Anatomy of a cable news story

14 03 2010

More brilliance from The Onion.

Breaking News: Some Bullshit Happening Somewhere

Report: Advertisers to spend more on digital media than print

8 03 2010 reports landmark findings from the annual Outsell advertising and marketing study today:

Of the $368 billion marketers plan to spend this year, 32.5% will go toward digital; 30.3% to print. Digital spending includes e-mail, video advertising, display ads and search marketing. “It’s a watershed moment,” says the study’s lead author, Outsell vice president Chuck Richard.

New Pew study looks at ‘participatory news consumer’

1 03 2010

A study released today by Pew Internet examines “how internet and cell phone users have turned news into a social experience.”

Interestingly, while another report from Pew three months ago found that newspapers still drove the local news “ecosystem” in one city (Baltimore)  it studied intensely, today’s report concludes:

The internet has surpassed newspapers and radio in popularity as a news platform on a typical day and now ranks just behind TV.

Among the other major points of the study:

  • The average online consumer regularly turns to only a few websites.
  • Internet users use the web for a range of news, but local is not near the top of the
  • News is pocket-sized. Some 80% of American adults have cell phones today, and 37% of them go online from their phones.
  • News is personalized: The “Daily Me” takes shape.
  • News is easier to follow now, but overwhelming. And most topics get plenty of coverage, in Americans’ eyes. [The topic on which Americans most want more coverage: Scientific news and discoveries.]

Former CEO of Village Voice: A World without Newspapers

28 02 2010

Feeling curmudgeonly today. I agree with every point David Schneiderman makes here, but I don’t like it one bit.

His conclusions prove that revolutions do not equal progress, and technological advances are separate from quality improvements.

In the case of the Internet spelling the death of newspapers, technology is accelerating the arrival of the lowest common denominator in news and information: tabloid-style “journalism” and opinion undifferentiated from news, delivered not by institutions with time-tested credibility but by news celebrities with personal brands who can gain prominence virtually overnight, particularly if they are edgy and sensational.

It’s a good read, though, and a useful primer on the information revolution.

Is it 1984 already?

26 02 2010

This is just horrifying beyond words.

A suburban school district near Philadelphia issues students computers equipped with webcams.

The students’ MacBook laptops were outfitted with management software called LANrev that could be used to remotely activate the Webcams. The district has characterized the technology as a security tracking feature intended to recover lost laptops, and has reported that the software had been used for this purpose 42 times as of Feb. 19.

Someone using this technology activates the webcam of young Blake Robbins while he is in his bedroom at home.

The assistant principal confronts Blake,16, with a photo and accuses him of selling drugs. It later turns out that the capsules in the photo are Mike & Ike candies.

Of course, the assistant principal and the district are denying everything, but as Blake points out, the denials fall short.

Parents and students in the district are agitated. They report that students keep their computers with them all the time, including when they are changing clothes, sleeping, and even showering,  so that they can listen to music.

The FBI is investigating, and the ACLU has entered the case, saying the photo constitutes an illegal search. Lawyers for the family have sought an injunction to prevent the district from deleting evidence from its computers.

I wonder if the school district teaches George Orwell’s classic. Or did they drop it down the memory hole when its content became too uncomfortable in this post-1984 world?

UPDATE: A sophomore at the high school reported that his class had just read 1984. Lets hope it is required reading for administrators from now on.

Jay Rosen: The Quest for Innocence and the Loss of Reality in Political Journalism

22 02 2010

Jay Rosen of NYU poses an excellent question about the state of journalism, based on David Barstow’s reporting in The NYT last week about the Tea Party Movement: Is it enough to report the expressed beliefs of the movement without examining the reality of those beliefs?

Barstow notes that the binding narrative of the Tea Party is “impending tyranny.” Rosen, while generally complimentary of the Times’ investment of resources to take a deep look at the movement, complains that Barstow never points out that there is no basis in “reality” for the binding narrative, not one shred of evidence of stolen elections, a plan to eviscerate the Constitution, a takeover of the Internet, etc., etc. The media, he says, are so afraid of being identified with an ideology that they avoid the question of validity while instead reporting the horse race. The Tea Party is ascendant, period. (I particularly love Rosen’s extrapolation examining what the mainstream media coverage of the Afghan government would look like if it applied the same horse-race reportage.)

I found myself in full agreement with Rosen until, digging into the comments, I came upon Robert Morris’ illumination from a Southern perspective. Like Rosen, I often wondered, “Where are these people coming up with stuff? Doesn’t anyone besides Jon Stewart want to point out the absurdity of it all?”

Like Morris, however, I am a Southerner. What he points out is true: Some Americans, largely concentrated in the South, are expressing what for them IS a reality and not a paranoid fantasy. The feel an absolute right to use tobacco, fly the flag of the Confederacy, refuse to buy health insurance, keep unions out, pretend gays don’t exist in the military, and so on. That’s liberty for them, and it’s being assaulted on many sides, as they see it.

Rosen rails against  “perception is reality” as a cop-out. For him, there is an objective reality, and the news media have a duty to report departures from it. But Morris’ point is equally valid: For some of these folks, “impending tyranny” is reality, and their perceptions affirm it.

So, I think Barstow plays it nearly right, and Rosen, too. Rosen says he wishes Barstow’s piece were even longer. Me, too. I disagree that he should declare the Tea Party beliefs to be irrational and delusional. But I think he should have illuminated those beliefs in more detail, challenged their proponents to back up their charges, and let the readers decide for themselves.

Finally, I’m not sure the current state of the media represents a low point, as Rosen apparently believes. It can get better. Remember that most of the media reported only the horse-race aspects of Joseph McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities for four years before Edward R. Murrow finally had the guts to examine the facts of it, which shut McCarthy down in a matter of days.

What We’re Willing to Pay for Online

16 02 2010

Forgive the USA-Today-style headline, but a new report from Nielsen on attitudes toward paid Internet content may offer some hope for a revenue stream for online news providers.

Nielsen surveyed 27,000 across 52 countries. The survey showed that about four out of 10 consumers would consider paying for online newspapers, and one in three would consider paying for Internet-only news sources. Nearly half would consider paying for magazine content online.

Those numbers may sound unexciting, but consider that news consumers probably make up a modest portion of the general consuming public Nielsen surveyed. It indicates that there is at least a market for pay-for-content in news, though maybe a reluctant one.

The survey results, however leave many unanswered questions about a business model for online news:

“Regardless of what systems they choose, media companies will almost certainly not abandon advertising; and consumers will doubtless still see ads along with paid content. For the 47% of respondents who are willing to accept more advertising to subsidize free content, that may be tolerable. Yet it will probably not sit well with the 64% who believe that if they must pay for content online, there should be no ads.”

Deep cost-cutting, online revenue, help Times Co. stay in black

11 02 2010

But for how long?

The owner of The New York Times reported modest profits from the fourth quarter. But its stock fell 9 percent Wednesday with the announcement. The profits were based mostly on severe cuts, moderate earnings in online operations, and a moderation in advertising losses.

But the market knows that the cuts can’t go much deeper, and the outlook for the Times Co. depends on ad revenue increases this year. For last year, ad revenue in the Times Co.’s News Media Group, which includes the New York Times newspaper, the Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune, declined 27 percent.

The company also is looking to unload its stake in the Boston Red Sox, which might improve the 1Q bottom line. But like its cuts in news operations, that’s a one-time gain that cannot be sustained.

The much discussed online fees won’t kick in until next year, so look for other drastic measures till then.

Blogging declines among under-30 set

4 02 2010

A new report on “Social Media and Young Adults” by Pew finds several interesting trends, the most pronounced of which is a decline in blogging.  Wirelessly connecting in general, though, continues to rise among teens and young adults.

Teens particularly disdain Twitter, to which those over 30 continue to flock. And in a bad sign for Facebook, users are now equally split between over-30s and under-30s. That finding  holds up in the sample of my household, where the half that is in college grows less enthusiastic about Facebook while the older segment finds itself battling obsession. We’re already seeing clear indications among the younger half that Facebook use is growing hopelessly passe.

The study shows that online activity is near saturation points among the under-30s, while I was surprised that far less than half of those over 65 are online. I’m sure that curve will flatten rapidly, but it still is cause for consideration in communications strategies aimed at wide demographic groups.

Searching for promising news sites

2 02 2010

Congratulations to the St. Louis Beacon for gaining mention in the Reynolds Journalism Institute‘s search for promising online news sites.

The Beacon is getting better all the time and is playing an increasing community role offline, as its principals organize and appear in panel discussions, events, and local broadcasts. That is indeed promising.

It succeeds by most of the  RJI’s measures of online news sites. However, the most promising new media will be those that are revenue-positive. The Beacon, established by a grant, is attempting to support itself through membership donations. If that works, it will be a promising prospect indeed.

RJI Fellow Michele McLellan is soliciting suggesting for other promising sites. Your thoughts?