Where’d this blog go?

So we were rollin’ along pretty good here, talking about the future of journalism with a little baseball mixed in, and then all of a sudden — stop.

What happened? I got co-opted by corporate America!

OK, what really happened is that I’m writing about the same stuff — not so much the baseball — at the Future of Journalism Blog on Open Salon. Katharine Mieszkowski and I started that blog about a month ago. We’re still feeling our way a little bit, but we’re pretty pleased so far.

Come on over and join us.

When I think of something else to write about here, you’ll see it here.

ViewPass: A backwards monetization idea

Alan Mutter, the newspaper man turned Silicon Valley CEO who has a terrific blog about journalism called Newsosaur, came clean over the weekend about having been one of three parties who made a presentation to the hush-hush summit meeting of newspaper executives in Chicago last week.

Mutter writes that he has an idea to solve the problem discussed at the confab, how to monetize online content. His proposal, in partnership with fellow CEO type Ridgely Evers, is called ViewPass.

“ViewPass would consist of a simple, one-time registration system that would remember users as they moved among participating websites,” Mutter writes. “It would build a profile of individual users from demographic information supplied by them, as well as by tracking the content they viewed as they moved from site to site.

“Like many of the several monetization systems coming to market, ViewPass would support payments for individual articles, subscriptions and bundles of content.”

In other words, you register once, and that allows you to seamlessly pay for content in various package sizes, while the content providers collect information about you and your reading habits, which allows advertisers to better market to you.

Mutter again: “The system’s greatest value would be the data it assembled on each individual consumer, because the data would enable publishers to sell their advertising inventory at premium rates to advertisers seeking to target their messages to the most likely consumers.”

This is a great idea, except it’s exactly backwards and totally wrong.

Let me get this straight: I, faithful reader, am supposed to pay money for content I now get for free, and I have to let the publications harvest personal information so they can market to me?

Do I look stupid?

That personal information is an asset of mine that I am sometimes willing to sell, but not always. It is a thing that has value. Mutter says so himself: “The system’s greatest value would be the data it assembled on each individual consumer.”

If a publication thinks it would benefit from having that thing of value, it should make me an offer. I’m open for business.

The grocery store gives me discounts and coupons in exchange for information about my buying patterns so it can market effectively to me. It seems like a square deal, so I take it. I’m not saying my information’s worth millions. But it’s worth a little sumpn-sumpn. I’m certainly not going to pay you to take it from me.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this: When I have to register to read something, even if it’s otherwise free, I usually decline. It’s just not worth the effort. Never mind cash money, that effort alone is already a payment I’m not willing to make. Rare is the information I can’t get elsewhere without having to jump through some hoop.

And if I really can’t get it elsewhere and have to register, I always lie. Why? Because I don’t want to give away something, true information about myself, that I can sell, to an organization that I thought was going to provide me a service, but has now turned into a pain in my ass.

So the advertiser that gets my information from the publication that harvested it by making me register gets bad information and wastes its money by trying to sell me something that might be interesting to a 22-year-old who lives in Arizona.

But otherwise, yeah, great idea. I’m sure people will be lining up to go through the chore of registering. I’m sure the masses will be clamoring to give away personal information that other businesses pay them for, panting at the chance to pay for previously free content that they can get elsewhere pretty easily.

Thank goodness, journalism is saved.

Newspapers: Shut up and charge already

“I’m all for an antitrust exemption for newspapers so they can all get together and charge. And get their demise over with.”

I tweeted that the other day. Beau Dure of USA Today, who always asks good questions, wondered, via Facebook, “Did a newspaper delivery person knock over your mailbox or something?”

Are you kidding? The delivery person is one of the few people in the newspaper business who actually delivers something of value — a hunk of birdcage liner! Hey that’s pretty good. Only took me a week to think of it.

It’s just that I’m sick of all these panel discussions and secret meetings and statements of purpose about how newspapers are going to get readers to pay for their basic content online, and/or save the print product. It’s like this endless debate about a question that’s been settled. The answer: They’re not. Can we please move on?

Here’s the editor of the Wall Street Journal — which, unlike almost every other newspaper in the country, has content specialized and distinctive enough that people will pay to read it online — complaining about aggregators, especially Google.

“It’s certainly true that readers have been socialised — wrongly I believe — that much content should be free,” the Australian quotes Robert Thomson saying. He’s Australian too so he talks with Brit spelling. “And there is no doubt that’s in the interest of aggregators like Google who have profited from that mistaken perception. And they have little incentive to recognise the value they are trading on that’s created by others.”

Thomson says readers who click to a newspaper story from Google News think they’re reading Google News: “Google encourages promiscuity — and shamelessly so — and therefore a significant proportion of their users don’t necessarily associate that content with the creator. Therefore revenue that should be associated with the creator is not garnered.”

It sounds ridiculous to me, but when I tweeted about that, several online acquaintances, including Beau, said they’ve seen that phenomenon at work. So OK, I believe it. It happens.

But do those people matter? If you don’t even pay attention to whether you’re reading something on a newspaper’s Web site or on Google News, you’re not likely to become a paying customer of either. I don’t pay enough attention to “American Idol” to know which one of the recent finalists is Kris Allen and which one is Adam Lambert, so I’m not likely to buy either one’s next record. I don’t matter to them. I’m not the customer.

If that’s the future business model for newspapers — to get the people who are too dumb or inattentive to even know what they’re reading to pay for it — well, now you know why I’m ready for them to figure out that this matter has been settled. It’s like listening to someone who talks painfully slowly explaining something you already know.

I don’t know how slowly Thomson talks, but here’s some more from the Australian article:

“Thomson argued aggregators ‘need to be honest in their role as deliverers of other people’s content.’ And as those sites were exploiting the value of mainstream media content, ‘we have to be at least as clever as they are in understanding the value of our own content.'”

Exactly! He and others in our racket act like it’s some kind of vexing mystery, figuring out the value of something, in this case content. But it couldn’t be simpler: Put a price on it. That’s how you “understand the value” of your hooptie when you offer it for sale on Craigslist, right? If you ask for too much, nobody calls.

So, I wish newspapers would quit talking about this stuff and just start charging. They’ll quickly “understand the value” of their content, which, with rare exceptions like the Wall Street Journal, is something very much like zero, and then get to the real business at hand, which isn’t figuring out how to get people to pay for newspaper Web content, it’s how news organizations can generate enough revenue to do the important work they need to do.

Solutions to that problem almost certainly exist. The sooner the industry quits working over questions that have already been answered, the sooner we’ll find them.

1904 blog post: Future of transportation

The following blog post, dated May 25, 1904, was found on a vintage MacBook unearthed during a house renovation in Chicago.


Mr. Danville has been singing the praises of his new motor car to all who will listen, and conveying friends and neighbors through the streets on joy rides during recent pleasant weekends. I have taken such a journey myself and enjoyed it, so I trust no one encountering these words would think me a foe of progress.

But these automobiles are a grave threat to the American way of life and commerce. We must put the brakes, if you will, on this burgeoning phenomenon before it’s too late.

A pair of goggles, a set of gloves, and the turn of a crank make any man an engineer, a brakeman and a conductor rolled into one. Only there’s no need for a conductor because the ride is free. And therein lies the problem.

Flitting about the streets of town in a motor car is well and good. As mentioned, I enjoy it myself. But as cars grow more robust and better able to make intercity trips, a threat arises to the railroads, the backbone of our democracy. If you can take a car without paying a fare, why would you ever board a train?

Perhaps we take for granted the hard work the railroads do, but we shall miss them when they’ve disappeared, murdered at the hands of our fascination with our new toys, courtesy of Messrs. Olds, Ford et al. When the trains are gone who will do the dirty work of carrying the mails? The day I run into a Sunday driver delivering a sack of letters will be the day I’m confident that motor cars will contribute something positive to American life.

Until then, who will perform the needed drudgery of hauling freight or moving troops? Automobiles? The idea is laughable. Inconceivable.

The engineers and brakemen, mechanics and firemen of the railroads are highly trained professionals who perform services vital to our country’s existence. Their jobs are imperiled by the free ride of the motor car, which allows any nut with a scarf to man the throttle.

Thus is endangered our industry, our security, our very society. If motorcars are allowed to overtake the railroads, the United States of America will be a bit player on the world stage in the 20th century.

Morley Safer attacks the vast blog wasteland

Morley Safer made note of the newspaper crisis and took a swipe at the blogosphere this week as he accepted an award at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

Receiving the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award, named after the TV news pioneer, Safer said broadcasters get stories from newspapers and can’t replace the reporting the best of them do, according to the university’s account of the evening.

Then, Quinnipiac’s press release says, Safer added, “The blogosphere is no alternative, crammed as it is with the ravings and manipulations of every nut with a keyboard. Good journalism is structured and structure means responsibility.”

Morley Safer could have spent the last 45 years dining out on his landmark reporting from Vietnam, but he didn’t. He’s a giant in the field and, like most people in our business, I’m not fit to carry his bags.

But he’s wrong about this one.

And I’m going to give him a pass on the really ridiculous thing he’s quoted as saying: “I would trust citizen journalism as much as I would trust citizen surgery.” Let’s just assume that quip was just Safer being glib for the crowd, tossing off a clever line. Let’s credit him with not really equating the skills and training journalism requires with those needed to perform surgery. He must not think citizens can’t do journalism or that journalists aren’t citizens, right?

But the blogosphere is absolutely an alternative to newspapers. Or at least it can be. Or at least I think it can be. I only think so rather than knowing so because I don’t know what the blogosphere is, and I’m guessing Safer doesn’t either.

I count 73 blogs at the New York Times, for example. The guy who writes this one just won a Nobel Prize and was a finalist for a Pulitzer, neither of which they just hand out to random bloggers. Is Paul Krugman part of the “blogosphere” that’s “no alternative” to print newspapers?

A blog is a format. That’s all it is. It’s a way to organize words. The words themselves can be brilliant shining diamonds or they can be a load of cow patties. There’s no reason why the universe of online writers can’t perform the same functions the universe of newspaper writers has.

It’s simply a matter of someone coming up with a business model that works. I believe some people are going to do that. I also believe those people aren’t going to be journalists, they’re going to be business people. Which is why it’s funny that everybody’s having all these panel discussions about what the future of journalism is going to be and filling the panel with journalists.

We don’t know. We just do our thing. Other people figure out how to make a business out of it. A journalist didn’t invent the linotype machine, you know. Or the TV camera, for that matter.

“Good journalism is structured and structure means responsibility,” Safer said. I’m not sure what he meant by that. I would guess he’s talking about the structure of editorial oversight at newspapers, the editors who vet reporters and help shape their beats and their copy.

Again, there’s no reason that couldn’t happen at online-only publications. It happens now. But even if we’re talking about the blogosphere as Safer envisions it — you will now picture a basement and a lone figure in his underwear, typing — there is responsibility.

The bloggers who write well, tell the truth and have important things to say find an audience, and a large, engaged, intelligent readership is a better and tougher editor than the best, toughest editor who ever edited.

Sure, the Internet turns everybody into a publisher and that makes us all subject to “the ravings and manipulations of every nut with a keyboard,” in Safer’s words.

It’s called freedom of speech. Safer might want to take a gander at that First Amendment the award he just picked up was named after. It gets a mention. Safer’s a standard-bearer for a profession that champions freedom of speech. It’s strange to see it bother him so when other people get to use it.

“Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one,” goes A.J. Liebling’s famous quote. That’s no longer true. That’s a good thing.

The blogosphere is no more tainted by the ravings and manipulations of every nut with a keyboard than public speaking is tainted by the ravings and manipulations of every wingnut with a loud voice. We don’t discount what Martin Luther King Jr. said just because some dude got in front of a microphone in Connecticut one day and said journalists are like surgeons.

The public square has given us all manner of crackpots for hundreds of years. It also gave us Lincoln.

Newport Daily News strategy: Extort customers

The Newport Daily News, in Rhode Island, made some daily news outside of Newport this week by announcing that it was putting its Web site behind a pay wall.

That’s a link to a story about it on WRNI radio’s Web site. The actual editorial announcing the new policy is, well, behind the pay wall. Cost you five bucks to read it.

“It’s pretty exciting to be ahead of the curve on this,” assistant publisher William F. Lucey III is quoted saying in the piece. At first blush that might sound odd because it’s hardly a new idea for a newspaper to charge for Web content. But the Newport Daily News really is exploring a new business model for this grand profession.

The newspaper as protection racket.

If you live in Newport and you want to get the paper delivered, it’s $145 for the year. If you want the paper and the Web site, which has been redesigned and now includes the entire print edition in a format that mimics print, it’s $245.

OK, fair enough. Added value. You pay more for two things than for one. Wouldn’t be interesting to me as a customer but good luck, all the best.

But if you want to read the Web site without getting the print edition, it’s $345 for the year.

“You’ve got a real nice house there,” the Newport Daily News is saying to its subscribers. “I’d hate to see it littered up with paper every day. Know what I’m saying? A hundred bucks a year will keep your front yard niiiiiice and tidy. Get me?”

And they say newspapers are doomed. I have seen the future of the newspaper business. It’s extortion.

King Kaufman’s funeral

I was interviewed on the Sirius Radio show “Under_Score With Sarah Meehan” Wednesday. Meehan’s a Canadian sports broadcaster who until recently co-hosted a radio and TV show called “Drive This!”

She said she wanted to talk to me on the first week of her new show after reading my farewell column, in which I’d talked about how these are exciting times, what with this whole new paradigm in journalism thing going on. She said she’d become a fan of the column in the previous few months because of my interest in some of the social issues that surround the games. “Under_Score” seems to view the sports world through a similar lens.

Meehan was exceedingly kind in her introduction of me — so kind that I joked that I felt like I was attending my own funeral. I wish I could say I lived up to my billing over the next 15 minutes or so, but I don’t think I did. Whenever I get done talking on the radio I always find myself hoping Hemingway’s iceberg theory had kicked in. I had all kinds of interesting thoughts going on there, and you should have somehow understood them by hearing the tip of the iceberg, the few dumb things I actually said.

Here’s a link to an MP3 of the interview, and here’s one to it on iTunes. And here’s the “Under_Score” page on the Hardcore Sports Web site. Check out the show. It sounds pretty good.

Online content isn’t free

Beau Dure, excellent USA Today soccer and mixed martial arts writer and longtime virtual friend of this typist, made some good points in a comment about my recent post Newspapers’ fatal error, which talked about the industry’s longtime failure to understand and engage with the Internet.

And which wasn’t that recent. It’s been a busy week.

“The papers that ‘got it’ fared no better than those that didn’t,” Beau wrote, citing the Raleigh News & Observer, which practically invented online news with Nando.net and which recently offered buyouts to every employee. “Papers who started blogging and trying to open up reader input in 2003 rather than 2006 aren’t in any better shape.”

He goes on to say, “We could place plenty of blame on the ad side but (A) it’s only with the bias of 20/20 hindsight that we could pin that on the editorial side and (B) I’m not sure papers could’ve invented Craigslist, anyway.”

That echoes a comment by another virtual friend, TVerik, a frequent poster at the Baseball Primer Newsblog, where the piece was linked to.

He says my assertion that “there’s no reason that a newspaper couldn’t have conceived of Craigslist misses the point. The reason for the breakaway success of CL is that it’s completely free. An up-and-coming newspaper man would have been laughed out of the executive offices had he suggested a virtually revenue-free way to destroy a major revenue source for the newspaper business.”

So, some replies.

First of all, papers that started blogging in 2003 were about eight years late to the game, and were simply tacking blogs on top of their print-newspaper-on-the-Web model.

Just because Nando.net, which really was great in its day, didn’t make it doesn’t mean nobody could have made it. One valiant effort that ultimately failed does not mean that the entire industry would have failed had it turned its considerable brainpower to trying to figure out a model for this new medium.

Part of Nando.net’s business, as I understand the history, was being an Internet service provider. That arm of it was later sold off.

I don’t know enough about the ISP business — I figure “nothing” is not enough — to really say this, but it seems to me that was the business for newspapers to get into. Everyone who complains about readers who are unwilling to pay for content on the Web is missing the point that readers are paying for content on the Web. We pay our ISPs.

Newspapers and other Web sites — like this one — might be giving away content, but we’re not giving it to readers. We’re giving it to ISPs.

As a reader, I’m not getting the newspaper and everything else I read for free. I pay for my Internet service every month. Like a lot of people I read a lot on the Web while I’m at work — though it should be noted, especially by my bosses, that that’s part of my job and I never, ever read a single word on the clock that isn’t work related. So I don’t pay for what I read at work, but my company does. Someone does.

Newspaper publishers are whining to the Senate and anywhere else someone will listen about how the Internet hasn’t provided and can’t provide a sustainable business model for journalism. But it has. ISPs are happily selling Internet access to those of us who want to see what’s on the Web, as well as get our e-mail and instant messages and share pirated movies.

The newspapers are mostly giving away their journalism — to the ISPs — and that seems like an issue between the newspapers and the ISPs, not between the newspapers and us.

But the newspapers have pretty much always given away the journalism. Back when you paid a quarter for your daily paper, you were buying the thing, the hunk of paper with ink marks on it, maybe a rubber band. You’re still buying the thing now, the Internet service.

The newspapers got boxed out of the thing-selling business is what happened. Tough break, but maybe they should have been thinking about how to use this new medium rather than spending years attacking it as nothing more than a lair for pedophiles and basement-dwelling freaks.

I don’t think it’s “20/20 hindsight” to place blame on the editorial side. The point of the piece was that I saw it coming, and I was a nobody with almost no experience. I agree the failure is probably just as great on the ad side. I just didn’t see it firsthand, so I don’t have much to say about it.

To answer TVErik, papers wouldn’t necessarily have invented Craigslist, sure. Craigslist is a nonprofit. Why would papers invent something that makes no money to replace something that does? But newspapers could have invented something. If they’d come up with a version of classified advertising that wasn’t free but was significantly cheaper and better than the old print model, there might not have been the demand that led to Craigslist being invented.

Then again, Craigslist might have happened anyway. I don’t know. We’ll never know what would have happened in the last 15 years if newspapers had been smart, will we?

We need a new bus company

If we wanted to take the bus across town this afternoon, and the bus company said, “We can get you across town, but it’d work out a lot better for us if we did it a week from Thursday,” wouldn’t we be demanding a new bus company?

David Leonhardt’s fantastic interview with President Obama appears in today’s New York Times Magazine. Leonhardt writes that he interviewed Obama on April 14 after the president gave his speech on the economy at Georgetown University. To help readers better picture what day that was, Leonhardt notes it was the day White House dog Bo was introduced.

The magazine article is, Leonhardt writes, “a lightly edited transcript of that interview.” So unless Leonhardt edits by hammer and chisel, the entire reason for the three-week delay is the lead time for the magazine.

Why are we, the great unwashed readership, mourning the passing of this model?

Obviously the Times decided to run the piece in the Magazine because the Mag is prestigious and the advertising in it is lucrative. From the Times’ perspective, a major interview with the president is a natural for the Magazine.

But how does that do any good for us, the teeming, mouth-breathing masses? “We now present,” the Times is saying, “an interview with the president of the United States about the issues of the day that we could have presented three weeks ago, but that just didn’t work so well for us.”

Well, thanks for the interview, New York Times. It’s really, really good. We knuckle-draggers out here who don’t care about the indispensable role of newspapers in the functioning of our democracy would have liked seeing it three weeks ago.

This is the kind of thing that might partially explain those falling readership numbers, don’t you think, Times?

Repurposed from Facebook status updates!

Newspapers’ fatal error

I’ve been telling this story a lot lately.

It was July 1989 and I was on my first night on the San Francisco Examiner night copydesk, my first real professional job.

The gig was to look in the “In basket” — a computer file named for an actual basket that used to sit on the copydesk when everything was done on paper — for stories with my name on them, copy edit them, write the headlines and captions, then move them into the cleverly named “Out basket.” The copy ebbed and flowed with deadlines, so there was some down time.

I filled it by exploring on the computer. I could read the Associated Press wire and, if I recall, United Press International was still around. There was the Scripps-Howard wire and the Knight-Ridder wire and the Hearst wire. I was reading news and feature stories from all over the country and the world, full-length stories for every baseball game in the major leagues, columnists from the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Dallas Morning News and so on.

Behind me three machines were spitting out several photos a minute, each, from around the globe. Guerrillas in Afghanistan, kids at Coney Island, President Bush at a Cabinet meeting, a play at second base in Milwaukee. For every picture that appeared in the paper, there must have been a thousand that didn’t.

I thought: “Wow. Why can’t I get all this at home?”

I’m not going to lie here. I didn’t envision the Internet. I didn’t see the Web coming. I’m not kicking myself for not founding Yahoo or something.

But I could see that something was coming. I didn’t know exactly how this stuff worked, how those pictures got from Afghanistan to the machine behind me or the Mike Royko column got from Chicago to the green type on my black computer screen.

But I was vaguely aware they came over phone lines of some sort. I had just learned about e-mail that summer while writing a story for the East Bay Express about Chinese students at Berkeley who were using every method at their disposal — including this e-mail doohickey that someone patiently explained to me, several times — to get news about the Tiananmen Square protests in to China, where those stories were being censored.

And I was conscious of the speed of innovation. Just since adolescence, for example, I’d seen calculators, microwave ovens and VCRs go from practically nonexistent to monstrous novelties to much smaller everyday items. I’d seen computers go from room-sized things that technicians ran to desktop items high school kids typed papers and played games on.

There was a computer on my desk in my apartment that wasn’t that different in size to the one at work, only it wasn’t hooked up to a mainframe that was in turn connected to the rest of the world. But I knew that in the future — and I knew it wasn’t the distant future — I’d be able to sit at home, in front of my own computer, and do what I was doing at work. Read the wires, read newspaper stories from all over the world.

I spent a lot of time talking to friends — I was fresh out of J-school, so I had friends willing to talk about such things — about how in a few years we wouldn’t be stuck with our small group of local beat writers and columnists and movie critics. We’d be able to read anyone we wanted!

Here’s something I didn’t think, though, while I was busy not envisioning the Internet. I didn’t think: Newspapers are doomed!

I figured each individual paper would be thrilled at the chance to reach readers outside its delivery area. The Examiner and Chronicle were already trucking papers as far as they could go by morning, rushing to get them to Reno and Fresno and Chico and maybe even farther than that. Why wouldn’t they jump at the chance to get the product to people in Seattle and Philadelphia and Mexico City?

In other words, I assumed newspapers would adjust, adapt. Most of the country’s major papers, including the Examiner, were more than a century old. I figured they’d rolled with a few massive changes over the years. I was sitting at a computer, not a typewriter. The paper was pasted up and photographed — already becoming an antiquated method by 1989, though I didn’t know that — not set on Linotype machines as it had been a few years before. It seemed to me that newspapers were OK with technology and change.

If I had known about the Internet, I would have thought, “Who is better positioned to take advantage of a new text-based information medium than newspapers? We have a giant roomful of people who report, write and edit.”

It was my first night on the job. I hadn’t yet learned how hidebound, how slow, how downright stupid newspaper management could be.

The Web came along as a medium to be reckoned with about five years later. As an industry, newspapers failed to see it as an opportunity and instead treated it, almost unanimously, as a threat, something to be fought and vanquished. It was a mistake the industry made not for weeks or months, but for years. It was the newspaper industry’s fatal error. The way the kids say it now: its epic fail.

My old boss at the Examiner, Phil Bronstein, has been marketing himself as this sage statesman of journalism now that he’s no longer piloting the Chronicle. A few weeks ago, writing on his SFGate.com blog about newspapers in general, he said the industry had been “marched to the gallows by an uncaring and unappreciative public, sentenced by shifting technological and cultural habits and a few bonehead moves of [our] own.”

Oh, brother. Marched to the gallows by an uncaring and unappreciative public? More like reluctantly left behind by a public that had been ignored for more than a decade as it screamed, “This is how we want information delivered to us! Not the way you’re doing it! This other way! Look! Over here! We’re over here now! Hey!”

A few bonehead moves? How about a consistent, industry-wide pattern of ignorance and fear that produced what might as well have been a coordinated smear campaign. Almost every story about the Internet in the mid-’90s was about how it was awash in pedophiles and other predators.

And maybe I’m getting a little Psych 101 here, but what the newspaper was really afraid of wasn’t so much the Internet as a technological thing, it was the way it brought the readership closer. Oh, man: Not the readers!

Here’s Bronstein again, telling the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz that “the public was seen as kind of messy and icky and not something you needed to get involved with.” Note the third-person, passive-voice construction there, as though this were some sort of natural occurrence, not a colossal blunder by Bronstein and almost everyone in similar jobs.

The crops were destroyed by drought. The public was seen as kind of messy.

Scott Rosenberg, who also worked at the Examiner, recently told me that he wanted to put his e-mail address on his newspaper stories way back when, but Bronstein told him, “You can’t do that.” If he did, people would write him, and he’d have to respond. Egad!

I’m picking on Phil here, but I’ve heard and read enough stories from all over to know that he was simply representative, of the Examiner, of Hearst, of the entire industry.

You hear a lot about how eBay, Craigslist, Google and others killed newspapers. The Internet killed the classified business, a major bulwark of newspaper revenue, the story goes. But there’s no reason Craigslist, for example, couldn’t have been invented by a newspaper. No reason except newspapers’ years-long refusal to compete on this new playing field.

Instead they grudgingly shoveled the newspaper online. And I mean really, shoveled it. In the ’90s — a long time ago but still way too late in the game for this — on some newspaper Web sites you used to see print business in the stories online. “Please see Page 12, column 1,” it might say, right in the middle of a story, followed on the next line by “Continued from Page 1.” They were so contemptuous of the Web they didn’t even bother to have a copy person re-code the stories.

In the last few years most newspaper Web sites have added a few blogs and photo galleries and such, but they’re still essentially the newspaper, online.

Even the newspapers that have shut the print operation are still doing it. The Internet-only Seattle P-I is pretty much the Seattle P-I, just online. Didn’t the Seattle P-I get the message that what it was doing wasn’t working?

The crisis in newspapers, and especially the decision to move online only by individual newspapers, has been a perfect opportunity for them to reinvent themselves, to redefine what a newspaper is and how it performs its core mission of informing the public and acting as a watchdog on our institutions.

That’s something newspapers should have been doing all along, just as they had been doing, in much slower motion, for most of their history. A newspaper in 1990 was a very different animal than the same newspaper in, say, 1920 precisely because newspapers had changed and adapted with the times.

But when the change sped up, the newspaper industry responded by displaying an astonishing lack of imagination and creativity, instead lashing out at the Internet, warning readers to stay away from it, practically lighting torches. They’ve put the torches away by now, but the response is largely the same to this day, a dogged refusal to truly engage with the way their world now works.

I guess I should have seen it coming on that first night, when I peered into my computer and saw that they’d named the files “baskets.”