Rather than debate the merits of the case or argue with the bloggers about what was said and why and by whom and when, The Listener has gone medieval and called in the lawyers.

The good news is I would hope this is the lowest point The Listener can reach, so it’s all better from here. The bad news is, I fear the depths of nonsense to which this editor and her publishers may stoop.

Why is it so bad? Because newspapers and magazines live in fear of the lawyer’s letter. Every reporter I know worth their salt has been threatened by some lawyer or other. I’ve had a couple in my time (the last one, laughably, ended up with us all going out to dinner to discuss our differences, because they couldn’t afford lawyers. Not sure which is worse really).

Typically the lawyers are called out in a cowardly attempt to get a reporter to back down. A good editor and a decent publisher will bear the brunt of it, and I’m delighted to say in my last journalistic role I was blessed with editors and publishers alike who would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a reporter when such a need arose.

For a reporter it’s a terrible situation to be caught in. Meetings are held, often without your input. Older staff mutter about getting your own lawyer (all this for a story that you may have received as much 40 cents per word if you’re a freelancer) and the knot in your stomach grows and grows.

For a media house to use that kind of stand-over tactic against another publication is just unacceptable. We don’t need to stoop to the level of the lawyer to settle our differences… That’s what editorials are for. Use the tools of the trade to defend your position, to explain, to communicate. If you can’t do that, you’re not an editor I would bother reading, let alone writing for.

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Death of the newspaper

March 31, 2008

Interesting story in The New Yorker today… Yup, it’s official. Newspapers are dying and it’s all down to the interweb.

No truer word has been spoken on the subject.

I particularly like the line from Molly Ivins:
“The columnist Molly Ivins complained, shortly before her death, that the newspaper companies’ solution to their problem was to make ‘our product smaller and less helpful and less interesting’.”

Now that goes to the heart of the matter. Newspaper publishers seem intent on maximising the ads and minimising the journalism and unfortunately they seem to have forgotten what business they’re in. They seem to think they’re in the job of selling ad space to advertisers. They are not. Newspapers are all about selling eyeballs to advertisers. The eyeballs belong to the reader and they can be attracted by pretty pictures and interesting words but they are not generally attracted by a good looking advertisement – not enough to buy a newspaper at any rate.

If you get rid of the bait (the good news stories) you end up with the eyeballs going elsewhere (and not coincidentally taking their brains and wallets with them). That has happened dramatically over the past few years.

The New Zealand Herald likes to point out (in public at any rate) that it is still attracting readers or at least losing less than its competitors. Either way it’s misleading – the population of Auckland has risen dramatically in the past decade and during that time the readership has dropped.

I remember one issue of the Weekend Herald (the only paper I buy these days) that had the entire car section missing – a note on the front page said “Due to space constraints we are unable to publish the feature story this week. It will run next week” or words to that effect. Yes, that’s right, they left out the copy in favour of more ads.

The other interesting approach brought up by the New Yorker story is the “mullet” approach to content. Business up front, fun in the back. So, rather than just adopting the standard internet meme (let the reader write everything) it retains its professional journalism up front and allows comment and discussion further back.

That makes a lot of sense to me. A huge amount.

Har Har…

March 19, 2008

this one’s for all you newspaper types who say “We don’t owe the internet anything”. No, you don’t. But it also doesn’t owe you a dime and frankly, it’s in yer market, eating yer readership. And all your advertorial isn’t helping.

See, it’s not just me.