R.I.P. Newspapers–but Not the News

Belmont, Mass.


R.I.P. Newspapers–but Not the News

Belmont, Mass.

Eric Alterman is correct when he discusses the “end of newspapers” by saying, “What is needed–pronto–is a plan to save the collection and dissemination of the news itself” [“The Liberal Media,” May 11]. As a citizen, I heartily agree. As a leader of the Boston Globe Freelancers Association campaign against a retroactive rights-grabbing contract in 2000, I have another perspective. We also need to understand the perfect storm that combines corporate and public expectations that all content is–and should be–free with the deprofessionalization of everything.

The New York Times Company (owner of the Boston Globe) was eager to wrangle its content for as cheap as possible through a freelance contract that grabbed retroactive rights from writers, photographers and illustrators. Although I regret having been a canary in the newspaper industry’s coal mine, it turns out that even the Globe can’t stay in business when its product is being given away without compensation.

But new media outfits are not necessarily better: “content providers” are subsidizing a millionaire named Huffington by working for “exposure.” Good for people with academic salaries or trust funds, perhaps, or the express goal of getting invited to talk shows, but it doesn’t work for me.

Journalism is work. Cultural work requiring time and expertise. If we save the newspaper business but exploit the people whose work it disseminates, we have only ourselves to blame when talented people flee the industry. When the long tail of online narrowcasting replaces newspapers we can’t all be freeloading. Micropayments and revenue sharing, anyone?


Alterman Replies

New York City

Debra Cash and I do not disagree. My point was only that if the people of Boston and the staff of the Globe expect to rely on the generosity of Times stockholders to subsidize the paper for tens of millions of dollars a year as its survival strategy, this strikes me as a bad long-term bet. I think the business is over as a business. And I think we need to deal with that before we lose the news together with the newspapers that once provided it.


How to Deal With Pirates

Washington, D.C.

I never advocated going into Somalia and “rooting out the pirates,” as Karen Rothmyer says in “Misreading the Somali Threat” [May 11]. I stated that if you wanted to eliminate the threat, that is what you would have to do. I do not, however, endorse such a disproportionate strategy. For the record, here is what I do think is right. The United States should support a “grassroots model” of identifying and bolstering existing legitimate authorities, including civil society and traditional clan authorities–except those with links to terrorism, piracy or Islamic extremism. Applying this strategy will take time and face many difficulties. However, such an approach is more likely to lead to success in the long run. To encourage local Somali authorities and statelets to improve their governance and to mature politically, the international community should reward them with the benefits other governments receive–provided they meet clear benchmarks. For instance, to address the situation in Puntland, the international community should demand that local authorities clamp down on piracy and cooperate with international anti-piracy efforts as a key early condition. A similar approach should be used for other Somali regions, tailored to their specific circumstances. If Rothmyer had bothered to ask, instead of just Googling a quote, I’d have told her that.

The Heritage Foundation

Rothmyer Replies

New York City

I take James Jay Carafano at his word that he doesn’t advocate invading Somalia. His quote in a Bloomberg article about US military proposals for attacking pirate bases appeared to support doing so.


Greene on Orange on Greene


I was very grateful to receive so long a review of my book Graham Greene: A Life in Letters as Michelle Orange has given it. Unfortunately, length is not the same as diligence. Following on a bit of cursory Googling, Orange refers to a severe article I wrote for a scholarly journal in 2006 about Norman Sherry’s biography, an article that included some observations on his attempt to assemble an edition of Graham Greene’s letters without the permission of his estate.

Orange says I ought to have revealed that I was then negotiating for the contract to edit the letters myself. I was hardly negotiating for a contract at that time, as the book, released in London in 2007, was already in press. It was too late to curry favor with the literary estate. In any event, news of my edition had been in the public domain for almost three years. At the end of 2003, my project was announced on the website of the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust in advance of a lecture I gave on my work at the Graham Greene Centenary Festival in Berkhamsted in October 2004. Two hundred people, among them many leading scholars of Greene and an array of publishers and journalists, attended that talk, which was released as a CD in 2005 and is still available. The book was then widely advertised by its British publisher, Little, Brown, in advance of publication of either the article or the book. To suggest that there was any secret about my edition is a sign that Orange is out of the loop on Greene studies and a poor choice to write this review for The Nation.


Orange Replies

New York City

Richard Greene obscures the issue when he writes to detail the timing of various announcements of his role as editor of Graham Greene: A Life in Letters. Condescension about Googling and diligence aside, the syntactical point is taken: I regret not using the past tense to specify that in late 2006 negotiations for the book’s editorship (if not its various rights) were not in progress but complete; the book was obviously well into production by then.

Whether the collection was nascent or in galleys, however, has no bearing on my argument: to insist that he already had the job well in pocket hardly immunizes from critical scrutiny Greene’s notable lack of disclosure in his nearly 6,000-word evisceration of Norman Sherry’s biography. Of interest is not the lurid implication of scholarly secrecy or favor-currying but the ways the past connection between these two men, the future overlap in their work, and particularly Greene’s “severe” response to Sherry’s biographical project may have shaped and informed A Life in Letters. Sherry’s professional stonewalling of Greene (which predates the release of Sherry’s book in 2004) and Greene’s subsequent role as editor of a collection similar to one Sherry attempted to assemble are of contextual interest to the readership of both his review and A Life in Letters. As I suggested, in the latter case awareness of this tension provides critical background for Greene scholars and us lesser readers alike, and sheds some light on the editorial ethos guiding the collection.

As it happens, such enmeshed interests also offer a better example of what might make one, at least outside the academic world, a “poor choice” to write a review.


Put One in Your Rucksack

Alameda, Calif.

D.D. Guttenplan remembers finding a WPA guide to New York in the Random House basement [“A New Deal for Culture,” May 4]. Public library patrons may be equally lucky. Good reference librarians have long treasured these remarkable volumes, valuable for historical, geographical and just whimsical reasons. Look in the history section of your public library, in both reference and circulating collections, for WPA guides to your and neighboring states. Some have been reprinted but even the tattered, marked-up originals are delights to read.


Guttenplan Replies


Elsa Pendleton is absolutely right. I also cherish my Vermont guide–and envy the late Alistair Cooke, who liked the state guides so much he collected every one!


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