Thursday, January 29, 2009

What They Said

Please take a few moments to read:

1. The esteemed John McIntyre's comments on how the problems confronting editors in the 21st century are in some ways those confronting theologians and leaders of the church in the 15th. And John raises an essential question that in some way explains the baby-boomer angst of these debates: Can those of us who in the 1960s and 1970s cut our teeth on the personal is political, off the pigs, trust no one over 25, suddenly turn about and say, wait a minute, that was our revolution but this Internet one isn't? As John notes: "I don’t have a badge and don’t want one. But I don’t see that self-policing is effective." (This follows a number of posts about Wikipedia, all of which are worth looking at.) I would like to think that when I marched around the Delaware County courthouse once in the early 1970s, that it was to protest unjust authority, not simply the idea of there being authority. Yet certainly the idea underlying Wikipedia is: We have met authority, and if it is not all of us, it is illegitimate. The idea of editing -- the idea of newspapers -- in the end rests upon, yes, dear reader, we do in fact know some things in more depth and detail than you do, and are better trained to judge them, just as you may be better trained to design a house or repair an electrical system. I believe this. Yet a voice in my head still says, yes, and Robert S. McNamara said he knew better than the American people did what needed to be done in Vietnam. Just as it can be hard for a parent who recreationally used drugs to draw a firm line for children, it can be hard to oppose proferred advances that aim to give all power to all the people. Yet standards cannot result from universal input on standards, because who then has the right to say, alas, it is your ox that shall be gored? But soon we would be into metaphysics instead of copy editing.

2. Robert Picard has been an infrequent poster on his blog "The Media Business," but January seems to have made him garrulous. Two posts worthy of mention. Here, he notes, as so many have, that the main problem facing newspapers is not that they are printed on paper, but that they produce a product that so often fails to distinguish itself. (Europeans call this the American newspaper business' failure to compete.) At the same time, he, like all heavy news junkies, has already read everything "newsy" on the Times and Post Web sites during the day, and wishes other papers (he uses the Globe as an example) to not simply use their print columns to regurgitate. Yet printed newspapers in the 21st century will never succeed if they consider news junkies their best customers, because 1) they will always have read it somewhere else first and 2) they probably don't read the ads anyway. At the same time, his essential point -- that there has to be a new model of what the product contains -- is true. And here, he makes an interesting forecast for the next year that is neither defeatist jeremiad nor utopian prophecy -- simply noting that for newspaper companies to survive, they are going to have to be run on the business side by people whose background was not in the leisurely, well-mannered, somewhat amateurish newspaper business, where, until two years ago, you could always put off the day of reckoning by publishing a progress edition. What this means for those in the newsroom is unclear.

3. One good link deserves another: Juan Giner, who posted a comment here about how the Spanish department store El Corte Ingles could save the newspaper business, elaborates. Juan notes that "El Corte Ingles" means "The English Cut," which is one of the strangest names ever for a department store, until you realize that it was started as a bespoke tailoring shop. Department stores in England, the U.S., Germany and the Nordic countries tend to use the family name or some relatively straightforward name like Stockholm's Nordiska Kompaniet (Northern Co.), although there are a raft of unique names such as City of Paris and Kaufhaus des Westens. Stores in cities using Romance or Slavic languages tend toward a title rather than the owner's name: La Rinascente (The Renaisance) in Rome, Bazar de l'Hotel de Ville in Paris, Bila Labut (White Swan) in Prague, El Fino de Siglo (The Turn of the Century, I believe) in Havana. But there are exceptions here too, such as Coin, the Italian department store named after the Coin family that started it in Venice, and stores in what were American colonies or pseudo-colonies, such as Rustan's in Manila and Madero's in Panama City.

No comments: