Blaming the consumers for the product?

posted at 2:39 pm on March 16, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

The newspaper industry faces the deepest crisis in the industry’s history.  Who and what are to blame?  Technological advances that have shifted delivery strategies away from newsprint?  Poor performance by management, combined with inflexible labor demands?  Editorial bias and failure to deliver consistent and objective reporting?

According to Kathleen Parker, it’s none of these.  It’s all the fault of the buh-loggers and “drive-by” pundits:

The biggest challenge facing America’s struggling newspaper industry may not be the high cost of newsprint or lost ad revenue, but ignorance stoked by drive-by punditry.

Yes, Dittoheads, you heard it right.

Drive-by pundits, to spin off of Rush Limbaugh’s “drive-by media,” are non-journalists who have been demonizing the media for the past 20 years or so and who blame the current news crisis on bias. …

Unfortunately, the chorus of media bashing from certain quarters has succeeded in convincing many Americans that they don’t need newspapers. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press recently found that fewer than half of Americans — 43 percent — say that losing their local newspaper would hurt civic life in their community “a lot.” Only 33 percent say they would miss the local paper if it were no longer available.

Well, let’s try a reality check here.  Newspaper subscriptions keep falling almost as fast as Wall Street, and have for a much longer period.  If consumers discovered that they really did miss that newsprint sitting on their porch, ready to reveal yesterday’s news, wouldn’t they re-subscribe?  The failure to win back customers who have wandered away from the delivery model should give Parker her first clue that it’s not a bunch of ankle-biters deluding newspaper consumers into believing in the irrelevance of the printed product.  Not only have they concluded that losing the print newspapers won’t impact their lives, they’ve more or less discovered that by leaving and not coming back.

And I have to question a strategy which attempts to shift blame onto an industry’s consumers by declaring them too stupid to know what’s good for them.

The problem with the industry isn’t as much with the product as with the delivery.  Even newspapers barely treading water note that their websites get lots of traffic — even steady increases.  That comes from greater access by their consumers to broadband connectivity, allowing them to instantly access information.  With that kind of access, who needs the daily dead-tree drop to stay informed?  The problem isn’t consumer interest, it’s monetizing the consumer interest.  Until they solve that problem, the dead-tree media will continue to have more and more financial problems related to high costs and low demand.

Parker also forgets that the chorus usually comprises the best media consumers — people who peruse several newspapers a day, watch the wires to see what is and is not covered, and the cable news networks.  We are the very same consumers that the Washington Post should cultivate, not dismiss as “bashers” as people out to destroy the industry.  My friend Jazz Shaw buys into the meme:

This, of course, has caused the usuallist – of – suspects to rise up on their hind legs and howl in protest, claiming that Parker is no longer a “real conservative” or that she has sold out to the corrupt and dying dead tree media machine. The truly delicious bit of irony in posts by her detractors is that they all share one trait: they are linking to an article in a newspaper.

There are two issues with this argument I’d like to cover. First, no matter what value or quality you may feel remains (or is lacking) in the professional journalists who work in and operate the newspapers, the fact is that bloggers would be leading a pretty lonely life without them. I decided to take a very brief look at the latest entries from two large volume blogs, one from the Left and one from the Right, and see where they are getting their “news” to comment on.

Well, we link to a lot more than just newspapers.  In the list of Hot Air posts Jazz uses, he includes a clip from CNN and the AP feed at Yahoo.  Those aren’t newspapers; CNN competes with newspapers in the media market, and the AP both works with and competes with newsprint, especially with its Yahoo and other partnerships.  Parker is quite specific to the newspaper in her article, but Jazz wanders into an argument that bloggers want to see all media collapse.

At least for me, I’ve never wanted to see newspapers go under (Jazz assures me that he didn’t mean to use me as an example of someone who does).  I’d like them to do a better job reporting the news and give a broader perspective than many do, and I suspect they might get better business if they did. I criticize newspapers for delivering a lousy product, in my estimation, when they deliver a lousy product.  As a consumer of these newspapers, don’t I have that latitude? And neither Parker nor Jazz account for the traffic that gets directed to these sites through the links on our posts, which in some cases might be considerably more than what the article would otherwise have received.  Not for nothing do newspaper websites include widgets that note the most linked, most e-mailed articles on their sites.

The notion that criticism equates to some nihilistic purpose is absurd, anyway.  These same newspapers employ film critics, who will savage lousy movies in very entertaining ways on occasion.  Does that make newspapers responsible for downturns in the film industry?  Will Parker aim her pen at book critics, who by her calculation might contribute to the demise of another dead-tree media format?  Of course not. Doing so would be as silly as blaming critics of newspapers for their poor performance, or their readers for being too stupid to realize how important Parker is.

Here’s a poll for Hot Air readers: Do you want newspapers to go out of business?  We’ll revisit this on the Ed Morrissey Show this afternoon:


Update: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer goes web-only:

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which has chronicled the news of the city since logs slid down its steep streets to the harbor and miners caroused in its bars before heading north to Alaska’s gold fields, will print its final edition Tuesday.

Hearst Corp., which owns the 146-year-old P-I, said Monday that it failed to find a buyer for the newspaper, which it put up for a 60-day sale in January after years of losing money. Now the P-I will shift entirely to the Web.

“Tonight will be the final run, so let’s do it right,” publisher Roger Oglesby told the newsroom.

Hearst’s decision to abandon the print product in favor of an Internet-only version is the first for a large American newspaper, raising questions about whether the company can make money in a medium where others have come up short.

More newspapers will probably have to go this route if they want to remain solvent. They’ll also need to concentrate on local and regional news and forego national and international issues, relying on wire-service partners for any needed content in these areas.


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What we need is a govt bailout for buggie whip manufacturers.

Akzed on March 16, 2009 at 4:09 PM

I personally like Steven’s take:

Over years that built up a significant percentage of both customers (advertisers) and readers who were primed to move to something new once it became available. With the internet, they now have that alternative, and they are leaving in droves.

Their bias and arrogant belief that they could ignore their customers are the real prob at the moment for them.

Dawnsblood on March 16, 2009 at 4:16 PM

I refuse to sit on the crapper with my laptop!!

DamnYankee on March 16, 2009 at 3:56 PM

Might void the warranty, especially if you have a loose grip.

And more importantly, if you run out of toilet paper, you can use an LCD screen, but a newspaper is good in a pinch (particularly if there is a photo of a Democrat on the front page).

NoDonkey on March 16, 2009 at 4:19 PM

I always thought that “Schools of Education (Propaganda)” were the worst places to be found in a college. Now I am beginning to rate Schools of Journalism a close second. It appears neither have been graduating thinking people in the last generation.

chemman on March 16, 2009 at 4:23 PM

Ed,

The problem that your friend Jazz can’t address is ‘when’. Its all Whimpy’s fault of course. Why should I buy a pulp tomorrow when I can read that content today from the same paper — online?

Its a logistics collapse at the information level. The collapse has happened to retail (rise of WalMart), securities (rise of eTrade), transportation (rise of Travelocity) so why should the newspaper business expect they should be any different? Fact that they lasted this long is atypical. Papers are peddlers of information one of the first industries to feel the onslaught of the Web.

Dr. Dog on March 16, 2009 at 4:25 PM

I always thought that “Schools of Education (Propaganda)” were the worst places to be found in a college. Now I am beginning to rate Schools of Journalism a close second. It appears neither have been graduating thinking people in the last generation.

Majors for bong smokers/drinkers, athletes who want to go pro, draft dodgers and kids who want to work on ESPN someday.

NoDonkey on March 16, 2009 at 4:25 PM

Why should I buy a pulp tomorrow when I can read that content today from the same paper — online?

But what you can’t read (unless you stay up really late) is yesterday’s box scores.

I’m serious, newspapers want to revive?

Deliver a kick ass local sports section every day to the door. Maybe add comics and crosswords.

Nix the AP “news” and the dopey editorials. No one cares.

Subscriptions will pick up again, if you just deliver the sports/puzzles/comics.

NoDonkey on March 16, 2009 at 4:28 PM

I posted yesterday on Parker’s column. She is correct about one thing, and this has been mentioned here by others. Boots on the ground are necessary, and it is true that most of what the blogging world does is rely on major publications for their discussions. The Internet is the thing that’s had the biggest impact on print media, and changing its business model in order to compete or complement has been the greatest challenge. Newspapers are important – especially the small regional papers. They help maintain a sense of community. This is where bias really comes into play, because half the people in the community are feeling disenfranchised by a local paper that has assumed a national political meme. My paper prides itself on promoting local fiscal responsibility, yet they are silent on the fiscal irresponsibility of Washington, and their distaste for anything not progressive is obvious. Ken Tingley did an interview with Tedisco and the tone of the article made it sound like someone forced his mouth open, spoonfed him the word “Republican” and he was trying to find a convenience place to spit it out.

When the bias becomes that obvious, readers end up not caring whether the paper will be able to keep its head above water. If they want us to care, then they have to cater to all of us in a fair & balanced manner.

Connie on March 16, 2009 at 4:44 PM

I posted comments critical of the SF Chronicle on their website. Nothing obscene or outrageous. They were deleted within half an hour and labeled as “abusive.”

Newspapers’ attitude towards right leaning or even moderate readers is “Eat s— and die, fascists!…But buy our product first, of course.” Obtuse, hard left papers like the Chron are going to get exactly what’s coming to them, namely bankruptcy.

Django on March 16, 2009 at 5:03 PM

The issue of newspaper market contraction predates talk radio and other new media. Back in the day every major metropolitan area had two or more competing daily newspapers. When radio and then television came along the competition for advertising dollars shrunk for print journalism. And so those markets contracted and many papers folded or merged with others.

The prime issue isn’t about content or delivery method but basic economics. There are only so many advertising dollars in a given market that are shared by various news outlets and forms.

Now the Internet has risen as a viable advertising alternative as well as delivery method. And the electronic delivery method tears apart some standard business norms in journalism, such as syndication. But the internet is not a perfect solution as a complete replacement for newsprint, at least not yet. The myriad electronic devices don’t necessarily provide the same experience of reading the paper at a coffee shop, on the bus or just simply without a power source to backlight the presentation.

Local content is key to the survivability of newspapers (either in print or electronic). But, new organizations must be careful to provide actual local content, not rehashed national wire services written about local items. Sports is a good indicator of the problem. For example, I live in Dallas but grew up in Los Angeles and am a sports fan of LA teams. So, I read the LA Times sports section online. They make money from my reading habits through ad revenues, BUT, often, when my favorite team plays, I can read about it in the Times online edition…as a wire story from the AP. In other words, I can get the EXACT SAME STORY from Fox Sports, ESPN and pretty much every other online venue. Its less expensive to go that route for the Times but it won’t make them any money either.

Since the inception of newspapers the newstand and subscription revenues basically only pays for the delivery method. News organizations make profits by selling advertising. That’s how the news has always been monetized. New delivery methods are relatively inexpensive and so there’s no need for a subscription or ‘newstand’ access cost. But gathering and reporting news costs money and can be paid for and profited on through advertising (though this is in transition with new norms and conventions being devised for electronic ads).

The Times and every other ‘paper’ can continue to monetize the news but they need to adapt to changing market conditions and provide content that you can’t get anywhere else.

JonPrichard on March 16, 2009 at 5:08 PM

arnold ziffel on March 16, 2009 at 3:37 PM

DamnCat on March 16, 2009 at 3:35 PM

Connie on March 16, 2009 at 4:44 PM

You guys hit most of the problem areas.

I can’t give up on my local paper. I know the reporters work dog-hard for the local news we do get, but they are understaffed. The partisan bias comes from the top and it’s a symptom of chain ownership of the papers. These companies treat people like interchangeable pawns and management often comes from the urban synthetic culture. So everyone gets smeared when management selects lefty news from the AP or decides to hijack the local news pages for a pet political agenda.

In earlier days, newspapers were frankly opinionated, but that went out the window with the 20th Century facade of
“objectivity.” Economics makes competition between partisan newspapers unlikely and more’s the pity.

A semi-rural newspaper would be less likely to insult its readership if the honchos grew up in the area with family and friends.

Feedie on March 16, 2009 at 5:14 PM

Like most things it comes down to the all might dollar. If we think about it print media has leaned left for as long as I can remember. So even a recent shift left would not surprise most readers. I hardly agree with the notion that Bloggers are to blame either. So what has changed? I think its the way both business and people advertise what they want to sell. Businesses are increasingly moving to a less expensive internet and trying many different ways to see what is working. People, instead of taking an add in the paper where they charge by space and is relatively expensive to internet auction sites or internet listing sites like Craig’s List. This is where I think most print media is loosing revenue. As far as I know only Right leaning people who pay attention are starting to let subscriptions lapse out of frustration. So if print media really want to become competitive they would find a way to compete with these web sites.

lwssdd on March 16, 2009 at 5:14 PM

“If consumers discovered that they really did miss that newsprint sitting on their porch, ready to reveal yesterday’s news..”

For me that was what did it. I used to live in San Juan, PR and always bought The San Juan Star to read at lunch break. Then came the web and I realized that what I was reading on the paper was the same thing I read the day before at Yahoo News. No more newspaper for me from that day on. There were no blogs at that time yet, I didn’t know who Rush Limbaugh was and more important, I trusted that the MSN was fair and balanced.

ujorge on March 16, 2009 at 5:14 PM

It’s too hard to sit on the toilet with a laptop, and it’s not a good idea to let my Parakeet crap all over it.

So yes, we need newspapers.

moc23 on March 16, 2009 at 5:19 PM

Moron.

Fuquay Steve on March 16, 2009 at 5:20 PM

I canceled my subscription, and told them my reasons were, “too much liberal spin” and then threw their own crap in their faces with “and reducing my carbon footprint”.

kirkill on March 16, 2009 at 5:20 PM

I subscribed to my local newspaper (WaPo when I lived in the local delivery area, and The Baltimore Rag when I moved north), but got tired of year after year of editorial comment in place of news. I don’t expect anyone to pander to my views; I just want unbiased journalism. When I called The Baltimore Sun a few months ago to cancel my subscription, they tried to keep me with deals, but I told them to try selling to Obama supporters. There are millions of young people who would be willing to give up a few Red Bulls or Starbucks each week to fund a subscription.

What? Young liberal types don’t subscribe to newspapers. That’s mostly middle aged and older homeowners who tend to be… moderate or conservative (even in my commie state). You mean your bias is incompatible with your customers’ wants and needs! SHOCKA!

Laura in Maryland on March 16, 2009 at 5:22 PM

Unfortunately, the chorus of media bashing from certain quarters has succeeded in convincing many Americans that they don’t need newspapers.

An elementary school kid could point out the flaw in that “reasoning”.

ddrintn on March 16, 2009 at 5:39 PM

And I have to question a strategy which attempts to shift blame onto an industry’s consumers by declaring them too stupid to know what’s good for them.

LOL, yeah: “Subscribe, dammit! Or are you an ignorant inbred Dittohead?? You’ll read what we write and love it!!”

ddrintn on March 16, 2009 at 5:42 PM

Parker’s personal Field of Dreams…. “write it and they will come”.

Or not.

Hog Wild on March 16, 2009 at 5:55 PM

Funny how KP becomes a parasite to Rush’s notariety by claiming Rush’s followers are destroying newspapers, eh?

As others have pointed out, the truth is that newspapers have been dying for decades. Like a tree rotting from within, the newsprint industry has been in gradual decline for many years, even as it pretends that all is well.

I have lived in Australasia for the past several years. When I returned home last fall for the first time since I left, I was shocked to see that all major papers had gone to a smaller size format. Every one, in each of the five major cities I visited, plus USA Today, WSJ, and NYT. That’s just the latest symptom of an industry desparate to cut expenses. The problem is, so many newspapers are union shops (on the print side) that they are hemmorhaging cash all over the place, as their ad revenues decline, compounded by declining subscriptions.

I don’t mind reading UK papers because generally I know up front what biases those papers are based upon. At least UK papers in London are still thriving enough to be competitive. If I want hard left, I read the Guardian or Independent; for something a bit more center of the road, I read the Telegraph or Daily Mail. At least there’s no pretense of “objective” as such. WaPo, NYT, LAT, etc., etc. could learn something from the UK example.

Then again, even in the “golden days of objectivity”, newspapers were only as good as their publishers. Hearst was well-known to influence politics by his papers back in the day. NYT published that disgraceful series of articles by Duranty in the late 1920′s. It would be interesting to note which major newspapers began showing their leftist-leaning stripes during the McCarthy hearings, as an example.

Then again, who knows? Maybe those media outlets really do try to put a “D” in stories where a Democrat has been accused of being naughty, but it’s the guys in the print shop who remove it? Hmmm…

Wanderlust on March 16, 2009 at 5:59 PM

I loved getting my daily newspaper and subscribed for decades. Now, I haven’t bought a newspaper for years.
I got tired and angry with what they did not say, how they did say what they said, and their decisions as to what was important enough to let us little people know.
I found myself reading an article and having more questions than answers. This from the people who apparently viewed me as less than intelligent.

Rick9911 on March 16, 2009 at 6:02 PM

I think that level of full-disclosure would go a long way in helping those in the media business as they look in the mirror about how to help their troubled industry.

mctowler on March 16, 2009 at 2:57 PM

And the McTowler/Pilosi FULL-DISCLOSURE ACT is Born

HIP HIP HOORAY!

nolapol on March 16, 2009 at 6:15 PM

I got newspapers delivered for about a year approximately 15 years ago. I realized it was a total waste of money because I was not interested in many sections of the paper and it felt like a giant waste to me. Plus it was a pain to have that much extra trash to haul down to the dumpster, (or recycling bin).

The reasons I would never subscribe to a newspaper now are many:

*I’m sick of the bias.

*I can pick and choose what portions I want to read without the added pile of nonsense in the corner of my living room.

*I can get it free online. I’d rather spend my money elsewhere than some liberal’s soap box. I can get the ridiculous liberal viewpoint for free from one of my idiot co-workers. Or the many trolls.

*I can go to many blog sites that have linked to many news articles to save me time.

*I can interact with other people who read the same article, online. When I read something that is filled with fluff and doesn’t make a lick of sense to me, (as is their goal), I can read the comments to get a better understanding of what, exactly, the writer was trying to say/accomplish. (Nine times out of ten, they are attempting to brainwash.) And I learn WAY more doing it this way than just reading the paper, alone.

*I can get news from many sources without killing a crap load of trees.

*I simply enjoy it when the NYT calls me up and asks me to subscribe and I tell them, “No way in hell, you liberally biased rag. I wouldn’t even line my cat’s litter box with your trash.”

SerenityFL on March 16, 2009 at 6:27 PM

The most profitable portion of a paper’s revenue is help wanted advertising.. It is expensive and there are other media that offer better value such as a careers link on a companies home page.

seven on March 16, 2009 at 6:31 PM

All they really need is a couple hundred billion taxpayer dollars to fix the problem.

fumpbump on March 16, 2009 at 2:47 PM

…for a year or so.

ddrintn on March 16, 2009 at 8:19 PM

I say let it go does anyone think the vaccum created for investigative journalism won’t be taken back up. The difference will be like other things in society that have reached a demise they will start out with ground rules. Kathleen is a perfect example of what would happen without a collapse. Much like congress the old baron just keep on keeping on. To see the much needed change in newspapers the Washington Post, New York TImes, Newsweek and Time have to be swept away so that new “papers of record” can compete to be considered the most reliable. The winner being the most unboased and thus we all win. Supporting the current biased system is a loser especially for Consvertaive and Republicans.

Conan on March 16, 2009 at 8:29 PM

Yes, but you can’t take TV and internet into the can and you can’t dribble breakfast cereal all over the TV/internet without ruining them.

Those are HUGE advantages.

I have a little itouch and wireless in my house and I can read online anytime and anywhere including the can. Cheaper than a few year subscription to any newspaper.

Ricki on March 16, 2009 at 9:11 PM

And I have to question a strategy which attempts to shift blame onto an industry’s consumers by declaring them too stupid to know what’s good for them.

LOL, yeah: “Subscribe, dammit! Or are you an ignorant inbred Dittohead?? You’ll read what we write and love it!!”

ddrintn on March 16, 2009 at 5:42 PM

This is pretty much Parker’s only way of making an argument. Well, there’s also the Feel-Good-Conservative argument… I’m quite disappointed that she is now writing for Town Hall. They could do better.

Upstater85 on March 16, 2009 at 9:52 PM

Perhaps I should say “allowed to publish on Town Hall.”

Upstater85 on March 16, 2009 at 9:53 PM

What the newspapers don’t want to admit is that much of their content is trash to most of their subscribers; i.e. newspapers are a charity in themselves by keeping a lot of content that has little or no public support. Going digital could allow these organizations to judge readership by section and trim out much of the dead wood; that would including a lot of Liberal columnists.
Hey, this might be a survival plan. It might even get more conservative content.

mad scientist on March 16, 2009 at 10:19 PM

What’s funny is that many of them looked to going online as a solution.

Only problem is, if people don’t want to read their crap on paper what makes them think anyone wants to read them online?

Dr. ZhivBlago on March 16, 2009 at 11:23 PM

As they have sown, that shall they reap. They are paying for the absence of truth in their reporting, and nothing else.

DL13 on March 17, 2009 at 2:01 AM

The day our local rag endorsed Billy Jeff for his second term I cancelled our subscription. They knew what a lying crapweasel this guy was and gushed over him anyway. I could no longer make myself believe they were even pretending to be objective.
Yeah, it’s the bias, a-holes. You made your stinking bed; now lie in it.

SKYFOX on March 17, 2009 at 5:53 AM

I tell you…google “interracial MILFS” and you’ll see Kathleen in full flower.

LtE126 on March 17, 2009 at 5:56 AM

I subscribed to the Miami Herald for years. While we were building our house we moved to a temporary location and canceled our subscription. As building codes go in Miami Dade county, the construction process took two years. When we moved into our completed house I called and reinstated our subscription. After one month I realized that the change in the paper was such that I could no longer support it with my money. I canceled the delivery because of the constant barrage of bias.

badger on March 17, 2009 at 6:56 AM

I want my horse and buggy!

Fuquay Steve on March 17, 2009 at 7:28 AM

Does Parker have any clue what business she is in?

The internet has taken the newspaper’s money makers: Want Ads, Classifieds, and even some legal notices. These 3 were the backbone of profit making because they used to be consistant money andcheap to put in the paper. It’s the newspapers themselves who have blown off a sizable portion of their potential customers, thereby killing their 2 other money makers: subscriptions and advirtising.

Let her analyze all 5 items in any topic on the demise of the newspapers. Since no one in the newspaper business mentions these things, they are probably failing because they don’t know what business they are in.

Let they all fail and knowledgable business people will find a way to to do their old job.

TomJW on March 17, 2009 at 10:43 AM

Want ads, classifieds, even most of the comics can be obtained online and for free.

The ONLY thing a newspaper could provide on a relevant and timely basis are local sports and local journalism.

But even these processes will require a new operational model to work.

Our local paper just eliminated the Monday edition. They’re pulling out all the stops to become the local online shopping resource as they watch classified revenue drop. They fired the editor (after writing a glowing article about him) to shake up the staff.

Nothing is working because they don’t understand the nature of the problem. I.e. you can’t force people to buy something they don’t want.

Ace ODale on March 17, 2009 at 12:18 PM

Connie Boots on the ground are necessary

Of course they are. The problem is that “boots on the ground” does not describe how the majority of newspaper articles happen anymore.

What isn’t an opinion piece or editorial often is just regurgitation of AP releases verbatim.

Newspapers no longer have local on-salary stringers in Paris, London, etc that actually go out and research, interview, investigate on site.
Those have been replaced with on-site issue experts that may or may not have an iron in the fire….no-one actually checks to see if they’re really unbiased or uninvolved (or, indeed, even if they even know what they’re talking about), AFAICT.

And the “journalists” no longer do any research beyond picking up a phone and talking to one or two “experts”, then “reporting” at one or two removes from the source. Too often, those spoken to have some involvement on a single side of the issue of the day. Sometimes they don’t even do that much. How else do you think the Medea Benjamins of the world end up being quoted ad infinitum?

Newspapers no longer have science reporters with a background that allows them to understand what they’re being told and whether there are any caveats.
Those have been replaced with Lifestyle columnists doing double duty interviewing physicists and doctors about the latest pre-peer-review press release.

The room for error and bias is staggering, and that’s ignoring the outright lies, bias, and skewing that occurs between the journalists ears and fingertips…..with a whole other layer of that at the editing stage.

As for blogs and online sources, I’m pretty sure they can cut and paste AP releases as well as any degreed hack in the newsroom…..

taboo on March 17, 2009 at 1:47 PM

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