Nov 17, 2007


Mary Nesbitt speaks about her vision for the future of newspapers with the fervor of a religious fanatic. A member of Medill's Readership Institute, which I've described as a cult on more than one occasion, she has definite ideas of what news editors must do to be, not just successful, but highly successful.

She states her case in today's edition of "Imagining the Future of Newspapers" with a tone of moral certainty. Don't be boring, she tells us. Be enterprising, she admonishes. And, above all, let market research show you the way.

Tomorrow's editors will reject the hubris of editorial judgment, built on decades of faulty custom and tradition, and accept that there is a higher power: the reader's judgment, rigorously measured through focus groups, Web hits and behavioral models. Good editors will come to "advocate as vigorously for the self-defined needs of readers as they do for the public’s right to know and the First Amendment. Customer-centric journalism? You bet, and unapologetically so."

Praise be. But there will be those who resist, who will refuse to believe. Fortunately, Nesbitt reminds us, the Lord has delivered an economic downturn with which to smite the troublesome holdouts.

"But editors’ smart bosses will realize this new journalism can’t be flipped on like a light switch. It will take training and retraining; replacing people; hiring a different type of journalist; enlarging the definition of what a journalist does, what journalism is for and who can engage in journalism; and demanding a different kind of graduate from journalism schools."

What is the payoff for the convert? They will learn to reject insipid journalism and replace it with "things that grip, tickle, astonish, befriend and reward readers" in ways they have never known.

That does sound heavenly.

But peel back the business jargon Nesbitt and other RIers are being paid handsomely to inject into journalism, accept that most good editors already want to serve the readers and avoid "boring" journalism, and tone down the fanatical prose and what are we left with here? In my atheistic opinion: Nothing but babble.

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