Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

The fight for the New York Times and Halberstam’s death

Posted on | April 23, 2007 | No Comments

The New York Times’ annual meeting is this week and there’s a move afoot to do away with the two-tier stock structure they have that gives the Sulzberger family 70 percent control of the board. Donald Graham of the Washington Post Co. writes about the danger of getting rid of that structure in today’s Wall Street Journal (sub required for the whole article). He’s worried that the Gray Lady would get carved up if such a thing were to happen, endangering this pinnacle of journalistic practice. It could very be that change happens and that change can be good. But sometimes you have to question it.
I did that in light of the sudden death of writer and legendary New York Timesman David Halberstam.
I don’t want to go too eerie on the whole thing but he died heading to an interview in a car driven by a U.C. Berkeley journalism student. Old school; new school. The student was apparently not seriously injured.
I can’t help thinking that Halberstam’s and his contemporaries’ journalistic time is quickly coming to an end. The days of serious, thoughtful journalism have been in decline since the ascension of CNN and 24-hour news 25 years ago. Its death is imminent, at least on the national and international level.
This type of reportage, paid for big organizations like the Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the L.A. Times because they believed that a broad world view was essential for U.S. readers, seems not to be valued by shareholders (or even readers). A helicopter circling above a speeding car on an interstate defines news today; not whether the next Pol Pot is lurking somewhere in Central Africa.
It won’t be replaced by bloggers, at least any time soon. Sure there is a Long Tail for micro coverage of obscure events. But the Times moved the world with coverage of Vietnam and far-flung places because it had its people there sending dispatches to an influential audience back home.
We put trust in organizations like the New York Times and David Halberstam because they took the risks, financial and in some cases personal. Today we stare at circling helicopters and devour infinite and “free news” that often gets defined as Sheryl Crow talking about toilet paper usage.
It’ll all evolve, but today it’s not a fair trade. When Matt Drudge spends a month reporting from Darfur, then we may have something.

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No Responses to “The fight for the New York Times and Halberstam’s death”

  1. Heidi Fuller
    April 23rd, 2007 @ 11:15 pm

    It’s like the old west losing its wild. So long Halberstam. And so long jourmalism as he once so artfully crafted it.

  2. Rick Merritt
    May 22nd, 2007 @ 9:21 am

    Amen, Brian. The pendulum is swinging wide over the abyss, but I believe gravity will pull it back in the direction of a middle ground with more gravitas…eventually!

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