RT-D Battles to Stay Relevant

As indicators of the mainstream media’s decline continue to accumulate, I have noticed that the Richmond Times-Dispatch has been trying to adapt to new realities.

Those realities include this wry observation by projects editor Gordon Hickey:

Surveys, studies, focus groups, and countless letters to the editor inform us that we are losing circulation in the ages 4-98 demographic.

I’ve become so convinced that people aren’t reading the paper anymore that I feel safe in telling you that you’re not reading this.

Hickey goes on to subtly disparage one of the paper’s competitors, blogging, in a tongue-in-cheek way, but one has to take seriously the idea that blogging by RT-D staff is under consideration.

More substantively, President and Publisher Thomas Silvestri introduced a major change to the Sunday Commentary section that debuted today. He also described a “Public Square” initiative to tie the paper more closely to the local community. Apparently, one public event will be held this year to test the concept before a large number are held next year.

While the RT-D is to be commended for attempting to change, that kind of lumbering pace doesn’t exactly instill confidence.

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Off Topic Question:

    What happened to the Blue Dog column that he took from Sen. Cuccinelli.

    Is that why you decided to take it down Jim?

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Anonymous 11:39, I didn’t delete the Blue Dog column from the blog. I presume that the Blue dog did. From what I understand, based on a conversation with him this morning, the Blue Dog based his post on material e-mailed him by a third party source. Only after the Blue Dog made his post did the source think to inform him that the material originated from a newsletter distributed by Sen. Cuccinelli. But the blogosphere, it seems, responded just as quickly… Thus the flap.

    I am satisfied that the Blue Dog would have given appropriate credit to Cuccinelli had he known. I don’t regard the incident as an act of plagiarism.

    In the blogosphere, with e-mails criss-crossing through cyberspace and bloggers eager to be the first to post interesting content online, such incidents are inevitable. The beauty of the blogosphere is that mistakes, errors and omissions are quickly revealed and corrective measures quickly made.

    I have not talked to the Blue Dog since the post was deleted, but I presume that he took down the post as the simplest solution to the misunderstanding. As far as I’m concerned, the case is closed.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    As for Will’s original post in this thread about the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s initiative to overhaul its op-ed page and create a “public square”… I think the move is both positive and long overdue.

    One of my motivations three years ago in launching Bacon’s Rebellion was to create an electronic “forum” (pretty similar to the “public square” idea) to discuss issues of state and local import. I was motivated in large part by the content poverty of my home-town newspaper the RT-D. While the RT-D’s columns and editorials were written as well as anyone’s, the editorial staff seemed far more knowledgable about what was happening in Washington, Jerusalem and Peking than in its own back yard. The newspaper, it appeared, had largely abdicated its role as a community leader.

    I know Tom Silvestri, the RT-D’s new publisher, very well. When I was publsiher of Virginia Business magazine, he was my boss; he ran a grab-bag of community newspapers for Media General. Silvestri started his career in the newsroom — he’s a journalist by instinct. He’s not one of those publishers who work their way up through the business side only. Knowing how well he understands the importance of community issues, I perceived his influence several months ago when the op-ed pages began emphasizing community content.

    I interpret Tom’s move to the “public square” concept appears as taking his emphasis on community issues to its logical conclusion.

    Will is right that the Times-Dispatch is a large, ponderous and bureaucratic organization. It may move more slowly than the blogosphere, but it has infinitely greater resources. With Silvestri in charge, however, I have no doubt that the RT-D will assume a much stronger leadership role in community affairs than it has in the past.

    Needless to say, I think the RT-D would make a big mistake to ignore the blogosphere. But that’s OK with me. By sticking to the print realm, the RT-D will give e-zines and blogs like Bacon’s Rebellion more room to grow.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Jim, first anon here. Thanks for taking the time to look into it and respond in a tone that your blog deserves. I think we all know you have one columnist who is unable to that in such a professional manner.

  5. Waldo Jaquith Avatar
    Waldo Jaquith

    The beauty of the blogosphere is that mistakes, errors and omissions are quickly revealed and corrective measures quickly made.

    Though, FWIW, those omissions are only revealed if there’s a mea culpa. To simply erase the error is to pretend that it never happened, which, IMHO, is one of the more unfortunate aspects of the blogosphere.

    I’ve never been clear on where the line lies. If I ran a story on one of my many sites that was damagingly wrong, would I just run an apology? Would I redact the damaging bits and append an apology? Would I erase the story and run an explanatory note? Or would I erase the story that hope that everybody forgot? I’m honestly not sure — I’ve handled different problems in different ways over the years.

    Perhaps Bacon’s Rebellion could determine how to handle such problems in the future? (Perhaps I should determine how to handle such problems in the future!)

  6. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    Waldo, this is one of the blog ethics things that I wish could be informally codified and subscribed to by bloggers who want to be responsible.

    Taking a post down should be a last resort, in my opinion. Depending on severity of the error or ill-advised tone, I’d recommend:

    1. Comment by the author in the comments section.
    2. “Update” within the post.
    3. “Update” within the post and a separate post with correction, mea culpa, apology, or whatever.
    4. Delete post, separate post about the deleted post and an explanation, apology, or whatever.

    If the offending article was linked on another blog, a comment there, if possible, would also be good.

  7. Agitator Avatar

    Its understandable that the post got taken down in this instance. For some time now, there have been a set of people obviously intent on hijacking every Blue Dog post and adding personal insults and even finding ways to run him down in posts that he hasnt’t even contributed to. Childish really.

  8. Not Larry Sabato Avatar
    Not Larry Sabato

    I agree, but Will when we made an error we did 1, 2 and 3 on your list and you still blasted it as not enough.

    Sometimes people who don’t blog as a full time job are going to make mistakes in judgement or in the story.

    I say we forgive the “dog” and move on. The most important thing is that it was corrected.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Blue Dog seems to like it when people take him on, and I would say the childish tone begins with his posts and then continues in the comments. The silly language he uses in his posts and the way he refers to himself in the 3rd person and always has to have the last word make him a huge target. As a reader I get the feeling that he likes it that way, that he craves the attention. To take down a post without comment isn’t very Blue Doggish, but maybe he’s changing his ways. Maybe we can start taking him seriously, as we do other posters on this fine blog. Let’s hope so! And yes, I’m posting anonymously because I don’t care to go public. (We get to vote anonymously, too!) If that makes my thoughts less important to some, so be it, but I bet that in this instance I’m saying something many, many readers agree with.

  10. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    NLS, I’m going to have to go back and see where I blasted you for “not doing enough>” If you could give me a pointer, that would help ….

  11. Not Larry Sabato Avatar
    Not Larry Sabato

    Will, I misquoted you. You said:

    “Until just after the June primary, I was as big a fan of the Virginia Delegate 2005 Elections blog as there was, but now I really feel this blog has turned its back on what made it so compelling.”

    We turned our back on what was compelling because of one story being incorrect? I think if you were aware of who our source was on that story you wouldn’t be so quick to take a shot there. We’ve tried to do the same thing on every story, and sometimes they are going to be wrong, just like anything else.

    We are sorry in advance if that is the case. But everyone at NLS was suprised when you jumped on the NLS bashing so quick. We are big Will Vehrs fans.

  12. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    NLS, as I recall, I was commenting generally on the turn your blog had taken after the primary, not the one “discredited” story. It just seemed to me that you were suddenly quick to report gossip-like snippets by themselves, rather than weaving them into your analysis.

    I don’t have a problem with your site, or any others, that pick up on the things that may not be perfectly sourced, but there are plenty of those sites. There weren’t many that did what you did so well during the primary season. I actually chalk it up to your success; you probably had dish flying in over the transom.

    You appear to be going back to more deliberate analysis–I think that’s your bread and butter and I hope you stick with it. Nobody does it better.

  13. Not Larry Sabato Avatar
    Not Larry Sabato

    Thanks Will. I’m glad we could put an end to our blog feud before it started. 🙂

  14. SaveRichmond.com and other blogs are starting to point to real conflicts of interest within Media General.

    One example, the lack of proper disclosure in its reporting on the proposed downtown arts center, the VaPAF, has hurt the T-D’s reputation both locally and nationally.

    Media General is the cause of its own demise.

  15. I would add that the failure of politicians like Kaine and Kilgore to talk plainly about issues like the City Jail and the VaPAF, make them irrevelent to voters and citizens.

    In other words, I am not just blaming the media. The leadership sucks too.

    Wilder remains popular because of his ability to send messages between the lines.

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    Let’s face it, the blue dog earns and deserves the criticism.

    “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion.”

    *Proverbs 18:2

    “A fool’s lips bring strife, and a fool’s mouth invites a flogging.”

    *Proverbs 18:6

    “The mouths of fools are their ruin, and their lips a snare to themselves.”

    *Proverbs 18:7

    *New Revised Standard Bible

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