Saturday, August 10, 2013

Are we abusing student sportswriters?

Along comes yet another company seeking to use student writers to provide content for their online operation without paying them. Like so many others, Sports New Media is aimed at aspiring sportswriters. It follows the Bleacher Report model, although it seems to be based in Great Britain rather than the US.

I'll confess that I look at a couple of Bleacher Report sites regularly, but I still wonder about the widespread practice of using the work of students and young journalists without paying them. I have the same problem with unpaid internships. Sure it's a way of getting good clips -- the justification that Sports New Media gives -- but it seems to me to be a horrible situation. We do use unpaid student reporting in Marquette's student media, but it's for class credit. Most of our journalists are paid, albeit not much.

Given the demands of online media, I suspect we're going to see even more of this in the future. And that may not be a good thing.

Is the story worth it? Ethical questions and journalism

A recent story about an Illinois professor who killed his family 45 years ago has stirred up an ethical storm. It turns out that the story's author didn't tell the subject she was a reporter -- in fact, she told him she was a student seeking information about his career -- until most of the interview was over.

I have a couple of thoughts. No question in my mind that she should have identified herself, especially since the story was going to impact his life so much. But I also question whether the story should have been written, given the fact that he seems to have lived a peaceful, productive life after his initial treatment for mental illness. A quick search of the Web uncovers thoughtful opinion on both sides.

The Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn looks at the situation. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

A print challenge to the Times-Picayune

In an interesting twist as major media companies pull back, offering fewer and smaller print editions, today marks the day the Baton Rouge Advocate begins selling its New Orleans edition daily in the Crescent City. It comes on the day the New Orleans Times-Picayune dropped its daily editions to three a week, relying instead on its website.

The Advocate also offers New Orleans residents some familiar bylines, having hired seven staffers let go (or accepting buyouts) from the Times-Picayune, a long-time respected daily newspaper.

What will be interesting to see is if enough readers miss a daily paper so much they buy the Advocate. It also comes, coincidentally, the day after the Packers beat the New Orleans Saints in a very tight ballgame, which I suspect drove up interest in New Orleans.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Journalist-based news is most trusted on the web

A few years ago, the Diederich College of Communication brought in a futurist to speak about the future of newspapers. Surprisingly, she was optimistic, building an argument that media consumers preferred news produced by professional journalists, and that newspapers' digital sites were considered the best place for them to find that news.

We've see that happen with rising viewership of virtually all newspaper sites despite a rise in alternatives to find professional journalism. It's proof that journalist-based content has a high value.

Now comes a survey reported on the Poynter site that indicates the same thing, only more starkly. Note on the charts that 61.8 percent of users prefer journalists' news while only 19.6 percent prefer getting news from friends. The survey, actual results found here, goes into much more detail. But the results are the same. Journalism is a valuable commodity, which is why a survey by Georgetown University (see earlier post) indicated that journalism graduates have a much lower rate of unemployment than average college students.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Is the University of Georgia student newspaper "misunderstanding" over? I doubt it

Why do I get the feeling that we haven't read the end of the story about the University of Georgia's independent newspaper, the Red & Black?

As you'll remember from a couple of days ago, the newspaper's board decided to shift power from students to a professional. Students walked out and quickly created their own website and began posting to Twitter.. The board quickly apologized, calling the contretemps a "misunderstanding," and invited the former staff members to apply for their old jobs. Stories, including a nice roundup by the Associated Press, said the problems seemed to be "resolved" with the board's apology and discussions with students.

It's clear there were misunderstandings but they were all over the place. The board attempted to change the way the newspaper was run, apparently without consulting the students. The students resisted by walking out. The ensuing furor continued, including the board's head and a student journalist for the university's television station physically clashing.

I still don't think the board gets it. Students value their publications, and will demand their views be considered. At the same time, students sometimes are quite short-sighted about issues, and the board's duty is to think long-term. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Is the Journal Sentinel for sale?

Blogger Bruce Murphy says that it might be, based on the company's buyback of all shares owned by the family of its long-time publisher, Harry Grant. The stock price has risen to a yearly high and at least one corporate raider has been purchasing shares. As could have been expected, Warren Buffet's name has been mentioned. He's said that he is is the market for more newspapers like the Journal Sentinel. There is some sentiment for selling the newspaper part of Journal Communications, Inc. but the company's retaining its other holdings, mostly in television and radio. Murphy's blog is here, and Jim Romenesko's is here.

Students, welcome to the real world

A few years ago one of my nieces was an intern at Teen People when the magazine abruptly closed. It was an awakening to the dark side of media these days. She since has switched to public relations, which has it's own dark side.

This came to mind while reading about the University of Georgia's student newspaper, the Red & Black, where all student staffers walked out after the independent newspaper's board took over operations, installing its former adviser as "editorial director," and said he would approve all stories before publication.

The Red & Black is independent of the university. The action was taken by its board.

These students are also getting, as publisher Harry Montevideo says, "experience which mirrors the real world." Even setting aside the fact the newspaper's publisher doesn't know when to use "which" and when to use "that," it's indicative of the real world in that staffers -- even the newspaper's editor who says he wasn't told about this change until he asked -- have no power, and, often, no voice.  Welcome to the "real world," students, and I hope that Marquette's student media never comes to this state. Some lessons are better left unlearned.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

As the media world turns . . .

Beware of anyone who claims to know what is happening in the media world today. A good example comes from a story today about how the merger of Newsweek and The Daily Beast is working out.

The story, in, begins under the headline: "The Daily Beast's Digital Challenge." It tells us that the merger resulted in "a publication that has crafted a model that is, by all appearances, caught between the analog and digital worlds. It goes on to say that it's not a sustainable business model, quoting Barry Lowenthal, president of Media Kitchen, saying: "Newsweek's not going to exist anymore. It will go away."

But then it quotes Stephen Colvin, CEO of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, talking about "impressive internal growth numbers," up 20 percent over last year with ad volume up 50 percent, with ad revenue at Newsweek up 13 percent.

It's interesting in part because media figures keep talking about synergy, which appears to be what's happening here, but the digital folks keep saying "It's not a sustainable model," and that the print half of the merged publication (I treat them as one) will just "go away."

The experience with college and professional newspapers is that if the print publication folds, the online version loses a whale of a lot of readers soon after.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Newspaper paywalls sprouting -- and working

The newspaper paywall trend is accelerating, a study finds, to such an extent that 84% of American newspapers now have some sort of paywall in place. A big part of the reason is that the paywall is working. Newspapers are retaining readers, and, linking free access to print circulation, has slowed down the decline in print.

The manner of paywalls range all over the place from newspapers with no stories free to ones with a few (the New York Times now allows 10 free stories) to ones with only limited material -- like sports or features -- behind the paywall.

All in all, it seems like the industry has figured out a strategy. Now they should start working on rebuilding content, which has been cut severely in most cases. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Satire is a bad word in student newspapers

Here's a reason why satire is so hard to pull off in print -- especially in student newspapers. People take it seriously.

Study shows paywall revenue to be frontloaded, in one case

There's an interesting report from Poynter about revenues and paywalls. It finds that about half the first year's total revenue comes in the first three months. It's a study from a very small, local site so I don't know how this relates to mature sites like Milwaukee's or Chicago's The report also includes the scary statistic that the average age of paid visitors rose to 59 after the paywall was erected. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

You don't need no stinkin' reporters to write stories

If number of stories counts (see previous post), then do we care whether they're written by a human, a community reporter, or someone in India writing to a formula. Yet more options are available to editors. For example, computers can string raw data into story form. Or a reporter far away from the actual story.

The problem with shortcuts is that they seldom produce good journalism. While I don't have a study to back it up, I strongly suspect that most people can tell the difference between the passionless words-strung-together by a machine or written-to-a-formula story and actual journalism. Yes, newspapers have cut their staffs way too far and they are offering way, way too little space for actual stories. But most consumers can tell the difference.

Yes, you don't need real reporters to write stories. But you need them to write good stories.