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All I ever wanted to do was work in newspapers. OK, sure, there was that brief eight-year diversion when I went to law school, joined a couple of law firms, and tried to litigate my way through life. That period now feels like a drunken weekend in Tijuana where you wake up married with a rooster tattoo. As I look back, it’s mostly a blur. Except for that time, journalism has ruled my world. It’s more than a bit disconcerting then to see that world crumbling. It may yet be remade, maybe even into something better than it was. But for someone who grew up on Royko and Breslin (or, if you prefer, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell), watching the industry tumble into decline is a heartbreaker. As the recent “Frontline” series on PBS has vividly illustrated, we’ve seen the role of newspapers change over time, from chronicler, to muckraker, to watchdog, to public institution, and then now, to what — near-irrelevance, or quaint indulgence? It sounds silly to say something like that in a city like Washington, where we are fortunate to have a wealth of periodicals at our disposal. It’s easy from where I sit, where I read The Wall Street Journal, as well as The New York Times and The Washington Post, to delude myself about the state of things. But venture outside our Beltway bubble and it’s a different story. My younger brother, who lives in downtown Chicago and operates his own business, takes one newspaper. And it isn’t the Tribune. It’s the Journal. And it won’t be long before he goes Web-only. We know how down Wall Street is on newspapers. But things aren’t much different among private owners, either. Revenues are drying up. The central mission for people like me and for newspaper managers everywhere now is to do the best you can with what you have. And next year, you could have less. I’ve never met an editor who hasn’t felt the squeeze or who believes he or she is going to give up and settle for a substandard product. But that wolf remains at the door. If you accept that daily newspapers in their current form (meaning ink staining your hands) are living on borrowed time, the next question is what will replace them. The answer is everything: Your TV, your phone, your computer, your iPod, your Xbox (you don’t have an Xbox; how do you play “Halo”?), all the toys at your disposal. But something already has been lost in transition as newspapers attempt to keep pace with our ADD culture. Depth. We know that except for some specialty channels, TV isn’t much interested in going beyond lurid tales of sex predators, 800-pound women, and the secret life of porn stars. That puts the pressure on the Internet, which despite some suggestions to the contrary earlier this decade, appears to be more than a fad. If you are a sophisticated purveyor of the Net, you likely gather your news in multiple forms, from Web sites that provide real reporting, to content aggregators such as Google News, to blogs, which either gather news or deliver commentary on it. Blogging, of course, is the most controversial aspect of this new environment. It’s alternatively praised as the ultimate democratic tool or derided as giving license to millions of navel-gazers who use it largely as a means to avoid wearing pants. I had lunch last week with a group of large law firm partners where the subject of blogging was met with skepticism or even downright hostility. That figures. These are the traditional consumers, the ones Wall Street are so worried about, the ones who are disappearing. (And even one or two of them are probably turning their browsers to Deadspin or Daily Kos right now.) But for the generation behind them, blogs will be as basic as having 25 kinds of cereal to choose from at the supermarket. They will remain a morning staple. And therein lies the risk. How do you separate the healthy stuff from the junk? Blogs don’t come with labels that detail their fiber content. This week, we’re putting our cereal — or our sandwich, as the case may be — on the shelf with all the others. We’ve launched the BLT: The Blog of Legal Times. We’re taking this long-debated step because we believe that it’s necessary to serve as many diverse consumers of news as we can. And we think we can provide information spread among our blog, our Web site, and our weekly newspaper in a way that all will be distinct and none will suffer. The BLT will be our daily take on the community we serve, and we are fortunate to watch over one of the most dynamic and fascinating worlds in the journalistic heavens — the point at which law, lobbying, politics, and government intersect. Because this is such a rich and complex subject, we don’t hurt for raw material. And ultimately, that’s what we hope will make the blog a worthwhile read on its own. It’s Legal Times in an easily digestible format, with perhaps a few more eclectic offerings thrown in. The ultimate idea is that the blog can work in tandem with the weekly newspaper, affording it an even greater opportunity to provide serious, long-form reporting — the depth I mentioned earlier. And our nutritional label warrants that we’ll provide as much substantive material as we can. No cheap shots. No personal attacks. No innuendo (well, maybe a little; we gotta live for something.) But with enough news, commentary, and provocation to make you bookmark us, to check back daily. It’s a necessary and welcome move, an obvious one even for a purist like me who never envisioned his career going digital.
James Oliphant is editor in chief of Legal Times .

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