The Open Newspaper - PROLOGUE

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Welcome to The Open Newspaper, a newspaper based on the idea that we need each other to find the truth.

Open Newspapers draw people and practices from host communities. They have an institutional open mind, one that learns from the communities they serve and the people they employ.

The Open Newspaper is as interactive as the Internet, as widely used as the telephone, as fresh as the television. But it has the perspective only a newspaper can bring.

Open Newspapers are in philosophical tune with the idea of an Open Society. They can demand wide access to society because they allow wide access to themselves.

Does this sound radical? Utopian?

Here’s radical: We are in the midst of a digital renaissance, in which the world’s knowledge is being turned into electrical pulses like the human brain’s – thousands of billions of on-and-off switches.

Here’s utopian: This transformation offers opportunities to remake large sections of our business, social and political lives.

The Open Newspaper is the tame part.

It’s the easy part.

And yet, if you are reading this, you are in the minority. Most news organizations are as defensive and difficult to change culturally as hospitals or the military. We operate as though lives are at stake from moment to moment. We resist change, even in a world of change. But we’re also driven by this reality:

  • American daily newspapers lost a million paying subscribers and a billion dollars in advertising revenue during the last recession.
  • The dailies dumped 3,000 newsroom employees, about 6 percent of the editorial workforce, during the same period.
  • More than 10 percent of the daily newspapers in America have died in the last 15 years.
  • More people have access to cable TV today than daily newspapers.
  • More people trust TV news than trust news from newspapers.

The last decade has seen a theme creep into industry conferences. The publisher of the New York Times started it, saying: “Diversify…or die.” The next conference slogans were “Change…or die” and “Fix local news…or die.” Something’s on our minds. Survival.

So here you are, the pioneers, the lucky ones. If your newspaper is making record amounts of money, believe it or not, you’re in a position of strength. From there, you can look ahead – to the future, to where the growth will be in your communities, to markets where you do business, where your children will be doing business. You have a great opportunity, a chance to be like Microsoft rather than IBM, like the phone companies instead of the railroads.

It is not easy to change things in a business like newspapering, where so much already changes every day. Yet to move toward the Open Newspaper, we have to change.

In a way, we are rebuilding the engine this business uses – while our colleagues are still feeding fuel daily into that same engine.

We have no choice. The fact that the hot-type system of newspapering remained essentially unchanged from 1890 to 1960 did not protect us from the industrial earthquakes that, in quick succession, moved us from hot type to cold type to digital type, from Royals to Selectrics to PCs, from the inverted pyramid to narrative to so-what graphs.

Dealing with what the paragraphs actually say, and to whom they say it, is a logical next step.

Definitions

What’s a closed newspaper?

In a closed system, people stay in their places. Journalists aren’t trained. Editors tell reporters what the stories are. Reporters write them that way. Editors check them in silence at the end of the day. The truth is simple, plain to see and easy to report. Journalists aren’t trained. We know what we’re doing and if we don’t, we just find out. Customers call the voice mail system, pressing 1 for circulation, and 2 for marketing, and leave messages. The news staff is too busy to waste time talking to people. Pollsters do that, so we can edit our finely tuned money making machine to milk the market.

What’s an open newspaper?

In an open system, we agree each of us sees only a piece of the big picture. We make sure that, as a group, we reflect the gender, race, generations, class, geographical and ideological diversity of our community. We develop ways of talking to each other and making decisions that allow more opinions at the table. We care about finding ways to talk across our social fault lines. We make time for training. We build a newspaper that helps the community talk to itself.

This is powerful stuff. We are talking about a newspaper that is something more than a way to deliver Macy’s ads to shoppers – although, please, don’t get us wrong, we’re not ready to give that up. We are talking about news organizations as what Robert C. Maynard saw them: “an instrument of common understanding.’’ We see the newspaper, then, as more than a delivery vehicle. It has intrinsic value. News value.

I hope to give you more of a supermarket here than a recipe. There are as many ways to open the process at a newspaper, as there are newspapers. But open we must. Newspapers that move toward open systems have a better chance of staying in touch with their readers, staying fresh, vital, readable, relevant and – most importantly – of staying alive into the 21st Century.

Before we move on, here are a few warnings, the stuff in small type on the side of the bottle:

  • A totally open newspaper can’t exist. We would talk and talk and never get out the paper.
  • A totally closed newspaper also is impossible. No one would talk to anyone. We never would get out the paper.
  • The editorial department alone can’t save a newspaper.

That last one is hard for journalists to swallow. Truth is, the whole newspaper must change for Total Community Coverage to work. New coverage and a new audience profile, won’t help much if you don’t know how to make money on your emerging markets.

Yet, a move toward openness must start somewhere. The newsroom is a logical place, since the quality of news depends in large measure on the number and quality of sources, and an open process can bring more high-quality sources before you, as journalists, for your consideration.

Any discussion of the people, process and product of Open Newspapering should start at the beginning, with people.

Take a look for a moment at the diversity index on the next page. This particular index covers people of color. But a similar one could be done across gender, generational or class lines.

You tell us. Is the news business doing all it can to see that America’s story is told by America’s people?

A Diversity Index

1968… Kerner Commission report calls for newsroom diversity.

1993… Unity report calls for Kerner to be enacted.

People of color in America’s population

Today… 30%

In television newsrooms… 19%

Radio newsrooms… 16%

Newspaper newsrooms… 12%

Newspaper management… 6%

 

Increase in minority work force at daily newspapers from:

’79 to ’80, 400 people, a growth rate of 21%

’92 to ’93, 400 people, a growth rate of 7.8%

 

Number of jobs lost in the daily newsrooms since ’90 … 3,300

Number of people of color who got internships at daily papers

In 1991: 980

In 1993: 924

 

Estimates of people of color in America by the year 2000:

In the population: 30%

In daily newspapers: 12%

 

Journalists of color, hired in ’80s, who are still journalists: 33%

Estimates of % of journalists of color who want to leave their newspapers: 5 

 

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Chapter 1: People

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