A veteran media critic finds signs of hope as civic-minded billionaires do their best to revive newspapers.
Though the subtitle only mentions two moguls, the analysis devotes equal attention to three. Kennedy (Journalism/Northeastern Univ.; The Wired City: Reimagining Journalism and Civic Life in the Post-Newspaper Age, 2013) has been developing sources since he was a media watchdog for the alt-weekly Boston Phoenix, now defunct, and he knows that much conventional wisdom concerning the plight of newspapers misses the mark. He debunks the notion that newspapers were late to the internet game, showing just how early the leading ones jumped onboard. The problem is that newspaper sites offered content for free while charging for print. This wasn’t an issue when sites were so slow to load and few readers were accessing the internet for news, but it has since resulted in a broken business model, particularly since advertisers have fled print for the web, and the classifieds have largely gone to Craigslist. Though “moguls” often carries a negative connotation, Kennedy understands how publically traded corporations have decimated their newsrooms in the chase for profits, and many welcome the wealth of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Boston Red Sox owner John Henry as they try to keep the newspapers they bought (the Washington Post and Boston Globe respectively) afloat. As a cautionary tale, the author offers Aaron Kushner and the Orange County Register, which he attempted to revive with an emphasis on print but whose accelerated timetable showed how much more difficult the challenge can be with a comparative lack of resources. The answer, Kennedy suggests, lies not merely in moguls, but in the right moguls, ones who are committed to quality journalism as the key ingredient and who recognize that necessary risks might lead to costly mistakes. Though Bezos refused to make himself available, the author sees him as someone doing things right for the right reasons—an assertion sure to meet with rigorous arguments.
In a book whose conclusions will be debated, Kennedy rightly suggests that quality journalism is not only salvageable, but necessary.