Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sam Zell and the Tribune

Fascinating Business Week story on Sam Zell and the Chicago Tribune Co. It asks the question: What would have happened if someone else had bought the company? It dances around a couple of key questions, I think. First, the question of whether Zell, a real estate tycoon, and his executives, all with limited or no print experience, are competent to deal with a company where its eight newspapers provided 76 percent of the company's revenues. So far, the moves don't overwhelm. Second is the, to me anyway, intriguing question of whether these outsiders can effectively innovate. As I've said in the past, I haven't seen the industry movers and shakers lead the media revolution. Maybe outsiders can do better.

Is YouTube the most powerful medium?

Nice overview of the online video phenomenon on CNET (if you ignore the ridiculous comparison of the YouTube founders with Woodward and Bernstein) picking up on the latest example of a video making news by capturing a New York policeman brutalizing a bicyclist for no apparent reason. It puts online video into context, links to a number of notable ones from the past, and does a nice job of summing up one of the more significant changes in journalism today, one that truly belongs to "citizen journalists."

Journalist entrepreneur guidelines

For the last couple of years, one of the buzzwords in journalism is the "journalist entrepreneur." As a panelist said at a conference I attended a year ago, "The day that you come into the office at 8, pick up an assignment, interview people, turn in a story at 4, and go home, is gone." Today, the smart journalist is taking ownership of a story. A journalism blog,, offers "An outline for taking ownership of your stories" that pretty well explains what this new world is all about. He's writing primarily about online-only stories and includes some suggestions that I don't agree with (for example, notifying bloggers of your story does smack of public relations and will get you in spam files pretty quickly if you repeatedly send emails), but the outline is pretty sound.

Frankly, good reporters have been doing exactly this for years. When I was working as a journalist, I created an entirely new run that resulted in my writing a syndicated column, being called "the best reporter" of the area by the nation's most powerful business leader in that area, and publishing on it in more than 20 magazines in addition to my newspaper work. Frankly, I "owned" the beat, just as other great reporters have owned theirs.

Saturday I was at a party talking with a former journalist who was the first reporter on the scene of Jeffrey Dahmer's crimes (it was midnight on her day off, by the way). From the first, she dominated news coverage as his serial murders were uncovered. She wrote the best book on the subject (there have been several), parlayed her ownership of this story into jobs in other media, and today is the spokesperson for Milwaukee's Police Department. It's a great example of a journalist who recognized a story, and took ownership.

"13 Seconds in August:" a year later

Friday is the anniversary of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis, and the Poynter Institute's Visual Voice marks the similar anniversary of the extraordinary graphic by the Minneapolis Star Tribune -- by far the most dramatic and touching graphic I've seen on the Internet -- by interviewing its lead designer and a researcher still updating the information. Visual Voice says that people are still spending hours looking at the graphic. I know I've visited at least a dozen times. If you haven't seen the graphic, please do so. It illustrates why I believe that the Internet can add to journalism in ways we haven't even begun to imagine.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Newspapers doing well -- online

Another study shows our demand for news is big. The problem is that it's growing for newspapers online -- where they aren't making money. Still, some fascinating numbers in this MediaPost column. For example, 40 percent of all U.S. Internet users go to newspaper sites. It also points out one financial failing -- newspapers haven't figured out how to rebuild classified as a profit center.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Journal Sentinel cited as part of "Terrific Ten"

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's investigative team (which won a Pulitzer Prize for reporter Dave Umhoeffer's work) was the first initiative on the list announced for Editor & Publisher's annual "Terrific Ten" ideas that work for newspapers. The list is something that everyone interested in newspaper journalism should check every year. E&P only announced the first three today, along with some comments about trends, but they include the JS's reporting initiative (in nice detail) along with initiatives in circulation and ideas. I've always been a fan of looking at what works. This is a good place to start.

Why teaching journalism is worthwhile

Very nice story in the Memphis Commercial-Appeal about student journalists at the Unity Conference. Among the touching comments -- the kind that keep me teaching and confident in the future of journalism, if not print newspapers -- was this from Angel Jennings, a recent graduate from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln: "I'd rather have a roller-coaster marriage with journalism, filled with love and passion, than an empty relationship in law, PR or business, where there is money, but no sparks."

It's still the best job in the world.

News flash: Readers have NOT left the building

That was the headline the Readership Institute put on its latest report, which offered mixed messages on newspaper readership. Among the good news: There's not a huge drop in newspaper readers (certainly not like there is in advertising). Among the bad news: Young people have totally different reading habits -- and newspapers aren't engaging them; not even on web sites.

The clearest message is that it is up to newspapers to attract those younger readers -- and they're not doing it now.