Friday, April 30, 2010

After abuse, newspaper cuts comments

To hear social media "experts" talk about their area, the future belongs to "open journalism" from "citizen journalists," with no clouds in sight. One cloud, noticed by anyone who reads comments on blogs, comes from ignorant offensive posters. They were so offensive to the Lancaster newspapers chief Harold E. Miller Jr. that he cut off comments.

The Pennsylvania publisher said strict user guidelines and the installation of software to screen objectionable language was unable to stop misuse that "can no longer be tolerated," saying it included comments that were racist, "hateful, abusive and unacceptable comments about their neighbors, area residents and the Lancaster community at large."

My biggest concerns about New Media revolve not only around profitability for all but the few biggest operations, but about privacy and problems with civil discourse. Unfortunately, in Lancaster, civil discourse failed.

New media needs more, not fewer, copy editors

Comments by the New York Times' Bill Keller during a discussion of the future of journalism prompted me to think that maybe American editors are going about this journalism thing the wrong way.

Keller praised work of the Times and the Huffington Post during the recent struggle in Iran: "Both [Arianna's] site and ours, also the Atlantic and Andrew Sullivan, during the Iran crisis all did this wonderful act of hybrid journalism about a place where the actual reporters had been kicked out, and the Iranian reporters had been thrown in jail" Keller said. "And using people on the street combined with the expertise of professional journalists to arrange, package, vet this material...we're finding more and more that having that wall be open means that journalism is a collaborative process."

Of particular interest is his comment about using people on the street "with the expertise of professional journalists." That sounds a lot like professional copy editors shaping up work of amateur reporters. This is the successful format of Korea's which has few if any reporters, but a team of copy editors bringing professional editing to amateur posts.

It's a system that I believe could produce good journalism. Unfortunately many American publishers are opting to cut copy editing, including eliminating all of them in some cases. I'd link to the layoffs of copy editors but there are far too many of them.

It seems to me that, since all of us need editing, the growing use of untrained reporters should dictate more, not fewer, copy editors.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Reporters unhappy with Obama administration

Interesting report in Politico today, especially given the 40-year-old mantra by Republicans that the mainstream press (that's "lamestream press" to many commentators on the right) gives Democrats a bye.

Politico reports that the atmosphere between the press and President Obama is the most hostile in years. And "this attitude, many believe, starts with the man at the top. Obama rarely lets a chance go by to make a critical or sarcastic comment about the press, its superficiality or its short-term mentality. He also hasn’t done a full-blown news conference for 10 months.

The exception is the New York Times, which, many reporters believe, is favored by the administration.

What's new is old once again

Ad Age reports on another front in the ever-changing world of media today -- the use of free lance publications. In this case, it's purchasing material from associations of free lance writers that pay as little as $5 a story.

It's yet another case of what's new is really what's old, since these networks are very similar to associations a hundred years ago. While researching the past of Journal Sentinel columnist Ione Quinby Griggs, I found that while she was a writer in Chicago in the 1920s, her material was being syndicated by a group that later became King Features throughout the eastern half of the U.S.

If this trend continues, I'd expect the law of supply and demand to move the price up to a worthwhile figure.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Washington Post watching pay walls

Pay walls even figure in today's news about the Washington Post. In particular, Post vice chairman Boisfeuillet Jones, Jr., says that his company will "watch and see" before making any moves. In a talk Saturday but reported today, he outlined the state of the industry, making one point seldom mentioned: newspapers are largely making money, it's just not the huge profit margins of the past. He talked at length about different types of pay walls and content pay plans.

Craigslist gains, but newspapers lose

Interesting analysis of Craigslist projecting revenues of $122 million with profits of $80-$90 million this year. The story also goes into the potential concerns for the site since adult advertising makes up much of its revenue and it faces other problems.

What's missed in all this is the incredible loss of revenues to media in general. Sure Craigslist is making millions for its owners, a good thing, but that $122 million in revenue pales in comparison to the profit lost by publications that it's replaced. Newspapers posted $19.6 billion in classified advertising revenue in 2000. Most of that's gone, especially to Craigslist.

Free is good for consumers and appears to be good for one company. But it's wreaked havoc on an entire industry. And that's not good.

Pay walls cost visitors, but what about profits?

As the news business continues to struggle through dark days, we're beginning to see some glimpses of light -- not necessarily good light, but lighting up certain pathways.

For example, we now have some data about what happens when we erect pay walls. In this latest case, figures are now available for both Variety and Newsday, publications that erected pay walls. Both initially took huge hits in page views, but those have stabilized in both cases. So the question becomes: Are you making more money with a pay wall than without? With a corollary: Are you profitable? We're still waiting for those answers.