Thursday, December 31, 2009

The more we change, the more we stay the same

Speaking of reinventing journalism, I'm struck by the frequent similarities to journalism's history and its basics in stories talking about new media. For example, this excellent essay by Amanda Ernst on FishbowlNY about the future of media. She talks with Jim Gaines, former managing editor of several magazines who now is chief of the digital publication FLYP.

Gaines talks about journalism as a conversation with traditional journalism starting the conversation and citizen journalists and crowdsourcing moving it along. That's not all that different from what I've been teaching about journalism my entire career with the difference being that journalism not only starts the conversations but move it along. The theory is that no story is complete unto itself so a report of something sets in motion continued reporting on other facets that tell us more about the story until we have a rounded and reasonably complete story.

Like many other new media folk (and far too many in old media) he believes the old system, as he put it, "We come from a model where you publish something once on paper and it goes into a library and it's basically dead." Of course the model was that something was published once, then more and more information was gathered and reported and the stories, far from being dead, were living, growing and becoming more complete.

Still, Gaines has several good ideas about how things might happen in this brave new world.

Hyperlocal news and the future

For those looking ahead at media, the watchword is hyperlocal. It's not just old media, but new media that is flocking to hyperlocal news as content. As this report in the Guardian indicates, it's not just big media like CNN, but all variations that are looking to hyperlocal reporting to build community. The report emphasises two important points.

The first is political reporting. Who has the money and staff to do the kind of reporting that is needed for our democracies?

The second is summed up in this quote: "The reporting of local news will be interesting for a journalistic reason. Local information is likely to be the first place of a reinvented journalism." Journalism is in the process of reinventing itself, and hyperlocal may well be one of its laboratories.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Newspaper ad reviews and the future


Years ago I was an obituary writer. I called funeral homes and families and wrote the stories of those who have died. One of the tricks of the trade was to contact people before they died to get details that would make obituaries of famous people more interesting. I thought of it as writing obituaries of the dying.

That leads into Eric Sass's column today. He writes about newspaper advertising reviews, which are continuing to decline. I've attached a chart from his column showing the decline over the past few years.

It sort of makes me think about my old job.

Steve Outing writes about newspapers and new media

Steve Outing, who has supported new media for 20 years, writes in what's probably his list column for the soon-to-end Editor & Publisher two lists of interest: (1) What the newspaper industry should have done, and (2) since it didn't, what will happen now.

Both are interesting since they reflect the basic new media mantra that newspapers were destined to die, are destined to die, and will die as consumers switch to other media. I wish I could be as confident about any of the options. Clearly they will continue to be change. I'm not convinced, as Outing seems to be, that mobile is really the way we're going to get our news. Sure, I'll get Tweets on my iPhone, but do I want to read all the details on a tiny screen? Nor am I convinced that online advertising is all that effective. I'm still waiting to read research finding that. It's cheap, but so is television advertising at 3 a.m., or direct mail in small towns where it's not read by many people.

Still, Outing has been right on many things in the past, and his columns have always been interesting, as is this one.

More evidence that reading is growing

One of the points I like to make in classes is that newspapers may die but journalism will live. That's borne out by reports like this one reporting on a study that shows we've never read as much as we are now -- and someone has to write all those words we're reading.

A Wired report says: “Reading, which was in decline due to the growth of television, tripled from 1980 to 2008, because it is the overwhelmingly preferred way to receive words on the Internet,” found a University of San Diego study (.pdf) published this month by Roger E. Bohn and James E. Short of the University of San Diego.

If you have any doubts, read that again: "Reading . . . tripled from 1980 to 2008 . . . ." And, as I said, someone has to write all those words. Now we just need to get all those writers paid a fair amount.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Yet another reason to hate progress

One of the reasons I'm not totally convinced that online is the future of media is because of the stupidity of web site operators and advertisers. For example, I just now attempted to view the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel site, and they have a banner across that top with a rollover that totally obscures the screen whenever my cursor hits it, meaning that to navigate the site I have to carefully pull my cursor around the bar.

It's stupid of the site since it makes visiting unpleasant and even more stupid for the advertiser who is paying good money for a gimmick that is guaranteed to make me LESS likely to go to my local Honda dealer than I would be without it.

It's the same "if we can stick in this operations we will" that makes users dislike Microsoft and its ilk for all the unnecessary junk they have cluttering their products. A rollover -- and they'll all over the Internet -- makes it much less pleasant an experience. At least with my printed newspaper, I don't have to move my eyes only in a selected path to move from one area to another.

369 magazines closed in 2009 -- so far

It's sort of staggering to see yearend lists of struggling media properties. The latest is a listing of 369 magazines that have closed during 2009 -- not counting the 64 that went online-only. Still, it's an improvement over the 526 that closed in 2008 or the 573 that closed in 2007.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Upturn seen for newspapers

Just in time for the holidays, an analyst says the bottom is in sight for newspapers, and predicts things are going to get better -- slowly (with more advertising drops), but surely.

The comeback will happen in part because of "relentless" cost cutting, but more because newspapers remain a monopoly and have learned to leverage their content into more revenue streams.

As mixed as the analysis was (it shows 8 percent ad revenue drops), it did create a small boomlet for newspaper stocks. I believe they've been discounted so much that they now are bargains.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Social media and marketing; it affects us all

Media analyst Joe Marchese offers "10 things changing marketing in 2010," a perceptive blog posting. Perhaps of most interest is his view of new and much wider roles for social media with all their implications for marketing. The same holds true for news and the rest of media as well.

More on digital media and reading

The print revolution from paper to digital is not only casting doubt on the future of many forms of print, but also on the very concept of reading.

The Christian Science Monitor offers a look at the complex issue of reading, especially reading e-books, at this time of revolution.

Perhaps it's tell that I printed out the story and read it over coffee rather than scrolling through it on a computer. Yes, I don't have a Kindle. That doesn't mean I won't ever have one; just that I have enough to read now and already am spending far more time in front of a computer screen than I like.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The newspaper shell game

Jennifer Saba at Editor & Publisher (still there, online) correctly calls out the newspaper publishers for their shell game of charging readers more and offering them less. It's a strategy that probably will doom the industry, I believe, despite plenty of evidence that readers still like, desire and will pay for newspapers. In fact, my belief is that many advertisers will soon become weary of getting no results from their ultra-cheap online advertising, and look at print as a proven model. Of course, that doesn't include classified advertising lost to Craig's list and its ilk, but I'm predicting that some sectors may well return.

Anyway, Saba's comments indicate that she also sees the obvious weakness in a strategy of bleeding resources from a product that you want to sell for a higher price. If only newspaper publishers would.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Email remains atop social media

In more evidence of overreaching by new media partisans (most of whom have a financial interest in touting new media), the latest research contradicts those saying email was dead.

The newest study finds that email is still much more likely to be used in sharing content than Facebook or Twitter. In fact, email's share of the content-sharing market (as measured by those buttons at the end of stories using "Share This" buttons) is more than both Facebook and Twitter combined.

There's just a lot of bad information out there, and media folks trying to figure out the future from present and recent past trends need to be quite wary.

Does the media need to hire more conservatives?

In a switch from the norm, Thomas Frank (the Wall Street Journal's token moderate commentator) writes about Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander who said the media is too liberal and needs to hire conservatives (I'm paraphrasing Alexander, but this is the gist of what he's written). Frank points out the media is quite conservative already (no questioning of the run up to the Iraq war or, frankly, much else at the Bush White House until the final couple of years when it imploded, or questioning the banking industry as it took America down).

Hearkening back to basic journalism 101, Frank says what is needed is a media willing to hold power accountable. More power to him and his views.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I wonder if she went to journalism school?

And for those just dying to know how low the media can sink, the New York Post started a weekly advice column by Ashley Dupre, the "escort" who sank Eliot Spitzer's career.

A disquieting report on the Wall Street Journal

For nearly four decades, I've touted the Wall Street Journal as the best newspaper in America. I ignored its editorial page, not because of its editorial stances, but because I knew of at least two instances when the editorial page continued to use "facts" in its editorials that it knew were untrue. Despite that (and I routinely ignore opinion pages since they are, and should be, advocacy journalism), I felt the Journal did the best job of covering most of American society fairly and completely. It wasn't perfect, but it was better than the job anyone else was doing.

Two years ago, Rupert Murdoch took over the Journal, much to the dismay of many of its employees and loyal readers. He pledged to keep politics out of the news coverage. Then, as now, I kept an open mind since much of Murdoch's journalism is excellent. I watched as Journal editors broadened the coverage with more societal and cultural coverage. I believe media does have an important role in setting a cultural tone for our society, and by cultural, I mean reporting and reflecting on what is happening in our culture. I've seen significant improvements in areas of Journal coverage, for example an innovative approach to the field of sports, for better or worse, a significant part of our culture.

I've enjoyed reading the expanded Opinion page with often-thoughtful columns and a lengthy daily book review/essay. Sure, I noticed that page tilted heavily rightwing (only one columnist with a discernible moderate bent), and the Editorial and op-ed page, both also labeled "Opinion" seemed to become even more predictably fringe-right in stance. (I do wonder if people on the fringes on both sides of the political spectrum don't realize they'd gain credibility if they didn't always paint everything from their ideological stance -- for example, hasn't President Obama done anything right?)

Now comes a New York Times' "Media Equation" column that basically supports those who felt that Murdoch's company couldn't keep it's hands off the news pages. David Carr's piece cites several instances that appear to be clear ideological coloration to news pages. It supported a general impression that I had been having over the last year or so with instances of direct ideological tints. It saddens me. I had hoped that Murdoch would have kept his word concerning keeping ideology out of news content at the Journal. It's now started a slide into becoming as irrelevant as most of today's newspapers.

Animation and journalism: A good thing?

Oh, goody. Another chance to write about Tiger Woods. OK, this is a media blog, and this is a serious topic for the media, although Woods does illustrate a point, it's the point that matters.

Now that I've buried the lead deep enough, let's talk about how new technology leads to . . . old media ideas. The media world is -- properly, I think -- buzzing about video animation of news events. Most of us by now have seen the animation that shows an avatar of Woods' wife smashing the tailgate of his SUV before the crash, or some of the others since then.

This has led to all sorts of tsk, tsking since it's faked news, but is it really? It works by reporters telling artists and animators their version of a story, which is then converted to avatars to give video the film it really needs.

There are two points about this I believe are significant: First, use of this technology might lead to television actually covering some of the harder topics that don't come with film. That's always been the Achilles heel of television: most film comes on the easy stories. Here's a technology that allows television to move away from fires, crimes, "unsafe eating" and "sexual predators living among us!!!". The second is that, once again, it's a throwback to a journalism technique that influenced newspapers in the 19th century. Before technology allowed newspapers to have photos, they had illustrations and cartoons. They were good for journalism, and this most recent trend might well be good for journalism now.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Study reinforces newspaper audience strength

It's not news any more, but a Scarborough study shows that 74 percent of Americans are reading a newspaper each week, either online or in print. That follows other studies with similar results.

The audience also skews upscale, 84 percent college graduate, 82 percent of households earning more than $100,000 and 79 percent of white collar Americans read newspapers. Now, how to translate that into revenue?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New media making old media mistakes, again

I've held off commenting about Facebook's latest privacy mistake (actually, it's a privacy attack) because it's such an easy target. The company, clearly attempting to increase its profits, unilaterally puts into effect sweeping changes that opens our information to the world, then retreats little bit, but still leaves us unsure about what actually is happening with our information, which is why you won't find much personal information on my site and, frankly, shouldn't find much on your's either.

But as I was reading some of the comments today (more than 150 news stories on Google news) and noting a question on Twitter by my colleague and new media advocate Linda Menck about the future of Twitter, I was once again struck by the way lousy American business executives seem bent on ruining their media product by stupidity and total disregard for the customer. New media is being run just as stupidly as old media, and, frankly, it faces the same bleak future.

My personal concerns are (1) privacy, (2) commercialization, (3) privacy, (4) arrogance in changing my settings without any approval, (5) privacy, (6) attempts to harness my history to specific advertisers, (7 and a hundred or so more) privacy. Yes, I suppose it's nice for advertising to be targeted to my interests. But it doesn't really seem to match up. And I end up questioning the need for everyone to know just when I look online as well as what I share with my family and friends. Linda decries the commercialization of Twitter (I was tweeting about an earlier post on this blog; that could be commercialization, I suppose), and she's correct. She asks what the answer? It's not out there as of now.

Reporter's firing prompts criticism

Another case where a reporter's private views cost him a job involves a Catholic reporter and a gay-lesbian support group, and raised once again the question of how the freedom offered in new media (in this case a private email from a non-work account) can affect journalists.

The reporter, Larry Grard, was fired by his newspaper, the Waterville Morning Sentinel, in Maine, after he wrote an email responding to a press release from the Human Rights Campaign decrying Maine's vote denying same-sex marriage. The newspaper also cancelled a free-lance column his wife wrote.

Certainly we've long had ethnics policies saying reporters shouldn't get take positions in political situations, but this case -- especially the cancelling of Grard's wife's column -- brought the issue up again.

Tiger Woods, gossip and journalism

Nicholas DiFonzo takes on the role of gossip and Tiger Woods, arguing in today's Wall Street Journal that society learns from gossip.

"Out of the vanity and cruelty of gossip, though, can come socially beneficial consequences. That is the gossip paradox: just when we thought the airwaves and tabloids could not tell any more lurid tales about the moral failings of sports figures that we admire, it turns out that maybe we're learning something," he writes.

"Beware the lure of infotainment," preaches Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in "The Elements of Journalism." They say that infotainment, that category of focusing on entertaining news, drives away serious journalism, along with many other problems. DiFonzo makes a good case for good that comes from our reporting gossip.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Reading, writing and the American culture

A fascinating essay in today's New York Times' Styles section by Michelle Slatalla delves into a problem that I believe is becoming endemic among Americans, and poses significant concerns not only for those of us in the media but for our culture as a whole.

She writes about how she's finding it difficult to read books, even though she has read books for most of her life. She is experiencing something that studies have been showing is becoming more and more a problem. As we read, but only in short slivers (such as this post), or watch only parts of comedy shows (SNL skits on YouTube, for example), we are losing the ability to concentrate on longer-form media. It becomes worse with our multi-tasking, such as reading a newspaper, checking email while watching a movie on television (that was me last night). Because we really aren't doing justice to any of the three, we lose attention. And it's the longer-form that needs it the most.

Now that you've read this short form, follow the link and read the longer form of Slatalla's original thought. Then maybe, a whole book. Trust me, you'll feel better in the morning.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bulletin! Print isn't dead

Print -- even newspapers -- isn't dead, according to a long takeout on the Editor & Publisher website. Even with daily newspaper circulation off 10.6 percent, higher prices and content cuts, the report finds reasons for optimism. Every time I see figures like that, I think of media analyst Alex Jones' comment that the above figures actually show the medium's strength -- 90% of newspaper readers are willing to pay more for less content for something they can get free on the Internet. If I were a newspaper publisher, I'd be throwing those number at advertisers (or former advertisers). He's absolutely correct, and it shows that the print model works.

Of further importance, buried in the story is a finding that directly ties content to readers. One study found a direct tie of price and content. "When asked about the perception of content
in tandem with price increases, the survey found a 4-to-1 gap in price versus defection. For example, if the paper raised the subscription price but readers felt they were getting more content, the fall-off in volume would be around 10%. At the same price, if readers felt like they were getting less content, volume would fall by 40%," E&P reported.

Of course, newspapers still have to deliver the paper. The Journal Sentinel announced it was cutting 39 more jobs, most in circulation. This comes after the mishandled newspaper dramatically reduced its content producers, sales personnel (doesn't it sort of make sense that you might want to strengthen sales if that's a problem, not cut the staff so badly that regular accounts are complaining not to mention all the potential accounts that aren't being contacted?), and the rest of the company (except, of course, for executives; after all, the company felt it had to give CEO Steven Smith a retention bonus last year since the market for CEOs who watch 90 percent of a company's value disappear is so large). That the continued cuts are hurting has showed the past few days when its website wasn't operating properly on some browsers and, so far at least, no one at the paper has noticed.

But, mismanagement aside, the print platform continues strong, and it's the job of print media to start telling their story effectively.

Email discussion continues

The debate about whether email is dying continues, with one veteran Internet marketer still seeing it as the preferred method of contacting potential customers. It's not that the marketer, Eric Kirby, is opposed to other methods -- in fact he cites a recent Outback Steakhouse promotion on Facebook as a great example of using social media -- but that it's still the widest used platform with little change in usage (87 percent of people prefer it, he says). In fact, the Outback promotion was used to gain email addresses.

Frankly, email works, it's worked for a long time, and it makes sense for those of us who can't (or won't) check Twitter or Facebook multiple times a day. For media folks, keeping track of how people communicate is vital, so this discussion is important.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Twitter's future depends on changing human nature?

Simon Dumenco of Ad Age offers ten lessons he's learned from Twitter. I especially like his number nine, which posits that Twitter's future depends on our changing human nature. I doubt it.

If rumors are enough for you. . .

I love well-thought-out lines that really nail a thought so I wanted to share this from Christoph Keese, head of public affairs and an architect of the online strategy followed by the publishing giant Springer (publisher of Europe's biggest daily newspaper). Talking about the need for journalism, he said: “A highly industrialized world cannot survive on rumors."

Keese wants publishers to work with Internet companies to create a “one-click marketplace solution” for their online content with Internet gateways displaying links to newspaper articles, videos and other content from a variety of providers, as search engines do now. But some of the items would include something new: a price tag.

Free journalism is an example of getting what you pay for (see most newspapers, which are in the process of slashing their staff members by the scores or, even cheaper, Internet websites depending on free reporting). If you think rumors are enough news for you, please come by just about any McDonald's or bagel restaurants in the morning and listen to the fact-free zone. I am stunned at what I hear that passes for fact.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thinking about the sports game story

Erin Sheehan, former editor of the M.U. Journal and currently with guest relations for the Atlanta Braves, passed along a link to a column by Jason Fry at the National Sports Journalism Center suggesting radical changes in the sports game story.

She was correct in that the column was thoughtful and interesting. Its premise was that the sports game story – the mainstay of most sports pages – is outdated, dull and unable to compete with all the other ways sports fans have of getting information about a game (or other sports event). Fry is correct; most game stories are all of the above. However, as a sports fan (and former sports writer in a bygone era), I think the game story is still the most important story in most sports sections.

First, let’s deal with that pesky competition angle since that’s what most new media folks have used to convince newspaper editors to commit seppuku by saddling beat writers with tons of other stuff. Yes, we know who’s won; we probably look at the box score or other statistics before reading the game story; we may well have seen the highlights on “Sportscenter.” So? We’ve long known one fact that seems to get lost in all the speculation about competition – people who have gone to a game are more likely to read a game story than those who didn’t go to the game. So much for the competition problem. People don’t care about the competition; if the story’s any good, it will be read.

Second, Fry suggests four tactics – two of them are the surrender mode adopted by most newspaper editors, but the others, reinvigorate and reenergize them, are worth following. The reason sports fans who have been to a game want to read the game story is to put what they’ve seen into perspective. They want the quotes, the play-by-play of key moments, and the analysis. They’ll also seek out the best story they can find among all the stories. If it’s not in the newspaper but some new media form, that’s what they’ll find. One of the advantages of new media is that sports fans today have a lot of options, and I’ll bet they use them all. I read ESPN and The Sporting News online daily in addition to sports sections from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, New York Times and, sometimes, USA Today. And I sure read various takes on the same story. But I read them anyway. A good story works every time, and, frankly, I see an awful lot of smart young journalists like Erin Sheehan in classes and student media at Marquette (and lots of other schools). Give them time and opportunity and watch them do their own reinvigorating and reenergizing.

Pete Hamill on journalism, a must-read

Great interview with Pete Hamill on syracuse.com about journalism that should be read by every aspiring journalism. Following is his answer on writing columns:

"The editor is part of it. If you’re writing a column and the editor says go cover the Vietnam War or go cover the World Series or the last fight of Sugar Ray Robinson, you go. But most of the time you’re making choices. What I did as a columnist because I liked (Jimmy) Breslin and (Murray) Kempton and a lot of people after that, the opinions in the column were based on the reporting. You went somewhere. My routine was to call in fairly early and see what was on the AP datebook and the paper datebook and see what was the best thing for me to cover. And make sure nobody else was going to be there.

"I was a generalist. I wanted to cover politics on Monday and the Rolling Stones on Wednesday and whatever I felt like, a good murder, on Friday. You learn more that way. You can tell when a guy is at his 27th World Series. The prose flattens out. The sense of surprise is gone. It’s like another day at the office. If you can keep enthusiasm going for a lifetime, then it’s better to be a generalist. . You can pick assignments that force you to read three books before you show up if you want to."

Should news be free?

Arianna Huffington offers a long defense of new media (actually it's an attack on old media attacks on new media) in which she poses arguments that aggregators are doing news sites a service.

There's a lot of thought and good points in the article from the Chicago Tribune, along with some fuzzy thinking and deceptive numbers (for example: "Did you know newspaper advertising fell nearly 19 percent this year while Web advertising is up 9 percent and mobile advertising is up 18 percent?" Probably true, but using percentages hides the fact that the bases are so dissimilar, which means that the money lost is newspaper advertising is a heckavua lot more than the money gained in web advertising).

A big part of her problem, as is much of what I read about this situation, is due to differing definitions of "news." Huffington says, and I agree, that charging for "news" won't work since there are many free sites. But are columns news? Analysis pieces? The Journal Sentinel's "Packers Plus?" For example, if I ran a "news site," I'd charge for all the extras -- those things that just can't be found everywhere. For example, I enjoy reading Bill Simmons on sports or Andrew Sullivan on culture or Frank Rich on our society. Why should everything they write be free? Should everything Bob McGinn writes on the Packers be free? I don't think so. I strongly suspect Huffington was paid for writing her piece -- and she should have been.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Today is a big day for discussing media.

In Washington, a Federal Trade Commission two-day workshop is bringing out a host of big names in the field, including Rupert Murdoch, Steven Brill, Paul Steiger, Leonard Downie and others. There is sure to be big news from this area.

In Hyderabad, India (where I had a 12-hour airport layover a year ago; not fun), the World Newspaper Congress is underway with lots of interesting tidbits. Not surprisingly, the lead is one of Murdoch's minions, Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton whose talk could be summed up with this quote: " How can it be that the Internet offered so much promise and so little profit?" Don't look for much new media love from Hyderabad. The link is to paidcontent.org so you can imagine that group's take on the situation. (Hint: "Free costs too much."). Lots of stories out there. Search using "World Newspaper Congress."

And I fully appreciate the irony that I'm using new media, including both links, to report on old media. We certainly live in a crazy media world these days.

Newspapers oppose online "opt-in" advertising strategy

Depending on what point of view you have, newspapers are weighing in on one of the hot topics of the day -- behavioral targeted advertising -- on the side of the devil or that of the angels.
The Newspaper Association of America is urging the federal government not to follow an "opt-in" strategy for such advertising. "Opt-in" means that consumers can't be targeted unless they specifically allow it. It's the opposite of the "opt-out" strategy used in telephone marketing (another area where the newspaper industry has sided against most consumers).

Monday, November 30, 2009

New media looks like the old

New media looks awful, well, white, says Byron Monroe, former Ebony magazine editor and former editor of the National Association of Black Journalists. He's got a point. For new media to actually be an improvement over the old, it must represent a diverse America.

Ready for the robots?

AOL is. CEO Tim Armstrong announced that AOL robots will trawl the web, suggest stories, calculate payment (and ad rates) for free lancers, edit the stories and check for copyright infringement.

Can this be the future of the Internet? Or just the failure of yet another plan put together by human MBA drones?

Magazines readying for growth of eReaders

AdWeek says that magazine publishers are readying digital platforms for the growth of eReaders, which are expected to multiply within months.

The sky already fell, but . . .

Interesting musings on media from David Carr at the New York Times. For some time I've repeated the line that historians tell us what life was like before Gutenberg and movable type, and what life was like afterward. But nothing tells us what life was like when it revolutionised the media landscape -- and the world.

Carr does a nice job of looking at the chaos as the sky fell in great chunks (his phrase), but then waxes optimistic about a future without the heady days of media past:

"So what do we get instead? The future, which is not a bad deal if you ignore all the collateral gore. Young men and women are still coming here to remake the world, they just won’t be stopping by the human resources department of Condé Nast to begin their ascent.

"For every kid that I bump into who is wandering the media industry looking for an entrance that closed some time ago, I come across another who is a bundle of ideas, energy and technological mastery. The next wave is not just knocking on doors, but seeking to knock them down."

The sky fell. But there's a new dawn with a new sky and lots of people are looking at what might be instead of what was. That's a pretty good way of looking at things.

Ad spending optimism rebounds

For some time, observers have wondered whether the decline in advertising was a consequence of poor media performance or poor economic performance. MediaPost reports today that it seems to be the latter, since ad executives report the highest level of optimism since before the recession hit.
Now someone needs to tell the media companies so they'll quit committing suicide by attrition and start giving us consumers a reason to buy their product.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Social media has two faces

Very interesting blog post points to some of the problems with social media for marketers (and the rest of us). Sure, it can really help a product, but it can also really hurt if some in the "community" turn against it. It includes research showing that people who are most involved with a product by, say, commenting on it or interacting on a web site, are the most knowledgeable but also the most critical of it. Nice to have something to think about the day after Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Murdock's move supported, and not

Some American newspapers ponder joining Rupert Murdock in pulling their news content from Google, but BBC said that it had "no intention" of joining in the move.

The American newspapers, in Denver and Dallas, said they would protect stories "behind pay walls" but allow Google to link to free online offerings. This seems a sensible policy, and one that I suspect will be followed by any successful print/online company. News content free online, but features, columns, reviews and the content that really adds value to news coming behind a pay wall and not available to Google or Yahoo searchers.

What's next for social media?

Often in recent years we yanks have been behind the media trends and have had to look to Europe, Australia or Asia for what's really happening. Great Britain's Guardian offers some excellent media stories, including a piece reporting on an Oxford Business School session pulling together some of the top names in social media to discuss its future.

None of the panelists (with ties to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) were willing to answer the basic question: What's next after social media. But there's a lot of good thinking reported in this old media vehicle (accessed via the Internet, so does that make it new media?).

Musings on e-books, textbooks and the future

There have been some small news stories recently that are touching on a larger one. It's always been the case that media is better at seeing trees than forests. In this case, the trees are e-books and textbooks (I sort of like using trees as a metaphor for tree-less technology), and their impact is the forest.

The stories are the first steps toward using e-books for textbooks. All of us -- including university faculty -- recognise the incredible cost of textbooks. We also understand why their so expensive, but they remain very expensive. Frankly, I can't see e-book technology significantly reducing the cost over the long run, but that's a different story.

What I do see is more use of the e-book platform for delivering textbooks in the future, and that's the forest. As students use e-books more and more (especially when technology catches up and offers e-books in color and more useful), they are being subtly trained to like the technology. That's the forest: Once students adopt the e-book technology, they may well prefer it, which will strongly affect the book publishing business.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

L.A. Times extends behavior rules to the Internet

L.A. Times issues new social media rules that basically say that everything news staffers post online must be viewed in light of how it would reflect on the newspaper. I guess that means no hot holiday party pictures.

Murdoch + Microsoft: The new good guys?

Discussions Rupert Murdoch and Microsoft have stirred a lot of controversy lately, with the party line being that (1) it's a stupid idea that won't work, or (2) that it threatens the free Internet. All that's because Murdoch is threatening to sign an exclusive deal for his properties' content with Microsoft, which would mean it couldn't show up on Goggle or Yahoo searches. Supposedly not showing up on Google or Yahoo searches will cost it the all-important hits that may sometime in the future deliver money to the content provider (at least enough money to make it worthwhile).

Blogger Douglas Rushkoff at the Daily Beast says the controversy is for another reason -- it might work. Rushkoff says the "free Internet at any cost" is, and I'm paraphrasing a bit here, replacing the greedy old media monopolists like Murdoch with greedy new media monopolists like Google.

This argument makes sense to me: "However much we all might like free content in the short term, it is unsustainable in the long term. When nobody is paying for content, that content stops being created." That's the point missed by so many new media apologists.

Magazine veterans tackle a new project

Some of the magazine industry's heaviest hitters are joining to create a new digital magazine designed to work across all platforms. It's going to be interesting to see what they come up with.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Newspaper ad revenues off again

Newspaper ad revenues are off for eighth straight quarter. Not much more to say on this.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is there a place for journalism today?

    Roger Mudd is the latest old old-media guy to bemoan what's happening today. And to fundamentally misread what's happening today. He's a hard-news journalism who doesn't see the value in anything that isn't hard news. I, too, hate most of the soft news on the evening newscasts, but I also know that today's audience -- especially young people, despite what "media experts" think -- want news. I believe they want news in context, which means applying solid journalism to what's happening today, not turning to the latest "CAPTURING SEXUAL PREDATORS" or "FINDING MILWAUKEE'S DIRTIEST RESTAURANT." In fact, many of the topics covered in Mudd's interview go right to that point -- that journalism, based on verification, has a strong place at today's media table.

Some thoughts on YouTube and citizen journalism

    I haven't posted anything on YouTube's newest attempt to lure professional media further into the swamp of citizen journalism because I'm still undecided about it.  I use YouTube clips frequently in the classroom, and I'm not averse to citizen journalism. My feelings are that it's a useful adjunct to professionals, just as it is in my choosing to run clips to buttress points in lectures.  PC World columnist Tony Bradley clearly feels the same way in this essay.  His main point is that YouTube's amateurs can add to professional journalism, but they can't replace it.

Another survey shows high newspaper audience

     Today's episode of "Newspapers aren't dead yet no matter what the new media folks say" centers around a Scarborough survey showing that 74 percent of Americans are still reading newspapers, at least once a week. Truth is that this survey counts viewership as well as print, but the point is that newspapers are still leading the way in delivery of news to Americans.

     The report quotes  Newspaper Association of America’s president and CEO John F. Sturm saying “audience is a far more meaningful way to measure newspapers’ ability to attract a growing audience across multiple platforms.” The Scarborough research, he says, “provides further evidence that newspapers reach a highly educated, affluent audience.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Survey shows appetite for news unabated

Interesting survey reported in the Asbury Park Press showing media habits of New Jersey residents. Lots of interesting tidbits, and one that I think is significant and something the newspaper industry should be touting. The key finding is that appetite for news continues strong.
Among the findings: Of those polled, 43 percent watch a TV news broadcast from New York or Philadelphia and 42 percent read a newspaper nearly every day. Thirty-two percent visit a news Web site and 22 percent listen to talk radio almost every day.

But the finding that I find most significant, though, is hidden in the data. "Of those who read newspapers every week, 36 percent could name Newark Mayor Booker as opposed to 20 percent of those who do not read local papers," the paper reported. I've long thought, along with educators, that reading fixes facts in our memories, and I believe that the vehicle matters. Our minds do a better job of selecting and sorting information in printed form, I believe, than in the new media.

Magazine advertising showing mixed trends

Latest magazine advertising figures show mixed trends. Overall, ad pages are down, but they are up significantly at some publications. Among the winners: Scientific American, up 55%; Better Homes & Gardens, up 42%; Ladies' Home Journal, up 30%; Southern Living, up 29%; and Cooking Light, up 25%. Big losers: Architectural Digest, down 58%; Town & Country, down 50%; W, down 49%; and Elle Décor, down 40.6%.

Seems to me that we are beginning to see some media marketers believing they can see the light and targeting publications. Or else they're guessing.

Monday, November 16, 2009

New Detroit news to offer home delivery

One problem reducing the number of printed newspapers creates is that it makes it very easy to start new competition. Today comes news that a third Detroit daily newspaper is taking advantage of the cutbacks by the Detroit News and Free Press to two and three days respectively. On November 23, the Detroit Daily Press will be launched on newsstands only for a week before starting home delivery a week later. Bet they wouldn't have tried this is Detroit still had home-delivered print newspapers. During my time at the Milwaukee Journal and then Journal Sentinel, there were several serious attempts to launch alternatives either in Milwaukee or in various suburbs. All lost out because of the cost of starting and the strength of the newspapers.

At an announcement this summer, the new Detroit publishers said they needed 150,000 circulation to break even. Hope they get it.

Miami Herald opens hyper-local web site network

Way back in the dark ages when I got a MSJ from Northwestern, the Miami Herald approached me about working for a regional bureau. I looked into the idea and found it had small bureaus all over it's circulation area. They were doing hyper-local reporting long before anyone thought of the term. I think about that job just about every winter here in Milwaukee.

I remembered this as I read that the Herald is the latest newspaper to open a network of hyper-local news Internet sites. Same idea, new venue.

NBC offers another new take on news reporting

Interesting. NBC experiments with a new news show edited in New York City for local use elsewhere. Sure, they're doing it on the cheap, using "re-purposed" news content from the many NBC venues. But it's an attempt to break out of the various boxes we've put news into lately.

Yes, Americans will pay to read news online, study says

Conventional wisdom says no one will pay to read news online. Wrong, says a New York Times story. A new study by the Boston Consulting Group says that nearly half of Americans would pay. Of course, we have to have an anti-newspaper spin, and this report goes along with that pointing out that it's the lowest figure among the nine nations studied.

Nevertheless, LISTEN UP MEDIA PEOPLE, 48% of Americans said they'd pay. The story goes into needed depth reporting that a correlation can be made between willingness to pay and lack of rich, free content. Should all newspapers go behind pay barriers, watch to see how quickly people would be signing up.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Poll says newspaper sites will die with pay walls online

Crowdsourced poll overwhelmingly says that pay walls will fail for media companies. Since they are currently working for content like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Packers Plus and much of the Wall Street Journal content, I have to wonder about the crowd. Of course, there is sort of a self-fulfilling prophesy in crowdsourcing polls predicting the future, since if the masses decide something will fail, it will fail. Anyway, 65 percent of those responding to this poll sees pay walls as the beginning of the end, predicting the "crowd" will flee to free sites. Of course, it doesn't say where those sites will be coming from without revenue to staff them.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Passion in the newsroom -- a good thing?

     A fight in a newsroom. Passion in the news business. Kathleen Parker hearkens back to newsrooms of old when passion was, she says, much more common. My memory says she's correct about the passion of the past when arguments at least were quite common.  My instinct says she's correct about how it would be a good thing. The three newsrooms I've been in lately have been pretty depressing places, not surprising given the huge staff cuts of the past couple of years.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

S.F. Chronicle goes glossy

In the latest innovation as a way of holding readers, the San Francisco Chronicle has gone to a somewhat glossy paper for its sections fronts, including Page One. While I can't see it dramatically changing the dynamic for the Chronicle, which is losing readers at an alarming rate, it's good to see them try.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wall Street sees more problems in newspapers' future

Today's Wall Street Journal weighs in with an investors' view of the newspaper industry, and it isn't very good. The problem, according to the story, is that newspapers have cut almost all the costs they can so they need to show revenue increases and advertising isn't recovering. It's a grim picture, viewed this way. (Yes, it's grim any way, but see Kathleen Parker's column on the strength of newspaper readership to see the glass half-full, not half-empty as is Wall Street's view).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Of glasses half full and newspapers

Let me start with a story. My wife and I were talking about the possibility that the Journal Sentinel might go online-only. Both of us like print newspapers, which I find much easier to read and in which I am much less likely to overlook stories. We talked about adding the Wall Street Journal or New York Times at home. I read both at Marquette. My wife asked, but where would I get my sudoku and word games.

The point is very good. Newspapers are a lot more than news, despite what today's editors seem to think. After reading the often-depressing news, she likes to do the games to ready herself for a workday. Similarly, I like to read comic strips. Sure, all them can be found online, but not as easily. And I don’t want to discount the likelihood of missing obscure news items online where web sites are driven by popularity, burying items on less popular areas.

That came to mind when I read Kathleen Parker’s column about Alex Jones, author of “losing the news.” According to Parker, Jones looks at the reasonably strong newspaper circulation (down less than 10%) is outstanding given we subscribers could get the same stories free. I’d add that we’re doing this despite most newspaper management’s seemingly intentional attempts to drive us away by drastically cutting staff (and therefore quality) and increasing prices. The Journal Sentinel, for example, is planning to charge for all sorts of the kind of offerings it used to use to attract readers, such as its Sunday TV listing.

I’d agree with Jones (although I haven’t read his book yet) that the desire for print shows the strength of the format. If only some print publishers would show a spine.

Friday, October 30, 2009

10 gamechangers for the media?

     The Huffington Post offers ten gamechangers for the media. Some of them will surprise you (did you immediately think of Henry Louis Gates?). 

      For me, the presentation is even more interesting than the content. The link takes you to a introductory page, with each of the ten offered on a slideshow with photos and supporting text. It's a good way to use the Internet, in the sense that it's non-linear and, clicking through, offers ad display space.  Of course, I could have read it in half the time in text and standard photo format, but that's not new media enough these days.

Some newspapers move to save costs by reducing publication

     I've often wondered why the Postal Service, which seems to be constantly struggling for money, delivers on Saturday.  Newspapers are constantly struggling for money, and some of them are wondering the same thing about their product.  More than 100 have opted to reduce frequency of publication. Last week, there was a good discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the move, including some interesting points we don't often think of (like breaking the habit of reading).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Newsday takes much of its content off-line

    Newsday is the first major U.S. newspaper to put its entire content behind a wall, available only to subscribers of the newspaper or persons who pay $5 a week to subscribe to the online version. The online site offers only headlines and teasers. Editor & Publisher described the site, ending with this interesting observation: 

"Some of the free summaries present stories with almost a cliffhanger-like ending if you do not subscribe. An article about a gas station attendant thwarting a robbery detailed the events up to this sentence: 'The rifle-toting suspect banged on the door and ...' 

"Yes, pay up to see the rest."

      It's the first of many newspapers going that route.

      Meanwhile, Sam Zell, the guy who is taking the Chicago Tribune down the tubes, says that no newspaper will survive. Given the incredibily bad management of many of them, he may be right.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fourth Street Forum to focus on newspapers and democracy

This week's Fourth Street Forum will focus on whether the declining newspaper situation is a threat to community and democracy. It will be taped at noon on Thursday at Turner Hall (open to the public), and aired at 10 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. Sunday, both on on Channel 10.1.

Guests are Mikel Holt of the Milwaukee Community Journal, Louis Fortis of the Shepherd-Express, Jo Ann Willow of the Third Coast Digest and Ricardo Pimentel of the Journal-Sentinel. If I weren't going to be out of town on Thursday, I'd be at the taping for sure. I'd recommend you get there if you can; it should be an excellent discussion, especially with the input from leaders of the alternative press.

Newspaper circulation continues to dip

A new study shows big newspaper circulation decline continues. Worse, according to the MediaPost analysis, it's getting bigger. The study covered 83 of the nation's largest newspapers, which, I think, is skewing the figures a bit since the largest newspapers are the ones taking the biggest hits. Nevertheless, the study shows that the circulation decline hasn't bottomed out.

Monday, October 26, 2009

One way or another, newspapers are going to charge for online content

       How many ways can you charge online?  American newspapers are going to find out. As of now, several different models are very close to implementation.  Interesting is that the New York Times has had readers asking to pay. We're in for a real ride the next couple of years.

40% of Internet users visit newspaper sites

A new study shows that 40 percent of Internet users visit newspaper web sites. That figure has stayed the same in recent years, and reflects the continuing interest in news among the Internet users.

Of course, there's a downside as well. There always seems to be a downside these days. This one is that the study reflects the continuing inability of newspapers to make money from their web sites. Free doesn't pay the bills.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dan Rather says newspaper are a must for America

     Dan Rather comes to the defense of newspapers, saying they are vital to America. “When we speak of the future of journalism, let us fully understand that quality journalism of integrity is currently in decline and in peril,” he said. 

     “Press serves as a reminder of the constitutional protections and responsibilities of journalism in our democratic republic,” Rather said. “It was not for nothing that this nation’s founding fathers placed freedom of the press right alongside freedom of speech and freedom of religion in the very First Amendment of the Constitution up at the top of the Bill of Rights.”

Newsday prepares to limit online views

    Newsday prepares to close its Internet site to all but subscribers. This observer sees it as a colossal failure. Be interesting to see how everything works out.

     Here's a different view.  And check out the comments on the Tribune's Eric Zorn's blog.

Crowdsourcing with real journalists

As to good journalism, Advertising Age talks with the editors of Mother Jones magazine about, among other things, it's foray into crowdsourcing using real journalists. Crowdsourcing is the theory, popular with new media types, that a mass of people reporting on a story will give a more complete version with participants correcting each other. Co-editor Clara Jefferies says the project on global warming will be discussed at a meeting soon: "participants at the initial meeting will likely include Slate, Grist, The Atlantic, Wired, Pro Publica, the Center for Investigative Reporting, MoJo of course, and maybe one or two others."

This is more evidence of maturing in new media, and a dedication to getting things right. This, frankly, is an exciting project, and I hope it does well. I'm currently setting up a journalism project for a graduate class with input from at least the Journal Sentinel and WISN-TV. While Marquette students will do the reporting, they'll do it with guidance and advice from the other professionals.

Gawker post takes on Chicago Tribune's former management

Speaking of new media, interesting post on gawker.com by a former Chicago Tribune staffer attacking its previous management based on plans by the New York Times to hire several of them to create a Chicago insert for the Times.

Be sure to read through to the comments, though. I think the poster, John Cook, hurts his case by painting the Tribune in over-broad strokes. Yes, it was stuffy, and its local reporting wasn't as great as it could be (in large part because of the City News Bureau, which Cook dismisses, but which did good reporting), but -- especially at times -- the newspaper produced great reporting. I never worked for the Tribune, but I always read it, and consistently found good reporting included.

And, before I leave the subject, this Gawker post is almost exactly what's wrong with much of the new media. It has the germ of a good idea, but overstates its case with no attempt to provide any other side than that of a disgruntled former Tribune staffer. It is primarily an opinion piece with a few, very few, facts included, and almost none to support Cook's basic argument. It would have been much stronger with some effort to provide a complete story. It might still have made the same argument, but would give us readers more than just one writer's opinion.

What's ahead for journalism schools? Two views

With the U.S. projecting growth in journalism jobs (2% increase in jobs for journalism graduates and 10% for experienced journalists) and increases in journalism school enrollments, what can we expect from schools and future journalists? Here, two leaders of Eastern schools give their opinions.

Their observations show a realistic appraisal of what's happening today, I believe, and a maturing of understanding of the roles of new media and "citizen journalism." While delivery systems are continuing to change, the need for professional journalism increases as "citizen journalists" (read: bloggers and other opinion vehicles, which fills the Internet). These whet consumers' appetites for verified news, and the search for truth has never gotten more important.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wall Street Journal becomes US's largest circulation newspaper

It's now official that the Wall Street Journal has passed USA Today as the nation's largest newspaper. Interestingly, it resulted from not only a big drop by USA Today (reasons include a price increase but more important is a change in the distribution agreement with Marriott Hotels), but also an increase by the Wall Street Journal.

I'll make a prediction now: Conventional wisdom says that Rupert Murdoch is making a big mistake with his plans to take more of the WSJ online material behind a pay barrier. I predict it'll be a big success, adding greatly to the newspaper's profitability and sparking a flock of followers. The increase in its circulation shows that consumers will pay for content, if they're offered content worth paying for.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dallas newspaper tries another revenue strategy -- raising prices and adding staff and content

Another newspaper strategy to survive is having success, although it's early yet. The Dallas Morning News' new strategy is to hire more reporters, add pages back to the newspaper -- and charge more for it with the extra circulation revenue making up for lost advertising. This story does a nice job of outlining all the various elements that are in play here, including some specialty publications. It's good to see another organization fighting back.

Continuing another strategy, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel once again is holding its lead print story away from its online unit until Monday. Co-author Crocker Stephenson also used Twitter to promote it with tweets Friday and Saturday. My only problem with this strategy is that while the story, part of the newspaper's series on what it calls a "fractured" child care system, is excellent and important, I don't think its pull is important enough to make people buy the Sunday paper just to read it a day early. Nor do I think that it will draw significant new viewers on Monday. So why put it online at all? Why not use your online operation as a news-driven unit with teases to the print publication? We tease the other way all the time. I believe people use print media differently than they do online. So why not capitalize on that difference.

Friday, October 9, 2009

New York Times looks at the future of newspapers

       For those (oh so many) people out there who say that newspapers are dead, I offer proof not that they'll live forever, but that intelligent newspaper management still lives.  Editor & Publisher reports on the New York Times' Research & Development unit, which is approaching the future the right way -- by looking not only at how news is delivered (paper or digital) but how it's used. 

       I'll give you one example. One morning my wife and I were discussing what we would do if the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel were to go online-only.  Sure, we expect the Wall Street Journal and Times to continue in print, which would give us a nice roundup of what happened the day before, but, my wife asked, "where would I get my sudoku and word games?" Each morning, after reading the news, she take a short break and does all the games in the newspaper (I do the crosswords). I also make sure I read the comics every morning. In short, the way we use the news includes more than just looking at the news. By the way, both my wife and I live on computers, probably putting in from six to 10 hours a day at a minimum. And both of use check multiple news sites throughout the day.

       The good news is that the Times, and other media sources, are looking at the future and fighting back. Can I tell you what the media future will be? Not at all, but I can assure you that there will be one.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

FTC blogging rule continue to draw fire

I've been looking, but I haven't found anyone who likes the latest FTC attempt to rein in Internet abuses. One of the most devastating comes from Slate's Jack Shafer who sees the potential for intimidation as greater than anything else he's seen. For example, he writes, "If you received a gratis novel from the publicity department of a publisher and posted a tweet about it without disclosing that the book was a freebie, you become an "endorser" in the FTC's view."

Furthermore, Shafer says, "The guidelines have to be read to be believed. They are written so broadly that if you blog about a good and service in such a way that the FTC construes as an endorsement, the commission has a predicate to investigate."

Frankly, I think the case is a bit overstated, but he's correct that the rules could be abused, just as free speech laws have been abused at the last four major political conventions (thousands of demonstrators arrested, but never charged and released after the conventions were over). We Americans do seem to write broad laws (this is just a rule, but it works like a law) that can be abused, and, alas, someone always seems to go too far.

If you want to read more on this subject, there's lots more out there. Simple searches of news aggregater sites will find plenty.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Operation impossible, courtesy of the FTC

FTC moves to limit online endorsements with what, frankly, are confusing and totally workable rules calling on new media bloggers, et al., to disclose any free merchandise from manufacturers being endorsed. Some are concerned that the rules could be used to limit journalists.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Vanity Fair looks at Rupert Mudoch and his "war on the Internet"

     Nice piece in Vanity Fair about Rupert Murdoch's "war on the Internet." Writer Michael Wolff says Murdoch will be taking his newspapers off free Internet just because he wants to; that it's not practical.  Wolff covers Murdoch's history of imposing his will, then finishes by suggesting that the 78-year-old Murdoch might just be trying to stretch out newspapers until he retires.  Wolff clearly believes that newspapers can't put the pay genie back in the bottle.

     As usual, Wolff doesn't say who is going to pay for news on the Internet after newspapers are gone.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

London newspaper switch to free model

     Here's an imaginative idea for helping newspapers survive, make them free.  For several years, I've been suggesting that one business plan for mid-sized newspapers like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel would be to offer total market coverage in a one-section newspaper with other sections available for a fee. This would serve the advertisers who need wider markets than the very limited markets available online.

      Now there's a model to follow. Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev is turning the London Evening Standard into a free newspaper, increasing its circulation from 250,000 to 600,000 papers a day. Yes, it's going to lose a lot of circulation money, but it expects to more than make up for it with increased advertising.

      The model I've proposed would continue to pick up its subscription revenue because most current subscribers would continue to subscribe, but vastly increase its advertising revenue by offering total market coverage in its free section.  Certainly adding coverage would increase costs, but I suspect that -- especially if the free papers strongly promoted offerings available behind pay windows, both online and in print -- you'd see a much stronger revenue model emerge.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Gasp! Newspaper subscribers seem to like their papers

Today must be my day for finding really interesting stories that I find fascinating but disagree with the conclusions. This one comes from Ad Age (one of my favorite magazines). It reports that newspaper "subscribers are sticking with their papers for longer -- and frequently paying more." It goes on to report that cancellations are way down, and draws the conclusion that the reason is that publishers have gotten better at managing their subscriptions.

For example, the story goes: "publishers got much smarter about the way they sell subscriptions, for one thing, de-emphasizing or even abandoning home delivery to areas that cost more to service but didn't mean much to advertisers." I realize I'm kind of slow sometimes, but how does limiting home delivery help keep subscriptions up? It does report publishers are more open to discounts and continuing low rates for subscribers who were attracted by promotions.

But, how's this for an alternative explanation: We consumers really like printed newspapers? We are willing to pay for them? We find it much more fulfilling to read print? We like the puzzles, games, agate, agony columns and the like that "clutter up print," according to some of the new media types. I'd even go a step farther based on my experience last week of finding myself cut off by my local newspaper because I changed credit cards. Oh, yes. They did send me a postcard telling me that my subscription was running out. I got it five days after the first day without a paper being delivered. The point is that the consumers may be reacting and supporting a product they like -- despite publishers' stupid cutbacks, poor service and shrinking news content. It's still better than online-only.

Should we just kill all newspapers and be done with it?

Funny how these things work out. Yesterday I was talking with a class of freshmen journalism students about the need to get input from all points of view to have an informed opinion or even a sense of what is happening. Today, Newsweek runs a vitriolic column from one of the smug new media types, in this case Daniel Lyons, about how newspapers should be gone and the sooner we get rid of them the better. It makes my point exactly.

Most of it is composed of misguided history, mistaken assumptions and the certainty that he is right and the millions of people who still read paper newspapers are just too dumb to get it. But there is a lot of truth in much of his column. Yes, newspaper companies have been arrogant and smug (it takes one to know one, I say to Lyons, and, yes, I am smug as well on lots of things, but this is an area I wouldn't claim to be the end-all, be-all). Yes, they didn't adapt quickly enough. Yes, they lived for years with a monopoly just printing money. But, yes, they serve some functions besides just delivering news, and many of these functions aren't being covered by new media (or broadcast).

For example, Lyons points to the reporting by Politico, Gawker, the Huffington Post and the Daily Beast as evidence that newspapers aren't needed. Would any of them be as good without the reporting of the New York Times, Washington Post and their ilk? I asked a friend who contributes to the Huffington Post. He says he couldn't do what he does without the newspapers. And I don't really remember any of them reporting on the Milwaukee Common Council recently.

The bottom line is that, yes, I need to read alternative viewpoints. And I do. But I also need far more real information -- facts, for example -- than I am getting from the online-only sites or broadcast. Perhaps Lyons is correct that if we just get those dinosaur print newspapers out of the way that, somehow, all the new media sites will become so profitable that they'll pour the money into reporting that is currently being spent by newspapers. And, somehow, advertisers will actually start making enough money from their Internet advertising that they'll spend enough advertising to start paying for actual paid reporting. But neither of those things is happening now, nor is it likely they will happen in the near future.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Americans object to advertiser online tracking

    A new study finds that two-thirds of Americans object to online tracking by advertisers, and that number rises the more they know about what's happening.  As I've commented in the past, hubris (especially the kind taught in our business schools) is the biggest danger to new media growth.  That's hubris as in assuming that it doesn't really matter what people think, they will just line up like sheep no matter the invasions of privacy. (And, yes, I know that Google tracks my e-mail keystrokes; I just haven't decided what to do about it.)

Gay Talese on how tape recorders killed journalism

Author Gay Talese on "How the tape recorder killed journalism." It's a six-minute video.

Public view of press accuracy hits 20-year low

New Pew Research report says public's view of press accuracy is at its lowest point in two decades. Perception of accuracy, professionalism and willingness to admit mistakes are way down (-26%, -13 and -13 over the 20-year period covered), and the partisan split is much larger than ever with its usual results of Fox News and Wall Street Journal on one side and the rest of television and the New York Times on the other. Notable is that neither of the newspapers scores well. In fact, newspapers are hit hard in the survey with respondents believing that local television stations are much more likely to uncover local news than local newspapers. I realize that contra-factual finding can cast doubt on the survey respondents' understanding of reality, but it's the perceptions that count.

If you read nothing else today, read this

Columnist Joe Mandese of Media magazine (published online in MediaPost) offers a very nice takeout on the changing media revenue landscape. Calling it a revenue landscape is way too dispassionate for his work, but it fits what's happening since media companies are faced with changing the way they get paid for their work.

But Mandese's chief contribution in this analysis is just that, analysis. He puts a large number of developments into context, and lays out the new landscape facing media companies. His most controversial offering may well be that it might be time to drop some of the traditional walls between journalism and advertising. Journalism may have no choice.

While not perfect in my view -- Mandese, like so many new media writers, seems to accept some unproven assumptions like "citizen journalism" effectiveness -- but it's the most complete and reasonable analysis of the current situation I've read recently. If you read nothing else today, read this.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Advertising and beaches, what's wrong with the media?

A thought while reading my Sunday Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. There's an old advertising slogan that says without advertising consumers don't know what they're missing. I was thinking of that as I planned a winter vacation while looking at the very thin four-page Travel section with only a couple of ads, and none of them offering anything new. Whereas once upon a time, I had a fat section with lots of advertising suggesting different locations, now the locations all are spending all their money online. So how do I find them? I can't call my travel agent, because the personal service ones have been replaced by human robots reading prices off computers and without any real knowledge. I can't call hotels and packagers that I don't know about. I just stuck "beach vacations Mexico" on a Google search, and got 252,000 hits -- worthless for giving me good ideas.
So why is it that I am the one saying this? Why aren't newspapers and magazines uniting to sell their value in advertising of their own? The cheap online ad folks are constantly pushing their products, even without real evidence that they work.
And I'll probably go back to the same beach I've visited for most of the past decade because nobody really wants to sell me on a new location.

Suburban newspapers doing well

Yet another community newspaper group meets -- and happiness ensues. This is the Suburban Newspaper Association. Yes, advertising is off, but it's off much less than in newspapers in general. In fact, these hyper-local newspapers are, by and large, quite profitable. Some interesting advice and suggestions that give a flavor of what the industry can do.

Star-Tribune emerges from bankruptcy

Minneapolis Star-Tribune emerges from bankruptcy with a letter to readers expressing thanks and hopes for the future.

What works in social media

Interesting column on what works for business in social media and what doesn't. The ideas are the same for personal social media, I would think.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Small is beautiful -- and profitable

Nice little piece from the Wall Street Journal's online opinion (read: blogs) section on how a small chain of New York community papers is making money. Biggest reason? Hyperlocal news and no debt. Points out that the papers never depended on classified, so haven't lost that. Probably never got much automobile, real estate or entertainment listings, so haven't lost that. Just plugging along.

Be sure to read the comments. The first is from a reader saying that an online paper would be doing even better. Article author Daniel Akst replies that there is no evidence that online would have the advertising -- since no one that I know of is making much from online advertising. I'd also suggest that people notice paper newspapers, but online web sites are easy to forget. Several of my friends are now writing for onmilwaukee.com, but I just don't remember to check the site on a regular basis, but I still pick up paper newspapers every edition, including the Shepherd-Express, Milwaukee Community Journal, RiverWest Currents, UWM Post (I, of course, read the Marquette Tribune both online and in paper), and Onion. That's in addition to reading the Journal Sentinel, Wall Street Journal and New York Times every day.

The point isn't what I read (and I do look at a number of newspapers online), but studies among college newspapers have shown that if they discontinue their print editions in favor of online-only, not only does their advertising dry up, but their readership disappears. The convenience factor cuts both ways on online publication. Sure, it's easier and cheaper to find, but it's also easier -- much easier -- to ignore.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why we don't take broadcast news seriously

Excellent column by Michael Massing at Columbia Journalism Review on why we don't take broadcast news seriously. He also criticizes some print heavyweights for their celebrity-fawning, especially the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz who seems to be on TV more than in print. He cites one startling statistic as an example of what's wrong with broadcast news: "Katie Couric’s annual salary is more than the entire annual budgets of NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered combined."

Trust in media is taking a beating

Survey shows only a quarter of Americans believe what our national media is reporting. Also, Fox News is both most and least trusted news source (duh).

Still, "Over half of all respondents, 56.1%, suggested they trust the electronic and print news media for accurate news and information over blogs (7.8%), the social media such as Facebook (3.4%) and entertainers/celebrities (4.3%). Others, 28.5%, were unsure whom they trusted most." So much for "citizen journalism."

Lots of other interesting opinions about the media.

Is the Internet becoming stale?

MediaPost panel with lots of heavy hitters -- Mark Cuban, Bob Garfield, Martha Stewart among them -- had an interesting discussion about new media. Among the most interesting comments was Cuban's that "The Internet is becoming stale." While others talked about atomization and prospects for social media and mobile, Cuban again interjected that he sees big screens (think the new Dallas Cowboys' stadium) have a future much more than tiny screens. Good stuff from all corners.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Journalism schools swarming with new students

       In my classes, I tell students that we live in the best of times for journalism and the worst of times. Apparently students agree.
      The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that journalism schools are doing quite well, thank you, with lots of entering freshmen anticipating the new journalism opportunities offered by journalism schools, and believing that their education is readying them for journalism in whatever form -- despite the dismal industry situation.
      As I like to say, newspapers may die, but journalism won't. And I love the tools now available to journalists. I sincerely wish they had been available when I was reporting on a regular basis.  I watch what my students do, both in class and on the Marquette Tribune, Journal and Online, and can only dream about what they'll be able to do with journalism in the future.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Social media and society -- What's the impact?

Interesting comment on a Washington Post blog by an attendee at a new media conference. Includes lots of links as well as summing up the presentations by some of the new media stars. Also has some interesting observations about new media impact on society (one quote: "We may overestimate the effect of social media on society but we shouldn't overestimate its effect on individuals").

AP reports most newspapers ready to charge for online news

The Associated Press is reporting that more than half of newspaper publishers are considering pay plans for their Internet sites, with several large papers poised to make the move soon. The story does a nice job setting up background for any moves that might be made.

Poll shows few would pay for Internet news -- now

A poll of British online news consumers that asked them if they would pay should their favorite online site suddenly start charging found that only 5% said they would. Most -- 74% -- said they'd find another free site. Interesting to see since millions of us pay 99 cents for a song on iTunes, and far more for Netflix or other media. The link is to a Guardian columnist who isn't surprised (there's a link in his article directly to the poll); that's to allow you to look at the comments, often better than original columns. I like the thinking of one Shanksy, who wrote "Five percent paying something is a lot better than no-one paying anything." Seems logical to me.

Opportunities in social media intrigue experts

Are you thinking about opportunities in social media? Advertisers are, according to a panel of marketing experts. It's used in several ways, including just listening to consumers, according to this Online Media Today story. That listening approach, it seems to me, has applications for editors, managers and educators as well as marketers, and certainly it's something that students should be thinking about.

A look at what is really happening for J-students

The Associated Press does what its been doing best lately, touching on a good issue that cries for more reporting. Today's story concerns the beginning journalists entering schools like Marquette's Diederich College of Communication. It gives both the good and the bad of today's media situation (it is indeed the best of times and the worst of times). I'd like to see a little more research into some of the initiatives entrepreneurial schools and journalists are undertaking (and a little less single-source self-promoting of one program -- yes, it'd be fine if it was our program not Missouri's), but it addresses some of the opportunities as well as weaknesses of the industry. Be sure to read to the end to see someone who understands why I like the opportunities while hating what's happening to the industry.