Buffalo News Chairman Warren Buffett's recent newspaper-buying spree is one of the very few bright spots in recent months in the business of print journalism.
David Carr sums up the rest of a rather dire picture in his piece, "The Fissures Are Growing for Newspapers," in today's New York Times.
He writes: "Between operational fiascos and flailing attempts to slash costs on the fly, it’s clear that the print newspaper business, which has been fretting over a looming crisis for the last 15 years, is struggling to stay afloat. There are smart people trying to innovate, and tons of great journalism is published daily, but the financial distress is more visible by the week."
As a case study, see Poynter.org's Rick Edmonds' report on the troubled finances at the Washington Post, "What's really going wrong (and right) at the Washington Post."
Read them and weep, if you care about such things, as I do. Or, if you happen to live in Buffalo, where your daily paper is relatively stable (and still profitable), count yourself among the lucky ones.
Midday addendum: On a related topic, I came across a provocative speech by a media writer I admire, Jay Rosen of New York University, who writes the PressThink blog. In proposing to a group of science journalists a "wicked problems" beat, Rosen coined a memorable phrase about journalism that has stuck with me.
His phrase is "savage clarity," which he recommends as an antidote to cliche and an emblem of the best journalism. Here is the context:
"...it is characteristic of wicked problems that key stakeholders define the problem differently. ... There is no kumbaya moment. You never get everyone on the same page. Consensus? You must be kidding. In dealing with wicked problems these are vain hopes, signs of the stupid. What’s possible is a world where different stakeholders 'get' that the world looks different to people who hold different stakes. In reporting on wicked problems, that’s the goal. That and learning from the work of people who do wicked well.
He continues: "Which brings me to something I’ve wanted to say for a long time. Journalism belongs to the vernacular, or it has no place in the world. When reporters render things, they have to find a common language for them. That is why the great vice in journalistic writing is cliché. Cliché is the vernacular in its spent state. Savage clarity is the vernacular coming alive again. Rendering stakeholders intelligible to one another, and to the larger public, is journalism at its best. No one should become a journalist who cannot tolerate the paradox of being a specialist… in the vernacular."
Savage clarity: We could use some of that to help solve the wicked problem of newspaper journalism's struggle to survive in the digital era.