So I’m running the family dog in the early-morning dark this a.m. — damn that early Daylight Saving Time! it was almost pitch-black at quarter to 7! — up Pasadena’s Prospect Boulevard toward Orange Grove. Yes, those camphor trees unlevel the sidewalks a bit, just like a soaring ficus might, given the chance, but I stayed on my feet. What I was like to trip over, though, as I passed by Maureen and Bob Carlson’s house, was the pile created by FOUR daily newspapers waiting for them in their driveway.
The good ol’ Pasadena Star-News; the still-gotta-have-it L.A. Times; the gorgeous cobalt blue wrapper that marks the queen of American journalism, the NYT, and the pink-wrapped — Rupert, does that mean something special? — cherry on the second cup of coffee that is the Wall Street Journal.
I mean, the only thing missing that you can get thrown on your drive was the Financial Times — what’s wrong, Carlsons? You don’t want to keep reading into the p.m.?
Anyway, it was the kind of sight that obviously warms an old newspaper editor’s heart. If only every driveway on the block were so loaded up with the best journalism has to offer, matters wouldn’t be looking so dim in this particular dodge.
On that subject, here’s a link to David Carr’s “The Media Equation” column in today’s New York Times. It includes a reference to the latest Big Idea going around about the ways to save the great American daily: the “no more free content” movement. Its basic tenet is easily grasped — Google is eating our lunch attracting eyeballs for free, work that we pay for in salaries to our reporters and editors and everyone else at the paper. It’s simple, right?: “consumers will have to participate in financing the newsgathering process if it is to continue.”
We know we should have understood that in the first place. But if you’d been around a newsroom a decade ago, such simple logic would have been, and indeed was, entirely shouted down by the young folks howling “You don’t understand! Web culture is free culture! If you charge for it, no one will read it! Make your money on advertising!”
We do make what money we make on advertising, and not so much on circulation. But the Web ads haven’t paid off — not for any paper in the land.
It’s going to be a choice of paying for the news, or having the news — the professionally produced, fact-checked news, at least — disappear.
Without more folks like the Carlsons, who know what a bargain readers get when they do pay for them, there soon won’t be any more newspapers to almost trip over.