Friday, December 5, 2008

OK, more depressing news

The news has been so depressing lately for journalism (and, yes, the decline of print journalism is hurtful for all journalism) that I've been ignoring the drip, drip, drip bad news stories. But MediaPost (online, of course) does a nice job of wrapping up this week's bad news here. There are some dramatic charts showing the decline since 2000 -- with the cut in employees being constant followed by the decline in stock price. Could they be tied together with a decline in quality hurting the bottom line? Yes, advertising is fleeing, but I would argue that some of the decline in advertising is because print media isn't aggressively seeking it out. I hear, anecdotally, that one of the problems at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is that they've cut so many advertising salespeople that they don't have enough bodies to service existing customers, much less drum up new business. I don't think that's any different than the rest of the industry.

By the way, I'd suggest a third chart just to compare: How has CEO compensation fared over this period? Do you think it declined with the number of employees and stock price? I'd do it myself, but the end of the semester rush is hitting.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Why copy editors matter

Calling it "A primer in news credibility," the American Copy Editors Society "fills in the holes" in Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell's conception of the work done by copy editors. It's one of the best explanations of what copy editors do and why they are important that I've read. This is highly recommended, especially for bloggers and would-be "citizen journalists." Zell said what happens online is that a reporter calls a "copywriter" with a story, and it's on the web in 10 minutes. Unfortunately, that's all too true, which is why the Internet is filled with a lot of garbage (sure, there is a lot of good material, but there's also a lot of inaccuracies, copyright violations, and libel). Basically, ACES calls for more eyes on every story. That's what professionals do, and a story vetted by many eyes has a much better chance of meeting journalistic standards. Frankly, bloggers can do the same (I have someone who reads my copy before it goes up, and others quick to let me know if something is slightly off).

Today's warning on newspaper future: 'Several cities may be without newspapers next year'

A financial group, assigning negatives to just about every media form's business, predicts that "several cities will be without newspapers." The country's terrible business outlook, coupled with incredibly short-sighted media ownership, has left a large number of companies at financial risk, including Tribune Co. and McClatchy Co., both of whose debt it lists as "junk."

It's all part of a worldwide economic hit, Fitch Ratings says, predicting a "global depression" next year. A few years ago, a Pentagon analysis predicted such an event in the case oil prices topped $90 a share. They were, as we all know, well above that for much of the past year, and analysts are predicting they'll go back soon. Unfortunately, it looks like this is one thing the Pentagon got right, and media companies are in the line of fire economically.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Outsourcing sourcing

Fun little piece on the two-source rule as applied on the Internet. It's not journalism that would be accepted by Kovach and Rosenstiel, but it is what's happening today.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

And for another view . . .

Unfortunately, Steve Outing's view is one that I'd sum up as "print readers are old, stodgy, and just going to die, so forget them already and put all your eggs in digital, even though you're losing money at it." Even though that's basically what Outing is saying, I wonder why he thinks print managers should just concede the future? Remember how radio killed newspapers, and television killed radio and movies?

Frankly, I strongly believe in the future of digital and online media (not so sure about some of the less content-rich forms). However, I can't believe in just forgetting print. People are still buying lots and lots of magazines and books as well as newspapers, which still are selling a lot better than the Outings of the world would have you believe. So why is it good business to just give up?

Mr. Outing comments (be sure to follow the link at the bottom of this to his comments) that I'm misinterpreting his views. I agree on the need for newspapers to build a digital presence, my concern is that too many newspapers are simply sitting around waiting for their print edition to fail. As a holder of far more stock in media companies than I wish I had (that $16 a share for Journal Co. stock a year and a half ago seems awfully good right now when it's hovering around $2), I want to see them at least go kicking. That said, Mr. Outing's comments are important -- which is one reason why I regularly read his columns on the Editor & Publisher site, and recommend that you do, too.

A question for newspaper executives

Not news, especially, but good comments about how newspaper executives seem to believe their critics and are dumbing down their product. They come from a layed-off journalist and, surprise, surprise, were spiked by his former publication.  The question that should be asked repeatedly of newspaper folks: What's your game plan for your most valuable -- and profitable product -- the printed newspaper? Do you have any?

I see a lot of innovation in online and a lot of just cutting and slashing in print. Why not try to innovate in print as well? Do you really think you're going to get me to continue subscribing by cutting your quality staff, offering only long, often dull and even more often, of no interest to me at all, investigative stories but no good, innovative writing on things I care about.

Why not have your print newsrooms suggest some innovative coverage? Most newspapers have the staff to innovate. Why not try?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mumbai and the media

Nice report in the Wall Street Journal summing up media coverage -- especially new media coverage -- of the chaos in Mumbai. Well worth reading to see the extent of diffusion of media use today. Two key points stuck out to me: 1) the instantness of much of the posting, 2) the incorrectness of much. Yes, we are getting our news instantly (and as someone planning to pass by Mumbia in less than a month, I was following along as the crisis exploded), but much of it is incorrect since there is no gatekeeper in much of new media. Everything's still evolving.

Meanwhile, Variety reports that some in India believe the saturation coverage helped the terrorists.

CNN to compete with AP for newspaper clients, prompting thoughts of convergence and local news

Years ago, I worked for the "legendary" City News Bureau of Chicago (legendary is in quotes because that's how it was referred to in Chicago media circles). It was a fabulous idea spawned in the days of very competitive business in Chicago with lots of newspapers competing. What City News did was cover the minutiae of police, courts and basic city coverage, then send its stories out on a wire to all the newspapers (by the time I joined, it had added TV, radio, even AP, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters). It covered the city, and, often, its reports were carried as is by the newspapers. Other times, they supplemented newspaper coverage.

In this era of convergence, I've been wondering when someone would move to replicate what City News has done for all the local web sites popping up. Nobody has yet, but they will, I predict.

Anyway, convergence is moving rapidly along even without local coverage as CNN is moving to compete with AP on wire stories, basically seeking to be the City New of America and the world. I think it's a good idea.