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.

The top-heaviest league of all time

A reader named Jack wondered if the 1954 American League, the year of my Near-miss league New York Yankees team, was the most top-heavy league year of all time.

“Indians won 111, Yankees 103 and the White Sox 94 … the same total as their ’59 pennant winners but 17 behind in ’54. Then it was about a 25-game drop to the other five,” he wrote.

Exactly 25 games, in fact, to the 69-win Boston Red Sox, who finished 42 games out.

I responded that it was a good question, and if I were ever laid up with a broken leg or something I’d research it. Well, I overestimated how difficult it would be to research that question, which means I underestimated the usefulness of, which at this point in history there’s no excuse for doing.

So I looked into it. Now, I don’t know how to define the most top-heavy league, but let’s use Jack’s rough definition, the best combined record of the top three teams. The ’54 Indians, Yankees and White Sox combined to go 308-154, which for the mathematically sharp-eyed among you is easy to spot as a .667 winning percentage.

According to my research — a word about the research: I was sober and reasonably careful, but let’s not go betting the house on the results, OK? — those 308 wins were the most by any three teams in one league in one year between 1901 and 1968, which covers the so-called modern period before the advent of divisions. Even when the schedule expanded from 154 games to 162, in 1961 in the American League and ’62 in the National, no three teams ever combined to win 308 games.

Dividing the league into divisions, which happened in 1969, presented a different enough picture that I didn’t include that period in this survey. I mean, if one team in each of the West, Central and East combined to win 315 games, it wouldn’t feel like a top-heavy league. It would just feel like a series of one-sided division races.

But while 308 wins was the most by any trio, by winning percentage, the 1954 A.L. was only the third most top-heavy league in the period. The most top-heavy by that reckoning was the 1909 National League. The top three teams that year were Pittsburgh, with 110 wins, the Cubs with 104 and the New York Giants with 92. That’s only 306 wins, but for some reason the league schedule was only 153 games that year, not 154. And the Pirates had a rained out game they never made up. So the overall record of those three teams was 306-152, a winning percentage of .668.

The drop from the third-place Giants to the fourth-place Cincinnati Reds was only 15 games. The lopsidedness wasn’t spread as evenly as it would be in the 1954 A.L. The bottom three teams, Brooklyn, St. Louis and Boston, lost 98, 98 and 108 games respectively.

The top three in the N.L. in 1906 also had a better combined winning percentage than the ’54 A.L.’s top three — barely. But that’s a little misleading — a little like saying that King Kelly and I are the highest-scoring pair of guys named King in history with a combined 1,357 runs.

There was nothing special about the second- and third-place teams that year. The Giants won 96 games and the Pirates 93. But the Cubs were the winningest regular-season team ever, going an astounding 116-36, the only major league team to ever win three-fourths of its games. They won the league by 20 games — over a team that won 96.

Anyway, the combined 305 wins in, again, a 153-game schedule, with both the Cubs and Giants having one unplayed game, meant an overall record of 305-152, a winning percentage of .667. But that was better than 1954, because it was .6673, while the ’54 A.L. teams combined to go .6666.

So, by this measure anyway, the combined winning percentage of the top three teams, the 1954 American League was the third most top-heavy league in history, behind only the 1909 and 1906 National League. It was certainly the most top-heavy that anyone now living can remember. But if you measured it a different way — say, the distance between third place and fourth — you’d get a different answer.

By the way, the best third-place team I found in my little survey — and it only might be the best I noticed, not the actual best — was the 1962 Reds, who won 98 games but trailed both the Giants and Dodgers. They both won 101, then the Giants won two of three in a playoff.

Meanwhile, my ’54 Yankees just lost two out of three to the ’25 Washington Senators. We’re 7-5, one game behind the 2008 Red Sox. Next up, three at the 1977 Kansas City Royals, then back home to the Bronx for a four-game weekend set — we’re up to the last weekend of April — against the 2007 Cleveland Indians.

1954 New York Yankees, owned by me

So I’m playing in this celebrity baseball simulation league, a third simulation team for me, though it doesn’t take up as much time as my two Scoresheet teams, which don’t take up as much time as the wife thinks they do.

And clearly the definition of celebrity is being stretched here.

I was invited by Jonah Keri to play in the Seamheads Near Miss League, which uses Out of the Park Baseball to simulate a season for a circuit made up of good teams that did not win the World Series. I chose the 1954 New York Yankees, ignoring my distaste for all things Yankee partly because I misunderstood the initial description, thinking the league would be made up only of second-place teams, and second-place teams don’t come any better than the ’54 Yanks, who went 103-51.

The 1993 San Francisco Giants went 103-59, but I witnessed that. I figured the ’54 Yankees would be a little more interesting and educational for me. I also just finished reading Allen Barra’s Yogi Berra bio, which of course covered 1954.

The league is run by Mike Lynch of, whose first celebrity league was the Seamheads Historical League, in which owners built a team using all of the players who ever played for a franchise. Joe Posnanski’s Cleveland Indians won it, winning the World Series over the Boston Red Sox when Tris Speaker threw out Reggie Smith trying to go from first to third on a single by Jimmie Foxx.

I’m pretty sure that precise play never happened in real life.

Here’s the owner’s directory so you can see the other big celebs involved.

I don’t really understand Out of the Park Baseball, though it looks pretty cool and if I had a spare few hours every night I could see really getting involved with it. What I did was set my lineups and pitching rotation and send them to Lynch, with a few very broad strategy instructions — no one runs but Mantle, no one bunts but Rizzuto — and sat back to wait for the results.

Filling out a lineup card for the 1954 Yankees isn’t too difficult. There aren’t that many choices. Berra’s going to catch, you know? This league isn’t using playing-time constraints, so I get a break there and I get to use Bill Skowron as my regular first baseman. In real life Skowron, a rookie that year, platooned with Joe Collins, starting 56 games at first while Collins started 75. But Collins hit .271/.365/.446 in 398 plate appearances while Skowron hit .340/.392/.577 in 237 PAs. The Moose it is.

Also, we’re using the designated hitter rule in the American League, so while in real life Casey Stengel used Hank Bauer, Gene Woodling and Irv Noren as a three-way platoon in left and right field, I get to use all three. Though in another playing-time trick, I’ve got the left-handed Noren sitting against lefties, replaced by … the left-handed Enos Slaughter!

We’ll see how that goes, but in real life Slaughter, who played in 69 games that year at the age of 38, had a crazy reverse platoon split, putting up a .700 OPS against righties and an .814 against lefties.

How it’s going so far is the Yankees are 6-3, on a five-game winning streak and tied for first in the A.L. East with Bill Simmons’ 2008 Boston Red Sox. Doesn’t seem like a fair fight to me. Bill’s guys are young and fit, plus David Ortiz, and mine are in their 80s, or dead.

Also in the division: Milo Kaminsky’s 1969 Baltimore Orioles, Jack Perconte’s 2007 Cleveland Indians, Gary Gillette’s 1961 Detroit Tigers, Jason Bova’s 1985 Toronto Blue Jays and Joe Dimino’s 1925 Washington Senators.

The Yanks got off to a rough start, losing two in a row before salvaging the third game against Joe Hamrahi and Craig Brown’s 1977 Kansas City Royals. Then they got pounded by the Senators 11-1 to fall to 1-3 before Eddie Lopat threw a shutout to launch New York on its winning streak, two wins over the Senators and a three-game road sweep over Perconte’s ’07 Indians.

Take that, former big-leaguer, who by the way has been blogging entertainingly at Seamheads about his career.

Next up, we go to Washington, Whitey Ford, still looking for his first win, against Tom Zachary in the opener.

Using Skowron over Collins is really paying off so far. Skowron’s 7-for-31 with no extra-base hits and a .520 OPS. Collins is 6-for-14 with a triple and a 1.071 OPS. Small sample size, but there might be some good reason why playing Skowron over Collins won’t work. Slaughter, by the way, is 4-for-15.

According to Baseball Almanac, my highest-paid player is Mickey Mantle, who made $21,000 that year. In today’s money, that’s $166,470. It’s good to be an owner.

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 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, 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’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 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.”

Newspapers increase drain-circling velocity

The latest newspaper figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations are just jaw-dropping. Editor & Publisher reports that daily circulation for the six months ending March 31 was off 7 percent at 395 dailies, compared to the same period the year before.

But at some of the country’s most prominent papers, it’s much worse than that. The New York Post lost 20 percent — one in five people who was reading the Post a year ago is no longer reading it. Same goes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Miami Herald, Newark Star-Ledger and San Francisco Chronicle lost about 16 percent, or about one in six readers. The Houston Chronicle and New York Daily News about 14 percent. And on and on. Sunday numbers are similar.

The only news event in my lifetime that I can compare this to is the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late ’80s. I remember reading the stories coming out of Moscow in 1988 and ’89 as the USSR dismantled itself and thinking, “I’m watching the end of something I never dreamed would end in my lifetime — and I’m not that old!”

I’m saying that again, though the not-that-old part is quite a bit less true.

It’s not quite the same with newspapers. They’re not going to disappear completely. But right before our eyes, they’re collapsing as a central institution in our culture. It’s as if streetlights or shoes or sliced bread went away. You just never thought you’d see it, did you? Life would go on without those things, but it would be different. Something would replace them. Maybe better, maybe not.

Because I’m excited about the possibilities of what might replace newspaper’s role, I know it seems like I’m happy to see them go, that I’m dancing on their grave. I’m not. I’m sorry to see them fail like this. I’m sad and worried about the many people, some of whom I know, who have lost their jobs and the many more who have an ax over their heads.

And I’m sorry to see the decline. For all the brave new worldness of my first online job in 1996, I missed working at the newspaper. I missed being in a big-city newsroom with seasoned newspaper people, the most senior of whom had hired on after returning from World War II. I missed being a part of something with direct ties, a straight historical line, to the 19th century. I missed helping to produce a product that I could see people using as I rode the bus home from my shift.

Still do.

That said, the utter failure rampant in newspapers couldn’t have happened to a more deserving industry. It didn’t have to happen, and it isn’t just happening because the Internet came along and changed everything. More on that next time.

In or out? Come on, man

According to the baseball prospect site Scouting Book, the No. 104 and 105 prospects in baseball right now are, respectively, left-handed pitcher Josh Outman of the Oakland A’s and right-handed pitcher Will Inman of the San Diego Padres.

And yes, I am interested in who the 105th best prospect in baseball is, aren’t you?

Outman, 24, who has about the best name for a pitcher since Barney Strikeout back in the ’20s, came over from Philadelphia in the Joe Blanton trade. He’s not just a prospect, he’s a rookie. He had a cup of coffee last year and made the A’s rotation out of spring training. After two poor starts he’s in the bullpen.

So far in two starts and two relief outings he has an ERA of 5.23, with 11 strikeouts and six walks in 10 and a third innings. He has a mid-90s fastball and an arsenal of breaking balls, but control has been a problem.

Inman, 22, is a little guy — for a pitcher, that is; he’s 6-foot, 200 pounds — who has dominated in the minors, striking out well over a batter per inning with a better-than 3-1 strikeout to walk ratio. But his size and unorthodox pitching motion have led scouts to discount the results. Here’s ESPN’s Keith Law after watching Inman pitch in the Futures Game last year:

Will Inman’s delivery drew a lot of laughs in the scouts’ section — he looks like he’s “doing the pigeon,” for you old-school “Sesame Street” fans — and he throws severely across his body with a fringe-average fastball and a big, slow-roller curveball. He’d have a hard time being a fifth starter in most parks, although Petco Park might make him a No. 3.

Inman was pretty good at Double-A with San Antonio last year, posting a 3.52 ERA in 28 starts with 140 strikeouts in 135 and a third innings, but he also walked 71, which is too many. He’s back at San Antonio, and he’s off to a rough beginning. In three starts, he’s 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA. His walks are under control, with only two in 13 innings, but so are his strikeouts — only 10 so far.

Inman vs. Outman. In vs. Out. Which is better? It’s almost like a parallel to the debate about whether bloggers (OUTsiders) or reporters (INsiders) are more effective at covering a subject, isn’t it?

No. No, it isn’t. Not even a little. That’s just stupid. But I’m going to follow Inman vs. Outman anyway.