Brian Lambert, media blogger for Mpls-St.Paul magazine and former media columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press talked about the future of media Wednesday at the TC Media Alliance Lunch With a Journalist forum. “All of it’s going to be electronic,” Lambert said. “The paper thing – forget about it.”
He predicted a future with “maybe a half dozen major newspapers in the country. Even the Twin Cities would be down to something very parochial, because there’s no way to repeat Iraq coverage that we get out of the New York Times.
“The model when the Strib went to this local-local thing … it was kind of a farce. Poor Mary Jane Smetanka — she’s the new Eden Prairie, Edina, Hopkins and senior issues reporter — there’s no way one human being could cover all this stuff.
“That thing was just such a sop to pull in local advertising and get the local hardware store to go there instead of the local Sun newspaper.”
(That strategy may have worked well enough to kill off some Sun newspapers. David Brauer reported in MinnPost February 25 that Sun news pulled the plug on their South St. Paul/Inver Grove Heights newspaper this week. The company has been in trouble, with stock of American Community Newspapers, the Sun news parent corporation, hitting a low of eight-tenths of a cent.)
Lambert said all news media should refocus, and should cut out some areas: “The new newspaper doesn’t need sports. Sports will take care of itself. … You don’t need celebrity foo-foo – God knows there’s enough of that out there.”
On the other hand, investigative reporting is disappearing. “Anthony Kennedy and Paul McEnroe are solid reporters, but they’re only two guys,” he said, and they don’t have funding or support to follow stories where they lead — for example, to the Texas court where the Norm Coleman/Kazinsky finances are at issue.
“The list of stories that should be covered and isn’t getting covered is very long,” he noted, and even when stories are covered, there are constraints. “Chris Serres did a story on Cargill [in the Strib] and the buzz was that his editors went through the story and neutered and re-neutered and re-neutered it before it hit the paper.”
The future, he is convinced, is on-line. Good stories connect fast on the nternet, and there’s a lot of self-correction, “If you screw up,” he says, “you’ll have fifty people on you … you get called out pretty fast if you get something wrong. … And there’s a handful [of people who comment] who are pretty damn bright – it’s fun to go back and forth with them.”
On the other hand, the Internet allows people to pick and choose only the stories and channels they want. Today and in the future Lambert says “fragmentation is one thing you can be sure of – nobody’s going to have the size of audience there was in the days of Walter Cronkite.”