Monthly Archives: September 2012

Collecting journalism history

By Christopher B. Daly 

For those who want to understand America’s history through the legacy of printed materials, there is a terrific new exhibit at the Grolier Club, a leading institution for bibliophiles (who knew?), located at 47 E60th St. in Manhattan. According to the NYTimes, the exhibit shows the importance of collecting historical materials while history is being made, rather than waiting and hoping to find them later.

The exhibit, titled “In Pursuit of a Vision,” features some of the gems from the estimable American Antiquarian Society.

The AAS (which is not as stuffy as its name might imply) is located in Worcester, Mass., and it serves as the greatest repository of original newspapers, magazines and ephemera from early America through the 19th century. It was founded by Isaiah Thomas, a Revolutionary War-era printer/editor who put out a paper called The Massachusetts Spy. When he thought the Redcoats might be about to shut him down, he fled from Boston to Worcester, and he brought with him his own collection of newspapers, which formed the core of the AAS collection.


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Quote approval: Threat or menace?

By Christopher B. Daly

Now comes word that no less a journalist than the estimable Michael Lewis (of Moneyball and The Big Short) bowed to demands that he grant the White House approval over any quotes in exchange for some pretty unusual access to President Obama.

Although this is not a simple question, I believe it has a simple answer: don’t do it.

Journalists should help each other to stand firm against this pernicious practice.

Think about it this way: Everything always comes out eventually.

Accepting grounds rules like quote approval just corrupts journalism and gives readers another reason not to trust us.

In the latest case, Michael Lewis should have kept in mind that Obama needs him every bit as much as he needs Obama — maybe more. Sheesh.

Photo by Pete Souza (Official White House photographer -- and B.U. alum)

Photo by Pete Souza (Official White House photographer — and B.U. alum)


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Clay Shirky on the journalism business model

By Christopher B. Daly

The new issue of the Columbia Journalism Review has a terrific piece by Clay Shirky about the current efforts to rescue journalism by finding a new business model for the news business. (Don’t get discouraged by the misleading — confusing? — headline.)

Shirky, who teaches about these issues at NYU’s Carter Institute of Journalism, compresses a lot of the points I made in my recent book, Covering America, in chapter 3 (about the rise of the Penny Press) and in chapter 13 (about the collapse of the “dual revenue stream” that financed journalism from the 1830s to the 1990s). In my book, the final chapter adds some recent success stories, showing how some digital natives are making a go of it in the new environment — doing great, serious journalism and, importantly, making money at the same time.

In my view, too many of us suffer from the historical fallacy of thinking that the present is “normal” and reflects the way things have always been. A lot of people, especially those over 35 or so, operate on the assumption that it is normal for journalism to be practiced by full-time employees of large, profitable corporations. In fact, by taking the long view, as I do in my book, it can be seen that the way journalism was practiced in the late 20th Century was not inevitable, not necessary, and certainly not permanent. It is already fading into the past as a distinct historical period, giving way to a present in which people are still figuring out the future.

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Monday round-up

By Christopher B. Daly

I don’t know about you, but I had a surprise today when I picked up my NYTimes: it was literally wrapped in a section-sized, full-color ad for Tiffany & Co. (Interestingly, there is no sign of Tiffany on the Times‘ website homepage.)

Thank heaven for Tiffany. How lovely that they have enough money on hand to buy what amounts to a 4-page print ad, just to congratulate themselves on turning 175 years old. For most of those years, Tiffany has prospered hand-in-hand with the Times, which has delivered an upscale audience to the upscale retailer. That relationship was critical to the business model that drove U.S. journalism from the 1830s until recently. With the money from today’s special wrap-around section (and  hefty doses of regular Tiffany ads), the Times will make it to its own 175th birthday — which is due in 2026.




–Mercer University in Macon, Ga., is filling a  gap in local journalism, by housing two important institutions and supplying the raw foot-soldiers for professional newsrooms.  This is a strong trend at many universities, such as the Boston University News Service and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

David Carr was trying to say something today about financing innovation in journalism, but I’m really not sure what his point is. Does anyone know?



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Abolish the NCAA — B.U. Hockey edition

By Christopher B. Daly

If you were a big, strong, aggressive young guy, already drafted by a pro sports team, and you were turned loose on a college campus where some number of your fellow students treated you like a demigod . . . how would you behave?

At my school, Boston University, it turns out that some members of our nationally ranked men’s  hockey team behave poorly, at least some of the time. And naturally, some of them perform poorly in class, at least some of the time.

All of this is laid out in a new report from a campus-wide task force and covered in today’s Globe (and elsewhere).

Of course, we should make the changes recommended by the task force, right away. But even then, we will still be in the educationally absurd position of housing a couple of dozen young men who are essentially professional athletes, laboring in the NHL’s farm system. There is no obvious reason that they should be on a university campus. Can anyone offer one?






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The digital future is here

By Christopher B. Daly

Exhibit A: today’s New York Times politics section.

The on-line version shows the rapid evolution of a news organization from what used to be a print-only operation into a full-fledged multimedia operation.

Among the many features:

–A dynamic map of the Electoral College vote totals.

–Many color photos, including a slideshow. Plus, a trip through the Times photo archives with a b&w slideshow from 1968.

–Videos of the key speeches.

–Blog posts by beat reporters discussing their specialties.

–An old-fashioned “lede-all” main story, but one that has 416 comments (and counting).

–A behind-the scenes “TimesCast” in which a Times editor interviews a Times reporter.

–More than a dozen sidebars.

–Lots of old-fashioned “eat-your-peas” civics information, including a helpful side-by-side comparison of the two party platforms.

–Material carried forward from the GOP convention (which newspapers could never do when they were print-only).

–An interactive feature about undecided voters.

–An iPhone App, twitter feeds, a Facebook page. . .

It just goes on and on. All of which raises a question: which business is the New York Times really in? After more than 150 years in the newspaper business, I would say the Times can say it is in the news business, period.

Well, almost. That politics homepage that has so many features (and which reflects the work of I don’t know how many trained professionals — many dozens, certainly, maybe in the low hundreds) has mighty few ads. I see:

–a banner near the top from CNN,

–a second ad from CNN in a box in the right column.

–a couple of “house ads” touting NYTimes services, which bring in no money.

–a small ad from Corcoran Real Estate about waterfront estates in Delray Beach

–A “GoogleAd” for Trader Joe’s coupons.

I have no idea how much revenue those ads are bringing in. All told, however, I  am sure that they don’t amount to a fraction of the cost of putting all those reporters and editors in Charlotte, NC, plus the cost of the team in NYC who are helping out.

For now, then, it must be acknowledged: the tools and the philosophy of online news have outrun the business model. This is impressive but not sustainable. Yet.

Will it be self-supporting by 2016?






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Journalism issues galore

By Christopher B. Daly

Lots to catch up with this Labor Day:

–A very thoughtful piece by Sasha Issenberg from the Sunday Timesabout a possible skills gap between political reporters and political operatives.

Nice slideshow goes with it, including this photo from the 1960 Kennedy campaign:

Paul Schutzer/Time & Life Pictures — Getty Images

Paul Schutzer/Time & Life Pictures — Getty Images


I wonder what Nate Silver thinks of all this?






–A new David Carr column about Reddit. (which may be the ugliest site on the Web.)


–A look at the top lawyer at Twitter, who makes the day-to-day calls on freedom of speech.


–A fascinating peek at how the New Orleans Times-Picayune is tip-toeing across the scary rope bridge to the future. Here’s a prior post.


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