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Newspapers not dead yet

  • September 14th, 2010

Last evening I heard Guillermo Altares, Editor of "El Pais", Spain's newspaper of record.  Espousing free speech it has become the world's greatest Spanish language newspaper though it was only born after Franco's death in 1976.

I expected insights into Spain's future, and the contrasts between the Anglo-sphere (in language terms) and the Hispanic.

Instead the whole address was about preserving the values of journalism in a world where people do not want to pay for news. He believes in the social importance of newspapers ('a people talking with themselves').

Altares' address might have been delivered by Pamela Stirling (Editor of the Listener) or any of a number of New Zealand journalist friends I've heard reflecting on their industry. Their world view is overshadowed by anxiety about whether the craft of journalism remains financially viable.

Altares acknowledged that he had no particular insights. He referred to a 2007 address by New York Times Editor Bill Keller – "Not Dead Yet".

"At places where editors and publishers gather, the mood these days is funereal. Editors ask one another, "How are you?" in that sober tone one employs with friends who have just emerged from rehab or a messy divorce."

I'm grateful for the prompting to look up Keller's address, though on following it up I was surprised to see just how much of Altares' views came straight from Keller. 

Though he claims to be optimistic, Altares' address boiled down to a declaration of adherence to Keller's faith, expressed as: 

"For all of the woes besetting our business, I believe with all my heart that newspapers – whether they are distributed to your doorstep, your laptop, your iPhone or a chip implanted in your cerebral cortex – will be around for a long time. Newspapers, including at least a few very good newspapers, will survive, simply put, because of that basic law of market economics: supply and demand. The supply of what we produce is sadly diminishing. And the demand has never been greater."

I think they are right. But the survival may be only after a new generation of journalists have supplanted the current ones. En masse their minds are too narrow.

I think Keller underestimates the extent to which 'mainstream' citizens turn away from 'serious' MSM journalism because of its implicit bias against their views and values. The success of Fox in the face of elite hostility, and the near universal scorn it attracts from lumpen journalists has a message. Instead of scorn it should be attracting intelligent analysis.

My market survey of one says that a Fox NZ would find a similar market here. I find myself listening to Sport radio, or Classic Hits or anything other than Radio New Zealand's whining predictability over a weekend. I have little interest in what I turn to, but at least it spares me the dreary conformity of the 'public service' alternative.

Have I become frivolous and escapist? Or is my indifference to another harangue about caring for failed people and states and causes and the environment the same sensation that leads people under 30 to do without news and commentary at all, other than as they find it on the web?

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