"The Fissures Are Growing for Papers" — the headline for David Carr's article on B1 of Monday's New York Times — doesn't quite conjure images of a newsgathering apocalypse.
The same story's Internet headline, however, paints a much bleaker picture for journalists across the country: "Newspaper Industry Is Running Out of Time to Adapt to Digital Future."
"Between operational fiascos and flailing attempts to slash costs on the fly, it’s clear that the print newspaper business, which has been fretting over a looming crisis for the last 15 years, is struggling to stay afloat," Carr wrote. "There are smart people trying to innovate, and tons of great journalism is published daily, but the financial distress is more visible by the week."
The "operational fiascos" that Carr referenced include a fake-byline scandal that recently blindsided major newspapers in San Francisco, Houston and Chicago thanks to the shortcuts of Journatic, a company to which dozens of newspapers cheaply outsource services that the Poynter Institute described as "journalistic 'scut work' — scanning police blotters, tracking high-school sports results, pulling permits."
NPR's David Folkenflick succinctly summarized the significance of Journatic's missteps: "The episode is at once a professional embarrassment for the papers and a reminder of an inescapable truth about the cost of gathering local news: Sometimes when you cut costs, you can't avoid cutting corners."
Syndicated columnist Debra Saunders published an op-ed piece last week that explores whether e-books might be a tenable solution for the dire financial straits newspapers face. "We who work for newspapers have a love/hate relationship with the Internet," Saunders wrote. "On the one hand, more people than ever — millions every week — are reading our product. On the other hand, fewer are paying for it. Well-meaning people now chime in and suggest that newspapers could make more money by dispensing with print. They don't understand that pop-up ads generally don't produce the revenue needed to bankroll a room full of editors and reporters. With e-books, finally there's an advance that bridges the two worlds. Paperless need not mean payless anymore."