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

A Darwinian view of journalism: Bill Keller and adaptability

Posted on | May 15, 2007 | 1 Comment

Something New York Times Editor in Chief Bill Keller said at Stanford last night struck a chord.

“We just need to be adaptable, and we’ve clearly done that throughout history.”

Keller spoke on a panel, covered by the Stanford Daily (from which my grandfather was suspended nearly 100 years ago for writing an editorial about students’ right to drink on campus). Keller pointed out that the newspaper has survived the telegraph, radio, and television and will survive the Internet. Yeah, but not so fast, Bill. Printed publications have survived and adapted but entrenched newspapers have not. Everybody fretted about the death of media in the 1960s when television really took hold in our culture. But at the same time specialty newspapers, monthlies, weeklies, magazines really took off. Thirty years ago, no one could imagine a city having a dedicated business paper. Almost every major one does now. That’s just one example. My point is that newspapers (for the most part) didn’t spawn these. They couldn’t kill their own children (business section, arts section) as they would have had to do to make it work. Independent publishers got the Darwinian bug. Now in some cases, big corporations that owned newspapers expanded by buying up such titles, but the newspapers themselves were incapable of adapting in this way. (A nod of the head, once again, to Clayton Christensen’s notion of disruption).
So printed publications will evolve. They already are. Just look at titles like the Portland Tribune. This is a fantastic twice-weekly publication with a fantastic web presence. It’s plugged into the community better in some ways than the established Oregonian. It’s well written. It’s award-winning. It works. It’s free.
Charles Darwin would be proud.

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One Response to “A Darwinian view of journalism: Bill Keller and adaptability”

  1. Brian
    May 20th, 2007 @ 8:11 pm

    While the Portland Trib is worthy of praise, I’m not sure I’m ready to call it a success. It started as 5x/week with home distribution, and is now down to 2x/week, is maybe one-sixth the size it started, and you have to hunt it down at the nearest bus stop paper box.

    But you’re right, even with what little it’s got, it does cover Portland and the state better, at times, than the Big O, which seems to be going after Big Stories that they can bring to the attention of the Pulitzer committee.

    And don’t forget weeklies. Some are thriving, including the Willamette Week (also, not coincidentially, here in Portland), which does some pretty fine local coverage itself (it won a Pulitzer last year too).

    Brian Santo

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