Friday, August 15, 2008

Student editors take note -- and the heat

The Seattle Times reports on an ongoing struggle between an attorney and the student newspaper at Seattle Pacific University over the newspaper's archives. Seems the attorney was arrested a decade ago, but never charged. Still the newspaper's archives post a story about it online, and, the Times story says, it's among the first things that pop up when the attorney's name is Googled. Finally, the attorney and University struck a deal to expunge the story. But the student editors refuse. That's where it sits now.

This situation is far from unusual, and it's been the subject of extensive debate among members of the College Media Advisers association (I'm a member). The consensus by a large margin is that what's been published has been published just as if it's on paper, and it should remain in the archives. It's a subject that will continue to come up as more and more former students are going to find themselves haunted by their past, just as they are with Facebook or MySpace photos and unseemly posts.

Where newspapers are thriving (Germany)

Too short to be a good analysis, this Business Week story teases us by pointing out that German newspapers continue to be successes. Still, it does offer some suggestions. OK, we can move past the nude pictures on Page 1 and racy stories (I don't think American readers are ready for that), but there is good advice in the story about adapting to readers, embracing the Internet, and providing exclusive material. Frankly, one unstated conclusion is that newspapers should be adding reporters and getting them out on the street instead of rewriting their earlier efforts several times a day to make it appear that websites are fresh. Exclusives are exclusives.

The author's conclusion that German newspapers are successeding because of "their embrace of competition" is interesting. As a journalism historian, I spend a lot of time looking at newspapers from a hundred years ago when they certainly embraced competition. You can't look at the Hearst-Pulitzer-other New York newspapers of the era without being startled at their push against the competition. Frankly, what was their business model? Offer exclusive news, comment, features. That sounds like a winning combination.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A report that makes sense

It's long and filled with figures, but anyone interested in news today should read the Associated Press's report, A New Model for News. I'll confess I didn't read it until now -- after all, the report is 71 pages and is research-based -- but it finally looks at media research the way I think we should be: looking at how people consume media, not just what they consume. When I was in the profession, I was inundated with studies along the lines of "Did you read this story?" "Would you like more, less or is our presentation of ----- news just right?" or "How many times in the last ---- did you look at the ----- section?" All that is a nice way of getting a snapshot of what readers read, but it doesn't get into why they read or what they get out of reading. This study does that. A snapshot of its conclusions? People are getting a plethora of news and facts, but they're having trouble processing what they are reading and viewing. They want more news -- and they want more depth. Just not at the same time.

Mark Potts at the Recovering Journalist blog has a nice summation of the report. He emphasizes a key point, I believe. Young people see news as social currency. They want to be able to share with their friends.

Is television dead?

Interesting story in the Christian Science Monitor says the Internet and other forms of video delivery have already blurred the lines between television and the other forms. It cites a number of examples showing that we are in the process of dramatically changing our viewing habits (nothing will change mine as much as did TiVo). Although I look at computer screens far too much and will admit that YouTube is addicting, I can't imagine giving up my nice big HDTV for a smaller screen. Still, I know some do. Last September, I quizzed my class of Marquette Honors students on their viewing habits. Of the ten students in class, one never watched television, five watched it like the rest of us, three watched it primarily on computers, and one claimed she watched television only on her cell phone.

The bottom line is that change is happening in all media, and all these confident predictions about the future are just that -- predictions.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"Meet the American daily newspaper of 2008"

That's the beginning of the latest Project for Excellence in Journalism report based on extensive interviewing of journalism professionals. It's got a lot we know (smaller staffs, smaller newspapers, smaller coverage of many areas), but there's a lot we didn't know, for example, "more people today in more places read the content produced in the newsrooms of American daily newspapers than at any time in years." The whole report is worth reading.

A novel idea -- Save your best stuff for print

Editors of the Philadelphia Inquirer have generated a lot of buzz around what sounds to me like a very sensible idea -- saving their best material for the printed edition. A memo from the editors (posted in Jim Romenesko's website) outlines the plan. Basically it puts breaking news and lots of "news you can use" to, say, plan weekends, online first, but reserves features, investigative pieces, etc. for the print edition.

It makes a lot of sense to me. Make the print edition different, emphasizing the print strong points. Remember how much stronger the photography of the emptied Lake Delton was in the Journal Sentinel than the much-smaller versions posted online? Let online play to its strengths, and print to its. And reserve material for print. A couple of years ago, the Journal Sentinel had a blogger named Vicki Ortiz. It started printing a blog report in the Weekend Cue section as a column. I thought at the time that splitting the columns -- which is what fleshed out blog items really are -- between the print and online would drive traffic to both platforms. I certainly would experiment with holding the print columns out for a couple of days before posting them. As someone who actually buys two copies of the printed Journal Sentinel each day, give me something for my money.

Among those commenting on the issues is BBC's Rory Cellen-Jones who pairs the Philadelphia move with some comment on NBC's Olympic coverage. I like his conclusions (often outside observers are much more precient than we Yanks), but also recommend reading the comments for some insights.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What should young journalists know? Versatility

What should we in journalism education tell young people in our field? That's the question addressed by Editor & Publisher's Maegan Carberry in this week's installment of a new series E&P is posting on "The new New Media." Her advice: teach them "a lifelong career skill that applies to all industries: versatility." And for students, the more skills you learn the better off you will be.

My view is the same. Journalism skills are excellent real life skills, which is why journalists do so well in law schools. It's also why we are insuring Marquette journalism students learn digital skills. They will come in handy. An email Carberry quotes says,
“When newspapers are looking to make layoffs they're looking for the people who a) make the most money and do the least, but b) don't have a well-rounded skill set.” I'd emphasize the well-rounded skill set. The journalist entrepreneurs must take charge of shaping their lives. I wouldn't wait for others to shape it for me.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A British view of American television

Interesting critique of American television news from the Guardian in Great Britain. Very unflattering, and makes some interesting observations about the roles of "The
Daily Show," "Colbert Report," and YouTube.

Some thoughts on the new media

Today's thoughts are driven by Barak Obama campaign's offer to bypass the media and send his vice presidential choice directly to your cell phone. I read a comment over the weekend that FDR was the first president to understand the power of radio; JFK the first to understand television; and Obama the first to understand the Internet. Whatever. The strategy is clearly one of bypassing the old media with a breaking news event (sort of like getting baseball scores via text). Clearly this works for some things.

Still, I don't think it's the example for all news. For example, a letter to Crain's Detroit Business bemoans cuts at The Detroit News while saying vibrant local coverage is important. No argument there. But the author's call if for "a major push to enable and encourage citizens to inform one another through 'self-generating content' platforms such as blogs and social networking sites." We've got plenty of those in Milwaukee, but while I get some news from them the audiences are far too small to create a "vibrant" local news culture.

AdWeek has a story on branding that, although aimed at advertising, I think has implications for editorial as well. It basically says that the new media should make us rethink how we communicate to build a solid brand. It's not just enough to view it as a new box in the flow chart; rather new media offers us new ways to build our brands. The line I really liked was: "Create engaging media experiences that help form brand expectations." I couldn't help but think about proposed changes at the Chicago Tribune and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel similar to those in Detroit. In both cases, the newspapers are actually talking about cutting back what they are offering readers (at least print readers). So we are supposed to pay more for less. That's not creating "engaging media experiences." It's making us look elsewhere.

Finally, a Google official offers some interest thoughts via the Aspen Times. Quickly bypassing her assertion that "newspaper readers no longer consume an entire newspaper, instead consuming a variety of articles," which seems to assume people ever read the entire newspaper, there are some good ideas in the talk.