Why Newspapers Matter

In the wake of yesterday’s news that The New York Times had captured five Pulitzer Prizes, bringing its total to 101 — more than any other news organization — executive editor Bill Keller offered the following:

“It comes in a year when a lot of newspapers are on the ropes, it is a reminder of what newspapers can do that others can’t,” Keller said just hours after the Pulitzer winners were announced. “Taking more than a year on a deep investigation, it helps to have lawyers who can file FOIAs and go to court when you need to.”

He’s right, you know. In spite of (or because of) my ten+ year professional relationship with The Times, I remain firmly wedded to the belief that quality journalism counts – perhaps now more than ever.

Imagine this micro-fragmented media world without financially and journalistically grounded news organizations that can devote resources to ferret out truth and injustice? Keller added:

“A lot of great freelancers do great work and I am a fan of citizen journalism,” he said. “But there is some stuff that only an experienced professional news staff can do.”

As one of those citizen journalists, I value the extraordinary capacity of bloggers and micro-bloggers to collectively cast their net to capture and report news from virtually anywhere, often in real-time. Yet the depth of that coverage, let alone its veracity, still leaves much to be desired except perhaps for a growing cadre of the most established blogs, e.g., TechCrunch, HuffingtonPost, Mashable, Boing Boing…

Here a fresh tweet from the WashPost’s media columnist and CNN “Reliable Sources'” host:

@HowardKurtz Pulitzer board allowed online sites for first time but excluded those not primarily involved in reporting. So, many bloggers shut out

The NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown spoke with Robert Rosenthal of the Center for Investigative Reporting for a segment titled “Investigative Reporting Hard Hit by Media Cutbacks”:

“Well, I think what’s happening all across the United States in every newsroom is basically newsrooms are shrinking, and some have been eviscerated. The number of journalists, you know, this year — I think last year 8,000 journalists lost their jobs. And what that means is that on every level there’s less information, less government being covered, from the community to the state to the region. And part of what’s happening is the investigative reporting is something that’s being shoved aside in newsrooms that really sort of have to feed the beast. And it’s — I think the negative impact on all of us is drastic.”

I was thus encouraged to learn that Sen. Kerry has called hearings early next month to examine the plight of newspapers in this country, on the same day that one plausible pundit predicted that a year-and-a-half from now, 80 percent of newspapers will be history. I sure hope he’s wrong.

Next month, I plan to continue this meme by exploring the influence (and shortcomings) of blogging’s role in the media ecosystem for a (May 1) panel at the PRSA Digital Impact Conference. Joining me will be BusinessWeek‘s Stephen Baker, Curbed‘s Lockhart Steele, Mashable‘s Adam Ostrow, Inhabitat‘s Jill Fehrenbacher, and HuffPost‘s Danny Shea. I hope you’ll be able to join us.

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