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Will the Fourth Estate Survive Itself?

October 8, 2010
The Philadelphia Inquirer

Image via Wikipedia

We live in an age where the general belief seems to be, “keep up or get out of the way” – which I’m pretty sure is how my wife describes my driving, and she’d be right. However, I’m not referring to driving you glacially slow Pennsylvania drivers, I’m referring to the recent news that longtime Philadelphia Inquirer newspaperman William K. Marimow has been asked to step down as Editor-in-Chief of the heralded daily.

His offense? The financially strapped, and recently sold, newspaper’s new management team felt that Marimow didn’t have “the background in digital media necessary to lead the paper going forward.” Did I mention that Marimow is a two-time Pulitzer prize winner and was the man in charge since 2000 as the bottom fell out of the newspaper industry, yet he somehow managed to maintain the high journalistic integrity of the paper with an ever shrinking newsroom?

Hey, nice job keeping us afloat, now get out of the way. To their credit, the management team has asked Marimow to remain a part of the newspaper in a lesser capacity – investigative reporter. What, was the obit position already filled? That’s about equal to his last job. Oh, and hey, nice job releasing this story on a Friday when most people will probably miss it. I’ll see what I can do to get the word out anyway.

Sadly, while I consider this act an abomination and a slap in the face to a good soldier, I think I understand why the new management team made the decision. The newspaper industry that flourished from years 1605 to 1999 is dying, with almost no chance of recovery, unless someone figures out how to make money putting a newspaper on the Internet. The problem is, no one has yet to create the way to do it. There are a lot of ideas, but no real successes yet.

England’s most renowned newspaper The Times and it’s weekend edition The Sunday Times recently moved to subscription only, blocking all articles unless you have a paid subscription. Initial results of the decision are mixed. The New York Times plans to make the same move in 2011. The Boston Globe will feature a pay site and a free site.

Like all great institutions, newspapers as we know them will die. However, the need for newspaper journalists still exist. Is there any organization that can command as much integrity as the newspaper. CNN? MSNBC? FOX News? Um, no. Huffington Post? Drudge Report? Not yet. The key ingredient to a respected journalist is the layers of oversight. A newspaper managing editor wants it interesting, news worthy and correct. As ESPN and have shown on many occasions, they just want it fast, which is why their breaking news is so often wrong. But they’re in good company, CNN, MSNBC and FOX News all make the same mistakes in the interest of being first with the story.

How often have you read or heard a broadcast news station or Internet news service refer to an article that first appeared in a newspaper? I bet it’s a lot more than you realize.

Newspaper journalists have the time and direction to dig much deeper into news stories than their 24-hour-a-day-news-cycle brethren. This is an important distinction, and it’s probably the most important element newspapers need to remember to embrace. They may lose paper and ink, but they must not lose the newsroom structure – from there is where they derive their credit.

I’ve hated almost every editor who has had the misfortune to have me as an employee, but they were right almost every time. So thank you Rob, Joe, Mary and Tim. For every time you ever told me I needed to go in a different direction or dig a little deeper. For every time you gave me a news tip that I missed. For every time you reminded me of my responsibilities. For every time you edited some mess I handed in and turned it into a gem that appeared on paper. As irritated as I got every time we discussed my work, you were the reason people read the paper and could have faith that what they were reading was accurate and newsworthy.

And thank you to William K. Marimow for keeping a dying institution afloat. I pray your replacement will maintain the same level of journalistic integrity while remembering to enforce that on the people below him while reminding the people above him why it’s important.

[If there are any errors, omissions or if I’ve gone wildly off-track, feel free to blame the fact that I don’t have an editor. Damn irrelevant bloggers.]

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Erin Hensh permalink
    October 8, 2010 7:43 PM

    Looks like some of your “saltiness” is back to flavor your blogs… I like it- this blog sounded like you.

  2. October 8, 2010 8:41 PM

    oh…how…i…love…you! damnit you’re awesome. you are such a great writer. this is what you should have been doing all along. not writing about eyes and other such bs! you should have been an editorial writer at the Inquirer. it’s not too late. send them a copy of what you just wrote with a cover letter and resume!

  3. October 10, 2010 12:19 AM

    Aww… you two make me blush… Thanks for the feedback. I think you’re right Michelle, I think it’s time to start beating down some doors.

    • Greg permalink
      October 10, 2010 1:05 PM

      Great post, Mike! I just discovered your blog through your LinkedIn Twitter feed update. I (still) really enjoy your writing.

      • October 11, 2010 3:26 PM

        Thanks, Greg. Glad you’re enjoying. Feel free to comment anytime. I hope all is well!

  4. Martha permalink
    October 11, 2010 4:30 PM

    Good posting Mike. You should do this full time.

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