Silicon Insider: Should Drudge and Huffington Get Pulitzers?

Flash! Here's a breaking item on Wednesday's PR NewsWire from Germany: "According to InfoCom's latest research, newspapers are realizing that the most important part of the word is 'news' and not 'paper.'"

Wow! Hold the presses … er, literally.

If that newly discovered bit of wisdom strikes you as very old, tired news, then you obviously are not an executive in the newspaper industry.

For many of them -- even after endless rounds of lay-offs plummeting circulations and, as of this week, the industry's worst financial news in a half-century -- the death of newsprint still seems an impossible turn of events.

Meanwhile, all the rest of us -- including some of us lifelong (in my case, fourth-generation) journalists -- have moved on.

This morning, as always, I stopped by Peet's Coffee in Cupertino for my morning latte -- and spotted a San Jose Mercury-News lying abandoned on a nearby table. It's telling that I was surprised to see it: Here, in what used to be a major source of readers for the Merc, a wealthy community just a couple miles each from Apple, Google, eBay, Intel and HP, the sight of the local newspaper has become an increasingly rare event.

I see a lot of people at Peet's reading the news, but almost always on their laptops, iPhones or Blackberries. To see an actual newspaper lying there was… well, exotic.

Just for fun, I grabbed the business section and paged through it. It didn't take long.

In late 1979, the Merc hired me to work for that section. It had belatedly discovered that Silicon Valley had grown up in its backyard and realized that it wasn't covering that beat properly -- or tapping into its advertising.

So, I was hired out of Hewlett-Packard public relations (a very rare move in those days, showing how desperate it was) to become the paper's first tech reporter. It was a unique assignment: The only other people covering tech in those days wrote for trade magazines. Indeed, it turned out that I was probably the world's first daily high-tech reporter.

I quit two years later, but by then the Mercury-News was already growing rich off tech company advertising and want ads, and the little business section was starting to swell into a major part of the newspaper. The paper even launched a special Business Monday section that began to dominate the paper, rake in tons of money and even set the agenda for news coverage of Silicon Valley.

Those were the glory days of the Merc, and the added profits not only helped Knight-Ridder support its less profitable papers, like the Philadelphia Inquirer, but there was still enough cash left over for the Merc to open bureaus around the world and hire more top reporters. And as the Merc began to move into the top rank of newspapers, it also began to win Pulitzers, which only polished its reputation. I even got nominated myself, for a series on toxic chemical leaks in Silicon Valley that would have been impossible to do a few years before.

In those days, I was writing books, managing my own newspaper syndicate and later, running a business magazine. And the Merc for me was an invaluable tool: It kept me up-to-date on what was going on in the Valley, gave me story ideas and more often than not, scooped me.

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