Harwood entirely misses his point anyway. His hidebound hecklers contend that when “Baghdad Bob” (as they like to call him) said. “The New York Times isn't going anywhere,” he meant that the Times would be around for a long time to come. (Which, of course, is absurd, unless the federal government tosses it in with the financial industry and Big Three bailouts.)
But, John Harwood is no idiot. What he actually meant was “The New York Times isn't going anywhere” in the same vein in that after the Titanic hit the iceberg, it wasn't going anywhere except to the bottom of the deep blue sea. Right?
There, I feel better now. I have stood up for a journalistic colleague. And John Harwood has been conclusively proven not to be the duplicitous nincompoop his detractors attempted to portray him as. Whoo!
The truth is, of course, that the New York Times is going somewhere, and it's precipitous descent is starting to make the Titanic look like the Good Ship Lollipop. If it is any comfort to Mr. Harwood and his soon-to-be-jobless Timesters, however, the Old Gray Lady will be far from alone in Davey Jones newspaper locker. Because the entire industry is about to join the scrap heap of history.
According to the latest stock market report on the McClatchy company, that proud old newspaper chain is now trying to palm off its stock for just under $2.50 per share – considerably down from over $70 as recently as 2005. And who could have missed the announcement earlier this week that the Tribune Company, owner of the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, among other news organizations, is settling into bankruptcy?
So, what happened? How did all of these once-august papers of record go the way of broadsides and buggy whips, of kinetoscopes and Conestoga's.
Well, conservatives like to say that the liberal slant of the editorial pages (and, yes, much of the news, as well) so turned off readers that they cancelled their subscriptions and found other ways to wrap their fish. And, certainly, with the majority of Americans now telling Harris Interactive polling that they no longer trust the media, that argument has some credence.
But the actual fact of the matter is that the newspaper moguls sounded their own death knell by clinging to what they knew rather than tapping into the unknown; by trying to adapt – rather than adopt – change. Like radio producers of old who thought of TV as “sound with pictures,” far too many of today's publishers consider the Internet newspaper their “online edition.”
And as the fate of McClatchy, the Times, and the Tribune Company presage, they are now likely to end up with neither an “online” or a newsstand edition. In short, they are, in the words of Mr. Harwood, “going nowhere.”
So, here, in brief, are three suggestions for the remaining newspapers that hope to go somewhere other than down the looming memory hole. They are offered seriously and sincerely each idea taken from the younger lights of the once-maligned “blogosphere”:
1. Recognize the Internet for what it actually is: the primary portal through which all media will one day flow. It is not print. It is not sound. It is not pictures. It is all of them at once, co-mingled, indistinguishable, instantaneous – and most of all thoroughly interactive. Anything less will be too little.
2. Recognize also that Internet content is bottom up, not top down. The “Old Media” – operated on what might be called the Zanuck Dictum: “When I want your opinion, I'll give it to you.” After nailing Dan Rather and largely collapsing the newspaper industry, today's online aficionados are fully confident that they know as much as – if not more than -- those who stand astride the Old Media empires. And they will be heard.
3. Recognize finally that the dominance of the Internet is as ineluctable as the laws of nature. In fact, it is, to some degree, the ultimate extension of Newton's First Law: the progression of the media since its inception has been towards individuation, and that progression will likely continue unabated. In short, one day each of us will have his or her own Internet “channel.”
The next time someone asks John Harwood what will become of the New York Times, he might want to take a quick glance at NetRightNation.com, the revolutionary portal that now aggregates more than 60,000 conservative blogs on a round-the-clock basis.
Since its inception just two weeks ago, NetRightNation.com has featured more than 1,000,000 blog posts. And it is growing exponentially. It aggregates blogs virtually at the speed of light. And it sorts them by state and issue literally at the push of a button. One top radio talk show host has called NRN the “single most extensive – and instantaneous -- source for conservative thought on the entire Internet.”
And unlike the Old Gray Lady, it is going somewhere. Fast.
Carter Clews is the Executive Editor of ALG News Bureau.