R.I.P. Albion Monitor,
born August 19, 1995 and passed away at May 5, 2009, at the age of slightly over 5,000 days, having published 13,000 articles, giver take.
The corpse will remain on view indefinitely at http://www.albionmonitor.com and is survived by a handful of good on-line news operations, scads of blogs, and ten million tweets.
BEST OF THE BEST OF THE ALBION MONITOR|
Our Favorites Section collects many of the most popular Monitor features, but these were our proudest offerings:
Our hypertext profile of Jessica Mitford became the most-read feature ever produced by the Monitor
Why They Hate Us (2001)
A significant reason why we had few friends in the world of Islam was because U.S. misadventures were not forgotten in places like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Indonesia
Storming Seattle (2000)
Paul de Armond's compelling, 20-part narrative of the WTO riots in Seattle and netwar, sections later republished by RAND
Who's Hiding Osama Bin Laden? (2003)
Suggests the world's most-wanted man is being protected by a cabal of influential retired chiefs from Pakistan's spy agency and transnational smugglers operating from Dubai and Singapore
The Puzzle of the Enron Coverups (2002)
Cheney, Ken Lay, and the Taliban in the weeks before 9/11: The first (and possibly greatest) secret of the Bush administration
Round Valley (1995)
Investigative feature into the shooting deaths of a Native man and a sheriff's deputy, which was followed by
The Judi Bari Bombing Revisited: Big Timber, Public Relations and the FBI (1999)
Evidence and motive in the attempted murder of environmental and labor activist Bari, followed by
Steve Young's Lords of Loud columns
Consistently the best weekly column in the Monitor, Steve led the charge against Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and their ilk
On Bended Knee II: The Media Treatment Of Bush (2002)
The Unexamined Man (2000)
Analysis of media bias against Gore and pro Bush that tilted the election
Fortuna (1996) The inside story of Fortuna Alliance pyramid scheme, which bilked New Age supporters for millions of dollars
A Short History Of April 19, 1995, 9:02 (2001)
Why we should still fear the environment that created the madness of Timothy McVeigh
The Anthrax Letters (2002)
A close look at the anthrax attacks reveals the deadly bacteria could only have been produced by a covert bioweapons program in violation of international law
Santa's Little Sweatshop (1996)
Confessions Of A Sweatshop Inspector (2001) drew more questions from students over the years than anything else published
Quote of the Day
Our six-year archive of astonishing quotes receives the greatest number of Google hits. My choice for the most prophetic of all 2,755 entries: "I think what the president [Bush] is doing is setting the stage for the failure of America "
-- Howard Dean quoted by the NY Times October 9, 2003. "If you look at what's happened to other great countries," Dean continued, "they get in trouble when they can't manage their money -- and this president's certainly proven himself adept at that -- and they get in trouble when they overstretch their military capabilities"
The idea, back in the spring of 1995, was to create a web-only "newspaper" -- a well-edited journal of hard news and opinion (but more of the former). Some of the content always would be authored by myself or commissioned, but most of the publication would be filled out with articles purchased from both from mainstream media sources and the alternative press. Thus we offered Molly Ivins and other columnists from Creator's Syndicate, news from the world from the remarkable stable of writers at IPS, investigative features from Alternet, and more. It was material likely to be of interest to like-minded political progressives that wasn't found in the daily newspaper or evening broadcast news. It was, as our motto stated, "The news you're missing."
Subscriptions might eventually underwrite editorial costs, we hoped, but there was never expectations of actual profit. Thus the original company also had an income-producing side as an ISP, selling dial-up Internet access in Sonoma County to mop up the red ink flowing from the editorial wing. Business partner Darryl Trujillo ran the network side, keeping the little lights blinking happily on a hodge-podge of aging machines. Dealing with that service business was one of those chores you hope will look rosier in hindsight, but actually seems more foul as memory ripens.
From the beginning I refused to sell advertisements, which can too-easily tempt news organizations into making ethical compromises (further discussion in the Monitor archives here, here, and
here). And on that topic, I'd like to interrupt this obituary for a few words on the fate of newspapers:
Newspaper executive editors and publishers: The end is nigh for almost all of you. Sure, that final, final edition may not come for months or years, and there may be mergers, more drastic cutbacks, maybe even government loans that postpone the inevitable, but it's delusional to still think that the future is anything but grim. I really do believe you could turn it around -- it just that you won't. You have lost your way. You have forgotten that your job is a public trust, and only to your readers should your allegiance lie.
For a quarter century you've complained about shrinking circulation numbers, but it's you that first abandoned the subscribers:
You forgot to reinvest and reinvent
Less than a decade ago, your average annual profit was over twenty percent, even as readership was in steady decline. You saw the train coming, had the money, had the time to experiment and reinvent yourselves. You didn't. Instead, you began newsroom layoffs and seeking other short-sighted measures to maintain profits at those near-obscene levels. Doug Underwood's
"When MBAs Rule the Newsroom" should be required reading at every j-school today.
You became lazy - okay, lazier
You came to rely on public interest groups, politicial candidates, and even wronged citizens to do the footwork of uncovering important stories. (A couple of good examples here and here.)
You forgot investigative reporting is a core part of your everyday job. Worse, you became willing (eager, even) to publish PR handouts as news -- see one of the many outrageous examples here.
You became overly cautious and fearful
You allowed political and corporate bullies to dictate which topics were deemed newsworthy, and pandered to them by presenting opinion alongside fact as "balance," as if they both have equal merit. Take a memo: They don't. For the 2006 Wayward Press Awards I even coined a term for this: "Colberticity" - the media's willingness to go along with a lie.
You confused entertainment with news
You followed the lead of high-viewership TV entertainment news shows -- and now similar Internet web sites -- in hyping celebs and sleaze and sensationalism, apparently hoping some of their popularity would rub off. Hint: That's not popularity on the bottom of your shoes. While newspapers always have fed readers a dollop of "junk food news" (thank you, Carl Jensen), the difference today is that the news hole is shrinking for everything except the lightweight stuff.
You forgot how to listen
Remember those "reader representative" or "public editor" columns? Apparently not.
Only ten U.S. newspapers still have an ombudsman column that even appears occasionally, according to their professional association. Responding to reader's questions -- and yes, complaints -- demonstrates that you believe newspapers are accountable, and understand that newspapers are more than just a business cranking out a product for consumers.
You forgot how to make newspapers compelling
Congratulations: You're the first generation of publishers and editors who have actually made news boring. How did you manage to do that? William Randolph Hearst's biographer Swanberg observed that, "any issue that did not cause its reader to rise out of his chair and cry, 'Great God' was counted as a failure." The fundamental skill of newspapering is not just cataloging events of the day, but engaging the reader to care about them. You don't, and that's the main reason why you're failing.
As for the Albion Monitor, I realized after Obama's election that the newspaper was at a juncture. Subscriptions were way off, but that happens every election year when the spotlight is bright on unfolding events; more readers sign up when the headlines concern topics covered in-depth in our deep archive of thousands of articles, many of them unavailable elsewhere on the Internet. While subscriptions picked up in recent months, the overall trend was still relentlessly downward. It's time to retire, before memories of work done well is overshadowed.
For some time my primary personal focus has been on the subjects of architecture, biography, and history (including historic newspaper criticism), and I have a book or two in me that won't be written if the Monitor continues to sap my daily attention. So looking forward and not back, I close the newspaper and open the entire archive to free Internet access. Have at it; you'll find some amazing stuff.
I'd particularly like to express my gratitude to Darryl Trujillo and Jocelyn Chapman, Steve Young, Pitir Furch, Paul De Armond, Simone Wilson, Joshua Samuel Brown, John De Salvio, Tom Engelhardt, Nick Wilson,
and my ever-patient wife Candice, who endured far too many evenings and weekends alone as I pushed this rock uphill.
- Jeff Elliott, Editor, Albion Monitor, May 5, 2009
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