How to Win at Newspapering: Just Do Your Job

Do what you’re good at. Do it well, don’t steal all the money for stupid shit, don’t bitch out your customers if they leave for someplace else, and value the customers you have. This shouldn’t be some kind of revolutionary thing, and yet:

Eight years ago, David Jacobs, publisher of the weekly Boston Courant, paid a web designer in Ukraine to create a website for his newspaper. On that initial investment, and on subsequent research and development, the Courant spent a total of $50,000. The result is a slick, user-friendly layout.

But no one — save the Courant’s small staff, a few consultants, and me — has ever seen it.

“I won’t launch until I find a viable business model,” Jacobs told me. “We’ve never come close [to launching].” — or whatever the heck Jacobs might call the site, if he ever buys a domain name for it — exists only on Jacobs’ desktop. The paper has no Twitter feed, no YouTube channel, no mobile app. Itsort of has aFacebook page, but only because one was autogenerated from the Courant’sWikipedia page. The Courant doesn’t control it.

But if the oldfangled Courant is doing journalism all wrong, someone forgot to tell its accountant. Circulation is at 40,000 and rising, the newsroom just moved into aswanky downtown office building, and the paper — which already covers four of Boston’s most affluent neighborhoods — is about to add two new full-time reporters to reach more of the city.

Look, nobody and I mean nobody loves the Internet more than me. I love what it allows journalists to do. I love the freedom it grants people to get their messages out. But I would never say it’s the only way, or that you have to use it, or that any information you can’t get online is bad information. I would never say that in order to do journalism you have to do it online. I hate the “print is dead” triumphalism/fatalism just as much as I hate the “everything online sucks” argument. There is no reason for us to all be at war with each other over this because EVERYBODY CAN STILL WIN.

In order to do journalism you have to do journalism, and that’s it, and we make all this harder than it is by wanking about the Internet and how Craiglist ruined everything and we’re all being forced to tweet now. No, you’re not. Your rapacious, head-up-the-ass bosses may be forcing you to tweet, but that’s a question of the priorities of your employer, not of the state of journalism.

The point is, these are decisions people are making. You can in fact decide not to suck. You can decide not to crash your valuable business into a tree because your stock dipped a quarter of a point. You can decide to do what works and fuck what the competition is doing. You can get up every morning and run a paper without lying to your employees and fucking over your readers and doing everything wrong. I’m sick of the inevitability in the way that we talk about this stuff. It’s hard to not suck, but you’d think it would be easier than sucking.


4 thoughts on “How to Win at Newspapering: Just Do Your Job

  1. It’s interesting that he paid a web designer in Ukraine to do the site. Are there no programmers in Boston, or does his abhorrence for the way the Internet drives down prices & increases competition only extend to the stuff that personally affects him?

  2. We live in a small town on the Olympic Peninsula, and we have a fairly good local newspaper. They might not be booming, but they aren’t bleeding from the ears either. There is a market for local news. The Seattle Times is not going to cover county and city politics, budgets and high school sports. They have a so so, at best, website.
    It’s interesting to hear that someone is building and growing a newspaper in Boston by concentrating on local news. You’d think the Boston Globe would own this, but it’s probably seen as too small a market for a big thinking outfit like the Globe. I’ll bet there are lots of areas where a local paper could do fairly well with local readers and local advertisers, even in areas with major paper coverage. As you say, it’s about doing one’s job as a journalist.

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