Dec 11

The meaning of the abrupt departure of the New York Times CEO

Recessions, or rumours of their return, concentrate minds. Late last week, the New York Times announced the departure of its CEO, Janet Robinson, in terms which made clear that this wasn’t her initiative and that it had something to do with the paper’s struggles to find a successful digital publishing strategy.

I suspect that Ms Robinson’s removal is a symbol of a debate not confined to the boardroom of the New York Times or, come to that, to the United States. A long period of economic uncertainty on both sides of the Atlantic is starving newspapers of both readers and advertising income. In Britain print circulation declines are accelerating and given that two of the largest year-on-year falls are for the Guardian and Financial Times, I don’t think this can be attributed to the phone-hacking scandal.

This pushes all newspapers and their publishers closer to one of the biggest decisions in their history, a momentous choice which is coming sooner than many expected. How much longer can they stay in print? When do they switch to digital?

When two British editors were asked last year how much longer they expected to be printing their papers, both said that the companies had bought their last printing presses. Since both had invested in new presses in the past few years, that gave the Sunday Times and the Guardian maximum time horizons of between twenty and thirty years as paper products. I doubt that many titles now think they have that long.

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Oct 10

Since when was it an insult in the US to call someone “anti-colonial”?

“Anti-colonial” is now apparently a term of political abuse in the country born from a revolution against a colonial power.

Jamie Dettmer points out in this post how weird American political vocabulary is becoming under the strain of the mid-term campaign. Nothing is odder than the use of “anti-colonial” as a hostile description of Barack Obama. America has behaved like an imperial power for years, certainly, but few Americans are prepared to admit any similarity other empires in history and “anti-colonial” isn’t a remotely plausible explanation of Obama’s actions and policies.

There’s no sign in this backgrounder from the Atlantic Wire that anyone bandying the word around is aware of the irony.


Jun 10

A little Shirky for the weekend

The anarchic variety of web-born information expands faster than we get meta-info to filter and navigate what is bountiful but often bewildering. Taste-making can’t be done by algorithm and so someone has to commit journalism for useful stuff to be created.

The Atlantic Wire has been asking well-primed pundits to download their favourite sources of information, news and wisdom (these categories don’t inavriably overlap). This week they reached Clay Shirky, already something of a guru-hero to this blog. I haven’t looked at an alarmingly-high number of his sources, so I’m going to spend at least part of the weekend (the part when it rains) checking them out.

Shirky, incidentally, has a new book out soon and will be in Britain for two days at the end of June to publicise. Appearance at the LSE details here. Piece based on the book from the Wall St Journal here.