A review of Losing the News, by Alex Jones
Readers of this blog know I’m a newspaper junkie.
When I travel, I just have to pick up a copy of the paper in every town I stop in. There’s nothing like browsing through the paper over a morning cup of coffee. Reading the news on Kindle on the train just doesn’t cut it for me.
But I know I’m in the minority and that most Americans get their news from TV and, increasingly, from various online sources including newspaper websites. I know the newspaper business is in deep trouble and struggling for its very survival.
Alex Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist (eight years covering media for The New York Times, and currently director of Harvard's the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy) has a new book out that discusses the troubling state we’re in regarding newspapers and the role they play in a free and open society. He laments the decline of good journalism, and while he recognizes the place for citizen journalism, he feels it cannot adequately take the place of trained professional journalists. Citizen journalists can supplement, he writes, but should not replace pros.
In Losing the News, Jones gives some historical perspective of newspapers, in an engaging and fast-reading manner. He draws parallels to the changing media marketplace newspapers find themselves struggling to adjust to, recalling the fear newspapers had as TV began reporting the news. Although today’s fragmented news marketplace is unlike anything we’ve seen before, Jones advises papers to find their own voice and stick with it. Yes, enhance stories with blogs and online video where it makes sense. But newspapers shouldn’t try to become Google news. If newspapers, he says, do well what they do best – in-depth reporting and relevant analysis, written clearly and well -- there will be a place for them in tomorrow’s world. They can’t compete with the immediacy of the web or CNN. We no longer need newspapers to be first to tell us what’s happening – that’s now become the realm of the internet and, lately,Twitter. But to get the meat behind the 140-character news bytes… that can remain the function of a professional team of journalists at a newspaper.
Jones lays out some possible options for newspapers to consider if they are to survive – which he believes will be the case. And he thinks publishers will figure out ways to stay in the newspaper business and still make a decent profit.
I hope he’s right.
Losing the News is worth a read.
Losing the News, by Alex Jones Oxford University Press, 2009 $24.95 (US)