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Can Newspapers Survive?

Two books seek out what lies ahead for two prize-winning dailies.

Morning Miracle is both a love letter to newspapers and an elegy for days long gone. A former sports columnist at the Post, Kindred occasionally waxes hokey ("…what the hell was going on was that newspapers were going to hell") or just plain grumpy: "Now it's Web this, iPhone that," he grouses at one point.

He's at his best when he lets high-flying Post writers tell how they got that story. Dana Priest and Annie Hull, for example, reveal what went into their groundbreaking exposé of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the deplorable conditions for wounded soldiers there. And Anthony Shadid revisits his interview with an Iraqi father who executed his own son (the younger man had been identified as an informer).

Kindred also nails what's wrong with newspapers in general, and with the Post in particular. In financial terms, the Post's newspaper division lost $192.7 million in 2008. In human terms, the paper imposed hiring freezes and offered even its veteran employees multiple buyouts, which together yielded a demoralizing 50 percent cut in the newsroom staff.

Yet The Washington Post is in better shape today than many of its peers. Its owners, the Grahams, are more involved — and more enlightened — than the Journal’s Bancrofts ever were. And thanks to a canny purchase back in 1984, the Washington Post Company nets as much as $150 million each year from its test-prep subsidiary, Kaplan Inc.

So now what? Kindred lets the Post's brightest star, Bob Woodward, have the near-final word. Still breaking news almost 40 years after he and Carl Bernstein uncovered the Watergate scandal, Woodward predicts that "the information business will continue to exist…. How [the news] is delivered, who delivers it, what you pay for it — those are questions no one has figured out."

Perhaps not — but we can make some educated guesses. In a speech on September 8, the publisher of The New York Times conceded that the print version of the paper will cease to exist one day. Most insiders tacitly accept this, but the candor of his remark raised eyebrows.

Even the most print-besotted among us, it appears, must embrace the digital future. Let's hope there will be enough resources, and sufficient will, for online news organizations of the next generation to cover any future Watergates.

Evelyn Renold, a writer and editorial consultant in New York
, worked as a staff editor at Newsday and The New York Daily News.

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