Skip to comments.The Beginning of the End of Print: The Lessons of an Amazingly Prescient 1992 WaPo Memo
Posted on 08/25/2012 1:29:35 PM PDT by lbryce
"Our goal, obviously, is to avoid getting boiled as the electronic revolution continues."
"I am not here dreaming of (or worrying about) a world in which computers have displaced the printed word, and us too. I could find no one at this conference who would predict the demise of the newspaper. No one. All saw an important place for us."
Those words come from a remarkable letter written by Robert Kaiser, then the Washington Post's newly appointed managing editor, to publisher Donald Graham following a 1992 conference on the future of digital media. Kaiser had attended the event after being invited ill-fated Apple CEO John Sculley, flying to Japan in order to hear from the best contemporary minds in tech and publishing. In the course of his seven-page dispatch, Kaiser accurately predicts the explosion in computing power, growth of multimedia, and shift of readers to the web that would define the next 20 years of news publishing. It's a truly prescient document. (Disclosure: I interned with the Post in 2008.)
Sadly, as the quote up above suggests, what it fails to predict is the large iceberg waiting ahead for newspapers in the form of collapsing ad revenues. But don't blame Kaiser. What the letter really demonstrates is just how much harder it can be to predict the future of business and culture than the future of technology.
Just to set the scene for you, when Kaiser was writing his missive, the Internet as we now know it simply didn't exist. At the time, American universities and the federal government were still operating NSFNet, a forerunner to the modern web, and actual websites were in their infancy. Full-on commercialization of the Internet was still a couple years off.
(Excerpt) Read more at theatlantic.com ...
The power of the press as the Fourth Estate has been seen throughout history as divine institution, as part and parcel of the checks and balances of the US Constitution the rationale for the press's misguided self-anointed, self-validated notion of itself as watchdog of the government but really merely an excuse to exercise, facilitate power.
But now in the shadow of death for the print media, the power in which they yielded their left-wing, liberal cudgel in reporting the news, shaping policy, history, ideology was not anywhere nearly as what they claimed as governmental as much as the power provided by the considerable financial wherewithal they were privy to through the advertising venue exclusively theirs.
History has so vividly shown what a shameless sham the print/MSM has perpetuated against, truth, justice and the American people. You need no look beyond this very moment to witness how this so-called 'watchdog of the government' is more handmaiden, co-conspirator to lies, mind-boggling prejudice, unprecedented now more than ever. To the print media,MSM, it has never been about the truth, only about ideology.
Print Media, your time has come to be relegated to the dustbin of history. You will not be missed.
======================================================================================================================= The article below, The Presss Role as Watchdog on Govt. provides an inside look at how the press pompously see themselves, in abbreviated form. You can read thee entire article at the url provided here.
[The notion about the press having a check-and-balance function, do you think that's what the framers of the Constitution had in mind?]
The framers had in mind the First Amendment, basically. ... They gave the First Amendment as a way of giving a fourth branch of government -- in fact, the press -- an ability to question those in power in any of those three branches of government. I think over the years the press, more often than not, has served that function very well. But many times we did not serve that function well, and many times we have acted like the special interests that people like Bush and others -- Democrats or Republicans -- complained about.
If you listen to Bush carefully, to his complaint about the press, he's really echoing much of what you hear from the left -- [political commentator and Air America host] Al Franken, [author and media critic] Eric Alterman and others. That complaint is that we do the bidding of our corporation owners. Bush would never put it that way -- he's a conservative, and free enterprise is good -- but the critique is the same.
The critique is that the business interests that run the press are interested in scoops, headlines, selling papers, boosting circulation, and therefore they go for more entertainment stuff and more conflict stuff and more wow stuff. That's a legitimate ce are also very serious reporters who day in and day out get up in the morning thinking they have a public calling and try to do it honestly and try and find out what's really going on in Iraq at the risk of their own lives. And there are reporters who tried honestly -- Knight Ridder, for instance -- and really got the weapons of mass destruction and introduced a note of skepticism to that conversation, that maybe Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction. Thosereporters are really performing a very vital public service, and I think politicians -- starting with Bush, but not just conservative Republicans -- too often forget that. ...
Counselor to President Bush
[Former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card told The New Yorker that he doesn't believe the press serves a check-and-balance function, and the president's former media adviser Mark McKinnon told us he agrees.] What's your view of the role of the press in terms of the administration?
We actually believe the press plays a valuable role for the American people and is a fundamental aspect of our democracy. Without the media, the American people won't have the type of information they need to hold their leaders to account.
... Andrew Card, the now former chief of staff, has said that he doesn't believe that the news media have a real role as a watchdog, as part of the balance of power in government. I've seen that quote. I would strongly disagree with Mr. Card. I look at the founding of this country, and I see a bunch of very, very wise men who sat down and said, we've got to do something different here. We have to make freedom real; we can't just say that we're free. We've broken off from the mother country. We've actually got to institute these things. We have to back them up, and the one thing that's going to keep us honest is a free press. That's [as] true today as it was in 1789. It has not changed. And you can love them, you can hate them, but by God, they do have a role.
I think it's hugely important that someone has to be the Fourth Estate. Somebody has to be looking under the table and taking care of our communities and being the watchdog. That being said, I believe in my heart that if you went into a newsroom and said, "OK, who would like to do this big investigative piece, and who would like to cover the prom?," justifiably so, I think everybody in the room would raise their hand for the big investigative piece instead of the covering the prom. I don't blame them, but at some point, we also have to serve those needs as well.
I don't think it's an either/or thing. I think we have to do big-J journalism and little-J journalism. My point in that quote is that I think that maybe we've forgotten how to do little-J journalism. Not all of us -- I just came from a 19,000-circ newspaper that knows how to do little-J journalism as well as the big, investigative, local-enterprise things. But I don't think we should underestimate the power of that, you know?>p> Len Downie Editor, Washington Post
I wanted you to comment on a statement made by Andrew Card when he was [President Bush's] chief of staff. ... He said: "The press don't represent the public any more than other people do. In our democracy, the people who represent the public stood for election. I don't believe you have a check-and-balance function."
Well, not only do I disagree with him, I find this ironic, and I'll tell you a story about it. We all like to quote Jefferson in our business, but Jefferson made clear ... that he expected the press to
have that role. The First Amendment specifically gives us the independence and the freedom to have that role. Whether or not we represent the public is a technical notion, because in a representative democracy elected officials represent the public. We serve the public. We provide the public the information they need in order to be informed citizens and exercise their rights as citizens.
But it's interesting that Andy Card would say something like that, because earlier I was telling you ... [there was a story that] had to do with the locations west of Washington where government officials go every day to work ... in case the government is destroyed in Washington. ... Andy Card called me and asked if we were working on that story. ... We had what was I thought a very civil and constructive exchange in which he completely recognized the public service function of our publishing the story. ...
Bill Keller Editor, New York Times
Look, our job -- and it's been the job of the press as long as the press has existed -- is to help produce an informed electorate so that they can make up their minds. In the case of the war on terror, when you're in one of these really sensitive, fearful times, our job is to let readers know how their government is doing: Are they doing a good job in protecting the country? You can't do that if you allow the government to be your editor or to be your censor. ... ... But it's kind of interesting to turn the telescope around and ask: This administration's focus on trying to control the flow of information, what effect does that have on national security? I would argue that it has damaged national security in a couple of ways. One of them is that by demonstrating very little tolerance of dissenting views within the government, ... the administration has created a lot of sources. ...
There's a really interesting piece that Jonathan Rauch wrote in the October Atlantic, ["Unwinding Bush"]. ... You need rules for how we're going to fight this war, and there ought to be a national consensus for those rules to stand up. What he argues is that instead, the administration, by trying to run the war on terror out of its hip pocket, ... what they've done is missed the opportunity to build a national and even international consensus. So when we think about the press and national security, our natural impulse is to drop into a defensive crouch and say, "No, it's our First Amendment right to do this." Which it is, but I would say it's also a positive good that we should celebrate: That by exposing some of these programs, we have kicked off the kind of national debate that might actually create a consensus and might build the kind of rules for the war on terror that would sustain the country for a long time. ...
MSM & AP are sponge media, not interactive.
The web is bidirectional. Much more powerful and efficient. BUT much more susceptible to subversion and dynamic editing away of content.
What’s interesting to me is that as the MSM has diminished in size, it’s gone farther and farther left.
Now they don’t even pretend to be objective.
20 yrs ago, they would at least argue that they were.
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The ever progressive WaPo had inside word on possible future, but for them “progressive” meant being a communist enabler to end this country existing as a constitutional republic, not recognizing and preparing to participate in technilogical progress
“Whats interesting to me is that as the MSM has diminished in size, its gone farther and farther left.”
I think this can be like the chicken and the egg.....ergo, I believe because the MSM has drifted steadily to the left it has diminished in size due its bias.
The unreality of electronic media is as you note very malleable. Information can appear very quickly and disappear just as quickly. The heady days of utter disconnect with the dotcom boom are over a decade behind us, but the business model is still suspect and fraught with misrepresentation. Outright editorial fabrication has only gotten worse, and deliberately inflammatory hotbutton headlines to drive clickthrough and hence revenue have become the norm.
The only upside is that the much lower cost of entry removes a substantial barrier, so competing views are being aired, sometimes to great effect. Everything else is, to quote Bastiat, sham and affectation.
I let my subscription to the Raleigh News and Observer expire when they endorsed John Kerry in 2004.
Perhaps it’s being childish, but I refuse to support persons I disagree with so much.
Interesting thesis, but I think they’ve been overrun by technology.
I’m old enough to remember life with 4 tv stations, a daily newspaper, and maybe a weekly USN&WR.
Now it’s 300 cable channels, and a million websites.
Every Freeper should sign up for GBTV (becoming the Blaze) and dump the leftist news outlets. GBTV is going to be going 24/7 soon so there will be no need for the lefty networks and 24 hour news whores. At least you get the truth with Glenn Beck, and he’s hiring a bunch of really good journalists and commentators.
I just turned 60 here in the deserts of Afghanistan, I know of what you speak.
But has the over-running of technology been the cause or the freedom to finally tell the MSM, screw you, I have choices......????
Again, the chicken and egg.
Technology is a tool which I think many have chosen to emancipate themselves from propaganda.
I think people have simply been waiting for that tool, whether conscientiously or subliminally.
The Left has seen for many years that they were losing.. here's something from only six years ago but I have seen years-earlier stories like this..
"Not that there was much doubt about it, but a new study has proven empirically that readers are more interested in poker and Paris Hilton than in stories about foreign policy.
"Presented in the last few days at the respective national conferences of America's publishers and editors, these new findings are about to hit the nation's newsrooms like a grenade in a bunker."
Loser. As newspapers were waking up to the fact that they had to be more balanced were "studies" giving them the excuse to move away from national issues and politics?
Today in 2012 my favorite conservative talk radio hosts are saying that consultants tell them that people are tired of national issues and politics.. listeners "are more interested in poker and Paris Hilton." (What was that old joke?)
Who the hell are these clowns doing studies and consulting?!
Are they total nincompoops? conspirators trying to divert the public's attention away from something? What?
I remember the several decades of the "Fairness Doctrine." Liberal concerns about national issues were being broadcast 24/7. One hour a week of William F. Buckley's Firing Line on PBS was enough national issues for conservatives, the liberals declared.
Now that free speech for everyone is back.. all of a sudden citizens have no interest in national issues and politics?
The ‘old’ press has lurched far to the left, and this is one great cause of its demise. Who will pay to be propagandized? I will not. Plus, we have the truly Free Press in the blogs, Free Republic, etc. There are writers who are actually interested in discovering and revealing the Truth and who do not have to answer to money/ advertisers.
The Real Press is freer than it has been in many a decade, and it is thriving in this freedom. And our country will thrive for this very reason.
Like you I remember those things as well. Until about 5 years ago I completely enjoyed reading my morning paper (and truth be told, sometimes still miss it).
I don’t know how the “old media” could have staved off technology. They were far too smug in believing in their immortality. The “buggy whip makers” of out time.
Sadly, I see books and music heading the same direction.
“He argues for trying to sell news online, perhaps through micropayments.”
Actually this could work. Charge a penny or two each time someone clicks on a story. Have them subscribe to a service that routes the money for a large number of newspapers - maybe Visa or someone like that. Then if us FReepers want to read the entire story we pay our two cents - which adds up very quickly for the newspapers (especially if it’s posted on Drudge, for example), but still lets us pick and choose our content from anywhere in the world.
The pay system now weds you to one or two newspapers and that’s it. If I want to read one article from the Washington Post, once a week, I’m not going to pay $10 per month for it - but I would pay 2 cents, and the Post would have access to people like me around the country (and world).
So, what I have here is such a good idea, I might have to ask the mods to delete this post, once it’s up.
A lot of people prefer digital media - even I read the newspaper and current news from many sources exclusively online. But I still like holding physical books, as well as a few magazines to which I subscribe to the paper copies, in my hand, physically turning the pages, etc. It feels more relaxing with an actual physical item. I also like the idea of having shelves full of books in my home - it would seem empty and cold without them.
Not only would advances in technology change newspapers, but a new generation of journalists educated in politically-oriented "communications" curriculums would make the news incoherent and indigestible to that part of the market that remembered good reporting.
And the younger market soon wouldn't be able to read or write much anyway.
“Journalism” as it was known in days gone by has been dead for years.
The identifier “journalist” should be laid to rest, both in academia (as related to professional education) and in practice.
The new, honest identifier should be “Opinion Designer.”
In my previous posts I believe that people in general have always been wanting to rid themselves of information and intelligence shackles.
Technology has made it possible for the pioneer spirit to continue.......the bonus is that it really irks socialists, which brings smiles to my face.
Maybe the X-Files, and “The Truth is Out There”, helped people to transition away from MSM...../sarc
Yes, he understood well in the mid 1800’s many things about human nature, government and economics that have not changed.
Our founders were also Giants. Little Madison still casts a huge shadow today.
That is true.
But I doubt they realize that.
The thing that bothers me the most...they probably never have published the truth. People are more aware of it now.
Yes, the Washington Compost has been a communist enabler ever since Catherine Graham took it over from her father.