By paulgillin | August 2, 2013 - 8:10 am - Posted in Best/Worst, Education, Future of Journalism, Journalism

Journalism  just posted a list of 100 Exemplary College Newspapers for Journalism Students. The ranking isn’t in any particular order and there’s no explanation of what methodology (if any) was used to assemble the list, but we clicked around to some of the candidates are were impressed to see that good journalism is being nurtured on college campuses around the country. If you or someone you know is considering journalism school, consider this list because campus newspapers are where you’ll be practicing a lot of your craft.


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By paulgillin | March 23, 2012 - 10:07 am - Posted in blogging, BusinessModel, Education, Future of Journalism, Journalism, NewMedia, Newspapers

Five years ago today I posted a 29-word squib on the question of whether bloggers are journalists. With that inauspicious beginning, Newspaper Death Watch was launched. Nearly 600 posts and about a half million words later, it’s still here, though its charter has changed over that time. In many ways this blog is a microcosm of the forces that have all but swept away the once-mighty US newspaper industry and replaced it with the seeds of something that I believe will ultimately be much richer and and more valuable.

This blog was launched out of our frustration at my failure to find a publisher for an op-ed piece I wrote in 2006 forecasting the collapse of daily newspapers. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times were polite in their rejections. The Boston Globe‘s Joan Vennochi, displaying the arrogance that was typical of that newspaper in those days, didn’t respond to multiple phone calls and faxes. Op-ed editors’ lack of interest in my point of view was understandable; 2006 was the best revenue year the newspaper industry ever had and forecasts of catastrophe seemed ridiculous. I knew from many years following the technology industry, however, that businesses often enjoy their best years just before their collapse. I self-published a longer version of that essay and started this site to document the death spiral that I knew was about to begin.

Transformational Time

The five years since then have been pivotal years in the history of media. The turning point came in 2009 when two venerable dailies – the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer – shut down with little notice, and several big papers, including my beloved Globe, were threatened with the same fate. More background here. The industry came out of that experience with a sense of urgency about its own survival and made changes that will prolong its decline but not change its fate. As Pew recently reported, most publishers are moving toward a digital future slowly and reluctantly. This still doesn’t look good.

The death watch began to bore me after 2009, and I’ve spent the last two years focusing more on the experiments that are sprouting up to preserve and evolve the craft of journalism. The good news is that there is a lot of innovation out there. I’m impressed by Pro Publica, Politico, Minn Post, Voice of San Diego, AllVoices, Global Post, California Watch and Sacramento Press, to name just a few. These startups all proceed from the assumption that good journalism can be practiced without the overhead of presses, paper, delivery trucks and newsstands. In fact, when you remove the expense of printing and delivering a newspaper, the actual cost of the journalism is pretty low. Then you can do some innovative things on the business side to pay the bills and maybe even make a profit in the long run. I applaud their work and the work of many others like them.

Power of One

It’s been amazing to see how much attention one person can attract with a little perseverance and the right tools. I’ve been interviewed on Al-Jazeera and CNN, featured on Australia’s leading network news program and spotlighted in a documentary. Spain’s largest daily newspaper featured me in a center spread. I’ve been cited in the Journal, USA Today, The Economist, The New Yorker and many other well-known publications. You can find a complete list of media mentions here. I get e-mail inquiries from media outlets every couple of weeks and always help out as best I can.

More rewarding have been the opportunities I’ve had to work with journalists and students through fine organizations like Poynter Institute, USC Annenberg, the American Press Institute, Boston University, Emerson College, SUNY Stony Brook and Emmanuel College. My point of view hasn’t always been popular with the editors and teachers I’ve met, but I’ve found most of them to be open-minded. I try to emphasize what I’ve said many times: The problem with newspapers isn’t the quality of their journalism but the weakness of their business model. It’s ironic that readership of newspaper content in print and online is at an all-time high while the revenues of the US industry are at a 60-year low. We should be focused not on preserving newspapers but on preserving journalism.

Power of Free

I earlier called Newspaper Death Watch a microcosm of the changing media industry and here’s what I meant: This blog has annual expenses of $57 for website hosting. It is a labor of love and an outlet for passion.It has long been a top Google result for queries about the decline of newspapers, and a couple of years ago Google decided to make it one of the top search results for “newspaper industry.”

As a result, the site gets between 400 and 600 visitors on an average day and has more than 1,200 RSS subscribers. One day in February, 2009 it was visited more than 3,000 times. I get a steady stream of e-mails from students asking about journalism careers or seeking help with term papers. Fifteen years ago that kind of visibility would have cost tens of thousands of dollars to create and thousands annually to sustain. International reach was almost unthinkable. Today it’s basically free.

This is just one small example of many thousands of blogs that are making a difference because the bloggers have something to say.  The ability of one person to create conversation today is stunning. Last month a man in North Carolina pumped eight rounds from a .45 into his daughter’s laptop to protest her selfish behavior. He posted the video below on YouTube and within three days started a global conversation about parenting, generational conflict and the impact of social media on young people. These kinds of events are commonplace today. They represent a fundamental shift in power and influence from the media to the individual.

It used to be said that power resided in the hands of those who bought ink by the barrel. Today it resides in the hands of those who have something to say and the passion to find a way to say it. What could be wrong with that?

–Paul Gillin

Framingham, MA

We continue to be amazed at the willingness of news organizations to employ the same tactics of obfuscation and doublespeak that their reporters spend their days combatting. Witness this press release from last week:

The Deseret News today announced a bold new direction to provide innovation and leadership at a time when daily newspapers throughout America are struggling to define a course for the future….New initiatives, includ[e] the creation of Deseret Connect, a broad and uniquely qualified group of story contributors, a new Editorial Advisory Board and the expansion of the news reporter base…These initiatives will increase the depth and quality of the Deseret News’ daily newspaper. As part of these changes, the organization also announced a reduction in workforce.

But this is no ordinary reduction in workforce. This is a 43% reduction in workforce, or 57 full-time and 28 part-time employees, according to Editor & Publisher. Among the victims are Editor Joe Cannon and Publisher Jim Wall. In the worst spinmeister fashion, the publisher doesn’t even touch upon the layoffs until 700 words deep in the release. That news is preceded by five bullet-pointed items peppered with words like “expansion,” “more,” “launch” and “new.” In other words, this is a major cutback spun as an expansion.

We actually see nothing wrong with what Deseret is doing. It’s combining editorial staffs with affiliated broadcast subsidiaries and shifting its focus toward digital delivery. Makes sense to us. It also makes sense that a large layoff may be needed to get costs in line with the new revenue reality. But why bury the lead so deep in the story? Why not come out and admit that tough times demand tough action?

In any case, other news outlets took care of asking the hard questions, including Huffington Post, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and the Salt Lake Tribune. Charles Apple says he hears the layoffs include the entire design staff.

Salty Words for USA Today Reorg

“It is odd that the best-read print newspaper in the country would walk away from that pre-eminence and embrace technologies in which it lags the field,” writes John K. Hartman, journalism educator and author of two books about USA Today, in an opinion piece in Editor & Publisher. He’s referring to the Gannett flagship’s bold announcement two weeks ago that it would restructure itself around online delivery to mobile devices, lay off 9% of its staff and de-emphasize print.

In a commentary bluntly titled “USA Today Setting Itself Up For Failure,” Hartman argues that not only is USA Today’s strength in print, but that is the only area in which it has innovated. He points to the decline in the national daily’s once market-leading sports coverage at the hands of ESPN and chides publisher David Hunke for betting on online delivery when USA Today isn’t even in the top 10 news sites in the world (It’s actually #21, according to Alexa, placing it behind such competitors as Drudge Report and the Times of India). In the professor’s view, a media company with such little online visibility is crazy to place such a big bet on a digital strategy.

He’s right, but what else is USA Today going to do? It’s already an also-ran on the Web and its print business is declining like everybody else’s. Mobile seems to be an open field at this point, so Gannett is making a play for the only opportunity it has to establish market leadership. There’s also a possibility that a genuine reader-funded subscription model could evolve in the mobile category. That has failed to happen online. USA Today is playing the only hand it’s got.

Part of the problem of analyzing strategic moves like Gannett’s is framing them in the context of a publication’s previous success. Will USA Today dominate the mobile market? Of course not. No one will. The barriers to entry are too low. But can mobile delivery become a growing revenue source to complement a modestly successful Web presence and a profitable print product? Sure it can.

Hartman is critical of USA Today for fumbling away its leadership in sports coverage to, but the reality is that broad-based media will always lose out to narrow, targeted media. The best strategy for a comprehensive news site is to be everywhere but expect to lead nowhere. In this age of hyper-focused media, that’s not a very comfortable position, but it’s about the only hope a brand like USA Today has got.


Also in the realm of church-owned newspapers, the price for the floundering Washington Times is $1.00. At least that’s what a Unification Church-affiliated buyer could pay, according to a memo released to the media. The selling price probably reflects a bit of a family discount, since the buyer is Doug Joo, an ally of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, whose Unification Church owns the paper. It’s not like the one-buck price is a bargain; the buyer has to assume all the paper’s unspecified financial obligations. The Washington Times has cut 40% of its staff this year.

Journalism schools are teaching more bells and whistles and less journalism, or at least that’s what some journalists and educators think.’s Tony Rogers cites of some trends that make traditionalists uncomfortable, including the University of Colorado at Boulder’s recent announcement that it is considering dismantling its 700-student journalism school in favor of an interdisciplinary communication program. Roger spoke to several journalism educators who said schools are increasingly stressing video cameras and Photoshop over the  essential tools of good reporting. As a result, there are jobs for journalists with good public affairs reporting skills sitting open. While not denying that multimedia skills are critical, educators say the balance is getting out of whack, and we’re producing less capable journalists as a result.

Newspaper publishers probably welcome any help they can get these days, even if it’s from the company that perpetuated the largest oil spill in history. BP bought newspaper ads in 126 markets in 17 states in the three months after the spill, according to the Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce.  BP dropped over $93 million in advertising during the three months after the spill began. That’s about three times what it spent in a comparable period a year ago. Most of the newspaper ads were targeted at the states most affected by the spill.

By paulgillin | March 29, 2010 - 7:43 am - Posted in Education, Future of Journalism, Journalism, NewMedia, Solutions

After visiting the School of Journalism at the State University of New York at Stony Brook last week, I came away hopeful that some journalism educators accept the profound changes that are going on in their field and are earnestly trying to adapt instead of hiding in a foxhole.

There are 10 full-time and several adjunct faculty at the only journalism school in the 64-campus SUNY system, and I met with many of them, including Dean Howard Schneider and Undergraduate Director Paul Schreiber, both of whom are 30+-year Newsday veterans. The school is only four years old and isn’t much burdened by the calcified thinking that tends to set in at more established schools. The fact that they would actually invite an iconoclast to visit demonstrates that. We didn’t agree on everything, but we had vigorous discussions, and that’s what counts.

Three things in particular impressed me about the program:

  • The faculty has completely bought in to the idea that students must learn to work in multiple media. That doesn’t mean they force a gifted writer to become a video producer, but they do insist that their students master the tools that they will need to survive in a digital media world. They’ve even built a futuristic newsroom with all the tools and sources that students need to master.
  • A “News Literacy” program is offered to the entire school and even to outside educators. These courses are aimed at teaching students in different concentrations to understand how media works so that they can become better communicators and smarter consumers. It’s a great idea that could be the foundation of growth for the entire journalism program.
  • All journalism majors are required to take an ambitious slate of courses in one of four multidisciplinary concentrations: Public Affairs, Diversity and Society, Science and the Environment, Global Issues and Perspectives. The idea is to get students started on a concentration early in their careers. That’s smart thinking, since the days of the general assignment reporter are basically over.

Radical Thinking

The advice I shared with the faculty should come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog, but here’s a summary:

  • The core principles of journalism – accuracy, fairness and trust – are more important than ever in a world that’s awash in opinion, speculation and rumor. Don’t stop teaching these skills.
  • Entrepreneurship should be a core competency for any aspiring journalist because the institutions that sustained careers in the past won’t be healthy or even available in the future. Students must learn to take responsibility for their own success.
  • Not-invented-here thinking is death. Journalists must learn the skills of curation and aggregation because their audience is no longer seeking more information but rather ways to manage the overwhelming amount of information they already have.
  • Media democratization can be an opportunity or a threat, depending on how you look at it. The opportunity is in the fact that professionals in nearly all disciplines will need to be skilled communicators in order to get ahead. Journalism education should become part of core college curricula. However, this may require blowing up some existing journalism schools and spreading those resources throughout other departments. Most journalists still see democratization as a threat; educators that choose to see opportunity can quickly move ahead of their peers.

I wrapped up the day by speaking to one of Prof. Barbara Selvin‘s classes. I took the opportunity to haul out the Flip cam and ask seven journalism majors why they’re bucking conventional wisdom. Their responses were encouraging. See the brief video