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哥伦比亚新闻评论: 巨变时代来临  

2007-09-27 00:13:00|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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哥伦比亚新闻评论: 巨变时代来临 - liblog - Liblog 第九传媒

Neverhas there been a greater need for independent, original, credibleinformation about our complex society and the world at large. Neverhas technology better enabled the instantaneous global transmissionof pictures, sounds, and words to communicate such reporting. Butall this is occurring in a time of absentee owners, harvestedinvestments, hollowed-out newsrooms, and thus a diminished capacityto adequately find and tell the stories. The standard euphemism tocharacterize these peculiar times is that the news media areundergoing a historic “transformation,” which is certainly true.What has also been true for years now is that media corporationsare desperately seeking a way to remain viable financially in thewild marketplace of, well, everything else. And at the moment, thelandscape looks precarious, particularly for serious editors andreporters.

In the past couple of years alone,everything but a piano has fallen on the head of the serious press:Rupert Murdoch bought Dow Jones and The Wall StreetJournal; Knight Ridder, the nation’s most Pulitzer-honorednewspaper chain, was dismantled; the McClatchy Company sold theMinneapolis Star Tribune to a private equity firm for lessthan half of its purchase price eight years earlier; andhundreds of reporters and editors accepted buyout offers at TheAtlanta Journal-Constitution, The Boston Globe, theCleveland Plain Dealer, The Dallas Morning News,the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, andmany other newspapers.

Four dailies that have producedinspiring international coverage in the past—The PhiladelphiaInquirer, The Boston Globe, Newsday, and theBaltimore Sun—closed their remaining overseas bureaus. InTV, as veteran correspondent Tom Fenton has observed, a quartercentury ago CBS News had twenty-four foreign bureaus and stringersin forty-four countries; today, there are six bureaus, none of themin Africa or Latin America. Time Inc., owner of the largestcirculation newsweekly magazine, Time, eliminated 650 jobs in early 2006,including those of Don Barlett and Jim Steele, two of the nation’spreeminent investigative journalists, in May. The following week,it was reported that Time Inc. had just paid $4 million forexclusive photographs of Shiloh, the newborn baby of Angelina Jolieand Brad Pitt.

There simply are fewer and fewerprofessional reporters monitoring power in America and the worldfor American readers. The financial pincers threaten even the topof the news chain. In April, New York Times Company shareholderswere urged by a Morgan Stanley money manager to overturn thatcompany’s two-tier stock structure for strictly financial reasons.Days before the Times Company’s annual meeting, Donald Graham, theCEO of The Washington Post Company, which is also protected by atwo-tier stock structure, wrote a blunt editorial entitled “TheGray Lady’s Virtue” in The Wall Street Journal, citingthe “crazy risks” of the Morgan Stanley gambit:

If the stock structure wereeliminated, a line of buyers eager to purchase the company wouldform within minutes. No one could say no. The line would includeprivate equity firms, high-ego billionaires, international mediacompanies lacking a famous property and lots more…It isn’tguaranteed that anyone owning the Times would spend morethan $200 million on its newsroom budget or deploy dozens offoreign correspondents around the world. Sending any one of thosereporters overseas costs lots of money and doesn’t add a penny tothis year’s circulation or advertising revenue.

The Sulzberger family retainscontrol of the Times Company, its two-tier structure intact, butwhen was the last time you saw the owner of The WashingtonPost take to the street—Wall Street, that is—to defendThe New York Times?

While more and more newspapers willtransform themselves into “print-Web hybrids,” as Robert Kuttnerwrote in these pages a few months ago (“The Race,” March/April),to keep the journalism flowing, online advertising revenue mustcatch up to editorial payroll levels. That prospect isuncertain, and more layoffs seem likely. Not surprisingly, inrecent years, the sheer volume, enterprise, and quality of seriousnews stories have quite noticeably diminished, especially amongsmall and mid-size newspapers.

Whatreplaces that flow of information? What will nourish our democracy?Perhaps new stand-alone, advertising-supported, profitable venuesfor original newsgathering and storytelling—beyondsubscription-based, niche publishing—will evolve in the digitalage, as we all hope they will. But that hasn’t happened yet.

In this light, other economicmodels that can produce substantive journalism suddenly look moreinteresting and relevant to a profession under siege. And whilemuch has been written of late about the dire state of commercialjournalism, very little has been said about various independent,noncommercial initiatives specifically designed to produce thatkind of substance.

Onedistinguished exception is Philip Meyer. Meyer wrote,“The only way to savejournalism is to develop a new model that finds profit in truth,vigilance, and social responsibility.” He cited nonprofitinstitutions such as National Public Radio and the Center forPublic Integrity, which I founded in 1989 and ran until 2004, asperhaps representing useful roadmaps for the future.

Nonprofit ownership and publishingare hardly a new ideas in the U.S. The oldest and largest newsorganization in the world, founded as a cooperative venture back in1846, is a not-for-profit corporation based in New York—TheAssociated Press. The AP today has more than four thousand staffemployees (three thousand of them journalists) worldwide, and 243bureaus in ninety-seven countries. According to the 24/7 wireservice, “on any given day, more than half the world’s populationsees news from AP”—news sent in five languages via fifteenthousand outlets in 121 countries. In the U.S., its paying clientsconsist of five thousand radio and television outlets, fourthousand Web-site customers, and 1,700 U.S. newspapers. And the AP,with revenue of $679.8 million last year, appears to have adaptedwell to the new technologies, forging lucrative relationships withsuch major online customers as Google and Yahoo and others; revenuefrom digital sources is 15 percent, or just over $100 million, andrising.

But also consider suchnonprofit-owned newspapers as The Christian ScienceMonitor (published secularly since 1908 by the First Church ofChrist, Scientist, in Boston, with writers based in elevencountries); the Manchester, New Hampshire, Union Leader(owned by the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications); TheDay in New London, Connecticut (willed to a trust in 1939,with some revenue flowing to community organizations via grants);The Anniston Star in Alabama (to be willed to a trust uponthe death of the publisher and his sister; some profits alreadyfinance a newsroom-based graduate program in journalism); and theDelaware State News (willed to a trust in 1991, withprofits reinvested in the paper). And on the magazine side, suchpublications as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy,Mother Jones, and Harper’s are all nonprofits.The giant Consumer Reports, which has won numerousjournalism awards over the years, is owned by Consumers Union, anonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1936. Other bigspecial-interest magazines published by nonprofit organizationsinclude AARP The Magazine (22.6 million subscribers) andNational Geographic (5.4 million).

The nonprofit Poynter Institute forMedia Studies in Florida—named after Nelson Poynter, who owned theTimes Publishing Company and created the institute and willed stockin order to maintain it after his death—owns the for-profitSt. Petersburg Times newspaper and its affiliates,Congressional Quarterly, Governing, andFlorida Trend magazines. On national television, twohighly respected news programs, Frontline and TheNewsHour with Jim Lehrer, are aired on the not-for-profitPublic Broadcasting Service (PBS), launched in 1969.

But no nonprofit—and nofor-profit—news media organization in the U. S. today can matchthe audience growth of National Public Radio (NPR), which began in1970 and now has thirty-six bureaus in the U.S. and worldwide andapproximately thirty million weekly listeners, double what it had adecade ago. NPR news reaches audiences around the world throughbroadcast, satellite, and digital radio, as well as through online,mobile, and on-demand services. Today NPR has seven hundredemployees and its programming is heard on more than eight hundredindependent public radio stations nationwide; its flagshipprograms, Morning Edition and All ThingsConsidered, are the top and fourth most listened-to radioprograms in America. Thanks in substantial part to a huge bequestby Joan Kroc, NPR’s operating budget is about $144 million today,with total assets exceeding $436 million. It is hard to believethat at the end of 1983, it had only about two million listenersand was $7 million in debt. In the late 1990s and again, especiallyafter September 11, NPR turned some kind of significant corner,becoming a primary news source for millions of Americans.

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