Monday, December 13, 2004

Two blind mice meet Dan Gillmor

Caught a talking-heads radio show here in San Francisco earlier tonight in which two distinguished editors and columnist/author Dan Gillmor discussed the future of newspapers.

Predictably, the editors, who hold top positions at two of the Bay Area's biggest dailies, stated that readers in the future always would want to read newspapers written and edited by highly trained professionals like, well, them.

They manfully acknowledged that the Internet, cable TV and other forms of electronic static are fragmenting the audience and distracting their advertisers. But they were sure the institution itself would be safe, because people value so dearly what they, in their professional wisdom, have to say.

On the other hand, Dan Gillmor, who is leaving the San Jose Mercury after a distinguised career as perhaps its leading technology columnist, said he is not so sure tradtional newspapers can survive the combined assault of the electronic media are on their readership and advertising bases. (More on Dan's plans at

The rape of print classified advertising by Craig's List, eBay and the like is well documented. Suffice to say, newspapers would have a chance to survive if they continued to draw a demographically desirable crowd for advertisers. (This, of course, would require embracing certain modern technology and business strategies, as discussed elsewhere herein.)

But the scary part for newspapers (and those of us who love them) is that readers don't really hold journalists in such high esteem as they hold themselves. In a recent Gallup poll, journalists ranked only a notch or two higher than the least-beloved profession, used-car salesmen. Adding insult to injury, TV reporters were rated as more trustworthy than the print crowd.

As for Dan, he is off to pioneer participatory journalism, where mere civilians can sign up to lend their skills to comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. We're all for it, so long as it is an all-volunteer force and there is no draft.


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