Eat The Press

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Rachel Sklar, with advanced cellphone technology

Just got out of a terrific panel at the American Society of Newspaper Editors conference in D.C. and wanted to rush some of the bon mots out to you, even though I should probably be trying to get some face time with Arthur Sulzberger Jr. to snag that public editor's job. Yes, Sulzberger was there, sitting quietly in the middle of the pretty packed audience at the Digital Media and the Future of Newspapers panel moderated by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg of the WSJ and their "D All Things Digital" conference, plus WaPo's Don Graham, IAC's Barry Diller and my daily taskmasters, Arianna Huffington and Ken Lerer, the co-founders of the Huffington Post. I have to be quick if I want to catch lunch with the swing-votingly elusively-liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, so bullets it will have to be. Here's what was said, in brief:

  • Before he responded to the first question directed at him, Graham first went for the plug, holding up this week's special issue of Newsweek featuring the words of fallen troops from Iraq. Said Graham: "I'm holding what I think might be the best issue of Newsweek in the 75 years of the magazine." Wow. This was right after Ken Lerer admitted that, since starting at HuffPo, he no longer reads newsweeklies.

  • Also from Graham: "Jim Romenesko's probably got close to 100% penetration in this room." Everyone laughed. Jim, they all say hi!

  • Walt Mossberg says he's damn happy to have a driveway to walk down every day to get the three best newspapers in the country, maybe the world: The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

  • Mossberg also said that he's been online every day since 1983, except for when he had a heart attack. (He looks in fine health now.)

  • Arianna told the story of the now-classic review from Nikki Finke "three hours after we launched" where she said the Huffington Post was like "Gigli, Heaven's Gate, and — what was that other one? — rolled into one." Several people in the room all said "Ishtar!" in unison. Some things stick.

  • Ken quoted a smart thirty-something who had recently commented that "ubiquity is the new exclusivity." The notion of ubiquity became a running theme, tying into the notion of promiscuity, which came out of Arianna's pooh-poohing of mutual exclusivity between newspapers and the internet, invoking the classic Mary Anne vs. Ginger debate, and suggesting that, well, people might care to dabble.

  • Graham: "Up 'til when I was about ten years old there was lots of talk in my house about how the Washington Post was losing money."

  • Also Graham, who had a lot of good lines: "I learned to read in the Sports section of the Post — and I still read the Post in the proper order, from the sports pages out."

  • The subject of Politico came up. Graham was asked (I believe by Swisher) why he did not rush into that space. Graham said, diplomatically but enthusiastically that Jim Vandehei and John Harris were "terrific reporters and I wish them well."Then he differentiated between Politico and the Post, saying that the Post's team of political reporters are doing exactly what they need to be in the space, and noting that Politico occupied "rougly the same place in the marketplace as The Hill and Roll Call. Hm. Methinks that VandeHarris & Co. might rankle, and disagree.

  • Graham also noted that "People ar as passionate about this [2008 presidential] election at least as much as any others ever seen in our time." The words "Obama" and "Hilary" were mercifully not spoken though. It was nice to have an Obama/Hillary-free zone.

  • Mossberg got the most appreciative response of the panel during a discussion about citizen journalism — I believe Barry Diller asked Arianna exactly what it was, and Arianna explained that they weren't on assignment nor were they paid. "It's like citizen surgery!" said Mossberg. The crowd of hard-bitten newspaper-people clapped, and there may have been a few cheers.

  • Diller noted that Michael Eisner would soon be bringing his bite-sized 90-second webisodes to the, er, web, and I believe it was Mossberg who said that there had not yet been "a hit on the web," which seemed to make no sense, especially coming from the D-is-for-Digital guy. LonelyGirl15, Ze Frank? The Star Wars guy? Mahir? (I kiss you!) They qualified that by bringing in monetization, and it's true in that case. If these Eisner snippets are anything like his talk show, though, this won't be the time.

  • Mossberg said that he had recently uploaded a video of him just talking to the webcam, Jeff Jarvis style, and it got over 60,000 hits. No production value! Diller turned to Mossberg: "You are the production value." A-ha! A moment. Even in this strange new video world, the content's got to actually come from somewhere meaningful. Mossberg looked very tickled pink.

  • Swisher and Mossberg are soon to launch a tech/business-type site where they will, inter alia,* go "head to head" via remote webcams. Yes! said Mossberg. They have the technology for this! Bloggingheads, watch your back, but pat yourself on it too: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

I wish I had recognized people in the room; I only saw Sulzberger, taking it all in, and Graham mentioned that Len Downie was in the second row. But if you want more, you know Greg Mitchell and the E&P gang have got it covered.

Update: See? They do indeed, right here.

Update to the update, next day: Not that Walt Mossberg isn't very popular, but we goofed when we wrote that his vid had gotten 600,000 hits - it was 60,000. We can't read our own writing, but also, were clearly dazzled by his telegenic-ness. It has been corrected. Sorry Walt!
*That one's for you, Stephen Breyer, because I'm totally missing your talk right now.

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