Marcus Brauchli, who I first ran into on a boat going down the Yangtze doing a story about the Three Gorges Dam, and who threw some rather good parties in Shanghai in the late 90s (including a pajama party in the Peace Hotel), is now editor of the Washington Post.
The NYT writes that "at age 47, he is young enough to remain in place for many years..."
...assuming the WaPo survives for many years...
As the news of his appointment broke today, online journalism guru Mindy McAdams posted 10 "simple facts" about the survival of journalism:
1. Newspapers did NOT make a huge mistake by giving the content away for free. Duh, look at the Internet. Everything except the porn and the dating services is free.
2. Journalism CAN be done, and done well, without newspapers. It’s okay if you love newspapers, but they’re really expensive to produce and the audience is abandoning them, as are the advertisers, so it doesn’t help us much to go on talking about newspapers.
3. Journalism costs a lot of money to do (and especially if it’s done well), because it requires dedicated people. So we can’t pretend that the work will get done for free. It will not.
4. Citizens and amateurs and well-meaning whistle-blowers, etc., etc., will sometimes commit wonderful acts of journalism. But they will NOT do so reliably, day in and day out, and there aren’t enough of them with the interest, free time, and goodwill to do everything journalists have been doing for about 400 years.
5. Newspapers were a nice business. Publishers could make the product insanely cheap (remember the penny press), and the advertising would cover the expenses, plus generate fantastic profits. However, this is clearly over. It’s done. It worked for a long time, but now, like trans-Atlantic leisure travel in big passengers ships, it will never work again.
6. No one today goes to one spot online as the trusted information source. People don’t even go to five or six. Everyone goes to dozens, hundreds — more. A subscription scheme is therefore not workable.
7. Future generations will not read newspapers. Ever.
8. Journalism is vital to a democratic system of government, because without independent busybodies (yes, journalists) sticking their nose into everything, governments and large corporations can cheat, oppress, and starve people. (Nobel Prize-winner Amartya Sen famously said there has never been a famine in a democratic country because the news about food shortages or distribution failures cannot be hidden and suppressed.)
9. The business model to sustain journalism in the 21st century has not been seen yet.
10. Newspaper companies, in particular, seem unlikely to blaze the trail toward a viable business model for journalism.
I agree with all these points. I don't care whether newspapers survive. I do care that journalism survives - and I don't believe the two are equal. Clearly many people disagree.
It will be interesting to see whether Marcus spends his time fighting for a newspaper's survival or if he focuses on reinventing journalism for the 21st Century - and on finding a business model which likely won't involve selling lots of bundles of paper.
I don't envy him at all. It's much easier pontificating from where I sit in academia, playing around with my nonprofit citizen media organization.
(Clarification since somebody asked: Nothing seedy about the Shanghai pj party - it was an elegant soiree...lots of people in Shanghai wear pj's in public in the summertime, so "come in your pajamas" was shall we say a party theme.)