“Wonk” It!

Bree Nordenson, who writes for CJR, is mentioned in “Wonks Gone Wild,” an article in this week’s New York magazine, in which assorted “pressing problems” are listed and then an “unconventional solution” is located for each.

Problem: Newspapers are dying.
Solution: Offer them a Swedish-style bailout.

The Tribune Company has declared bankruptcy, the New York Times has mortgaged its headquarters to raise cash, and nearly every day another newspaper announces another round of cutbacks and layoffs. If Detroit and Wall Street can get bailouts, shouldn’t the free press get one, too? Last fall, in the Columbia Journalism Review, Bree Nordenson suggested that Congress take a gander at Sweden, where, in 1971, the government set up a system of subsidies to newspapers, allocated based on circulation and revenue data…

(Actually, Bree wonked this one out in the fall of 2007.)

And although it contains no CJR shout-out, I found fascinating another article in the issue, the one about the “cybergeeks” who are currently at work “goosing the Gray Lady,” helping along — with online efforts like “The Word Train” — what New York’s Emily Nussbaum describes as

a radical reinvention of the [New York] Times voice, shattering the omniscient God-tones in which the paper had always grounded its coverage; the new features tugged the reader closer through comments and interactivity, rendering the relationship between reporter and audience more intimate, immediate, exposed.

Despite the swiftness of these changes, certainly compared with other newspapers’, their significance has been barely noted. That’s the way change happens on the web: The most startling experiments are absorbed in a day, then regarded with reflexive complacency. But lift your hands out of the virtual Palmolive and suddenly you recognize what you’ve been soaking in: not a cheap imitation of a print newspaper but a vastly superior version of one. It may be the only happy story in journalism.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.