Dorian Benkoil senior consultant at Teeming Media. An award-winning journalist and editor, he was a foreign correspondent for AP and Newsweek, and international and managing editor for ABCNews.com. At ABC News he moved to the business side, handling sales integration and business development, before joining Fairchild Publications as General Manager for their Internet division, becoming editorial director for mediabistro.com, then a consultant for Teeming Media in New York. He graduates this year with an MBA from Baruch's Zicklin school of business. Learn more about him at Benkoil.com or his blog - MediaFlect.com.
Robert Cauthorn is a journalist, former vice president of digital
media at the San Francisco Chronicle, and was the third recipient of
the Newspaper Association of America's prestigious Digital Pioneer
Award. He launched one of the first five newspapers web sites in the
world and is generally considered to have delivered the first
profitable newspaper web site in 1995. Cauthorn has been in the middle
of the transition from old media to new and is recognized as
frank-talking critic when he believes newspapers stray for their
mission. In mid-2004 he became the president of CityTools, LLC a new
media startup based in San Francisco.
Ben Compaine has divided his career between the academic world and private business. He was a journalist when manual typewriters were considered state of the art, but also led the conversion of his college newspaper to cold type. He has started and managed weekly newspapers. His dissertation at Temple University in 1977 was about the changing technologies that were going to unsettle the landscape of the staid and low profit newspaper industry. Since then he has focused his research and consulting on examining the forces and trends at work in the information industries. Among his most well-known works (and the name of his blog) is "Who Owns the Media?".
Vin Crosbie has been called "the Practical Futurist" by Folio, the trade journal of the American magazine industry. Editor & Publisher magazine, the trade journal of the American newspaper industry, devoted the Overview chapter of executive research report Digital Delivery of News: A How-to Guide for Publishers to his work. His speech to the National Association of Broadcasters annual conference was one of 24 orations selected by a team of speech professors for publication in the reference book Representative American Speeches 2004-2005. He has keynoted the Seybold Publishing Strategies conference in 2000; co-chaired and co-moderated last year's annual Beyond the Printed Word the digital publishing conference in Vienna; and regularly speaks at most major online news media conferences. He is currently in residence as adjunct professor of visual and interactive communications and senior consultant on executive education in new media at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and meanwhile is managing partner of the media consulting firm of Digital Deliverance LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut.
About this blog
Two forces have shattered the news media. Technology is the first. Although media technology is undergoing its greatest change since the day in 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg first inked type, for more than ten years now the news industry has mistaken new technologies merely as electronic ways to distribute otherwise printed or analog products. Estrangement is the second. The news media has lost touch with people's needs and interests during the past 30 years, as demonstrated by rapidly declining readerships of newspapers and audiences of broadcast news. How we rebuild news media appropriate to the 21st Century from the growing rubble of this industry is the subject of this group weblog.
There is no dearth of bad news about the state of the newspaper business: Declining circulation and advertising linage, translating into repeated downsizing of staff and bureaus.
But much of that is abstract for those not actually losing jobs. So here’s a blast that brings the harsh reality home: Out of Town News, the venerable international news outlet in the epicenter of Harvard Square, in the epicenter of one of the more literate nooks of the world, is closing.
Out of Town News used to be a bustling hub, situated just outside Harvard Yard, across from the Harvard Coop bookstore, at the literal crossroads of Massachusetts Ave, JFK Street and Brattle Street. It was at the entrance (or exit) to the Red Line of the subway system.
John Kenneth Galbraith bought a copy of Le Monde there every day. Julia Child searched for obscure Italian and German cooking magazines, and Robert Frost once stopped by - it actually was a snowy evening - to get directions to a reading.
I used to stop by often. Outside there were stacks of the Globe and Herald, The New York Times, New York Post and the Daily News, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Inside were shelves laden with newspapers from Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Denver, Athens, Tel Aviv, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Tokyo: Indeed, 200 cities. Its name was truth in advertising. There were also hundreds of magazine titles, inside and outside. Customers could stand there and browse—or even read—without fear of being asked to move along.
But times change. I haven’t bought anything from Out of Town News in maybe 10 years. And apparently many others haven’t. Galbraith and Child are gone—replaced by a new generation that can read today’s Le Monde online—instead of paying $4 for a two day old issue.
Out of Town News was started by Sheldon Cohen in 1955. Previously he hawked newspapers with his father at the subway station. I met Cohen in the early 1980s. At the time I was working at a policy research program at Harvard, trying to scope out the implications of the inevitable transition to digital for the information industry. For a guy with ink under his nails, he was precociously curious not only about what threats that might have for the print business but what opportunities it might hold for him.
Though later I would see him now and then in the Square, I don’t know for sure where those few discussions lead him. But with great timing—maybe luck, maybe insight—he sold his business to Hudson News in 1994—yes, the year that the Internet went commercial and the Netscape browser was released. Hudson News is the purveyor of print media and over priced gum at newsstands in many airports. According to the Globe, Cohen, now 77, wept when he was told that the kiosk would be closed.
Institutions need to sunset when they have outlived their usefulness. There is probably a majority of two or three generations of Harvard students who have walked through Harvard Square for four years and never stopped into Out of Town News or even thought much about it. I wonder what will be the media institutions that disappear for them to shed a tear over when they look back.
[Added March 30, 2009: Reports of the death of Out-of-Town News were a bit premature. See this brief update.]
Call me a pollyanna, but I’m hopeful. Hopeful that the Web may actually have been a force that’s raising the level of political discourse in America, making us smarter and better at understanding what’s going on. I’m hopeful because before the election I heard people talking, sometimes in Red states (the “real” America, not my beloved Manhattan’s Upper West Side) picking through divisive and unintelligent arguments being made by politicians and the political campaigns.
I do think the American public ultimately gets it right, but that often it’s frighteningly slow to do so (think how long it took for a majority to decide the Iraq war is horribly mismanaged). But I heard an intelligent skepticism from voters this time, examining arguments, asking whether the things being said in political ads were right, wondering whether one candidate’s policies are better for the economy. I also saw a lot of discussion and uptake throughout the Web shooting down personal attacks (William Ayers, Muslim terrorism, etc.). I note that the attempts to Swift Boat the now president elect didn't take hold.
It was a real, intelligent level of discourse that makes me happy to hear. Sure, the economy is in crisis, and the mainstream media is telling us what’s wrong in Iraq and elsewhere. But the more intricate unweaving is going on online, not only in blog discourse but in the ability, for example, of many people who wouldn’t have seen Palin or Biden or McCain or Obama speeches and interviews to see them, rewind, look at them at their leisure, to observe charts and graphs comparing policies and opinions, expert and not, to watch The Daily Show and Colbert Report at our leisure and decide what to or not to laugh about or examine further. To, crucially, watch the Katie Couric, Sarah Palin interview segments and compare them with the Tina Fey impressions. We didn’t have to rely on reports of what Palin said, but instead after hearing about it (perhaps in the mainstream) could go see it and decide for ourselves as never before.
Neil Postman might have thought we were prone to nothing but amusing ourselves to death with our media, but maybe the kind of media we have now (and that the new White House might help us employ) is helping us to think about whether we want change and what that change really means.