letters to the editor

Letters to the editor

Readers respond to our September/October issue
November 1, 2012

Fleurs du mal

Very compelling argument and well-stated, Clay Shirky (“Failing Geometry” CJR, September/October). Traditional media’s “original sin” (re: the Web) was to make themselves in their own image, while the alpha geeks building the Web saw things differently. Time is the new currency, and the Web’s gift to humanity is that of saving time. Legacy media is just the opposite; it’s about an infrastructure that actually wastes time, and until we get that right, we’re all simply chasing our tails. The three-legged stool is a great analogy, but the Web views it as inefficient across-the-board. As a result, it routes around the media-company leg, so the whole thing collapses.

We are in an amazing time in communications history, a time when a single individual can compete for attention alongside vaunted institutions and actually have a hope of getting through the clutter. Content marketing has lowered the over-reaching beacons of mass media by raising those of people who used to pay for the privilege of renting space next to the content of the few.

We’re deep in a transition, and nobody has even come close to figuring out exactly where it’s going or what to do. This is especially true because there is little incentive for big players to experiment. 2012 will go down as a record revenue year for local broadcasters, for example, and agencies representing the biggest ad dollars have no desire to whack their own fatted calf. So I predict it’ll get a whole lot worse before the blossoms of tomorrow begin to bloom.

Terry Heaton

Reinventing Local Media
Dallas, TX

Another media unit probably worth restructuring is national journalism. The public may well be saying that we don’t need multiple formal municipal journalism outlets; one local TV station and website is enough for various regions. The national carrying capacity for news is probably something like four national papers/operations, and a single small regional operation (like WSYR in Syracuse) for the local news.

Let’s not forget that the people formerly called sources now can tell their stories and blow their whistles on popular platforms like YouTube or a special-interest blog. The forces of disintermediation have claimed reporters, but people interested in telling a story will still find people who want to know what’s going on. Plus ça change.

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The endgame likely sees local journalism devolving to those with the strongest vested interest. Civic watchdogging will suffer until enough critical mass and unrest develops à la the Occupy movement. Stories will be told, institutions will adapt.

Stephen Masiclat

Syracuse, NY

OK go

Re: “Made for you and me” by Michael Meyer, CJR, September/October)

I remember a few years ago when the Columbia Journalism Review called the Daily Oklahoman a newspaper in reverse—actually sucking the intelligence right out of the reader—and you were right. This Land is putting the intelligence back where it belongs— with new readers.

Jay Casey

Tulsa, OK

This Land gives us meatier and more substantial journalism than this area has typically offered. I am so thrilled with their success and so proud to have read it from its very first issue! Go, Michael! Go, This Land!

Crystal Kline

Tulsa, OK

Not better than Ezra

Thank you, Matt Welch, for an excellent summation of what makes Ezra Klein one of our better policy advocates and analysts (“The boy in the bubble,” CJR, September/October). What I find so refreshing about Klein is his dedication to the full understanding of the matters he discusses, without indulging in the greatest downfall of most politicos with little life experience outside of academic circles; he avoids the personal and anecdotal in favor of solid research. Unlike so many other bloggers and columnists whose reliance on self-reference and occasional pithy quotes (likely Googled), Klein takes the time to build his case, present complex issues effectively, and provide plenty of references and links to back up his assertions.

Jeffrey M. Ellis

Los Angeles, CA

I’ve been an admirer of Ezra Klein’s work since the early days of the debate on health reform. As a proponent of the single-payer Canadian system, I hope I can be counted among those who urged him to study the healthcare systems of other nations.

But having done his homework on health systems that are both cost-effective and humane, Klein joined the “political feasibility” gang, allowing Barack Obama and Max Baucus to keep single-payer off the table, accepting the insurer-dominated and hopelessly inadequate Affordable Care Act. Would Klein, the objective, even-handed reporter, have used the political-feasibility argument against the suffragists, against the civil rights movement? Let’s hope not.

Given his smarts and current megaphone, I wish he’d stand up and holler, “We Americans are paying twice as much for healthcare as taxpayers in other countries, yet we tolerate poorer outcomes, and leave millions uninsured. How can we be so dumb?”

Harriette Seiler

Louisville, KY

I have been reading Ezra Klein, Daily Kos, and Andrew Sullivan for years. Not because I always agree with them, but because I thought they were the ones making the best arguments. They seemed to care about facts and used them to create their arguments. When history, facts, or conventional wisdom was against them, they dealt with that honestly and tried to give you multiple sides of the argument. I agreed with Klein that, politically, a single-payer option was not going to happen, but I think Klein’s big fault was in making the single-pager option too easy for Republicans to deal away without incurring a political cost. Consumers should be able to choose a public option.

Colleen Mahaney

Roswell, GA

Notes from our online readers

In September, Ann Friedman wrote her weekly #realtalk advice column about becoming a successful freelancer, suggesting that aspirants amass clips by writing for free for websites (their own and others). Readers took issue:

The only place you should ever write for free is your own site, never for anyone else. I am extremely disappointed that CJR would promote such an idea, and while Ms. Friedman is a fine journalist, I am equally disappointed that CJR has someone in the “midst of her own freelance experiment” offering advice to freelancers. No veteran freelancer would ever tell someone to write for free. Freelancing is not a game. It’s a business. It should be treated as such, which means getting paid for your work, not giving it away. —Jen A. Miller

While I don’t know Ann Friedman, I do know a LOT of extremely successful freelancers. Perhaps asking them to write a column on how to freelance would have been a wiser choice. . . . Writing for free and sending out those links is basically going to get you nowhere. No editors worth their salt are impressed that you posted an item on your blog or wrote something for a content mill for $10. —Susan Ladika

Friedman responded:

Do I wish even very inexperienced writers could get paid for every single thing they write that’s not on their personal website? Yes. But this column isn’t called #hopeanddreamstalk, it’s called #realtalk.

Arthur O. Sulzberger, 1926-2012

The New York Times publisher’s many achievements have been well lauded, so here’s a look at his beginnings, courtesy of Gay Talese (The Kingdom and the Power, 1969):

The new publisher was a friendly, unostentatious young man who had curly, dark hair, smoked a pipe, wore Paul Stuart suits, and always said hello to whoever was in the elevator. If he bore any physical resemblance to his distinguished-looking father, it was not obvious to those in the newsroom: He seemed more an Ochs than a Sulzberger. He had his mother’s dark, penetrating eyes, and he had Adolph Ochs’s large-lobed ears that turned up at the bottom. He was of average height, square-shouldered and solidly built, yet lean enough to fit into the Marine Corps uniform that he had worn more than a decade ago, and his hair was sufficiently close-cropped to pass almost any military inspection. There was no regimental quality about him, however, not even a trace of rigidity, and in this sense he was unlike the publishers who had preceded him. Adolph Ochs had been a model of formality, a starched figure most comfortable at a distance, a self-made man of Victorian presence who rarely lowered his guard in public. While Arthur Hays Sulzberger and Orvil Dryfoos were more mellow and genteel, they were nearly always pressured by the tight strings of the title that they had acquired through marriage. Punch Sulzberger was different—he had been born to the title, he had grown up within The Times, had skipped through its corridors as a child. He was never awed by the great editors that he met there, for they had always smiled at him, seemed happy to see him, treated him like a little prince in a palace, and he developed early in life a sunny, amiable disposition.


In our chart “What’s the best model for digital news business?” (September/October), in which we compare the fates of three news startups (the Chicago News Cooperative, the Bay Citizen, and the Texas Tribune), we mistakenly attributed a quote dismissing the Texas Tribune as “inside baseball” to Texas Monthly. In fact, the quote came from the Texas Observer. Texas Monthly actually has a partnership with the Texas Tribune.

There were two errors in our profile of Bruce Brugmann (“Alternative ending,” September/October): SF Weekly was purchased by New Times Media in 1995, not 1999; and the 2005 merger of New Times Media and Village Voice Media did involve 17 free alt-weeklies, just not the largest ones.

In the same issue, a credit in The Lower Case should have been the Bellingham Herald, not the Bellingham Post. And we misspelled Ben Ilfeld’s name in “By the People,” a story about Ilfeld’s Sacramento Press.

Our sincere apologies to all. 

The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.