It was a really depressing task. I guess that's the point. Unless I was required to read them, I would have given up on each long before the end. The story is just too sad, and the rationalizations too weak, and honestly, way too vain and self-centered.
There was an interesting juxtaposition. Rupert Murdoch giving a mercifully short speech saying the biggest mistake someone in the news business could make is thinking the reader is stupid. He could easily have been introducing the next speaker, Bill Keller of the NY Times, who clearly thinks almost everyone who doesn't work at the NY Times is stupid. It seems he would exempt reporters at The Guardian, the LA Times and the Chicago Tribune. Probably the Boston Globe as well. Not sure who else he respects, but he certainly doesn't respect bloggers, or seem to understand that bloggers could have facts or perspectives that a Times reporter might cite (though, thankfully quite a few Times reporters seem to do that these days).
Here's how I visualize how they're doing it. Imagine a box made of cardboard. It's big, but it's light. Pick the box up and move it from one place to another. When it gets to the new spot, it's still a big cardboard box. It still can contain the same stuff as the box did when it was in the old place.
Anyway, as I was reading these eight essays, my mind wandered -- and I wondered how each of these execs would explain Wikipedia. How is it that something that is very competitive with the product created by people more or less like them, was created by volunteers, people working for nothing?
Because the fundamental thing each of the speakers has in common, the one possible mistake they're all making, the one variable they refuse to consider is the possibility that other people might do what they do, for no pay.
Bill Keller said it most concisely. "newspapers have at least two important assets that none of the digital newcomers even pretend to match. One is that we deploy worldwide a corps of trained, skilled reporters to witness events and help our readers understand them. This work is expensive, laborious, sometimes unpopular, and occasionally perilous."
These events they pay people to witness are witnessed by many more people who aren't being paid. Could at least a few of them relate what they witness? And isn't aggregating all these witness accounts what reporters actually do? The faulty assumption that bloggers would be helpless without reporters ignores the fact that reporters would be helpless without accounts of witnesses who are not reporters (and might even be bloggers).
And of course, all this expensive witnessing is what they've been cutting. The Boston Globe used to have overseas offices, but was forced to close them to maintain their coverage of local news. They have also been using paid bloggers to cover many of the 200 towns in their area. Did it occur to them to simply start new publications in each of those towns, and let people do the witnessing on a voluntary basis?
If you think it's not possible to have a quality result, then you have to explain why Wikipedia exists, and why a similar approach could not be used for news. This question kept coming up repeatedly as I read each of the speeches.
1. Tom Curley, President and CEO, The Associated Press, speech to the Online News Association Conference, Nov. 12, 2004
2. Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp., speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 13, 2005
3. Bill Keller, Executive Editor of the New York Times, Hugo Young lecture, Chatham House, London, November 28, 2007 07.23 GMT
4. Martin Baron, Editor of The Boston Globe, the 2009 Ruhl Lecture, University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, April 2, 2009
5. David Schlesinger, Editor-in-Chief Reuters News, speech to the International Olympics Committee Press Commission, June 23, 2009
6. John Temple, formerly Editor of the Rocky Mountain News, speech to the UC Berkeley Media Technology Summit at Google in Silicon Valley, Sep. 30, 2009
7. Alan Rusbridger, Editor of The Guardian, Hugh Cudlipp lecture, Chatham House, London, January 25, 2010
8. Vivian Schiller, CEO of NPR, speech to the Investigative Reporters and Editors, June 14th, 2010