March 13, 2005
We've been impressed for years by the apparent centrist common sense and good judgment of Rich Oppel, the editor of the local newspaper. He has negotiated the steady storm of Austin "issues," outrages-in-a-teacup, and consultant-studies-til-the-cows-go-to-Ft. Worth. He is still here, and so are we, though, still, a few columnists have moved on in a huff, wire-service material and press releases sometimes show up in what looks like bare verbatim, and poor review too often produces tilted, risible, or illiterate headlines that make us say "huh?" or "pshaw!" Nonetheless, we could do much worse.
Today in print Rich announces his public debut into the 'sphere. The new blog he and his managing editor have launched is called Rich and Fred (no allusive flights here of belles lettres or witty allusion, there could be if his colleague were named Fiennes....)
R&F does not yet allow for comments, and thus precludes peer-to-peer cross-fertilization. No off-of-site links, thus avoiding real reference to any source but the American Statesman. But the new commitment to moderate transparency, near-real-time conversation with a wider range of e-mailers, and the general sense of a deep breath and a plunge into the coming century, are to be applauded, bookmarked, and followed with interest.
His print announcement chimes in on many of the hot new MSM considerations, although the announcement (or at least the announcement of the announcement) is not on the blog, as one would expect, so unless we missed it it's not linkable. But he understands the necessity of immediacy, while maintaining in the medium of written prose a depth and reviewability that television does not have. He also understands that the Statesman's on-line material need not be limited by what appears in print, thus moving toward becoming effectively Net-based. It remains to be seen how the paper's archives increase in accessibilty and linkability.
File this as Dinosaur praise for the Non-Ostrich, new iconography towards the peaceable kingdom. We recently let 'em have it for high-handed obliviousness to local blogging (blogliviousness?), so it's only meet and right to note the progress.
Update: Newspapers are flailing in the wake of plummeting subscription rates, and other trends detailed in this NYTimes article. They have the opportunity to enter the Cluetrain age, by "giving it away," at least on the web, building audience, and capitalizing (literally) on that, much as they used to do with eyeballs and ad rates. Clutching deflating profit mechanisms with cold hands will not give them a new lease on life.
Time will tell the outcome of all this, but decentralization and disintermediation seems to be the order of the day. The Chez Dilys Resident Historian points out that, prior to television, there were many more local newspapers, before agglomeration of the voices into the Big Few. So it may simply be the pendulum swinging, as it tends to do, from a temporary advantage that was expected, by those gulping from its hosebib, to be permanent.