Paul Fahri is right in so many details as he recounts how he deck is stacked against America's newspapers, yet so wrong in concluding that journalism doesn't share the blame. Journalism should share the blame, and journalists are not powerless.
He seems to have a notion that there is some sort of objective standard of quality that has been maintained during the long and painful descent of newspapers from the position they once held at the center of American life.
There is no such standard. Quality of journalism has much to do with relevancy and relationships, and those are moving targets.
The right question is whether newspapers are practicing journalism that's relevant to the lives and the needs of the community. And there lies the problem. The needs of the community have changed. Newspaper journalism, by and large, has not.
I could go off on a rant about how newsroom mossbacks have actively interfered with innovation, especially online innovation, over the last 15 years. There's no point; that's water under the bridge, and even the few remaining curmudgeons recognize that the world has changed (however little they want to deal with it).
The deck is stacked against the newspaper, but newsrooms are not powerless victims in the grip of some irreversible cosmic force. There is still high demand for effective local mass advertising solutions. Newspapers can be that solution -- in fact, they could be the last mass medium standing.
But you can't do it with a 20 percent market penetration, and that's what you'll have if you continue producing a 1968 newspaper in 2008.
Interactive engagement with the community transforms journalistic behaviors.
Transforming journalistic behaviors can lead to vigorous growth in readership.
I've been talking about this for years, using the Bluffton Today readership story as an example. But here's a more recent, and smaller, example.
The Florida Times-Union is a "big old" conventional full-service daily newspaper published in Jacksonville. Like most big dailies, its brand is powerful -- and tarnished in some quarters. To the blogging community, it's just another MSM sellout.
To the twentysomethings, it's just another irrelevancy produced by old people, for old people. I won't even get into the opinions held about the paper by crackpots and political kooks, of which there are plenty in Florida, just as there are everywhere. It's in pretty much the same boat as every other large daily newspaper in the United States.
But something is going on.
A couple of weeks ago, police raided a popular local dance spot and shut it down. That's not a story that most old-people newspapers would regard as important, but Jonathan Bennett, who with Joe Black runs the newspaper's Jaxdotcom Twitter channel, picked up on a Twitter reference to the raid. He "retweeted" it.
A couple of followers immediately responded that they'd been in the raid. This led to some information-gathering and a "just in" story, which of course was "tweeted." A local blogger provided a photo. Before long the raid story had become the #1 most-read story of the day for Jacksonville.com, with hundreds of comments and a real buzz sweeping through the local networked community of twentysomethings.
An old-people newspaper, on top of young-people news. Imagine that.
Rich Ray, director of digital media at the T-U, said "This non-traditional approach has garnered high praise (while strengthening bonds of trust and respect) from prominent local bloggers who usually view T-U efforts with a very cynical eye."
What should you take away from this story? Try this: There are some problems you can't solve. There are some that you can solve.
Newspapers can't survive if journalists throw up their hands and blame everything on mysterious forces. Get back to work and use the tools that are sitting in front of you to connect with the community. Have a conversation. Learn from it. Discover what people care about. And accept that journalism needs to adapt to new social realities.
A different perspective
The 20 percent figure
Yes, but ...
Misleading audience numbers and the revenue model
OK, so what's next?
Too many radical journalists