Like Eli, I attended last week's "No News is Bad News" forum and listened to Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Art Thiel and others talk hopefully about the so-called "Packers Model," in which citizens would buy shares of the P-I and keep "traditional journalists," as they kept referring to themselves, in business. At that forum, Thiel proposed that the P-I would only have to sell 600,000 shares at $25 a share to raise $15 million—enough to employ 15 journalists at their previous salaries, plus benefits. (The proposal Eli talked about earlier assumes the P-I's 129,563 subscribers would each kick in $250 a year, which works out to about twice as much.)
I was, and am, skeptical about that model working—not because $25 is a lot of money (although—going with Thiel's suggestion that one entity might buy 200,000 shares—$5 million sure is). I'm skeptical because so many of the people who want to preserve the P-I online are so frequently arrogant about their role, so convinced that no one else can possibly learn to do what "real" journalists with real salaries and real unions do, that I think they fail to innovate in ways that could keep "real" journalists like themselves in work.
The scare quotes aren't meant to imply that I don't think there's a difference between journalism and what many folks do with their blogs. They're there because, at the three forums of this sort I've attended, journalists and public officials have consistently made a false distinction between real journalists—those who work at newspapers and produce a product on dead trees—and "bloggers," a chimerical group that trade in nothing more than "rampant rumors," as Nick Licata put it last week, and steal news from legitimate papers.
For example: Thiel made mocking reference to "folks under 40 and under 30" who "say, 'I don't get my news from a newspaper, I get it from the Internet.' Well, guess where the Internet gets its news from?" As if all those deluded 20- and 30-somethings don't realize that when they go to the Huffington Post, they're going to an aggregator, and that there's a difference between original news reporting and a link.
For example: Dave Ross, the KIRO radio personality, compared what Huffington Post does (aggregate news stories, with links to original sources) to outright theft. "If somebody taped my program and broadcasted it to a different station and sold ads around, they'd go to jail. So why is aggregation allowed?" Ross asked. To which the Seattle Times' executive editor, David Boardman, responded, "That's one of the great dilemmas." Really? If I was Boardman, I'd be thrilled that people were linking to my site—and I'd make an effort to link outside Times reporters' own content, like blogs like Slog, Publicola, and Horse's Ass—all of which also break news—already do.
For example: Cory Haik, content director for Seattletimes.com, said that although "young people are more engaged electronically," the information they read online would be unavailable without "traditional journalists providing the information that's being linked downstream." Although Haik didn't define "traditional journalists," she did say later that she could not "imagine a major metropolitan city without a [print] newspaper."
Again, I get the difference between a newspaper and LiveJournal. But what so many old-school journalists don't seem to understand is that blogging is just a delivery system—like the printing press, or television cameras, blogging software can be used to produce great journalism or garbage. News blogs aren't the enemy any more than aggregation blogs are—both can be good or unreliable, useful or a waste of time. But until newspaper writers and editors can be convinced that their medium (and reporters who came up in their medium) isn't the only one that can produce quality, informative, compelling journalism, I don't know how they'll convince readers that they're worth spending $250 to save.