Friday, December 9, 2011

America marked by news deserts

Layoffs and shutdowns and other corporate decisions are leading to news deserts in America, according to Tom Stites at the Nieman Journalism Lab. What's a news desert? It's an area where news isn't being well-covered because of a lack of media.

Stites' observations are right on, and they reminded me of a conversation I had recently with a senior editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which has won three Pulitzer prizes in the last four years. He was talking about all the news around Wisconsin that the newspaper just can't cover. "We don't have the reporters," he said.

Thankfully, we don't have a news desert here. But it's close.

'People are reading more,' says Amazon books editor

As I talk with young journalists, I am often asked about their future since "everyone knows that journalism is dead because people are using the Internet instead of reading," to quote a sophomore in a recent conversation.

Frankly, I think journalism's never been healthier not only because the Internet has opened up so many new forms journalism can take (yes, I'm envious that we didn't have the digital tools when I was reporting), but because the Internet spurs reading, and reading means there is a need for writers. Ergo, journalists.

A Reuters story about the world of books begins with the accurate description: "people are reading more than ever." Sure, the story is mainly about ebooks, but Chris Schluep, senior books editor at Amazon, talks about how the digital universe sparks reading in general as well as breakthroughs in publishing. And when have you ever heard as much about reading and media as you hear these days? Sure, some is bad news (American corporations still don't get it and advertising is moving to cheaper sites), but the Internet has sparked an awareness of reading that we've never had. It's only going to get better.

Virginia Tech shooting coverage relies on Twitter

Once again, unfortunately, Virginia Tech's newspaper, the Collegiate Times, became the destination for a news-hungry America seeking to learn about a campus shooting. But this time, its coverage was quicker and more complete using a Twitter account. Yes, Twitter has limitations. But the coverage of yesterday's shootings showed how it can effectively deliver breaking news.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Al Jazeera plans bureau in Chicago

Great news: A major news organization is expanding and plans to open a new news bureau in Chicago. The not-so-great news is that it is Al Jazeera English. As American media companies pull back, foreign ones like the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera are expanding.

Actually, it is good news all around. Al Jazeera English has long been one of the world's better news sites. Its coverage was invaluable during the Arab Spring revolutions earlier this year. I got in the habit of checking it daily when we got so heavily involved in the Iraq war, finding al Jazeera's coverage a breath of fresh air since American news media was so heavily compromised in its war coverage -- a coverage that's almost nonexistent today. If you want to know what's going on in Iraq, unfortunately, you need to look overseas for coverage.

John Hendren, former White House correspondent for ABC, said in an al Jazeera release saying he'll be in charge of the bureau that Chicago reporting will give viewers a "deeper picture of movements and sentiments in the U.S." Now maybe we could get our own networks to look at "movements and sentiments," instead of yet another story about a political candidate whose star is a) rising or b) plummeting.

Monday, December 5, 2011

New report both scary and optimistic on Internet media

A new report has mixed findings for those engaged in Internet media. According to the fifth annual KPMG survey, online users are "happy to share their personal data with organizations they trust and if they get something in return, but are increasingly concerned about privacy and losing control of that data."

Tudor Aw, technology head for KMPG Europe, said that brands had to be very explicit about what they were doing with a consumer’s data. “Consumers are waking up to the idea that their data has value.”

I'm happy to share some data -- my location to the Google Maps app on my iPhone, for example -- but I wouldn't describe myself as "happy" to share most personal data, and I'm adamantly opposed to sharing most of it.

But even more chilling for the future of online media is another of Aw's observations, a growing concern about privacy, "Every year that concern worsens. This year it has gone right up to the 90% level." I have two nieces in their early 20s who just announced they were giving up Facebook over privacy concerns. That should be scaring the heck out of social media platforms, and it certainly alarms those of us who see the Internet as a net plus for media.

Is the future for magazines written in digital?

David Carr, the New York Time's media writer, says, in effect, that it's time for us print-nostalgia-laden old media fans to accept the fact that the future is digital.

Pointing to the fact that massive magazine empire Time, Inc. will now be run by digital advertising executive Laura Lang, Carr said "It’s a bracing moment for the print romantics among us. Time Inc., the home of Olympian brands like Time, People and Fortune, will be run by an executive who would not know a print run from a can of green beans."

Lang's words have indicated that she favors the digital direct-benefit approach, which runs counter to the strategies long used in the magazine field.

She may well succeed, and Carr may well be correct that her move presages a total shift in the magazine field. But we've seen an awful lot of successful executives in one field taking over media company and totally botching the job (remember Sam Zell and the Chicago Tribune or any number of manufacturing or financial companies done under by bad managers following the flawed Harvard Business School model of "it's all just about shifting numbers.").

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cross-platform magazine readers growing

In the magazine world, cross-platforms are gaining a bit of traction. Time, Inc. magazines lead the list compiled in Folio with 30% of its readers using both print and digital platforms to read its magazines. Reader's Digest, which includes the former Reiman publications here, is at the bottom of the list percentage-wise with 85% of its readers print-only (9% both print and digital).