This symbiosis – columnistists clamouring to write for newspapers, and newspapers needing great columnists to define their voice – is where the real key to the survival of newspapers lies. Rival papers, and bloggers and Twitterers may summarise and rewrite your news scoops, depriving you of readers, but they can’t do the same with your columnists. Personality is simply not reproducible – there’s only one Maureen Dowd and there will only ever be one Glenn Beck (inshallah) so if readers want to hear what they have to say, they have to go to the source. Moreover, while news ages rapidly, opinion doesn’t. A story published online by the New York Times is dated the moment it appears and people begin tweeting out the key facts, but a well-crafted opinion column has an infinite shelf life.
For all of these reasons, only the most imbecilicly terrified newspaper editor would heed Jimmy Wales’ advice and fire their most valuable assets. For all the others, there’s actually a compelling argument to do precisely the opposite. It’s comment and opinion, not news, that really adds value to newspapers in the Internet age – and as such the really smart editors will get rid of all their costly reporters and use the money instead to fill their pages with nothing but highly paid opinion columnists. Only then can newspapers be assured of their survival.
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