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Michael Hirschorn speculates about the future of the New York Times in The Atlantic.
Update: Perhaps the introduction of Bono as an occasional NYT op ed writer is a sign of things to come. The Guardian news blog summarises responses to Bono as a journalist.
I like the phrase “brands of one” to describe high profile columnists operating independently in the market.
In this scenario, nytimes.com would begin to resemble a bigger, better, and less partisan version of the Huffington Post, which, until someone smarter or more deep-pocketed comes along, is the prototype for the future of journalism: a healthy dose of aggregation, a wide range of contributors, and a growing offering of original reporting. This combination has allowed the HuffPo to digest the news that matters most to its readers at minimal cost, while it focuses resources in the highest-impact areas. What the HuffPo does not have, at least not yet, is a roster of contributors who can set agendas, conduct in-depth investigations, or break high-level news. But the post-print Times still would. [End Times – The Atlantic (January/February 2009)]
Clearly, over the short run, there would be a culling of the journalistic herd. If 80 percent of The Times staff ends up laid off, many of them won’t find their way to new reporting jobs. But over the long run, a world in which journalism is no longer weighed down by the need to fold an omnibus news product into a larger lifestyle-tastic package might turn out to be one in which actual reportage could make the case for why it matters, and why it might even be worth paying for. The best journalists will survive, and eventually thrive. Some will be snapped up by an expanding HuffPo (which is raising millions while its print competitors tank) and by the inevitable competitors that will spring up to imitate its business model, or even by smaller outlets, like Talking Points Memo, which have found that keeping their overhead low allows them to profit from high-quality journalism. And some will succeed as independent operators. Figures like Thomas Friedman, Paul Krugman, and Andrew Ross Sorkin (the editor of the DealBook business blog, which has been a cash cow for The Times) would be worth a great deal on the open market. For them and others, the bracing experience of becoming “brands of one” could prove intoxicating, and perhaps more profitable than fighting as part of a union for an extra percentage-point raise in their next contract. [End Times – The Atlantic (January/February 2009)]