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The Times, the Post, and the Path to a Future

As an increasing number of media sites begin featuring links to articles by their competitors, an age-old enmity may begin to dissolve between the likes of, say, the New York Times and the Washington Post. There was a time when neither newspaper would credit the other with a scoop unless there was literally no alternative to doing so. Similarly, within its own circulation area, the Times demurred from mentioning stories broken by the likes of The Nation magazine, just a few miles downtown but a world away in matters of ideology.

But, even before the emergence of the web, these old practices had started to erode. What hypertext links have done is to accelerate a trend already under way in the news buisness.

From the 50,000-foot level, there is no reason for the Times and the Post to go head-to-head in areas involving each company's core content competency. The Times has the worlds of finance, publishing, and advertising nailed. The Post knows the U.S. government as no other media organziation could ever hope to.

In other words, in a time of retrenchment, it would make a lot of sense for these two newspaper sites to consolidate their holds on what they do best, in their own local communities, and remove some of the reporting redundancies that add little marginal benefit to news consumers.

As a former journalism professor, I've occasionally participated in those comparative studies that evaluated how the Post and the Times covered a particular story. Of course, in a world of abundance, it is nice to have the luxury of evaluating the nuances that inevitably emerge from such studies.

But we are entering an age of scarcity for news resources. What we need urgently now is for the Times to focus on the economic crisis and the Post to focus on government policy. Each can excel in their given area of expertise, and link to the other to round out what they offer their users.

On a national, and eventually international level, this is how we can save the best of our media companies from going extinct. But do I think anyone in a position to implement this strategic shift will do so? Of course not. Pure hubris prevails at the tops of all old media companies, as well as at plenty of new media companies.

Nevertheless, media orgs following the broad outlines of the strategy outlined above, while simultaneously embracing "hyper-local" development of the news within their area of influence could find a future where now, there is only hazy uncertainity and gloom. It's not a bad time to be in journalist, but it is a bad time to be a journalist without a vision.

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