Friday, January 1, 2010

An online column demonstrates the changing times

And while we're talking content, let's note the significance of an column by Damien Jaques that sums up Milwaukee's year in theater by saying it was unlike any other in his three decades of covering theater here. It's a good column, of course (Jaques has been a premiere critic for years), but that's not what makes it significant. What does is the fact that it's published on while the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has had few words on the subject since it gutted its critic core last summer.

If content really is important, the folks at 4th and State seem to have missed the boat in their zeal to cut salaries of workers (do you suppose CEO Steve Smith will get another "retention" bonus this year like he did last year despite the company's decline in value by 80 percent?).

6 lessons we can learn from newspapers in India

A story that I think is significant comes to us today from Rachael Stearne in something called the Ground Report. It points out six lessons US newspapers can learn from the growing newspaper market in India. I totally agree with her, and have a couple more I'd add from my time reading newspapers in the fastest-growing newspaper market in the world.

But, first of all, notice that the lessons are about content. Yes, content matters. Indian newspapers are full of content. It's not the same as ours; as Stearne points out, it's deeply political and has far more entertainment and celebrity news than most American newspapers. Sex columns are popular. But the newspapers include lots and lots of short stories, hearkening back to when American newspapers were filled with tasty little morsels of filler stories. I think we miss them.

But they also include lots of trend stories in a fairly short form; stories that try to spot trends in Indian society and alert their readers. By and large, Indian newspapers (and I was reading the Gujarat version of the Indian Times, which is in English) are lively, engaging and interesting. I found them quite similar to Australian newspapers (another growing market).

Big media gambling on content?

Wall Street Journal story outlines big media's "gamble" in relying on content. The story says big media, including it's own company, are making a "risky" bet that consumers will pay for content. Good roundup of the subject.

Story is balanced, reporting the doubters who maintain that the big money is in advertising, aggregating and distributing content. Of course, they sort of ignore where that content is going to come from.

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.