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Will Newser End Without Newspapers?

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If you can ignore Michael Wolff's distracting, ad hominem attacks against David Carr -- calling him, among other things, "semi-retarded" -- there is a legitimate question buried in yesterday's polemic. Apparently, there's some rivalry between Carr, a media columnist for the Times, and Wolff, the founder of Newser, a content aggregator; Carr thinks Wolff undistinguished, and Wolff calls Carr "really quite a nitwit."

Okay, but what's important is not a pissing match between two middle-aged men, it's the worlds-apart worldviews espoused by these former colleagues about the state of American journalism.

"Let me not put too fine a point on this: newspapers suck," Wolff said in a phone interview this morning -- a somewhat rabid take on a familiar line: that new media is rightfully, and thankfully, supplanting old media.

Carr, by contrast, holds that newspapers have essential -- and perhaps inimitable -- strengths. "Sometimes," Carr writes, "people have to make the calls, hit the streets and walk past the conventional wisdom."

Rather than assess their respective characters (after all, Carr and Wolff have each other for that), let's consider the content of their reporting. I've surveyed the major columns that the two have written on the future of journalism since the New Year -- Carr for the Times, and Wolff for Newser -- and listed their sources (see the appendix below).

Carr has written four columns this year, in which he made 16 citations. Of those, five were personal interviews, 10 were citations from articles or speeches, and just one was a standalone link. He's obtained information from the Chairwoman of the SEC, the founders of Huffington Post, the Editor of the Wall Street Journal, executives of Google and the Associated Press, and authors, writers, analysts and bloggers.

In short, Carr has tried to interview and write about someone who represents almost everyone involved in, or touched by, the future of newspapers. And unlike colleague Richard Pérez-Peña, who covers newspapers extensively, Carr is a columnist, and not a beat reporter.

By comparison, Wolff has written 12 articles this year, in which he made 46 citations. Not a single one came from personal reporting.

Of the 46, eight were direct links to The New York Times website, one a direct link to the Los Angeles Times, one to the now-online only Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and another to Editor & Publisher, a journal about newspapers. 22 of Wolff's links point to internal Newser articles, which summarize or paraphrase other publications. Nine come from the Times, and 13 from other content-producing publications. Wolff also cites his own website nine times, and three of the links do not work.

In other words, Wolff depends entirely on working journalists -- and particularly those at the Times -- for evidence, unless he's referencing himself or a blank page.

"At Newser," Wolff writes, "we make the Times shorter. Meaning no disrespect to David Carr, the Newser version of his story is cleaner and quicker than the Times version." But without Carr's actual writing and reporting -- in this case, including quotations from an author, analyst and blogger -- there would be no "Newser version."

And that's the larger point here: in relentlessly attacking the Times in column after column, Wolff implicitly rejects the premise of his own website -- "that the Times...no longer puts out a necessary newspaper" -- by almost exclusively relying on the Graying Lady to make his point. Wolff can't source a blog without the Times, but we're supposed to renounce the paper?

(Wolff, for his part, says it's not a question of sourcing but rather a "question of being about.")

Wolff is convinced that the Times is dispensable, and that citizen journalists can fill the void. Yet do-it-yourself-ism is frowned on in almost every other profession: citizen policemen we call vigilantes; citizen doctors we call quacks; citizen bankers we call Ponzi schemers; and citizen musicians sing karaoke. Perhaps anyone can be a postal worker, and, as Wolff's site does, deliver the envelope -- but who's writing the news inside?

"Let a million flowers bloom, or whatever," Wolff said this morning, and one or many will take the Times' place. But as for just who these change agents are, Wolff admits, "I don't think we know the answer to that."

Wolff holds up Arthur Sulzberger, Bill Keller, and Carr as straw men, as incorrigible tree-killers, doddering fools, flacks and has-beens. What he fails to see, however, is that the newsmen aren't clinging to print for dear love, but for dear life. As Newser ably demonstrates, there's no working alternative yet -- and maybe not ever -- to traditional newsgathering, like that practiced by Carr.

It's hip for bloggers to bite the hand that feeds them, and Wolff's got some oral fixation. It's not good enough for him to kick the Boston Globe or Seattle Post-Intelligencer while they're down; he needs to cite their own articles while he's doing it. We all have a personal stake in The New York Times, but for Wolff it's more than that, it's his bread and butter. Without the news, he's just an -er.

APPENDIX

WOLFF May 5, 2009, "Will the World End Without Newspapers?"
• Link: Newser paraphrase of Washington Post
• Link: New York Times
• Link: Newser story culled from Time Magazine, Chicago Tribune
• Link: Newser paraphrase of New York Times

CARR May 3, 2009, "Newspapers' Essential Strenths"
• Speech: Mary L. Schapiro, Chairwoman of the SEC
• Speech: Kenneth Lerer, Co-Founder of the Huffington Post
• Interview: Arianna Huffington, Co-Founder of the Huffington Post
• Cite: Michelle Haimoff, Blogger for the Huffington Post
• Cite: The Wall Street Journal

WOLFF April 17, 2009, "Does Information Want to be Paid For?"
• Link: Newser's own website
• Link: Newser paraphrase of Ars Technica, a blog reporting original arts news
• Link: Newser's own website

WOLFF April 14, 2009, "The Times and Globe: Death Be Not Proud"
• Link: Newser paraphrase of Boston Globe
• Link: Newser agglomeration of Boston Globe articles
• Link: New York Times
• Link: New York Times
• Link: Newer agglomeration of newspaper articles

CARR April 12, 2009, "Papers Try to Get Out of a Box"
• Interview: Thomas Curley, Chief Executive of the A.P.
• Speech: William Dean Singleton, Chairman of the A.P.
• Cite: Robert Thompson, editor of WSJ, in The Australian
• Cite: Danny Sulivan, on Daggle, a blog
• Speech: Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google

WOLFF April 8, 2009, "Newspapers Want Cash for Content. Tough Luck"
• Link: Newser paraphrase of The Australian
• Link: Editor & Publisher, a journal covering newspaper industry
• Link: New York Times
• Link: New York Times
• Link: Los Angeles Times

WOLFF March 27, 2009, "It's Not The New York Times"
• Link: Newser column, Feb. 25, 2009
• Link: Newser story culled from The New York Observer, Business Insider, Reuters, Gawker
• Link: Newser column, March 9, 2009

WOLFF March 17, 2009, "The Old News Becomes New--Or Tries"
• Link: Newser story culled from Seattle Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
• Link: Newser paraphrase of The Atlantic
• Link: Seattle Post-Intelligencer
• Link: Newser agglomeration of Seattle P-I articles

WOLFF March 11, 2009, "Can the Times Pay the Rent?"
• Link: New York Times
• Link: Newser paraphrase of New York Times
• Link: Newser paraphrase of New York Times
• Link: Newser paraphrase of Advertising Age (log-in required)

CARR March 9, 2009, "United, Newspapers May Stand"
• Cite: Alan D. Mutter, on Reflections of a Newsosaur, a blog
• Interview: Philip Meyer, author
• Interview: John Morton, newspaper analyst

WOLFF March 9, 2009, "It's Not Your Father's News"
• Link: Newser column, Feb. 25, 2009
• Link: Newser paraphrase of New York Times
• Link: Newser agglomeration of newspaper articles

WOLFF February 25, 2009, "The New York Times is Falling Down, Falling Down..."
• Link: Newser paraphrase of New York Times
Broken Link
Broken Link
Broken Link
• Link: New York Times article skimmer
• Link: New York Times blog
• Link: Nieman Journalism Lab, Harvard University

WOLFF February 10, 2009, "The End is Near But the Times is Jolly"
• Link: Newser paraphrase of New York Times
• Link: Newser paraphrase of New York Times

WOLFF January 21, 2009, "Times: Hope's Slim"
• Link: Newser paraphrase of New York Times
• Link: Newser paraphrase of New York Times
• Link: Newser paraphrase of Wall Street Journal
• Link: Newser paraphrase of Bloomberg
• Link: Newser story culled from Times (UK) and BBC

CARR January 12, 2009, "Let's Invent an iTunes for News"
• Cite: Craig Moffett, Bernstein Research analyst
• Cite: Michael Hirschorn, writer for The Atlantic
• Link: Michael Arrington, TechCrunch, a blog

WOLFF January 8, 2009, "The Times Dies"
• Link: Newser paraphrase of The Atlantic