When newspaper people gather these days, topic number one is how we’re not supposed to be “newspaper people” anymore.
We’re media people. Information providers. Facilitators. The term “news” is still OK, of course, but our industry experts tell us that we need to stop using “paper” as a suffix.
That was what we heard over the past few days in Seattle, where we attended the annual conference of the Independent Free Papers of America. First, the good news: We walked away with a several honors, including first place for column writing (our Editor Gersh Kuntzman’s Brooklyn Angle) and front page design (under the cool hand of Señor Editor Vince DiMiceli). And we were one of three finalists for best newspaper in the nation.
We also won first place as the best Internet site (designed by our Webmaster Sylvan Migdal) — proof that we’re not only a paper after all.
Now, the bad news: the worry at the conference was about how newspapers may become a thing of the past. Traditional news gathering, which has always been print’s greatest strength, still cannot be supported by the economics of the online world, where the most-profitable news Web sites are merely aggregators of, and commentators on, reports generated by print reporters.
It’s a particularly sad time to hear such talk in the news business, given this week’s closure of The New York Sun.
Regardless of your political bent, the right-leaning Sun was a unique news product in this day and age: it was a great newspaper, published by a group of old-fashioned newspaper men and women of the sort we remember from when we got into the business. And it was a paper that stood against the current vogue that the print product is inherently inferior to Web sites, TV stations and all the blather on cable news.
The Sun’s Seth Lipsky and Ira Stoll and their crew brought a hard-news sensibility to a daily newspaper business gone soft. More than that, they brought competition — at least on the news side — to the fading New York Times.
Indeed, next week, the Times, which revolutionized print journalism by fine-tuning, if not inventing, the multi-sectioned, compartmentalized daily paper, will shrink to two sections — the way it was 50 years ago. The Old Gray Lady is literally shriveling.
In such an environment, the Sun’s backers took a courageous and expensive risk in launching their newspaper six-and-a-half years ago, while the New York economy was still ailing in the months following 9-11. They shared, with the pioneers and risk takers throughout the history of American journalism, an impulse to join the marketplace of ideas, and to risk fortunes and reputations in battles on that combative playing field. Born in a period of economic crisis, the Sun died on Monday night, after a day in which the Dow plunged more points than on any day in its history.
Lipsky, Stoll, their staff, and their financial backers should be proud of their efforts, and are deserving of our praise.
— Ed Weintrob, publisher