Dallas Morning News places editors under sales managers

3 12 2009

Farewell to journalism as we knew it.

The Morning News tears down the firewall that traditionally has divided news and business functions in newspapers.

The newspaper is organizing around 11 “business and content segments” run by newly created general managers reporting to Senior Vice President/Sales Cyndy Carr. Each general manager will be “charged with analyzing and growing the business by developing solutions that meet consumer needs and maximize results for our clients,” a staff memo says. “Their responsibilities will include sales and business development. They will also be working closely with news leadership in product and content development.”

Of course, the firewall has been eroding since it purportedly existed, but this makes it official. Today’s Tiger Woods scandal brought to you by Adidas and Lincoln Mercury.

Desperate metaphors indeed

2 12 2009

At the Federal Trade Commission’s session on the future of journalism Tuesday, Arianna Huffington gave a speech defending and acclaiming the new media, entitled, “Desperate Metaphors, Desperate Revenue Models, and the Desperate Need for Better Journalism.” As usual, she is witty and cogent.

Later that day, Alexander Howard posited on the Huffington Post a desperate metaphor of his own: new media as the Protestant Reformation.  His point is that just as Martin Luther removed the priestly intermediaries between the faithful and the divine, the new media have freed news consumers from the filters and interpretations of the traditional media. Now, just as Protestants can go straight to Scripture and interpret it on their own — and just as they are encouraged to have a personal, direct relationship with their God — so, too, can consumers go directly to sources and have the power to dig out facts and interpret them on their own.

Howard acknowledges at the outset that he is treading dangerous ground — mainly for the religious implications of his analogy. But I think it suffers more from a grandiose point of view about new media and the “reform” it is bringing. I have yet to be convinced of the qualitative improvement new media brings to journalism. There is precious little news gathering done exclusively in new media that meets the standards of traditional journalism for research, fairness, balance, objectivity and separation of fact from opinion.

A more appropriate historic analogy may be found some 70 years earlier than Martin Luther’s 95 Theses — with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. New media is the result of a technology that gave the masses access to and dissemination of information previously available only to an elite. What they did with the printed word, and whether is was for good or evil, was unrelated to the technology.

Laid-off ad execs inspire in “Lemonade” movie

1 12 2009

I hope this film comes to St. Louis soon. Premiered in Boston last night.

The takeaway: “Inspire. Hope. Dream big. Love what you do.”

On an irreverent note, I can’t ever think of the lemonade aphorism without thinking of Jimmy Kimmel’s joke: “If God gives you AIDS, make lemonades!”

Getting a little jaded on the future of journalism, are we?

1 12 2009

From MediaMemo by Peter Kafka:

Another day, another “future of journalism” panel. Actually, this one, hosted by the Federal Trade Commission, is a two-day event, and the title pretty much lets you know where it’s going here: “From Town Criers to Bloggers: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?” Most of the usual suspects will be there …

UPDATE: Kafka’s jaundiced view appears to be justified. According to this AP report of the FTC session, few really new ideas or proposals came out.

Study projects dramatic shift of ad spending to online sites

13 11 2009

In a study presented today at the Yale Law School Conference on the Future of Journalism, two leading analysts of media economics say there is a wide gap between the ratio of adults who get their content online and the amount of ad spending online, and that gap is about to close. The implication for legacy news providers is dire.

Today, U.S. advertisers spend 8 percent of budgets online, while Americans consumer 30 percent oftheir content online.

If history is any indication, a more appropriate re-allocation of advertising dollars will occur in the not-too-distant future, and daily print newspapers, with declining readership and household penetration, are mostly likely to be losers.

Over the next five years, the authors say, traditional news organization must take the following steps to survive:

  • Shed legacy costs as quickly as possible
  • Re-create community online — in an attempt to regain pricing leverage
  • Build new online advertising revenue streams to replace the loss of traditional print categories

The authors are Penelope Muse Abernathy, who holds the Knight Chair in Digital Media Economics and Journalism at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina, and Richard Foster, a former McKinsey & Company executive who is a now senior faculty fellow at the School of Management at Yale.

Thoughts over beers on paid content

3 11 2009

A friend and I were chewing over a favorite topic over pizza and beers the other night: the decline of quality and quantity of journalism at a time we need it most.

Acknowledging the hopelessness of the print model, we went on to complain about the deficiencies of online news consumption. The problem, of course, is that creditable, fair, balanced and researched news content online is almost entirely provided by print publications whose underlying business model is as dead as the trees on which they print. When we want to research coverage of a certain issue or event, the online aggregators, such as Google News, blend in blogs and other opinion outlets with the legitimate journalism, which damages the credibility of all online news. (Of course, there are a few journalistic blogs, but separating them out and branding their credibility is the issue.)

We agreed we would happily pay for reliable, quality journalism, but that it continued to amaze us that no one seemed to have come up with the viable, comprehensive solution. I said I liked the micropayment model, in which I set up an account with an outlet I have deemed to be reliable, and then each time I click a headline or blurb to read the full version of the article, my account gets charged a nominal amount, say a dime.

My friend noted that the problem with that is that many people would be averse to the open-ended cost structure and would hesitate to set up accounts when they didn’t know how much they would end up spending. He preferred the model of the Wall Street Journal, where you sign up for a year or so and get unlimited access.

One key difficulty with each is that we like to read multiple news outlets, and we will never have a finite universe of news producers we like and trust. We never know, for example, when an article from the Toledo Blade or the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal may provide just what we’re looking for.

Then it hit us. Why not have a central organization, international in nature, that becomes both the certifier of journalistic integrity and the accountant for news providers worldwide? This body could be an offshoot of an existing journalism organization or a federation of many around the world. News gatherers and producers could join this organization by certifying, and winning  the organization’s recognition, of their adherence to basic journalistic principles — independent research, concern for fairness and balance, accuracy and accountability, etc.

News organizations belonging to this body could carry the logo on their own sites. The organization itself could aggregate the content of its members on its site.

A news consumer could sign up once with a credit card and choose either a monthly fee, say $30 for unlimited use, or a pay-per-click fee — again, about 10 cents. The technology would have to be such that once logged in to the umbrella organization, the consumer would not  have to log in to individual news outlets or enter payment information for each click.

The hope would be that by first establishing credibility, consumers and advertisers would follow. It seemed like a great idea at the time. I’m sure there are a few wrinkles in this concept. Care to weigh in?

Detroit Free Press maligns its name

3 11 2009

MK-AZ238_ADVERT_DV_20091101155135OK, times are tough, especially in Detroit. Newspapers are in a quandary trying to appeal to dwindling advertisers while their circulation plummets, and the lack of ad revenue impairs content, which further erodes circulation.

But the response of the Free Press may signal the final, swiftest circle around the drain.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Freep has been pursuing stories suggested by advertisers, placing stories adjacent to related ad content, and timing stories to meet advertisers’ needs.

… By taking a story idea from an advertiser and, in some cases, placing specific stories in news sections when and where an advertiser requests them, the Free Press is offering them a more direct line to its news pages than is generally seen in the industry, where relationships with advertisers tend to be more arm’s length than at TV shows and magazines.

Sadly, the actions of the Freep aren’t aberrations but are part of a year-old strategy, one that may be catching on among newspapers.

The Free Press became part of a seminal shift in the newspaper industry a year ago when the Detroit Media Partnership, the venture that publishes it and the Detroit New as part of a joint operating agreemen, decided to shrink the paper and halt home delivery most days of the week. But that was just part of a broader reinvention that also included a new approach to advertisers in which the paper saw itself more as a business partner. …

Some newspaper executives say it is about time to change newspapers’ famously staunch ways and at least consider that ideas that come from advertisers aren’t inherently bad ones. “One of the things I think newsrooms have to realize,” [Paul Anger, editor and publisher of the Free Press] says, “is we’re here to cover the news in an unvarnished way, but we’re also here to facilitate commerce.”

Bully for Mr. Anger’s overt approach to selling out. But if that’s the direction he wants to take, and as long as he’s being honest about it, he might as well change the name of the paper to The Detroit Advertiser.

Nicholas Lemann on the Journalism Crisis

29 10 2009

nicholaslemannphoto_p233_crop“Journalism isn’t going away,” says Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, in an interesting interview with Spiegel Online. “But it is reconstituting itself in a pretty fundamental way.”

You would expect some optimism from someone in Lemann’s position, and he doesn’t disappoint. Confronted with plunging circulation figures among major dailies, he says, “Newspapers may have found the bottom.”

“Metro newspapers in the United States are probably not going to disappear entirely. But they’ve almost all shrunk. That doesn’t mean they’ll go away or won’t continue to be the dominant news provider in their communities.”

Spiegel frequently alludes to the recent report by Columbia Professor Michael Schudsonand Leonard Downie Jr., the former executive editor of the Washington Post, “The Reconstruction of American Journalism.” But it returns, naturally enough, to questions about the Balloon Boy coverage and its implications for the future of journalism.

“This is something I found a little frustrating. If you have a pure market-based journalism system, then stories like Balloon Boy will inevitably rise to the top. [!] The reason is that there are pure market forces at work, and this is what people apparently want. So if you say on the one hand that public support for journalism is unthinkable and that journalism must live entirely in the market system, but then on the other hand you reject the results as worthless, that puts us in a bind.”

Counterpoint to death watch for newspapers

28 10 2009

Jonathan Knee of the Media Program at Columbia Business School opines in Barron’s that newspapers are doing just fine.

Until recently, many newspapers had profit margins exceeding 30%. By 2008, the industry’s average margin had fallen to the mid-teens. The speed and magnitude of this decline have resulted in wrenching changes in the way these historically stable businesses must operate.The continuing drama shouldn’t distract from real earnings power. Many newspapers still have almost double the profitability of other media sectors, such as movies, music and books — which have long struggled to achieve margins of even 10%.

Knee concedes that the Internet has hurt newspapers and that Web media deliver value that newspapers can’t match. But he notes that the downside to the Internet is information overload and says newspapers may or may not play a key role in guiding customers through the cacaphony. It depends on whether they join the race for solutions to finding and identifying credible, balanced, and researched content on the Web.

THE NEWSPAPER OF TOMORROW will indeed be very different in terms of how it is produced and delivered, what is in it, and how profitable it is. It will be part of a much more crowded and complex news and information ecosystem.

Operators must aggressively focus on cost and cooperation, designing truly distinctive offerings that leverage their advantages in this newly competitive landscape.

Policymakers currently have plenty of legitimate targets of their attention without worrying about the fate of newspapers or trying to keep change from happening. If they keep out of the way, news junkies in particular should anticipate an era of unprecedented plenty. And investors will be well-rewarded by backing managers who appreciate the continuing, if diminished, profit potential of this new environment.


CJR Report: The Reconstruction of American Journalism

19 10 2009

“Newspapers and television news are not going to vanish in the foreseeable future, despite frequent predictions of their imminent extinction. But they will play diminished roles in an emerging and still rapidly changing world of digital journalism, in which the means of news reporting are being re-invented, the character of news is being reconstructed, and reporting is being distributed across a greater number and variety of news organizations, new and old.”

That is according to a report published today in the Columbia Journalism Review, sepoct09_300x400authored by Leonard Downie Jr., the former executive editor of the Washington Post, and Michael Schudson, professor at Columbia’s graduate school of journalism.

The must-read report concludes with specific recommendations, including:

  • Tax breaks for news organizations “substantially devoted to reporting on public affairs.
  • “Increased foundation support.
  • Increased local focus by public radio and television.
  • News accountability oversight by universities.
  • FCC funding for local news coverage.Increased accessibility to information compiled and held by government agencies.

What is bound to be a chaotic reconstruction of American journalism is full of both perils and opportunities for news reporting, especially in local communities. The perils are obvious. The restructuring of newspapers, which remain central to the future of local news reporting, is an uphill battle. Emerging local news organizations are still small and fragile, requiring considerable assistance—as we have recommended—to survive to compete and collaborate with newspapers. And much of public media must drastically change its culture to become a significant source of local news reporting.

Yet we believe we have seen abundant opportunity in the future of journalism. At many of the news organizations we visited, new and old, we have seen the beginnings of a genuine reconstruction of what journalism can and should be.