I had one of my newspaper moments yesterday. I have them every so often, usually when the Giants win the World Series and I get all trashed on nostalgia, looking up all the front pages of my hometown rags. Yesterday's was different. Yesterday's moment was of the Serious Journalism bent, the kind that makes me fret for the future of our democracy for 30 seconds before I go back to staring at fantasy-football scores in my phone.
The moment started where most newspaper moments do these days: online. I was on the New York Times' site, reading about the war in Gaza. It was a story about a probably wayward bomb that flattened a shop owner's home, killing his entire family:
Mr. Dalu was at a neighbor's when the blast wiped out nearly his entire family: His sister, wife, two daughters, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren ages 2 to 6 all perished under the rubble, along with two neighbors, an 18-year-old and his grandmother.
The story went on from there, providing a portrait of the war from vantage points wide and narrow. For the budget-conscious editor, it's the sort of piece that makes you start doing math in your head. Halfway through reading it, I slipped to the end and started counting reporters. Here, you can count with me:
Fares Akram and Jodi Rudoren reported from Gaza City, and Alan Cowell from London. Reporting was contributed by Isabel Kershner from Ashkelon, Israel; Ethan Bronner, Myra Noveck and Irit Pazner Garshowitz from Jerusalem; Rina Castelnuovo from Ashdod, Israel; Peter Baker from Bangkok; and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.
That's 10 -- 10! -- with no mention of the editor(s) who pulled it all together, the copy editor(s) who caught misspellings and wrote headlines and photo captions, the photographers, the layout guys -- you get the point. It took a small army to produce a story about the Israel and Hamas battle, and it's just one story in a barrage that will appear in the weeks to come.
I'm not sure how many, if any, news organizations still have access to that many boots on the ground. And I'm not sure how much longer the Times can keep it up. The paper paints as happy a portrait as it can on its quarterly earnings calls, but those earnings keep slipping, and paid subscriptions aren't making up enough ground.
I fear the same is true for Belo and the Morning News, which provided my other newspaper moment of the weekend. Actually it came this morning, 5 a.m., when the house was finally quiet enough to pick up Sunday's paper. The front page was a powerhouse. Aside from a wire story about the Gaza conflict, these were the stories, all pay-walled, produced by six reporters and God knows how many other people:
- A detailed breakdown of how the FBI believes an information technology vendor funneled cash to John Wiley Price in exchange for a massive contract with Dallas County.
- A long, nicely written portrait of families in Pelham working to preserve its history as a refuge for former slaves after emancipation.
- A detailed look at out-of-town investment companies that are snapping up foreclosures by the handful in Dallas' suburbs and turning them into huge portfolios of rental properties. (This one was by our former reporter, Leslie Minora, who despite her awesomeness was the victim of budget cuts here before securing a temporary gig at the News. Synergy! Really depressing synergy!)
Maybe that was an average Sunday for the News some number of years ago, but still: That's a solid lineup. I hope, you hope, everyone hopes that the News -- and the Times, and everyone else -- can figure out a way to combine digital subscriptions with creative advertising solutions and other new revenue streams to make enough money online to keep putting out work like that.
But I'm not optimistic. I fear a dark age -- a darker age, I guess -- when the gap between the big dailies' declining print revenues and the ascending digital ones is too great, and the Gaza story is the work of one desk-bound correspondent in Jerusalem, and my Sunday News isn't enough to keep me from new-tabbing away to whatever empty Internet calories await.