Friday, July 18, 2008

Where are the ideas for newspapers?

Liberal critic Eric Alterman, long a voice of sanity among those observing the newspaper industry, weighs in on the Nation web site with some thoughts on the future of newspapers and the dearth of ideas coming from the industry. The nut sentence -- one well worth repeating -- is this: " The more one listens to the men and women at the top of the industry, the more it becomes obvious that the survival of the newspaper . . . is going to have to come from somewhere else." He correctly points out that newspapers are "the primary information-gathering and knowledge-disseminating instrument of American democracy," begging the question of where all those web sites are going to get their information after they've killed off the last newspaper. Frankly, I don't see any ideas from that sector either. And, while I'm at it, few from academia.

Serious business

On the surface, this Columbia Journalism Review story on the Wall Street Journal changing its headshots from happy to grim in these economic times seems lighthearted, but it really drives home a point that is often missed in the media. A happy face is inappropriate when reporting a grim story. I still remember Jane Pauley smiling during a televised tribune to John Lennon the day of his shooting death. I realize that many broadcast people (and others in the public eye; check out CEOs' photos, for example) are trained to keep one face on at all times when they are on the air, but Pauley's smile was so inappropriate for the event that the memory still bothers me. So, kudos to the Wall Street Journal visual people for making this change.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

From the magazine world

A couple of news items:

If the medium is the message, then there's a message in a new magazine aimed at covering college life but planning to keep the covers on college students. The new magazine, Rez(life), is aimed at the Boston College community and it's new editor says he's keeping it clean, unlike other magazines aimed at college students. Maybe the world already has enough racy magazines.

Meanwhile, Rolling Stone magazine reportedly is planning format changes and asking readers for their opinion. The New York Observer critiques the proposed version -- smaller, same content stuffed into tighter space, glossier photos, better paper, no staples -- and outlines some of the questions readers are being asked.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Journalists, bumper stickers and ethics

The New York Times' standards editor has decreed that Times staffers should not have political bumper stickers on their cars. Frankly, that fits with the old Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel ethics codes as well as that of the Society of Professional Journalists. Leading over backward to avoid conflicts or to avoid partsianship is very important. In this age of blogging and rampant opinionizing, it's nice to have someone call attention to the ethics of professional journalists.

Every year in my Journalism 1 class, I challenge students with the question: Is a blogger a journalist? Ethical consideration is one factor in making a journalist, whether s/he blogs or not.
Editor & Publisher lists the top 30 news sites, as determined by Nielsen. The list is fascinating; I don't know what it means, but it's worth thinking about. It follows with the brand or channel first, followed by unique visitors this June (listed in thousands) and those from June a year ago.

MSNBC Digital Network -- 37,644 -- 27,434; Yahoo! News -- 34,992 -- 32,293; CNN Digital Network -- 33,417 -- 28,321; AOL News -- 22,081 -- 21,938; -- 17,650 -- 12,535

Tribune Newspapers -- 15,059 -- 12,038; Gannett Newspapers and Newspaper Division -- 12,405 -- 12,279; ABCNEWS Digital Network -- 11,556 -- 10,852; Google News -- 10,543 -- 9,195
Fox News Digital Network -- 10,471 -- 8,192

Another Wisconsin paper goes online only

Actually, the Superior Daily Telegram says that it will still print two editions in addition to its 24 hour online presence. Interestingly, it says that it will not reduce staff in making the change, following the lead of the Madison Cap-Times. The two printed editions will be paid circulation.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The dangers of satire

There are a lot of lessons in the New Yorker cover flap. I'd suggest going to Jim Romenesko's roundup of links to start looking at what people are saying. But the lesson that applies most, I think, is the problem of using satire. Satire is defined as "trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly," which means that it is oblique humor -- depending on the reader/listerner to "get the point." Frankly, any message will be wrongly receive by some people, whether it's obvious or not.

That some people won’t “get it” doesn’t mean that publications should never use satire or sarcasm, it means that media must be very careful in using those devices.