“The Wired City” author appearance in Tewksbury

A dozen participants in the Lowell blogosphere joined the crowd at the Tewksbury Public Library to hear Dan Kennedy talk about his new book, The Wired City, which is about journalism in the “post newspaper age.” While I bought the book (actually I bought two), I haven’t finished reading it yet. When I do, I’ll offer a detailed review. In the meantime, here are some of the things Kennedy talked about on Saturday:

“Disaggregation rules” – Kennedy observed that the traditional organizing principle of a printed-on-paper newspaper is illogical. The print edition contains international news, national news, local news, school lunch menus, obituaries, horoscopes, comics and everything else imaginable. No one is interested in all of those things but since they all came bundled together in a single publication, we had no choice but to take them all. The internet has changed that. People can now focus solely on things that are of interest to them and so the trend in online news will be towards specialization to draw a particular audience rather than the one size fits all approach of traditional newspapers.

Who to watch – On the national scene, Kennedy named three individuals who recently purchased major newspapers as the keys to discerning the future direction of the newspaper business. First is Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post; next is John Henry and the Boston Globe; and third is Aaron Kushner and the Orange County Register. Kennedy maintains that these three individuals represent a return to the pre-1970s ownership model where newspapers were seen by their owners not as profit centers but as a public trust. Kennedy believes that the personal wealth of these three individuals will give them time to figure out what works best without being hounded by “corporate bean counters” and that their respective records of innovation will give them the ability to try new things until they get it right.

Models for the future – Kennedy implies that a silver lining of the dark cloud of the past decade in the news business might be the demise or at least the decline of corporate ownership of multiple newspapers. Such corporations went heavily into debt to acquire more and more papers and when the crunch came, they cut and cut content-producing resources and diluted the quality of their product. Many newspapers, especially regionals and locals, failed or are shells of their former selves due to the devastating cuts imposed by their corporate masters. In their place, Kennedy envisions a mix of funding models; three in particular. First would be the non-profit model, illustrated by the New Haven Independent; next would be the for profit model, illustrated by the Batavian from Batavia, New York; and third would be a Co-op model, illustrated by a yet-to-be launched site called Haverhill Matters.

Print is a luxury – Kennedy says that traditional newspapers will continue offering print editions as long as people are willing to pay for them. Because two-thirds of the print advertising revenue derived by newspapers comes from ads appearing in the Sunday edition, that will be the last to go. Because of the ability to offer multimedia delivery with text, photos, video, links and comments, he can’t understand why anyone who choose print over electronic these days.

There’s no substitute for local ownership – For local news, Kennedy maintains that there’s no substitute for local ownership. Many of the problems evident in the newspaper business today would be eliminated or at least mitigated if the people who actually owned the newspaper were of the community it covered.

Dan Kennedy, author of The Wired City (photo from Northeastern University)

One Response to “The Wired City” author appearance in Tewksbury

  1. Christopher says:

    I can think of plenty of reasons to choose print. When I read a lot at once I don’t want to always stare at a screen. Also, flipping through and scanning printed copy sometimes leads to something catching my eye that I did not expect to be of interest whereas clicking links usually means prejudging what I might be interested in. I’ve seen instances where even websites originating from traditional media outlets try to post too fast and have to correct whereas they have time to get it right the first time if they don’t have to distribute until the next day’s paper. Finally, comments aren’t all they are cracked up to be. We don’t need to hear everyone’s (often ill-informed, nasty, or both) opinion on every piece of news.