About Me

  • I'm CEO of Newspeg.com, a social news-sharing platform. I've spent 20 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. I've helped to invent ways to read and interact with the news and advertising on computer screens and iPads, and before that, I wrote news stories on typewriters and six-ply paper. I co-founded WashingtonPost.com and hyperlocal pioneers Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland; and have done product-development and strategy consulting for all sorts of media and Internet companies. You can read more about me here.

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« Feet on the Street | Main | Be Careful What You Wish For »

October 12, 2007


Roy Peter Clark

Hey, Mark. So far today I've been called a Luddite, troll, pompous windbag, and a turtle.
To quote my pal Shylock: "When you prick us, do we not bleed?" No, I'm not calling you or your technophilic pals pricks. But I do want to challenge one important notion in your post. I think newspapers are not in the news or information business. To quote a line from the great Jay Rosen. I think we are in the identity business. A good newspaper, like the St. Pete Times, provides one way to establish and maintain membership in a terrestrial community, not an extraterrestrial one such as this. It doesn't have to be a perfect map. But if I'm going to live HERE as a resident, citizen, neighbor, consumer, employee, parent I need stuff that the newspaper provides that, so far, the internet cannot provide as well. Let's say Paper X becomes Digital X in 10 years. Will Digital X provide the intensely local service I need to live in a real and not virtual world? And will it make enough money to create the news capacity needed to do the job. I hope so, but I fear not. Cheers.

Mark Potts

Thanks, Roy, and thanks for being a good sport about taking criticism of your essay.

I'm going to both agree and disagree with your comment. I have posted repeatedly my belief that newspapers' most important franchise is local, both in journalism and advertising. THAT'S what they should be defending, not the paper it's printed on. Indeed, I don't understand why print is required to fulfill that mission. I can just as easily find out about local goings-on online (better, in many ways, because it's searchable) as I can in print.

You ask, "Will Digital X provide the intensely local service I need to live in a real and not virtual world?" Well, you're asking that of the guy who created Backfence, is now consulting to newspaper companies about hyperlocal projects of all stripes, and working on yet another (non-print!) startup focused on local information, advertising and, to use your word, identity. So I think my answer to that question is self-evident: Of course!

Wendy Withers

I agree with Roy Peter Clark in that reading a physical newspaper is a much nicer experience than reading an online newspaper. And, I'm not an outdated troll hiding under a bridge somewhere lamenting the collapse of the printing business; I'm a 25-year-old college student who subscribes to news feeds and receives internet service on her phone. I've been reading at least one local paper every single day since I was in elementary school; besides my newsfeeds and Nexis Lexis, I prefer to get the news in a physical form in my hands. I hate reading online content. It hurts my eyes and elicits no tactile response from me. Does that mean I'm behind the times? No, it simply means I want options for my news reading experience. As long as the news exists in printed form, I will pick up a copy and continue to supplement good local coverage with the on-the-spot coverage the internet provides. And, I will especially continue to subscribe to blogs like yours and Roy Peter Clark's to keep abreast of other insider opinions.

D. B. Scott

You're both wrong, I think. Newspapers, indeed all publications (to use a term that could use some updating) are in the business of renting readers to advertisers. The end users don't pay the freight for either traditional publications or internet ones. Long ago, we gave up being in the business of selling news and information to readers in favour of virtually giving information to readers, coralling them as an "audience" and then renting access to them. So the delivery mechanism is relatively unimportant, as long as the audience is intact. And if you had a choice between reaching readers instantly and often or in a cumbersome way (as the delivery of the traditional daily newspaper has now become -- again, relatively to the internet) why wouldn't you? There may (and probably always will be)portions of the audience that prefer the old-fashioned way (people who still love train travel) and people who want it fast and furious (those who fly). So most publishers will, for the foreseeable future, probably have to serve two audiences or more.


Hey, Mark, you have, imho, the best headline out of all the responses I've read so far. ;)




I don't know where to start. Newspapers -- especially the major metros -- have failed miserably at building community. In print or online.

Every week, I get an email from Arlington County that gives me an update on what's happening in Arlington. I get an email from the police department that runsdown crime in my area. This information is way more relevant in terms of community than the Washington Post puts out.

Why is this? Partly because journalism education tells everyone that local events, police reporting, etc. are things that you do to pay your dues. You're not a real journalist unless you're covering the president. And the pay for the reporters in these jobs reflects it.

Web sites by non-newspaper folks have done a way better job of building community. See craigslist, Yelp and facebook. Compare the richness of Yelp's personality pages for reviewers with what you find on the Washington Post Web site. It's night and day. (And the Post is one of the stars in the newspaper business.)



Roy scored some points for the newspaper industry in the which-media-business-is-more-screwed-up contest.

See my piece comparing newspapers, movies, tv and music:

Mary Specht

Pieces like Roy's aren't productive. Why waste time encouraging people to cling to a sinking business model?

At least he's stoked a good debate. Thanks, Mark, for weighing in, as always.

John Kelly

I couldn't help weighing in myself:

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