Hamster Food for Thought

Great article (“Hamster Wheel” by Dean Starkman, CJR, September/October). “The Wheel” entirely devalues the profession of journalism. It allows business-siders to support their misconceived “anyone can write” agenda that allows them to let go of staffers, churn out fluff pieces, or simply rewrite press releases or reports.

Perhaps backlash has offered the opportunity to reinvigorate the idea of professional journalists and editors as “curators” of the news. Today’s sites have become places where Rembrandts hang alongside Keans, the rare Night Watch surrounded by lots of paintings of kids with big eyes. Could there be room for allowing news reporters and editors to make choices, investigate, and analyze? And do it in a new model? Please!

Stuart Feil
New York, NY

A very important piece by Dean Starkman. The growing ability of PR folks to control the news agenda is alarming. Their ability to create and parcel out mini-scoops over the course of a news cycle gives them huge leverage. They will do whatever reporters let them do.

Bill Bulkeley
Boston, MA

Brilliant piece. Unfortunately, I had to stop in the middle of reading it yesterday morning to file three blog posts. I finally got back to it at 1 am this morning. Big wheels keep on turnin’. . . .

Dan Tynan
Wilmington, NC

Regarding your story, there’s a simple way to get off that hamster wheel: Ditch your already obsolete websites.

The newspaper business is suffering from a thought virus that has virtually everyone believing that their particular website will someday be monetized. They are the equivalent of rusting 1974 Impalas cruising down a highway of despair with their drivers perfectly oblivious to how old fashioned and ineffective they’ve become in the era of Facebook, social networking, and cookie-cutter websites beyond count.

Our alternative newsweekly, Northern Express Weekly, takes an online tack that mimics what has proven successful during the three-hundred-year history of the newspaper. We simply put the entire paper online as a “virtual” publication.

Result: our advertisers get something out of our online effort with “free” Internet ads for supporting the real world paper. And our readers get to see the ads that are missing on the typical newspaper website.

The virtual newspaper costs next to nothing to produce and works on the iPad. By the way, revenues at Northern Express Weekly are up 11 percent over 2009.

Robert Downes
Managing editor

Northern Express Weekly
Traverse City, MI

Pillar to Post

Re: “A Rocket’s Trajectory: Marcus Brauchli at The Washington Post” by Scott Sherman (CJR, September/October). It’s clear that Brauchli has made more than his share of missteps, some major; few of his friends would even argue otherwise. But the broader question that the article begs is, What would success look like? It’s a paper that has lost at least a quarter of its staff, was saddled with a split print/online newsroom (in two locations), faced with plunging revenues and other challenges.

Leonard Downie Jr, to his credit, managed the journalism at the Post exceptionally well over the years of declining resources; he may well have been the best at it among U.S. editors. But it didn’t really put the paper on any firmer financial footing, and Brauchli’s job now is to try and find some sustainable business with fewer and fewer resources.

That’s not to say he’s doing a good job; only that this is pretty untrod ground for everyone. There are few U.S. papers that could stand a comparison with their ten- or twenty-year-ago selves.

Reg Chua
Hong Kong

Sherman’s “A Rocket’s Trajectory” was well constructed and right on point. It captured the difficulty Brauchli has encountered assuming his position at a time of stress and flux. It is honest about Brauchli’s failures and clear about his successes. However, there is one issue I wish Sherman had included in the piece: Declining coverage of the D.C. region.

When I moved from Manhattan to Charlottesville, Virginia, in the summer of 2007, the first thing I did was call The Washington Post to subscribe to home delivery. I remembered fondly the weekend visits I had made to Washington in the 1980s and 1990s, when my group of Texas-raised journalist friends and I would sit around and devour every section of the Sunday Post, lamenting that our local papers from Texas could not or would not cover their regions so lyrically and comprehensively. We would marvel at the resources the Post put into local coverage.

The Editors