In last night’s Daily Show, a “reporter” toured the New York Times with executive editor Bill Keller in a segment called “End Times”. The Daily Show predictably went for low-hanging fruit: the Grey Lady is incredibly old, is made of paper, and is starchier than a pot of potato stew. And did they mention it lost $74 million in the first quarter of 2009?
So yes, the Times is having a hard time lately. But though the Daily Show called it a “creaky old rag,” Jon Stewart should be grateful for the paper’s existence. The Daily Show—like Google News and Digg and Gawker—relies on newswires and newspapers’ first-hand reporting. If the newspapers go down, it won’t be just the newsstands that will be empty. Blogs and aggregators would also suffer the effects: definitely functionally, and likely fiscally.
Though you couldn’t tell by the segment’s tone, the Daily Show acknowledged this point in a Q&A with a Times reporter posted today on the newspaper’s art blog. Jason Jones of the Daily Show said: “I think the point of the piece is, really, if I could be serious for one moment, that without institutions like yours, the news would not exist.” Bill Keller put it more poignantly: “The last time I was in Baghdad I didn’t see a Huffington Post bureau, or a Google bureau, or a Drudge Report bureau there, because there isn’t one… because it’s expensive, because it’s dangerous. It’s a lot easier to stay home and riff on the work somebody else does.”
One point I think both Keller and the Daily Show skimmed is that just because you’re a blogger, doesn’t mean that you’re not also a reporter. Here at Mother Jones, I believe nearly all of our bloggers also do reporting. And certainly, a blog post can BE a piece of original reporting. I don’t know what the path forward for the Times looks like. But I do know that I, like the Daily Show, hope they can change their model however they need to to stay afloat. Even if, as Jones pointed out, their lifeboat is made of paper.
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