This might not be the analogy Arthur Sulzberger Jr. was looking for.
At one point during Slate‘s 10th anniversary celebration in New York, New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell defended the importance of newspapers by likening them to a rotting “carcass” feeding the blogosphere. “Without the New York Times,” Gladwell said, “there is no blog community.”
“What are they going to do? Get jobs? I don’t know.”
Gladwell’s comments came in front of a cross-section of New York intelligencia new and old, packed into the Celeste Bartos Forum at the New York Public Library to hear Gladwell, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, Slate founding editor Michael Kinsley, ex-Time Inc. editor Norm Pearlstine and current Slate editor Jacob Weisberg debate “online media and the future of journalism.” And, as the topic suggests, variations on the popular but tired “Print is dead, long live print” theme were played at various pitches and time signatures, with a duel between Gladwell and Huffington concerning the cultural relevance of the New York Times as its lilting peak.
Gladwell defended newspapers specifically the paper part and challenged Huffington’s claim that bloggers could cover stories as thoroughly as the Times, if they had the Times’ money at their disposal. “You are contradicting yourself,” Gladwell said. “[Blogger sensibility is not going to] magically morph with a sprinkling of cash.”
Huffington slammed the Times‘ coverage leading up to the war, calling the Judith Miller that cited evidence of weapons of mass destrcution a bigger “atrocity” than Jayson Blair. “What Jayson Blair did is nothing,” Huffington said.
Weisberg and Kinsley said that before the sea change to online news can truly pose a threat to print, something akin to the iPod of reading has to be developed. “The iPod of reading may be the iPod,” Weisberg said, adding that despite some improvements, like Slate’s “text-casting,” the technology is not quite there yet.
As for the future of journalism, Weisberg said that even the newspapers that have made strives online, like the New York Times, are still traversing what he called a “transition problem.”
Stories appearing on nytimes.com, he said, “are written with the same [newspaper] conventions” without linking, “not emblematic of what you can do on the Web … What happened to all the links you found when you were researching the story?”
Newspapers, Weisberg suggested, “should write for the Web” and figure out how to present that writing to the print audience, an audience, Weisberg noted, that is diminishing.
“Anyone under 30 years old looks at newspapers as inconceivable objects.”