8. The Future of Journalism
RCS: Let's try to bring this conversation full circle. You mentioned the impact Tony Kornheiser had on you. Back in January, during our interview with him, he reflected about the fate of newspapers, "I love newspapers and I’m watching them die. All I ever wanted to be was a newspaper writer. I didn’t necessarily want to be a newspaper columnist. I got to that point after 15 years in the business. I just wanted to write for newspapers and I did that a long time ago and I was perfectly happy."
If newspapers do die, do you think it would be bad for journalism?
Travis: Well, I love Tony Kornheiser but lots of newspapers deserve to die. Some of them are just awful. Have you read the Tennessean? If you have an IQ that's high enough for you to be executed per Supreme Court precedent, you haven't.
What I'd argue is that as some newspapers die, the field is going to open up markets for newspapers that are really good to reach those markets. Whether they do it in print, online, I'm not sure that anyone has unlocked the magic calculus yet. The result, I think, will be fewer writers but more people who read those writers, more of a writing meritocracy than exists in newsrooms now. So there may be less journalists, but I think journalism will be stronger. Look at the average mid-tier cities newspaper now, how many of them are just linking stories from other places anyway and not doing much original reporting as is? the New York Times, the Washington Post, those papers aren't going to die. And they shouldn't, they're damn good at what they do.
But most cities don't have that. And I think there's this elitist mentality that print media all deserves to survive. It doesn't, not if it's crap. I read the New York Times all day on my BlackBerry. Same thing with the Washington Post. I'm constantly hitting refresh. I couldn't have done that fifteen years ago. I'd have been stuck with whatever landed on my front porch. And if whoever was landing on my front porch was really good, eventually they'd move to a bigger market with more readers. We're there now, immediately.
So I think the market for good writing is larger than it's ever been, and the audience for good writers is larger than it's ever been. Now it's about monetizing that audience. It's going to be ugly, and there will be dead ends. But people aren't going to stop consuming stories. They just aren't.