Saturday, April 4, 2009

From the dimmest skit comes a truth

I just watched an incredibly lame Saturday Night Live skit on how the funnies might save newspapers. After the usual batch of lame jokes, often in bad taste, came the savior of the comics pages -- Sudoku. I've often thought that one savior of newspapers would be returning to a key function from the past, entertainment.  It really hit home when my wife and I were discussing what we might do if the Journal Sentinel quit publishing a print edition.  We already read the New York Times, but my wife said we'd have to find one with Sudoku, the word games and crossword puzzle.

People buy products -- including newspapers -- for different reasons, and a number of them buy for the entertainment quotient. So, of course, most newspapers are cutting back on their comics and games. 

Friday, April 3, 2009

Letting the genie out of the bottle

Did the newspapers hand over their franchise when they let the AP sell its material to online sites? That's the premise of a Paul Farhi article in the American Journalism Review. Sure, it's looking backwards, but sometimes that gives us the way ahead (just as Jason Bourne escaped the C.I.A. by driving his car backward off a rooftop parking lot).  In this case, AP strengthened itself financially with sales to online clients while basically killing the newspaper business. Now, it's belatedly looking at ways to put the genie back into the bottle.

More magazines die than start

New York Post says that, for the first time, magazine deaths are outpacing magazine startups. It was 101 deaths in the first quarter vs. 95 startups.

News Corp. working on new digital newsreader

News Corp. (read Rupert Murdoch) says it's working on a digital newsreader for newspapers. Murdock said the device is larger than current ones like the Kindle. He also said that newspapers shouldn't be handing over their content on the Web for free. Can't say he's wrong.  Not sure print is dead. Here's something that may replace paper, but offer pretty much the same thing.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The future of media is still in the future

OK, it was the economy that hurt old media last year, according to MediaDailyNews, but it's just a continuation of long-term trends that are going to keep hitting. According to this research, the trends will continue down.

Meanwhile, though, another report found that online banner ads (considered the most effective) are far less effective than either a 30 second TV spot or a color magazine ad. Yesterday a newsletter that I can't link reported that the average online video viewer watches five hours a month. First, that's only those who watch video online, about a third of the population, and, second, that five hours a month is less than the average American watched television daily. Sure it's growing, but it's very small, especially when you realize most of this viewing is on YouTube, which is hardly an advertising medium.

This doesn't mean old media isn't fall, but, at some point, advertisers are going to be looking for efficient markets -- and that's not online. At least for now.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sun-Times declares bankruptcy

Chicago Sun-Times declared bankruptcy this morning. The Tribune is also under bankruptcy protection. Once again, it's a case of costs unrelated to operating that is driving the financial pinch. In the Sun-Times' case, it's a tax liability "dating back to previous management"; in the Tribune's, it's the huge debt Sam Zell took on in purchasing the company. Of course, the recession/depression economic pinch on advertisers along with their abandoning print has also impacted the Chicago papers. It's going to be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Online journalists optimistic, but still concerned

A new survey of web journalists indicates optimism about the future of journalism -- but not very strong optimism.  More than half  believe the Internet is changing the "fundamental values of journalism—more often than not for the worse," according to Editor & Publisher.  Among the biggest changes cited are a loosening of standards (45%), more voices from outside the institution (31%) and an increased emphasis on speed (25%), the magazine said. Fascinating results.  

Extra! Extra! Publisher holding back news for print

Minneapolis Star Tribune Editor Nancy Barnes says the Strib is going to start holding back its best journalism for its print edition. Saying it's "an experiment," she indicates that some "of the best of our journalism" will be given to print customers first.  This is an idea that makes a lot of sense to me. 

There are some wonderful advantages to the Internet in terms of reporting. I would have loved to have had its capability when I was actively reporting.  But there are some things that are just better in print; for example comic strips are much more enjoyable in print primarily because they're easier to find. Some of us like print newspapers; others don't. So Barnes is suggesting that the Strib online viewers will continue to get all the news, but that some of it will come after the print edition is out. Meanwhile, their news will be online immediately; it's the features and enterprise pieces that will be held back until after print customers get a chance to read it.

Will it work? Who knows. Is it a chance to reverse the breakdown of the newspaper business model? It sure beats just lying down and dying.

Some advice for newspapers from their European cousins

Now, from the land of the healthy (newspapers at least), some advice on how newspapers could thrive. The story is about European newspapers. According to Eric Pfanner in the New York Times, some have found a business model that not only is saving them, but some newspapers have thrived.  Among successful strategies, a weight loss club, online streaming of soccer and a social network. All are fee-based, by the way.

Can't find a magazine to read, create one

Hewlett-Packard is offering a technology where one can print a magazine on demand for roughly 20 cents a page, in full color. Just like the book business, it has the potential of revolutionizing a media industry that seems to be going more and more toward self-publishing.