Morgan's Brain

Dec. 15, 2008 at 2:00am

The Future of Journalism (and Tacoma)

I'm not the only one thinking about the future of journalism these days.

While talking with ErikEmery, the topic of Tacoma's blogosphere and the TNT came up. We were both stumped as to why there have been so few posts and comments on the blogs lately. He thought that with a down economy there are fewer things happening. A agree mostly, but still wonder why there aren't more Tacomans posting their current thoughts and experiences. There must be some original thought taking place that isn't hampered by the economy! It's almost eerie quiet around here lately. We were both also in agreement that a paper trying to represent The South Sound (what does that even mean?) likely represents no one in particular.

Then to follow this conversation up, a couple journalism-related items came to my attention. First, on NPR, something that caught my ear because it was on a subject of great interest to me: cartoons. Editorial cartoons.

(Link: Is the End Near for Editorial Cartoons?

In the 1980s, there were about 300 staff cartoonists at newspapers around the country. Now there are fewer than a hundred.

In Iowa, The Des Moines Register was the last American newspaper with a front-page cartoon. That was until two weeks ago, when veteran cartoonist Brian Duffy was escorted out of the building and not even given the chance to fill a box with his stuff.

"I feel a little like Mikhail Gorbachev at the end of the Soviet Union," says Ted Rall, who heads The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. "I feel a little like I'm presiding over the beginning of the end here."

Rall calls cartoonists "the canaries in the coal mine" for the newspaper industry. You know a paper's in trouble when the staff cartoonist gets the ax. Dailies were the bastion for political cartoons in the 20th century. The future is probably online.

Mocking local businesses can have a big impact, but it stirs up more controversy for a newspaper than just another cartoon about Congress. Some cartoonists, though, are discovering that younger editors are more interested in visuals and understand the need for a little fun. So if local newspapers do survive, whether on paper or online, there may still be space for editorial cartoons.

Just recently, while cleaning out some old files, I was reminded that the TNT used to have an editorial cartoonist. The fact that they don't have one today hadn't even crossed my mind until I came across this old cartoon:

How refreshing it was to see Tacoma represented in cartoon fashion with former Mayor Vialle and then City Manager Ray Corpuz playing in the Thea Foss while the rest of the council hesitates to jump in and Metro Parks storms away!

The old cliche of a picture being worth a thousand words especially holds true for me for editorial cartoons. I wish the TNT would bring them back! (and while they're at it, they could change the name back to "Tacoma News Tribune." Why fight it? That's what everybody calls it! They should just go along with it.)

Next story...

This one caught my eye because it's about journalism and urbanism - two of my favorite isms. It's hard to image Tacoma without a daily. I don't think it has to happen, but it could.

Notes about the Future of Urban Journalism, Part 1
Demise of newspapers is opportunity to re-invent urban journalism
Notes about the Future of Urban Journalism, Part 2
Bloggers and citizen journalists don't have all it takes

Guide, scrapbooker, metaphor. Every city needs a newspaper – or other form of media—that plays those three roles at a minimum. For the most part, I’d say that even bad local papers—and there are lots of them—perform these basic functions. But as someone who loves cities, I think cities deserve more and better than the basic journalism they’ve been getting lately from the current crop of faltering and shrinking for-profit newspapers.

I’d like to see newspapers (or whatever media form succeeds them) play an additional role for cities: cupid. Which is to say I want to start reading urban journalism that makes people fall in love with city living.

Journalists in love with the city would breathe new life into how urban issues are covered. As readers, we’d probably start learning more about infrastructure, about zoning codes, about income diversity, about sidewalks, about the potential energy and resource efficiencies of density, about architecture, about what makes a shopping district pulse, about the importance of well-designed public spaces, about traffic planning, about agglomeration effects.

And because these journalists would be motivated by their passion for cities to attract their fellow citizens’ attention, we’d probably be reading much more creative and interesting journalism about the city than we typically get in newspapers these days.

Despite bringing enthusiasm and talent to local news coverage, the volunteer online media corps and its aggregator helpers just don’t have—in my view—what it takes to replace what newspapers provide (or used to provide) for a city: a daily package of comprehensive and credible coverage of local issues and happenings.

It takes a lot of resources, skills and experience to put together such a package every day. Volunteers—even networks of them—can’t do it reliably every day for years and years.

If you care about cities, you should care about the post-newspaper future. You should—I think—not expect too much of bloggers and citizen journalists, but instead hope for--and perhaps help to build--a well-funded and professional future for urban journalism.

This echoes my concern too. Tacoma's blogosphere has shown that it can out-scoop the TNT on restaurant openings and downtown happenings, but what it can't do is anything in-depth. There aren't enough citizen writers in Tacoma who could pull off anything close to an investigative piece. The attention span of the blogosphere's writers and readers is so short, I doubt more than half of the five readers of this post have made it this far. The TNT on the other hand has pulled off some great in-depth coverage in the past. Their coverage of The Dumping Ground (fair share) topic in particular has been awesome. (Funny: I just had to go to Google to find the TNT link after not finding it in TNT's links, or search.). Although politics in Tacoma are a lot less interesting than they used to be, I'm fairly certain there will always be stories out there that need digging into. With its tendencies, one can only imagine the direction the city could go in with no oversight. Although it might help create some interesting blog posts.


comments [33]  |  posted under tacoma


by Maria on 12/15/2008 @ 11:12am
I agree with you, and feel a lot of sadness watching the News Tribune (and other papers across the country) lose ad revenue and then staff.

Blogs are great, and I already rely on Google news to feed national and international stories. But in-depth analysis, investigative reporting, and larger human interest stories are rare in the blog world.

I worry for our country. Impartial, investigative, inquisitive news reporting is an important piece in democracy's engine.

Perhaps as paradigms in blogging and online media become more well established and monetized, there will be an emergence of a new/different sort of journalism.

by jessicac on 12/15/2008 @ 1:31pm
as to blogs being slow my world when things get busy (and ironically, when I get stuff to blog about) I'm too busy to blog.

by NSHDscott on 12/15/2008 @ 3:58pm
Dwight Jaynes worked at The Oregonian and Portland Tribune for a long time, until recently semi-retiring and starting a decent blog of his own. I mostly follow it for his Trailblazers insights � I grew up in southern Oregon and that's my team � but he posted this excellent commentary a few days ago that seems appropos to this conversation:

For my two cents, I think newspapers play a VERY important role in society, but in order to survive they are gonna have to make some money. They are businesses. I'm willing to pay for their coverage, but won't as long as I can get it for free online. I'm actually willing to pay more for online access than a print copy, and it costs them far less to produce! Seems like a no-brainer to me ...

As for fewer comments on blog posts, of which I'm totally guilty ... well, it pains me to say it, but I've lost some faith in the ability of the blogosphere to make a difference. I've fallen in love with too many Imagine Tacomas that make too much sense to ever happen. I've declared my support for Tacoma streetcars, for Russell incentives, for Children's Museum and transit hub in the Elks, and I just don't feel like the people who are in any position to make those things happen are even reading. I know I'm just being impatient, that these things take time, but I've lost most of whatever blog-commenting energy I had, and I'm sorry to say that. I am, ironically, posting more on my own blog ( than I ever have before, but I don't think my blog is quite the type you're talking about. Although there are some gorgeous shots in and around Tacoma on there!

by morgan on 12/15/2008 @ 4:39pm
Thanks NSHDscott. I share the same feelings (about blog posts making a difference). Too many lurkers and not enough community building. I think Tacoma might just have a Crisis of Faith in the Blogosphere.

by Erik on 12/15/2008 @ 4:56pm
I think Tacoma might just have a Crisis of Faith in the Blogosphere.

I think there are alot of different factors.

The Exit 133 condo map and development announcements are on ice. Frost Park is taking a break. RR is busy raising a child. Nothing too exciting before city council. Plus. the initial thrill of the blogosphere may have waned.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 12/15/2008 @ 7:30pm
The condo map and development announcements, those were heady days. A new condo project every week, each one even greater than the previous one. What I wouldn't give for a fresh condo announcement featuring stainless steel urinals.

by NineInchNachos on 12/15/2008 @ 8:14pm
I have had many ideas for entertaining blog posts, yet the responsibility of father hood combined with freelance side projects IN ADDITION TO my involvement in a secret society to save the cartoonist's trade...

these have all sapped away my precious free time, and thus Tacoma suffers.

My Xmas vacation kicks in next week. Hopefully I can crank out some stuff.

by NineInchNachos on 12/15/2008 @ 8:17pm
If only kevin would add the Tacoma Atheists and Business Examiner blogs, there would be plenty of material for you to enjoy.

by NineInchNachos on 12/15/2008 @ 8:33pm
mark briggs:

by NineInchNachos on 12/15/2008 @ 8:35pm

by Erik on 12/15/2008 @ 9:41pm
I think Tacoma might just have a Crisis of Faith in the Blogosphere.

Hold on. There does look to be some new action in Tacoma, led by the cartoonists:

And so the great book says: exiled by the masses into the bowls of the internet, the lone warrior, Electric Elliot, approached Tacoma’s own benevolent white knight of cartooning, RR Anderson. Referencing an existing notion to start such an absurdly ridiculous group, the two blew the horns of shadow, calling upon the greatest cartoonists the South Sound had to offer. Within moments (days to you mere mortals) two had become four, now joined by the cartoonist from the eighth dimension, Mark Monlux and the ever-present threat to humanity STOWE

Tacoma's newest creative class wave? We will see. Tacoma certainly needs all of the life it can get right now.

by Erik on 12/15/2008 @ 9:47pm
More "CLAW" stuff:

I hope this group produces more than just hype.

by NineInchNachos on 12/15/2008 @ 10:38pm
bluesky claw projects:

- scholarships

- middle school edutainment 'draw squad' performances

- learn 2 draw instructional video blog

- complete takeover of feedtacoma's YET UNREALIZED COMICS page (we're talking a full page of comic strips on feed tacoma by local cartoonists)

- union solidarity: all cartoons produced in Tacoma must be by CLAW members... scabs will be picketed (look out david boe)

by NineInchNachos on 12/15/2008 @ 10:43pm
- 24hr comic book drawing marathons

- grand publicity stunts and hoaxes

by NineInchNachos on 12/15/2008 @ 10:44pm
- corporate motivational speaking engagements

by jenyum on 12/16/2008 @ 12:19am
Well, most everything we write about involves some expenditure of money. Certainly the economy is not helping.

Locally, bloggers are subject to the same economic forces as the paper. It's all the same market.

Even volunteer bloggers won't write if they're out of a job and can't go anywhere.

by KevinFreitas on 12/16/2008 @ 7:27am
I agree completely with Jen. FeedTacoma is still bustling with posts every day because it's point is to bring local blogs together in one place so no one blog has to shoulder the burden of keeping people here interested and engaged. I'm guilty as well. My posts have slimmed lately due mostly to personal reasons. It happens. Doesn't mean I care or read any less.

But economics are huge. The newspaper plays a major role in town toward the thorough, investigative side of news in this town. The blogs are an amazing way for people to share their insight and perspectives and even news directly with other people. This relationship is key as to why people are co-mingling blogs with other "official" news sources. We crave connections and classic journalism doesn't provide that. As insular as our society is by virtue of how physically spread out we've become knowing there's a real person behind a blog, myspace page, twitter update is why people flock to them and newspapers are dwindling and dying.

The initial excitement, as Erik referred to it, of the local blogosphere settled long ago. Once FT came on the scene and showed there were many worthy voices around town blogging became more of a utility than a novelty. People now rely on their fix of local blog posts and that's a very good thing.

Action, however, is difficult at best. Over the years starting with my personal blog then here at FeedTacoma, I've notice a very distinct trend. A ratio that goes like this: For every 100 readers 1 may comment and for every 1000 readers 1 may show up. I even heard a story lately of someone with 700 Facebook friends throwing a party, inviting everyone on his list, and not one person showed. It's very real and has held true with the stats I've viewed for years.
FeedTacoma always welcomes anyone's perspective, anonymous or otherwise. It's all vital to the local conversation and, despite what NHSD mentions, many in positions of power in this area keep up with the blogs. Their hands may be tied for one reason or another on immediate action, but I've seen lots of examples of positive change that have come from people reading and commenting on blogs that care. That may not mean a decrepit building will be renovated but it may mean a plaza won't become a square or that a small, urban park won't be fenced off.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post Morgan!

by droid116 on 12/16/2008 @ 9:12am
I don't think there is any major blog post recession going on. I believe a bit of it is seasonal, just like my affective disorder (how SAD).

Posts from 2006 were averaging 1 to 3 posts a day in December with the 17th being remembered as "the day without a post".

Compared to last year, Monday the 17th had 22 posts and this Monday the 15th had 22 posts. Weekend posts comparisons show a 9 to 11 downward trend, sure, but no reason to panic. Kevin will be introducing a blog post stimulus package no doubt.

Where I really miss the posts is the Tribune. But until they triumphantly emerge from the current newspaper crisis I don't expect to see a whole lot of posting.

by morgan on 12/16/2008 @ 12:29pm
Speaking of TNT posts: somehow I missed the fact that the New Takhoman had staked out a spot within the TNT. I wonder if the TNT knows about it:

Finally, I can add the New Takhoman to my feed reader!

by Erik on 12/16/2008 @ 12:31pm
Compared to last year, Monday the 17th had 22 posts and this Monday the 15th had 22 posts. Weekend posts comparisons show a 9 to 11 downward trend, sure, but no reason to panic. Kevin will be introducing a blog post stimulus package no doubt.

Yeah, there used to be a ton of posts and there was even talk of limiting the numbers of posts.

I think it will pick up next year.

by KevinFreitas on 12/16/2008 @ 1:11pm
15, 25, 40 posts a day, in my mind rivals the number of original articles in nearly any local newspaper. I should graph this out. Gotta work some query magic to be sure...

by fredo on 12/16/2008 @ 7:10pm
The number of postings is certainly a useful benchmark. However, I'd be more concerned with the content presented.

I'm a little surprised that discussion threads about soft topics like art, coffee, chalk events and mommy problems spawn endless postings, but threads about hard topics like Tacoma's taxes and city planning rarely go anywhere.

by jenyum on 12/16/2008 @ 8:13pm
This whole thread has really triggered my Seasonal Affective Disorder angst. I move we drop it until after the darkest day of the year.

by NineInchNachos on 12/16/2008 @ 8:44pm
hey Jenyum. Don't worry. Be happy!

"That economy is now in its death throes. The normality it represents to so many Americans is gone and can't be brought back, no matter how wistfully we watch it recede. Even so, it was obviously not good for the country. The terrain of North America has been left scarred by unlovable objects and baleful futureless vistas that, from now on, will shed whatever pecuniary value they once had. It represents the physical counterpart to the financial mess that has been left to the young generations to clean up -- and the job will take a very long time."

by NineInchNachos on 12/16/2008 @ 8:47pm
oops wrong link..

"Professional money managers expect a considerable bounce from the current market lows, and they anticipate this swing to take place sometime next year, according to the latest Investment Manager Outlook, a quarterly survey of investment managers conducted by Russell Investments."

by morgan on 12/16/2008 @ 9:32pm
Fredo catches my drift. And of course I'm preaching to the choir here. What I want to know is where the rest of the congregation is.

There are over 200,000 people in Tacoma proper and yet I still only see the same few names pop up in discussions. Have we reached the limits of the blogosphere? What will it take to engage even 1% of Tacoma's population? Do they even want to be engaged?

by jenyum on 12/16/2008 @ 9:38pm
I noticed, when I went back through all 1700 or so posts on my blog last month, copying comments, that it was always the same people who were commenting. I just didn't know them then.

by jenyum on 12/17/2008 @ 10:11am
Here you go Fredo, a nice meaty school funding post:

Go express your opinion. I'm looking forward to a vigorous dissent.

by fredo on 12/17/2008 @ 10:36am
I read the link Jen. There was little specific information provided so I can't provide much of a dissenting voice, vigorous or otherwise.

Regarding computer education: Lots of the expensive laptops and audio visual equipment provided at huge taxpayer expense have been stolen from the schools. Accountability, what's that?

Expensive school bussing with no educational impact? Complete waste of tax funds.

Examination of teacher's union benefits. Don't even ask about limits.

The main reason students fail in school (in my opinion) is that parents frequently set low expectations and aren't particularly concerned when achievement is low. Many parents were poor students themselves so they can't even model success. They really set the stage for their own children's failure.

The legislature needs to define its priorities and budget accordingly. These freewheeling discussions where every social benefit is a priority are a completely pointless exercise.

OK Jen, I took the bait. Have a nice day.

by jenyum on 12/17/2008 @ 10:48am
Er....I meant on my blog. Happy to debate you there, where it's on topic.

by fredo on 12/17/2008 @ 10:52am
My mistake. It make take awhile to recharge my "rant-o-matic" so give me some time.

by NineInchNachos on 12/17/2008 @ 11:51am
dan savage:

Once again here's my surefire plan for saving daily papers: scare away the old folks once and for all. Those readers are killing you. Go tab, charge a lot more for home delivery, offer papers for free in boxes downtown, put "fuck" in a headline on the front page above the fold (if you haven't gone tab), identify with the cities you're freakin' named for (and the not the freakin' suburb your publisher lives in), and stop swimming with one anvil tucked under your left arm ("family newspaper") and another tucked under your right ("objectivity"). Papers are for adults, not children, and mincing around about profanity turns off adult readers; people prefer openly biased media because letting your bias hang out there is, at least, honest; and, once again, catering to old timers and making sure there's nothing in your paper that can't be read to a six year-old at bedtime turns off adult readers.

i cringely:

5) Death of daily newspapers will accelerate and many papers will fail outright. When the Detroit Free Press announces it is ending home delivery on most days as they are expected to, well that's it. I thought this process would take longer but it is likely that half the daily newspapers in America will be gone in three years.

by Mofo from the Hood on 12/17/2008 @ 3:04pm
People are probably reading more news than ever because of the easy access to worldwide coverage provided by the net.

Once written news coverage became free because of easy computer access then why would anyone want to pay for any other format?–Can't beat free.

Legitimate newpaper journalism will always be needed; and in any form it still has merit for use as a resource when doing research.

Technology, like computers and what they provide, doesn't so much change the things that we do. It usually just changes the way we do things.