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December 13, 2006

Not so brilliant
Posted by Patrick at 09:09 AM * 78 comments

Okay, joking aside, I really can’t figure out if this post from Attytood is meant as a jape or not. If it’s serious, my brain hurts. Even assuming that Craig Newmark is in fact singlehandedly responsible for the precipitous recent decline of American daily newspapers (a debatable point in itself), it’s nuts to contend that by inventing and giving away some new good thing you incur a moral obligation to provide social welfare to the people who were previously making a living by selling it. I’m entirely comfortable with the idea that society as a whole has an obligation to help the unfortunate, and (as a liberal) I’m fine with higher rates of taxation on rich guys like Craig Newmark. But specifically dumping extra-special obligations on a philanthropist as punishment for his philanthropy is crazy. By that logic, all donations to relieve any kind of human suffering should oblige the donor to additionally provide for the hypothetical lost livelihoods of people who might have stood to profit from the suffering thus relieved—usurers, drug dealers, weapons merchants, and on down.

Comments on Not so brilliant:
#1 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 09:48 AM:

Patrick, you really can't figure out whether or not this was "meant as a jape"?

As regular readers know, I'm a fan of some conspiracy theories. And so really, what could be a more compelling conspiracy theory than the plot to destroy the American newspaper, hatched -- in our imagination anyway -- by a secret cabal of bloggers and Web gurus meeting in a diner off Calle Ocho in Miami, then launching their assault on circulation from a Grassy Knoll somewhere in cyberspace?

Except this is one conspiracy that can be easily debunked.
I thought those first two paragraphs made his japery open and aboveboard.

#2 ::: Stephen G ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 10:05 AM:

Noe that the conspiracy that he's debunking is the secret cabal of bloggers and Web gurus. He debunks the conspiracy theory by claiming that the American newspaper is being destroyed by a single man instead of by a cabal.

#3 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 10:14 AM:

I'm confused. I didn't realize that journalists wrote advertisements for small local newspapers... (nor, to be honest, have I really noticed that my small local newspapers are vanishing - we seem to be gaining them at a disconcerting rate).

#4 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 10:47 AM:

Raven, as far as I can tell he's joking about conspiracy theories, but he's serious about the idea that, because Craigslist is seriously hurting newspaper ad income, Craig Newmark ought to be subsidizing the livelihoods of newspaper employees who are being thrown out of work.

#5 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 11:07 AM:

#3: xeger, I think the argument is that ads for small local newspapers generates the revenue which pays for their journalists. If Craigslist takes ads away from small local newspapers, they will not be able to afford journalists. It's not that journalists write those ads.

I don't think the idea that once a profession is one which makes a living wage, it should always be one which makes a living wage is a good one. It leads one to conclusions like auto makers should have subsidized those who made horseshoes.

Clearly, some of this reaction is coming from people who are appalled at the notion of not reaping all potential profits. However, Attytood's comment aside, this is not anti-capitalist at all. Changing the paradigm of business is a totally capitalist thing to do. I find the notion that it is anti-capitalist to introduce price competition bizarre. (This is on top of Patrick's well stated objections.)

However, it does mean that Craigslist will never go public. I would think shareholders would go apoplectic over the whole idea of not maximizing profits. (Of course, they don't seem to be anxious for this either.) My take, though, is that I admire their vision, their approach and their commitment to both. Would that, if I were in their situation, I could be so wise.

#6 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 11:10 AM:

Sometimes the invisible hand of the market moves the shell game cups over the table, sometimes it picks your pocket, and sometimes it smacks you around a bit.

#7 ::: Adam Rice ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 11:14 AM:

In the comments, the author writes "the posts here range from a seriousness factor of 100 percent to 0 percent -- and I'll never tell you which is which!"

This is a cowardly way of innoculating himself against attack. If enough people show up and do a thorough enough job demolishing his argument, he can protest "Hey, I was just kidding! (maybe)."

#8 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 11:20 AM:

I won't venture to guess whether that article was intended seriously. But either seriously, or as a brilliant parody, it captures the worst part of the "grasping capitalist" model. The author is saying it's downright obscene to leave money sitting around that you could scoop up -- and ignoring the answer that their metric is the desires of the customers (which the Craigslist guy pretty explicitly says in his response).

#9 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 11:44 AM:
“And let me say right here that I do not believe that we should make such an awful profit on our cars. A reasonable profit is right, but not too much. So it has been my policy to force the price of the car down as fast as production would permit, and give benefits to users and labourers.”

-- Henry Ford, in response to a lawsuit filed in 1916 by the Dodge brothers on the grounds that Ford was plowing too much money back into the business in terms of plant expansion, and also pricing his cars too low to maximize profits.

#10 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 11:56 AM:

The patron saint of capitalism wrote:

“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

Either that, or how they can outsource some more.

Is the newspaper journalist going the same way as the wheeltapper and shunter? Discuss.

#11 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 12:59 PM:

1900:
"Darn it! These devilish horseless carriages are responsible for the hard times we wagon-makers are going through. If the auto-mobile makers had a conscience, they ought to compensate us for our losses!"

1800:
"Tarnation! These steam-driven weaving factories are crowding us, the God-fearing home-working thread spinners, out of a living! Why don't those greedy men pay us the money that's rightfully ours!"

6,000 BC:
"By Ahura Mazda! This new conception, the "wheel", is putting a dent in the profits of the shipping-barge business! We must petition the king for a punitive wheel tax!"

(*SATIRE*)

#12 ::: ty ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 01:16 PM:

Thirty years ago journalists were screaming TV was killing newspapers.

Nowadays journalists are screaming the Internet is killing newspapers.

The truth of the matter? Newspapers are killing newspapers.

No individual nutcase is needed. Just a whole lot of bean counters.

And I say this as an editor of a small-town daily newspaper.

#13 ::: FMguru ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 01:30 PM:

Yeah, and Linus Torvalds should send checks to all of Microsoft's employees every time Linux's market share bumps up a notch or two!

#14 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 02:51 PM:

I just posted this at the Whatever:

I'm a journalist, and I'm not impressed by Will Bunch at Attywood's arguments.

Yes, journalism is threatened by the Internet. It's not just the classifieds -- it's the tens of millions of bloggers who are willing to do what I do -- but do it for free.

This has been going on for more than a decade, and yet somehow I've managed to keep my job.

Bunch finishes his column with a swipe at DailyKos, whom Bunch said is anti-capitalist. But Bunch is being a hypocrite here -- he is being anti-capitalist here, by insisting that the marketplace somehow owes him a living.

(And now the punchline I forgot at Whatever):

If your business depends on charging your customers for what they could get for free elsewhere, you're a con-man. A crook. If I went to a public park, bottled up the water that came from the water fountains, and charged $1 a bottle, I expect the park rangers would come and throw me out of the park, at minimum. And I'd deserve it.

#15 ::: dan ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 02:52 PM:

Let us not forget the buggy whip manufacturers...

(...and eBay!)

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 03:12 PM:

I think Attytood views the market as a zero-sum game: "Money used to go to newspapers via want ads and personal ads, but now Craigslist has displaced the newspapers as the venue of choice for such ads. However, instead of accumulating the money that used to go to newspapers, Craig Newmark and his partner are letting it go uncollected. They are thus wastefully depriving newspapers of income they don't want themselves."

What Attytood isn't seeing is the vast amount of productive economic activity made possible by Craigslist.

A personal example: last time Patrick and I had to move, instead of paying a four-figure sum to a sleazy apartment broker, and being shown all their worst properties to see if we'd say "yes" before they moved on to the decent ones, we typed our specifications and budget into Craigslist. A long list of owner-managed rentals popped up. Every one of the apartments we checked out was good. Our apartment hunt was short, nearly painless, and cost us next to nothing.

It's almost too easy to refer to NYC apartment brokerages as engaging in rent-seeking behavior, but that's what they were doing. The money we saved was instead spent on housing-related stuff that actually created value.

Both the brokerages we've used before are now out of business. I expect they're also victims of Craigslist. If so, I'm not sorry, and no one owes them a thing. Let them find an honest job.

As for the newspapers: the money they used to collect for want ads and personal ads is not going to return to them, whether or not Craigslist sells ad space. Besides, that's not what's killing them. They're losing their readers to the Web: a far richer, more extensive, and more personally configurable newsreading interface. If you can't believe everything you read on the internet, neither can you believe everything you read in major national papers, let alone broadcast news.

If the newspapers could keep their readers, they could work out new and different ways to make money doing it. That's not the problem. What we're seeing now is the slow disintegration of a fragile system. I feel bad for honest newsmen, and their production and distribution people, but nothing you or I or Craig Newmark can do will put things back the way they were.

#17 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 03:24 PM:

By THAT logic, any other newspaper who puts a rival newspaper out of business has a right to provide for the unemployed. The thing the capitalists are pissy about is that somebody is doing what they do EVERY day (or would if they only could, or if anti-trust laws didn't stop 'em) and providing a better product at a lower cost AND not pulling a Scrooge McDuck into the bargain.

#18 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 03:26 PM:

Craigslist and related stuff might explain why people go to the web to find an apartment or a car, but not why we also go to the web to find news and opinion. That has a lot more to do with the low quality of most reporting, the susceptibility of media to various kinds of spinning and influence, and the narrow ideological filters a lot of newspapers and TV stations seem to have.

#19 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 03:40 PM:

I don't know about American newspapers, but I know I rarely buy a British newspaper, national or local, and for a very simple reason. I'll read a NEWSpaper, not something filled with opinion pieces by semiliterates whose 'journalism' always proves wanting on examination, and barely disguised puffery for goods I do not want to buy from places I would not go to buy them.

I guess I'm just not the target market, although I somehow seem to stay reasonably well informed and able to satisfy whatever purchasing needs I might have.

Of course, it may be very different in America, but - speaking as an old fashioned European socialist - it seems to me that if the newspapers are losing advertising revenue it is because their advertisers have decided they - the newspapers - are not connecting with the consumers they - the advertisers - want to reach. The likes of Craigslist are not responsible for this. The proprietors of the newspapers are, and over here they all seem more interested in pushing their own particular agenda rather than satisfying the needs of their readers.

We just lost our Saturday evening football (soccer) newspaper because we can get our results and reports on radio, tv, online, ceefax, sms and who knows how many other methods. Sad, but who cares?

#20 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 03:59 PM:

On the other hand, Americans do subsidise all sorts of unprofitable activities, many of them of less social benefit than the ``American Newspaper''.

Maybe he just thinks it is time journalists got in on the act too? After all, if agricultural gets a subsidy, why not journalism?

(Of course, the solution to the problem is to stop subsidising agriculture (and steel, etc.), not start subsidising everything else.)

#21 ::: Mike Berry ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 04:25 PM:

I agree that, whether a jest or not, the article in question is stoopid. But you folks would be a lot less sanguine if it was YOUR JOB on the line.

#22 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 04:39 PM:

Mike Berry, how many old editors do you know?

#23 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 04:41 PM:

Mike Berry, is "you folks" like "you people"?

Many of us who comment and even post here hold jobs which are not especially secure. Not secure at all, in fact.

#24 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 04:45 PM:

Another big money-suck that newspapers ought to worry about are obituaries. (I've actually suggested to Craig that he allow them, for a fee. The fee would cover the confirming call to the funeral home: that's necessary.)

Here in the US, ordinary obituaries cost money- the newspapers won't even print a "John B. Gone, 1920-2006, Mort's Funeral Home" without the family paying for it. I'd think that the simple facts of a death are newsworthy- a community service to let it be known. No, it's an advertizing profit center. Because it's an ad, the obit only has newsiness- it doesn't get archived.

$10 per line, and the line isn't very wide- 4 to 6 words per. $100 for a picture. Grieving families simply can't say much for under $100. Along with the basic facts, how can you not have statements about love ($140), survivors ($210), faith ($90)? (avoiding guilt by having a small newspaper clipping: priceless.)

Or, looking at yesterday's San Jose Mercury News, with 14 obituaries in 4 columns. Lengths and costs:
3 @7 lines ($210)
3 small- 14, 16, 18 lines ($480)
2 @24 ($480)
1 @24 with pic ($340)
43 ($430)
44+p ($540)
45 ($450)
53+p ($630)
71+p ($810)

$4370 for 14 deaths. That's a bit smaller than usual- assume $5k per day and that's almost $2 million per year. Dead weight loss, that.

(I wonder what would happen if the announcement was simply "John B. Gone, jbgfuneralinfo.com". Papers wouldn't like that too much, but I haven't seen it done even here in Silicon Valley.)

#25 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 05:07 PM:

Mike Berry@21: I somehow missed the previous post in which you explained how you know what any of us do for a living, and how you know what we would think under hypothetical situations.

#26 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 05:25 PM:

A suggestion for ambitious journalists who are now looking for work:

Get one of those neat little digital cameras that can shoot still pictures and record video with sound as well. Then hop into your car and start cruising for news.

When you've shot your story, attach the camera to your Internet link and sell the reportage to online readers -- or even to their cellphones.

And if local area news are not exciting enough -- go to the border, and make a reportage about the Minutemen -- or to Iraq -- or to Washington D.C.

There's still news out there; you'll just have to catch it by other means.

#27 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 05:43 PM:

Mike Berry, a bunch of us do have jobs on the line because of technological and cultural changes, or have had them in the past. This isn't theoretical BSing by people in invulnerable sinecures. This effort to be calm and to avoid a sense of entitlement is very often the result of experience.

#28 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 05:49 PM:

I know that this whole "penicillin" thing is great, but what about the whole industry supported by ballancing bodily humors by leeching out bad blood?

#29 ::: dan ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 05:53 PM:

Ummm... Josh#28, they seem to have survived the tempest...

#30 ::: Mike Berry ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 05:59 PM:

First off, apologizes to all and sundry for the snippiness of my post and the infelicitous "you folks" construction. It's just that I get irked when I perceive a massive indifference to the fate of newspapers in America and a certain "well, they shoulda seen it coming" attitude when discussing print journalism's response to the Web. (And that, in truth, doesn't seem to be the prevailing sentiment here.)

My problem, not yours. But I genuinely believe that we would all be worse off if daily newspapers went away.

Teresa: I'm 47 and I know very many newspaper editors my age or older. Is that what you were asking?

#31 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 06:00 PM:

Following up on my own post, because I was curious about how much money is spent on obituaries...

I'd guess at least $100 million per year.

This year, roughly 2.4M people will die in the US, including 970k who live in the 25 largest metropolitan areas. [Rate is .8% overall, 5% for people over 65 (who are 12% of the population)].

If 1/5th get paid obits, then assuming $100 each that's $50M. (A very quick search finds obits costing $5/line $50/pic in smaller papers, vs. $10 in my local large papers.)

Or, assume 30 newspapers devoting 2 pages per day to obituaries in those 25 MSAs: this would provide 1800 lines per day per paper. (This would provide an average of 20 lines per person to cover the 2600 who die per day in the MSAs.) At $10 per line that's $540k per day for those 30 newspapers, or $200M per year.

However,
What if obituaries were news? 6600 people died today. At 3 lines per person, 20k lines take up roughly 22 pages (assuming 900 lines/page) of obits per day for the whole US. 9 pages per day for all deaths in the 25 MSAs (again assuming 30 papers: 1/3 page per paper/day). There'd also be 6600 phone calls to make to confirm the deaths.

#32 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 06:13 PM:

dan #29--But they're not balancing bodily humors anymore! They had to find new medical uses for their leeches! I ask you, was that fair?

#33 ::: FMguru ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 06:13 PM:

I don't know for sure, but I'll bet Will Bunch was very sanguine during the disappearance of manufacturing jobs during the 1980s and 1990s, shaking his head at unemployed steelworkers and autoworkers (shoulda paid more attention in school! get yourself some retraining! nobody owes you a living!). He probably chuckled up his sleeve at the low, low prices he'd pay for imported goods and the corresponding rise in the value of his "symbolic-manipulator" skills. Now that his job is being rendered surplus to requirements by the same technological and policy churn, he's suddenly demanding protection and handouts in the name of fairness. The free market's all fun and games until your ox is gored.

#34 ::: dan ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 06:41 PM:

Lis #32: Innovation is Good! "Mutate or wither" applies to business also...

...but I'd almost have to say the 'industry' has come full circle: one of their prime uses is to keep fresh, oxygenated blood flowing into compromised areas (especially post surgery) by acting as a 'distal drain' (by their sucking and by the action of the anticoagulants and bioenzymes they produce), hence "balancing by drawing off" in the classic sense!

(Way TMI if it's dinner time where you are...)

#35 ::: MikeB ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 06:48 PM:

Kathryn @31: It looks like someone tried the online-obit business model back in the Internet boom years. Obituary.com charges $30 for 3 months or $60 for a year. Pretty steep prices for a site which serves tiny snippets of text to tiny audiences. I wonder if they even bother phoning funeral homes to confirm the deaths?

Obituary.com seems to predate Google. This may not be a coincidence. Google + LiveJournal/Blogger/MySpace is better than an obituary. If I die, my relatives can just blog about it somewhere, including my full name, biographical details, and (if they want) my Ph.D. thesis, my secret diaries, and every photograph I've ever taken. The news will spread much farther and last much longer than a printed obit ever would, at no cost.

#36 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 07:21 PM:

Mike @35,

Legacy.com has partnered with many newspapers- they're the one that provides the "guestbook" for online comments to an obit. If the family wants the guestbook to last more than one year (until last year they lasted just one month), one pays a yearly rental cost. (of $30, I think: when a family member was on it we decided to simply copy the information and let that guestbook expire.)

Yes about your online presence lasting longer, etc than a printed obit- but
1. the printed obit would last longer if it was archived as news, not just an ad.,
2. there is a place for a trusted, confirmed and timely (before the funeral) announcement location. I'm not sure it should be worth $100M+ per year.

Death is such an ugly profit center. Sure, people choose to buy a $200 announcement rather than a $40 one. Nor are choices made in the height of grief necessarily bad ones. But that most deaths won't get mentioned at all without a payment- that bothers me.

#37 ::: Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 08:14 PM:

Newspapers aren't losing ad revenue because of the Internet. Newspapers are losing ad revenue because they keep jacking the prices up so fewer people/small businesses/groups can afford to advertise.

They're losing subscribers because once you realize that the "news" part is mostly just process wank, you only buy the paper on the day they have the big food section so you can clip the coupons.

#38 ::: Jim Flannery ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 08:23 PM:

The so-called "alternative press" has been pushing this line for at least a year ... see e.g.
this sample from the New Times-owned SF Weekly.

Having made a bunch of money in the early 80s in a job whose title doesn't even exist in the marketplace any more (thanks Microsoft!) I have a hard time working up a great deal of sympathy.

#39 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 09:25 PM:

You will also note that this is the exact same reaction that the music industry had to the invention of the cassette recorder, the movie industry had to the invention of the videocassette, and that both have had to the Internet, personal MP3 and video players, search engines, and every related technological improvement.

Remember the classic Heinlein story, 'Life-line', about an invention that allowed exact prediction of ones time of death, and how insurance companies reacted to it? As the judge in that story observed:

Before we leave this matter I wish to comment on the theory implied by you when you claimed damage to your client. There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped or turned back for their private benefit.

I wish this view were more often and energetically put forward.

#40 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 10:52 PM:

Mike Berry, I worked for daily newspapers for four years in the 1980s. From what I saw, it's a business where publishers get rich by pumping kids (like I used to be) full of idealism and romance and getting them to work long hours for peanuts.

I say good riddance to the industry.

You're half-right: Good journalism is important, and will find a home. But it doesn't have to be printed on newsprint, and you don't have to walk to the foot of your driveway to get it.

#41 ::: Mike Berry ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2006, 11:46 PM:

Mitch Wagner -- Almost every capitalist enterprise I can think of exploits young, idealistic people for the benefits of the corporate owners. Happens in law, in medicine, in book publishing, in high tech. Sorry to hear your four years in the newspaper industry were so disillusioning. I know your experience isn't unique.

I'm not arguing that the news has to come printed on paper and delivered to your front door. But it's a complicated question as to how all this "good journalism" we seek will be funded when the traditional advertising base has been decimated. (And, yes, I know the literal definition of that verb.)

#42 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 01:10 AM:

Mike, if the general public values journalism, there will be a way to pay for it.

I had friends and family who were accountants and lawyers at the time I was a journalist. It's true what you say -- we were all being paid peanuts and working long hours. However, they were making three or four times as many peanuts as I was. I was within spitting distance of qualifying for Welfare benefits.

Moreover, with lawyers and accounts, the work-like-a-dog-for-peanuts stage is a temporary apprenticeship. My friends and family who are lawyers and accountants are now lawyers and accountants making comfortable salaries and working reasonable hours. I had to get out of daily newspapers entirely to get a pay boost and a cut in hours -- I do tech journalism now -- and I *still* make less than they do, and work shorter hours.

And I have no job security. I went through a period in late 2002 when I thought that I'd never be able to make a living doing journalism again, and I really couldn't think of anything else I was qualified to do. I got lucky. Might not be so lucky next time. Might be I'm also making my maximum income now -- after this, might be downhill. I know plenty of people who have had to take big pay cuts.

Craigslist isn't the problem. The problem is that corporations just don't care about people.

#43 ::: Mike Berry ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 01:34 AM:

Yes, Craigslist seems to care about people now, but let's see what happens in 10 years or so. I remember Google's much-trumpeted ideals about doing no evil.

I understand what you're saying about newspapers. I've invested close to a quarter of a decade in one. In the last contract, I took a hefty pay cut and lost a ton of benefits and security. So my eyes are wide open.

But I do somewhat resent the implication that those of us who have stuck with the industry deserve whatever we get after this paradigm shift and that nobody really needed us anyhow, so good riddance.

#44 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 02:05 AM:

I was actually a journalism student in college and I currently work at a magazine which is working at bridging their print audience and their online one. They already know where the future is, and they're trying to get ahead of it, and bringing their audience and advertising base with them. It DOES help that a large part of their target demographic happens to be young and technically savvy, but I can't think that they are the only print journalism outfit to have prepared for this contigency. I think most newspapers have also cottoned onto this, and I'm not terribly worried about their futures.

Mike @ 43: You ask that we wait and see what happens in ten years. But Craigslist has been around for almost that long already. You might as well have said, "Let's wait and see," then too. Many similar sites (Yahoo! for one) did go the advertising route. Craigslist still hasn't. Sure, they still have time to "sell out" or go more corporate. Newmark and Co could still decide they want a Money Bin to swim around in. But they haven't yet. I prefer to exercise a little optimism. :) At the very least, if they turn into the sort of company that sells ads but treats their employees fairly and donates to charities, then sure, fine.

#45 ::: Mike Berry ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 02:36 AM:

I really don't mean to diss Craigslist. It provides an invaluable service. But let's not assume that what's true today will be true tomorrow, right?

Mitch Wagner says "...if the general public values journalism, there will be a way to pay for it." What if the general public doesn't value journalism? Should it just go away? Will everybody be happier then?

#46 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 03:01 AM:

Sometimes, I really wonder if the general public values good journalism. I mean, I do semi-monthly rants about CNN, or less occasionally, my old home town's paper, The Deseret News, or other news agencies wot drive me crazy. It happens quite often. As Mitch mentioned above, a lot of us wee tykes get pumped full of a lot of idealism and romance and classes on ethics, and then sent out into the real world, which is, um, an education to say the least. I do know quite a lot of people who are in journalism industries--and quite a few who don't know the difference between editorials and news stories--a fact which scares me. I know in some industries, industry "news" is replaced by propaganda and tradeshows and ginormous events all designed to be shiny-shiny-shiny, and I've seen some of this attitude spill over into regular news.

I think the important thing is: If we value good journalism, it's partly up to us to help save it, or to educate people. I think that's partly why blogs got so popular, although the peril and advantage of blogging is that you don't have an editor breathing guidelines and editorial voice down your neck and siccing fact checkers on your articles. It's a double edged sword.

I think a lot of people would be upset--are upset--by what they see as the diminished power and voice of a responsible Fourth Estate. I think they mistrust it, the way we mistrust our government. I feel that there is a perception that the Fourth Estate turned on us, or go to involved with their own biases. Although, maybe that's because I'm young yet, and I keep discovering all these pecadilloes in the family closet, nestling up close to the skeletons. Perhaps journalism suffered this level of corruption all along. Or perhaps it's merely cycling through one of the phases of an institution: the mavericks innovate, make a new playground, everybody explores it, declares it the dawning of a new age, the luddites fight it, finally accept it, eventually it gets incorporated into the fabric of society, it stagnates, corrupts, decays, and from the ashes, more new innovating minds come up with a new twist on an old idea, and that becomes the new vanguard. The phoenix rises from the ashes, wash, rinse, repeat. I could see the advent of the blogosphere as a new rise of the old journalism we were taught to idealise in school. I can also see how it could eventually cycle through the same thing. I feel just young enough to go, "Hey, does this happen with EVERYTHING?"


re: Craigslist - True. It could certainly change. I don't assume though, I merely hope. :)

#47 ::: Greta Christina ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 03:06 AM:

"But I do somewhat resent the implication that those of us who have stuck with the industry deserve whatever we get after this paradigm shift and that nobody really needed us anyhow, so good riddance."

Is anybody really saying that? Or even implying it? I don't think so. I think there's a big difference between callous indifference/mockery of people whose jobs are being made obsolete... and the recognition of the sometimes harsh realities of the marketplace, with the parallel recognition that griping about it isn't going to change anything.

Do I think something good would be lost if physical newspapers disappeared? Do I think it'd be sad? Yes, of course. But... well, maybe I'm being a cockeyed optimist, but it seems as if, once the upheaval has shaken out and settled down a bit, the human need for reliable, trustworthy information will be getting met somehow or other.

Oh, and FYI: I'm a freelance writer myself, who's finding it increasingly difficult to sell what people are getting for free. And my day job is in the (snort, giggle, snicker) book industry. So I'm on the wrong end of this paradigm shift, too.

#48 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 03:08 AM:

There's one huge, HUGE hole in the argument: how much cash do local papers make from classifieds?

Because I was under the impression that most of the money was made from block advertising, the next chunk of income was from sales, and that classifieds were essentially self financing promotion (enough folks buy the paper for the ads that, along with the minimal costs of insertion for classifieds, it just a little more than pays for itself).

#49 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 04:36 AM:

Of course what the original article misses is that in a civilised society we have what we call unemployement benefits...

#50 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 06:37 AM:

I'm reasonably sure the original piece was intended as a joke. I admit it can be hard to tell online. I've given up on using reduction to absurdity--there's always someone who thinks the absurdity is reasonable.

No cites handy, but I recently read about an effort to make newspapers profitable by doing serious reporting of local news. This seemed to mean giving high school sports major coverage rather than muck-raking, but at least it was something you couldn't get from AP. This is just about how newspapers might survive, not how you'd get great journalism, though it wouldn't surprise me if those intensely local papers end up breaking big stories once in a while.


#51 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 09:18 AM:

skimming quickly - has anyone said anything about Craig?

He was an East Coast fan before he became a West Coast fan. There are still people who Knew Him When.

I ran into him at the San Francisco Book Fair in the fall of 1993, when he'd just moved west. Among other things, he was in a bit of a quandry because no one in town knew him. He's not a flamboyant sort of guy.
So to establish some sort of profile, he started a weekly email calendar of interesting events. It became a listserv, and eventually, a website.

It just growed.

He's being useful and helpful, and supporting himself and a few friends at it. The functionality of craigslist was pretty inevitable, given the growth of the web, but we're lucky that it happened to crystallize around someone who was NOT maximizing "monetization".

That's the part that has so many people's knickers in a twist. Craig's having fun, doing good, and living comfortably. He's not trying to build a mansion the size of Bill Gates', and a lot of people are going nuts over that. That's their problem.

#52 ::: individualfrog ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 11:39 AM:

Teresa@16 really said it all. That money isn't just lying fallow on the ground somewhere. If that argument was supposed to be real, and like Adam@7 I think it was and he was just covering his ass with the "could be just a joke!" stuff, then he's made a pretty huge mistake.

The first time I found an apartment in New York, I did it with the Village Voice classifieds, and ended up spending a fortune for a pretty nice place; the second time I used Craigslist and got an OK place for much, much cheaper. It's the only reason I could stay in the city and do whatever I did, eat and buy books, make custom jeans for rich people (I got this job through Craigslist too), a whole year of adding whatever I could manage to add to NYC. (Very little, but still.)

#53 ::: Mike Berry ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 12:16 PM:

Peter Darby -- Newspapers used to make a huge amount of cash, millions of dollars per year for a major daily, from classified ads -- not from notices for garage sales or surplus kittens, but from vast linage devoted to automotive, real estate and recruitment advertising. Much of that linage has disappeared in the past 6-10 years. I spend every working day of my life dealing with that fact.

Run-of-press display ads are, indeed, where newspapers continue to make most of their money. The money raised through circulation (subscriptions, street sales, etc.) is negligible.

Greta Christina -- There has been "satirical" talk upthread invoking buggy whips and the balancing of bodily humors. I am sure it was all in good fun. "Good riddance" is a direct quote from Mitch Wagner. I'm sure he didn't mean it.

There is obviously no point in bitching and moaning when one has sided with the milkmen, telegraph operators and silent film stars.

#54 ::: Anarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 12:41 PM:

That's the part that has so many people's knickers in a twist. Craig's having fun, doing good, and living comfortably. He's not trying to build a mansion the size of Bill Gates', and a lot of people are going nuts over that. That's their problem.

There's a similar sort of idea in a thread on Obsidian Wings, to the effect that a large number of people -- particularly conservative and libertarian types -- only pay lip-service to the supposed benefits of the free market. In Donald Johnson's wonderful paraphrasing of their mindset: "If someone brings up a way to use consumer choice in a non-selfish way, it hurts the cause and sullies the doctrinal purity of the Church of Rand." I think the same is true here: because Craig Newmark could be profiting more, or at least be more aggressive in pursuit of profits, the fact that he isn't is similarly sullying of that Randian purity. As if "selfishness" isn't just a virtue, it's the sole virtue to which all other purposes must be subordinated.

#55 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 01:01 PM:

Anarch, I often wonder how the "Church of Rand" folks square their Selfishness as Salvation doctrine with the fact that Rand herself was no particular financial success. In 1962 she was giving weekly lectures in a third-rate midtown New York hotel room to whoever would pay not very much (I honestly don't remember how much) to attend them. The room held maybe forty people and was never full. I know because I was in it for a while. It was a sad place.

#56 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 01:04 PM:

I've invested close to a quarter of a decade in one.

Did you mean to say decade? 2 years and three months is not much of an investment in a career that you say is fading. Maybe some other line of work would be in order?

What are you doing to develop your paper's online presence?

Six years my company told my boss that nobody (excluding pr0n) made money with online newspapers and magazines but instead of taking that to heart he hired me and we're now sending out twelve newsletters a week, running a discussion board, and supporting online versions of four of our newspapers and magazines and we're making in the seven figures in ad revenue, including classifieds.

I came to publishing after twelve years in medical claims, seven and a half paying them for a fringe benefits fund and the rest working for a doctor's office and a physical therapy office. I took a good look around and decided I did not want to keep having to fill out treatment plans that allowed three visits to a man who fell six stories down an elevator shaft and quit and started a new career. I'm not a stranger to having to start over because your job changed and became something very different.

#57 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 01:07 PM:

Among other things, he was in a bit of a quandry because no one in town knew him.

You did that on purpose. I know you did.

#58 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 01:12 PM:

There's some odd "identification with the oppressor" here, too. When the newspapers were laying off lots of journalists, editors, and what-not - which they certainly have in the last couple decades - as part of national consolidation of chains, and just plain cutting back on non-fluff journalism, was Will Bunch demanding they endow outside companies to pursue the journalism they weren't funding? Maybe he was, I don't know - but he sure seems to be casting the media corporations and zillionaire family owners of newspaper chains as the poor hapless victims in this case.

In other words, to match the tone of the original: The assassination of the American newspaper? It was an inside job.

#59 ::: Mike Berry ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 01:27 PM:

Georgina -- Meant "quarter of a century." A late-night slip, no doubt the result of a deep-seated sense of denial at having a 25-year track record in any professional enterprise.

My newspaper has a fairly large online presence. Like among the Top 10 in the nation.

#60 ::: Mike Berry ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 01:47 PM:

And meant "Georgiana." Sorry.

#61 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 02:11 PM:

Mike Berry (#43): Yes, Craigslist seems to care about people now, but let's see what happens in 10 years or so. I remember Google's much-trumpeted ideals about doing no evil.

I'm still a fan of Google, they're still in there trying to at least minimize the evil they do.

But I do somewhat resent the implication that those of us who have stuck with the industry deserve whatever we get after this paradigm shift and that nobody really needed us anyhow, so good riddance.

I certainly wouldn't say that (although I grant you that others do).

PixelFish (44): You ask that we wait and see what happens in ten years. But Craigslist has been around for almost that long already. You might as well have said, "Let's wait and see," then too. Many similar sites (Yahoo! for one) did go the advertising route. Craigslist still hasn't. Sure, they still have time to "sell out" or go more corporate. Newmark and Co could still decide they want a Money Bin to swim around in. But they haven't yet. I prefer to exercise a little optimism. :) At the very least, if they turn into the sort of company that sells ads but treats their employees fairly and donates to charities, then sure, fine.

I reject the implication that accepting advertising is "selling out," and that a site that doesn't accept ads is somehow nobler and more morally pure than the site that does accept ads.

Mike Berry (45): Mitch Wagner says "...if the general public values journalism, there will be a way to pay for it." What if the general public doesn't value journalism? Should it just go away? Will everybody be happier then?

Pretty much, yeah. Or, at least, get smaller to serve the segment of the public that does value journalism.

However, I do, in fact, believe that the general public does value journalism -- if you give them information on subjects they're interested in, in a format that they want to receive it in.

Anarch (#54): There's a similar sort of idea in a thread on Obsidian Wings, to the effect that a large number of people -- particularly conservative and libertarian types -- only pay lip-service to the supposed benefits of the free market. In Donald Johnson's wonderful paraphrasing of their mindset: "If someone brings up a way to use consumer choice in a non-selfish way, it hurts the cause and sullies the doctrinal purity of the Church of Rand."

That's exactly right, and it's an important point.

Craig Newmark is not some kind of anti-capitalist, anti-free-market tree-hugging pinko hippie. He's participating in the free market, just as much as the head of any company does. He's running his business the way he wants to run it, the way he thinks is best for his business.

#62 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 03:23 PM:

I recently had a very similar discussion on the Well in the photo conference. The premise was "Flickr and $1 stock sites are killing stock photography". I don't want to mischaracterize people's arguments too much by summarizing them and I can't quote them, but they essentially ran along the lines of "professional photographers are a good thing to have", "people use bad stock photos just because they're free" and "getting stock photos for free is bad because they should be paying a fair price".

Needless to say, I disagreed.

No doubt, people working in an industry may suffer when something that was previously expensive becomes cheap or free. But there's a great benefit to society & the economy at large. (This is why measures of economic activity that rely solely on dollar amounts turned over in an industry aren't telling the full story; production statistics qualified by output quality tell more.)

Our whole existence rests on industries that used to be complex, expensive, and major parts of human activity, and are now much smaller parts of the economy because of technological advances. There are dislocations involved every time this happens but laying the responsibility for fixing those on the innovators would be, um, a bad idea.

#63 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 04:08 PM:

Jacob @62,

Photography is an interesting case. Digital photography allowed amateur photographers to shoot like professionals- take many, choose the best, rather than trying to make every one count.

Remember when you'd only take 48 or 96 photos on a vacation? After my last 2 week vacation we came back with about 4000 photos.

The best 1/20th (or 2% or 1%) go onto the web as our vacation photos. Google indexes them, and companies find them. I'm not even a prosumer and I've sold photos because a company liked pictures I took. While I did charge real rates, we didn't have to- the photos are just a hobby.

#64 ::: dan ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 05:58 PM:

Mike Berry: definitely in fun; this is a generally loose group with lots of free association occurring.

Congruent to your longevity in your industry (congratulations by the way!): I'm in my thirtieth year in my field (EMS), twenty-eight with the same firm; the changes on both the street-side and the business side have dictated an evolution and some mutations to keep us alive this long.

Your industry is exploring options to keep revenue flowing; Georgiana's place seems to have found one solution. I'd like to see the local rag (McClatchy) reset their online system to generate more 'eye count'; they're missing the concept that ads aren't egregious on the inner pages...

#65 ::: Mike Berry ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 07:34 PM:

I don't agree with everything in this article, but it outlines many of the challenges facing newspapers right now.

#66 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 08:21 PM:

Due to some unusual Home Depot mistakes, I ended up with two large pretend-wicker chairs, valued at $75 each. I didn't want to deal with selling them, after all, I didn't pay for them. If Ulrika hadn't recommended Craigslist, I would have just taken them to the local charity. I would never have taken an ad out in the WashPost.

On the other hand, I am going to miss a lot of the WashPost journalists who took early retirement. The local NBC station is also getting rid of the older anchors -- the people I like best.

#67 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2006, 08:35 PM:

Mike Berry: Very interesting article on the problems facing newspapers.

The article says: "I’m worried about the impact on our society when daily newspapers are no longer able to function. Without an agreed upon set of facts that newspapers provide as a starting point, what shape can community discussion possibly take?"

That jibes with an observation I had around 2004-2005, when I read some of the liberal and conservative blogs. It seemed to me that, for the first time in my memory, the liberals and conservatives weren't even agreeing on the underlying facts. If you were a conservative you knew for a fact the following: Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, he was allied with al Qaeda, and we were winning the war in Iraq. If you were a liberal, you knew for a fact that Saddam had no WMD, he and al Qaeda were bitter enemies, and we were losing the war in Iraq disastrously.

And yet I question whether having the newspapers provide an agreed-upon set of facts is a good thing. Newspapers sometimes (or often) get things wrong, and, once they have, it's hard to get the record corrected.

I find in discussions of this kind that daily newspaper journalists start from the assumption that newspapers are doing a great job. This point is arguable. What's not arguable is that most people just don't trust newspapers anymore; they think newspapers are biased. (And a liberal will swear that newspapers are biased conservatively, while a conservative will say the opposite -- another area in which we can't agree on the underlying facts.)

I don't read the local paper -- the San Diego Union Tribune -- because I don't see much that's relevant to me. When I look at the headlines (online) it's always murder, murder, murder, fire, fire, kidnapping, political news about the City of San Diego. I'm not interested in the details about the crimes and disasters because they're not happening anywhere near me, to anybody I know, and as for the political news--I don't live in the City of San Diego, I live in a neighboring municipality.

#68 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2006, 02:08 AM:

Re #56, Georgiana:

I took a good look around and decided I did not want to keep having to fill out treatment plans that allowed three visits to a man who fell six stories down an elevator shaft and quit and started a new career.
After reading this sentence through four times and parsing it differently each time, I gave up.

I can't guess why you'd blame the insurance company for letting you visit an accident-prone doctor (unless he was the only choice they allowed you), or for his choice to change careers.

And was his change of career from something else to medicine? Or from medicine to something else, denying you further visits beyond the third?

Or was the patient the man who fell down the shaft and quit and started a new career? Wouldn't the old insurance stop covering him when he quit, or soon thereafter? And wouldn't the new job's insurance decline to cover pre-existing injuries altogether, at least initially — or did this take place after the Clintons' health insurance portability act?

Or were you... well, I could keep asking, but by now you see the range and type of my confusion. Please help.

#69 ::: Anthony Ha ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2006, 03:23 AM:

Mike Berry @ 65 and elsewhere: As one of those kids "full of idealism and romance" currently making peanuts as fresh-out-of-school journalist, I certainly find the idea of the newspaper business collapsing (possible) or contracting (as is happening now) to be quite terrifying.

I did, however, take hope from this little tidbit in the SN&R article: Changes in the marketplace over the past 10 years have reduced these margins, yet still newspapers’ profits last year averaged 19.3 percent--more than twice the average for the Fortune 500. I also take hope from the fact that, even though print circulation is down, newspaper readership overall has, I believe, shown some small gains. (I can't find a good link for this, but this article does claim an overall readership increase of 15 percent for 25-34 year olds.)

So newspapers are in trouble, yes, but they nail hasn't been driven into the coffin yet. Keeping them alive, though, will take some inventive thinking from both the business people and the journalists.

I certainly agree with everyone here that we aren't owed a living. It's incumbent on us to convince people that newspapers are something they should be, nay, need to be reading.

Also, a delighted yes to this: There is obviously no point in bitching and moaning when one has sided with the milkmen, telegraph operators and silent film stars.

Mitch Wagner @ 67: I find in discussions of this kind that daily newspaper journalists start from the assumption that newspapers are doing a great job.

I know some journalists who make that assumption, but many do not. I certainly don't believe that most newspapers are doing a great job, or even a particularly good one. (Perhaps predictably, I'm also wary of blanket statements about the job that all newspapers and all journalists are doing, because I am a unique and special snowflake, yes I am.)

#70 ::: Anthony Ha ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2006, 03:35 AM:

Um, I should probably have said that it's incumbent on us to make newspapers something essential for people to read. The convincing is an important, but ultimately secondary part of that.

#71 ::: Janet Kegg ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2006, 06:14 AM:

For over 35 years I've had my local newspaper (Washington Post) delivered to my doorstep and I've no intention of giving up that service. I like newspapers (except for the lousy ones, of course).

I certainly get a lot of my news on the net and appreciate the timeliness and variety of viewpoints available but I continue to value having a generally well written, well organized, easily skimmable print source at hand, where I'll find reporting about matters (particularly local ones) that I didn't know I might be interested in.

#72 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2006, 12:15 PM:

The Sacto N&R article demonstrates, to my taste, a lot of what's wrong inside the news business. If newspapers weren't already failing at the task of providing a reliable baseline of facts about important issues, they would be much less vulnerable to possibly destructive competition. Capitulation to the Republican noise machine and miscellaneous fad-seeking both predate current competition. The news business didn't make movement conservatism, but news decision makers and opinion leaders capitulated to it and a whole lot of reporters adopted the stance that quoting talking points is fairness, when they could have done otherwise early on.

There's an analogy here with the RIAA's response to music sharing online, blaming the sharing for a slump that began (according to the RIAA's own figures) before Tim Berner-Lee's work went public.

In both cases, there are a lot of smart, honest, hard-working folks doing their best to provide a wanted service, and it sucks that they suffer for others' cowardice and greed. Unfortunately, that's we get as long as there's less than unlimited wealth and any kind of hierarchical organization. In a better world, the scum and flakes at the top would have to pay a lot more of the price for their folly. Unfortunately, well, y'know.

#73 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2006, 09:30 PM:

Raven, #68, I read that as Georgiana thinking the man who fell down the elevator shaft needed more than three treatments.

#74 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2006, 11:37 PM:

Marilee, #73, those must have been three fantastic treatments, if he then quit seeing the doctor and started a whole new career.

#75 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2006, 12:09 AM:

#74: As someone who also has antecedent issues, I sympathize with Georgiana. I believe her intended interpretation is that the man who fell down the elevator shaft needed more than three treatments. But Georgiana, herself, is the person who quit and started a whole new career.

Hypothetically, she might have written instead: " I took a good look around and decided I did not want to keep having to fill out treatment plans that allowed only three visits to a man who fell six stories down an elevator shaft. So I quit and started a new career."

#76 ::: dan ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2006, 02:57 AM:

Mike Berry: a bit of timely follow-up on the local side (local to one of the base McClatchy environs). The purchase of another local web site (The Bee does okay by theirs) shows someone may be on the clue train...

My own tendency is to capture national and international 'between the cracks' during the work day via blogs and news pages and get my local headlines on the way home. The "in depth" of the local news is what I go to the printed page for; I'm already ahead of the print curve with the broader electronic stories from near and far. ...but the local details won't be showing up for another day, but will have the depth I'm looking for.

I also capture sports as needed and local art scenes as needed from the print side.

The local outfit has tried to offset online classified by allowing seven days of two line under $200 ads for free. We received a few calls on a paintball gun my oldest was selling (ultimately on eBay).

One other thought for the the Fourth Estate: the old plan involved 'pushing' selected information and loading the headlines and stories with enough connotative words to blow the concept of 'just reporting'. In a single paper town, that could have a strong influence. The new paradigm may be to lay out the information to be 'pulled' by the reader and have things neutral enough to allow easy crosschecking.

...and local, local, local! As local as possible: we live in communities; resourcing those communities or applying databuilds to offer targeted news to those communities might work in the electronic world (locally, the seven editions put out daily are probably stressing some economic line).

There's hope; the trick is to become that amphibian who can survive in both the old world and new until the source of oxygen has stabilized...

#77 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2006, 11:18 PM:

"Antecedent issues" would be a great name for a blog.

#78 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2006, 04:32 AM:

I wonder what would happen if the announcement was simply "John B. Gone, jbgfuneralinfo.com".

I like that idea! A lot of people do have personal websites, with minimal hosting costs; someone could easily put up a full obituary as a page on one, and leave it up for as long as they chose. It may not be fully practical just yet because most people who are dying now probably still have relatives or close friends who aren't computer-savvy. But over the next 20 years or so, I can see it becomeing more and more popular (at least among the class of people well-off enough to own computers).

Anarch, #54: I think it's even more basic than that. If the owner of Craigslist is willing to make a comfortable living rather than wringing every penny he can out of the property, that calls into question the operational principles and ethics of every corporate CEO. See, one of the standard arguments is, "Well, everybody does it, and if we didn't do it too, we wouldn't be competitive." As soon as ONE highly-visible person demonstrates that this is a false claim, the whole house of cards comes down.

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