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.





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.”





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?





Pole vault over the paywall?

25 01 2010

Turns out, there could well be a chink in the paywall of nytimesonline.com.

In fact, it may not be a wall at all, and may not address the  issue  of news aggregators linking to content generated by newspapers.

Of course, The Times wants to encourage links to its online content, perhaps particularly so once The Times asks us to pay for that content upon reaching a certain number of visits to its site. Naturally, those includes links from bloggers and on Facebook and Twitter and other social media. And if you follow such a link, it won’t count in your “metered” number of visits.

Q. What about posting articles to Facebook and other social media? Would friends without a subscription then not be able to view an article that I think is relevant for them? — Julie, Pinole CA
A. Yes, they could continue to view articles. If you are coming to NYTimes.com from another Web site and it brings you to our site to view an article, you will have access to that article and it will not count toward your allotment of free ones.
But as Jay Rosen points out,

Google News is surely “another Web site,” therefore all articles found that way will be free and accessible. … No matter how often Google News is used to get to the Times, if you come back by that route you will never be charged.

Which means that for those people who get their news from the web itself, using search, aggregators, social media and blogs to find the stuff they want, the stuff they find from the New York Times will always be available, free of charge.  That looks a lot less like a pay wall to me. It isn’t a metered system if I can access the Times via the link economy without limit.  This scrambles a lot of what’s been written on the subject.
This whole paid content issue gets more complicated the further one gets into it. That’s obviated by the fact that the big brains in the business have yet to solve it. But we’ve got to try something. If it turns out the NYT system fails to provide significant revenue for news gathering, let’s tinker some more. The decline of journalism is too urgent to cling to unproven hopes of an new model emerging or to stand on the sidelines naysaying all efforts to make the Fourth Estate viable again.




Pew study: Traditional media still rules

12 01 2010

I find this unsurprising, and not good news for the old media. They may still rule, but the kingdom of news lies in tatters.

” … A new study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which takes a close look at the news ecosystem of one city, suggests that while the news landscape has rapidly expanded, most of what the public learns is still overwhelmingly driven by traditional media—particularly newspapers.

“The study, which examined all the outlets that produced local news in Baltimore, Md., for one week, surveyed their output and then did a closer examination of six major narratives during the week, finds that much of the “news” people receive contains no original reporting. Fully eight out of ten stories studied simply repeated or repackaged previously published information.

And of the stories that did contain new information nearly all, 95%, came from traditional media—most of them newspapers. These stories then tended to set the narrative agenda for most other media outlets.”

So what we define as news still comes largely from the same old outlets. Those outlets’ resources are vastly depleted. Hence, we learn far less than we once did.

News consumers starve but lose interest in this paltry gruel. They grow lethargic. So far, they have few sources for a more nutritious diet to energize them. Will a new supply come forward before the population dies off?





Kinsley: Verbosity killing newspapers

7 01 2010

I was on my way out of newspapers when “context” was on its way in. Don’t just tell readers what happened, tell them what it means. The original movement surely intended journalists to show how events would affect the readers’ everyday lives. But few journalists understood their readers enough to interpret the impact on those lives, and they soon perverted the concept to report on the only impact they really cared about: politics.

Thus, the principal impacts of healthcare reform are not take-home pay for wage earners, security for people changing jobs, or assurance for those with a history of illness (the dreaded “pre-existing condition”). No, in journalists’ minds, the major impacts are the 2010 elections and the daily or hourly approval ratings of the president and the major parties.

But as Michael Kinsley notes in the Atlantic, this trend also brought about newspaper prose that is more tortuous, bloviated, and overstated. News via the Internet, which already has many reader advantages, is cleaner, pithier, and more inviting.

But providing “context,” as it was known, has become an invitation to hype. In this case, it’s the lowest form of hype—it’s horse-race hype—which actually diminishes a story rather than enhancing it. Surely if this event is such a big, big deal—“sweeping” and “defining” its way into our awareness—then its effect on the next election is one of the less important things about it.

Most grievous, in my opinion, is campaign coverage that, rather than informing the electorate about candidates’ positions, their feasibility and practical implications, consists almost entirely of who’s up and who’s down starting years from election day. All media are guilty of this, but newspapers cannot make the claim that they lack the space for such coverage. They are devoting thousands of words to political horse-race speculation rather than exposition of what it all really means for our lives.

And over the years, the public has responded with a massive “Who cares!”

Thus the only people still reading newspapers are political junkies, and because those readers are the ones closest to reporters’ and editors’ social circles, the newspaper people can’t understand their withering circulation.





Editor & Publisher magazine goes under

10 12 2009

Sad, sad news. After 125 years as a watchdog of the newspaper industry, E&P is closing shop. Over the last decade, it has been an excellent chronicler of the death spiral of journalism as we once knew it. It has encouraged the transition to the Internet and criticized newspapers’ stodgy approach to it.

Most notably, E&P held newspapers accountable for their role in the run-up to the Iraq War, parroting the administration line without examination.

In a bad sign, five years ago E&P switched from weekly to monthly publication. Its own death now signals a final lap around the drain for the traditional media.

UPDATE: The Columbia Journalism Review has an interview with E&P editor Greg Mitchell here.

“We made a lot of friends and a lot of enemies, I suppose, because we really were an independent voice, and often a very critical voice. I don’t think there are too many trade publications that were as independent and critical as we are, and we made some people angry because of that. We were calling for more Web focus way before it was fashionable; we were critical of many moves the industry was making and not making, covering the warts of the industry, trying to push them to make changes—and at the same time, standing up for the First Amendment, standing up for ethics, standing up for reporters’ rights.”





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.