Saturday, July 26, 2008

"Are Newspaper's Dying?"

Susan Estrich begins her excellent Yahoo! News essay titled "Are Newspapers Dying?" by saying her local paper no longer has a Sunday opinion section or a book page. The Journal Sentinel has already passed along the word to staffers that it may eliminate the jobs of editorial page cartoonist (actually, Stuart Carlson has accepted a buyout after being told his job was eliminated), book editor, TV columnist and movie critic, among others. Presumably, we'll get wire service reports for all the above. But that gets to the heart of Estrich's essay: who is going to create the content? (Not answered by the Journal Sentinel, by the way, is why we're going to want its online offerings, if not its print, once it quits offering great, unique content like Carlson cartoons or Joanne Weintraub essays on television; I guess we're supposed to turn to the JS for stories on suburban robberies or its 14,856th story on education this week). To oversimplify Estrich's point, people -- including college students -- still want to read. They just don't want to pay for it. She's right.

Along the same line, Eric Alterman opins on the same subject here.

At least, people are beginning to talk about the problem, not just wring their hands.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Newspapers and the cell phone

Is the future of newspapers inside the new breed of cell phones? Claire Cain Miller profiles Verve Wireless' efforts in the New York Times technology blog. Verve is betting on iPhone and its clones becoming a means of saving newspapers. 

Catching up a bit, an earlier post at 10,000 Words blog offers one take on how the iPhone may affect journalism.

The backpack journalist may be our future. 

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel announced today that you can view its news on your cell phone at http://jsonline.mob.

For sure, there will be lots more on this issue as we continue to grapple with delivery methods for the news journalists create.

Are blogs journalism?

Yes, the question itself is deceptive since some blogs are journalistic and others aren't. For an example of the former (and a great discussion today of "citizen journalism"), see Jay Rosen's blog, PressThink.  He offers both his own and others' definitions and links to several thoughtful discussions of citizen journalism. I believe in Kovach and Rosensteil's definition of journalism of verification (from Elements of Journalism), and this post certainly fills that bill.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More on the Project for Excellence report

This comes from London's Guardian, one of my favorite news sites. It's interesting not only for its take on the Project for Excellence report on American newspapers, but also for the fact that one of the best interpretations I've read about this report is on a British website. To me, that speaks volumes about what's happening in the media today.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Major study of newspaper discontent

Today's bad news for newspapers story comes from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which reports on a survey of top newsroom executives. It's telling in many ways. The wires have a number of stories interpreting the survey, but I'd suggest reading the whole thing yourself -- especially the areas of expanding and contracting coverage (hint: community news way up; international way down).

Tribune may try dramatic change

Crain's ChicagoBusiness is reporting the Tribune may dramatically change its structure, devoting the first section to "consumer-oriented and entertainment features. Local, national, international and business news is consolidated in the second section. Weather leads the third section, which also includes comics and classifieds, while the sports section is converted to a tabloid format." This is, the report says, one possible change, and is not final. The Trib may make the change on Saturdays in August, then continue with changes that appear popular with readers.

My first thought was "News you can use" dominating the Tribune's front section. How long 'til "Tracking Online Preditors" takes over, as it has television? I also thought of Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in The Elements of Journalism talking about what they called "the paradox of giving people only the news they want." My view, like their's, was that this thinking led television news into not just selling their audiences short, but losing those audiences by concentrating on news that the audiences wanted, but didn't care about all that deeply -- which is why after many years of being slavishly devoted to tuning in the 10 o'clock local news, I watch The Daily Show at 10 o'clock. Would I rather read about Milwaukee County budget problems or an analysis of why the music track is so loud at the end of The Dark Knight that you can't hear the dialog? Certainly the latter. But if that's all that's in my newspaper, I'll go with the Internet where the unlimited space can do such stories better. . . and find somewhere else for news that's important.

A question for the media 2.0 folks

Interesting thoughts from a Delhi new media expert bring a question to mind. What if we're going at this thing backward. Why not ask what the audience wants rather than what the technology will support. I realize there's an age gap in technology use. But, frankly, I don't want my television on my cell phone; it's too small. Why try to watch the Brewers on a 1" by 2" screen when I've got a 32" hi-def set in the next room? A room, by the way, that has five remotes -- including one "universal" remote that is so complicated to use for some applications and lacks important functions for others that it actually is useful for one device only, and then not nearly as efficient as the remote that came with it.

I certainly want to know what the Atul Sonis of the world want to say, but far too often what I am hearing is "Gee, our wonderful technology isn't being used to its fullest extent. If only you media folks would layer in this function or that it would be a wonderful world." What I want to hear is this: "The media audience wants its content delivered this way, - - - - - -. Here's a simple adaption we can make to our current offerings to match our publication to their desires."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Very bad news from the Journal Sentinel

Look for a number of big names to leave the Journal Sentinel staff in the upcoming buyouts (or layoffs if enough people don't voluntarily leave). In its latest effort to cut costs, the newspaper will likely be parting ways with some people readers really like.

Probably the biggest loss will be the paper's elimination of its editorial cartoonist.  Reportedly the paper has told prize-winning cartoonist Stuart Carlson that it is dropping the position. When The Journal and Sentinel merged, the new paper had two editorial cartoonists since each paper had a very talented cartoonist who had won national acclaim as among the best in the nation. A few years ago, it moved Gary Markstein out of editorial cartoon (shortly after he won national honors). Fortunately you can still see Markstein cartoons regularly in place like Newsweek magazine since he's nationally syndicated as well as drawing a nationally-syndicated comic strip. I'm hopeful that Stuart will also continue to do editorial cartoons.

I realize the newspaper needs to conserve money, but at a time when newspapers keep talking "local, local, local," as well as attempting to offer alternatives to online media, I have to wonder why they are cutting such an important position. It doesn't bode well for holding readers or advertisers -- especially if some of the highly-visible, popular writers and columnists leave.

Where are the ideas for newspapers, 2 of ?

Kevin Anderson, blog editor for London's Guardian, posts some interesting thoughts on newspapers and innovation. He's actually upbeat -- at least on newspapers beginning to adapt; nothing on increasing revenue streams. Still, it's good to have the discussion flowing. 

I think he's spot on, as the Brits would say, on one point: newspapers need to be fast and agile in trying new things. It's also something that's not part of the newspaper culture. I remember having an editor once tell me that "Anything you can suggest, I've got a memo in my files on why it won't work." And, this was a good editor. He wasn't trying to prevent me from making the suggestion, just telling me that just about any idea will face opposition. A suggestion I would make is put no onus on failure. Just about any success I know of is built on earlier failures -- so why do so many media companies (as well as other American businesses) penalize imaginative initiatives if they don't work out?

The new media election

Fortune explores what it calls "The YouTube election." I'd call it the "new media" election because it should include websites, blogs and social media. Still, I've found myself several times going to YouTube to review something one of the presidential candidates or other politicians said after reading about it online. It's a whole new ball game for the media -- and for politicians. It'll be interesting to see how it all works out since the media is learning as it goes along.