How are the experiments in reduced frequency that began in Detroit more than four years ago and have since spread to Cleveland, Syracuse, New Orleans and now Portland working out? Not so well, says author and J-school professor John K. Hartman.

Writing on Editor & Publisher‘s website, Hartman says the most from seven-day to three-day home delivery has caused massive subscriber flight and forced publishers to quietly backtrack. Newhouse, which is cutting frequencies across its line of dailies, has already had to introduce a new tabloid to produce on the days the Times-Picayune doesn’t publish.

Hartman blames greed. He accuses Newhouse of sabotaging journalism at the papers it own in the name of maximizing profits for the Newhouse family.

Newhouse is saving big money by eliminating news staff, eliminating office staff, eliminating delivery staff, and eliminating delivery expenses. In other words, Newhouse is getting out of the daily newspaper business and into the tri-weekly advertising shopper business.

We didn’t know this, but Hartman says the Detroit Free Press and News have re-introduced daily delivery to about 15,000 homes. The experiment, which was positioned as a “bold transformation” in December, 2008,

lost so many readers they had to beef up their non-delivery-day newspapers and restore limited seven-day home delivery. The Free Press now offers home delivery to 15,000 households through independent contractors the other four days a week. Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of readers of the print products were lost in Detroit, and the projected switch of readers and advertisers to digital sites has not taken place.

Continuing a newspaper industry tradition of burying bad news about its business, The Oregonian announced that it will scale back home-delivery frequency from seven to four days a week.

The news is tucked into the fourth paragraph of an otherwise effusive press release on Oregon Live that crows about the launch of a new company that will “expand news and information products in Oregon and Southwest Washington” and “introduce new and improved digital products.”

In reality, the main purpose of the new company over the next few months will be to hire survivors from Oregonian Publishing Co. which produces the state’s largest and longest continuously published newspaper. That company will close on Oct. 1. Oregonian write Brent Hunsberger provides balanced coverage – and leads with the real news.

Like newspapers in Detroit, the The Oregonian will continue to publish in print seven days a week but will limit distribution of Monday, Tuesday and Thursday editions to city newsstands. Its 170,000 home subscribers will see deliveries cut to Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. In a baffling bit of doublespeak, the company also said home-delivery subscribers would get a Saturday edition “as a bonus.” It also stressed that the “Wednesday, Friday and Sunday editions will be enhanced with more content than current editions while the Saturday newspaper will have news and a strong emphasis on sports content, along with classified advertising.” In other words, a cut of 50% is an improvement.

The bigger story is that there will be unspecific but “significant” layoffs at The Oregonian, which currently employs 650 people. The paper, which has won seven Pulitzer Prizes and five since 1999, employs more than 90 journalists according to Hunsberger’s account. However, Ryan Chittum thinks the editorial cuts have been more severe. Writing on, Chittum estimates that the newsroom staff has declined from about 315 in 2007 to 175 today. His assessment is blunt:

[Advance Publications’] new template for its newspapers is now depressingly familiar: End daily delivery; fire a third to a half of the veteran journalists, particularly the editors, particularly in news; replace some of them with young, inexperienced (and most important: cheap) labor; put them on the hamster wheel; toss around insipid buzzwords; spend a bunch of money on new offices; piss off readers; embolden competition.

Seems about right. Chittum also notes that Advance Publications’ cutbacks at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans backfired when a competitor from Baton Rouge moved in to take advantage of subscriber unrest. Advance has had to respond with a tabloid edition on days the Times-Picayune doesn’t publish, thereby negating many of its cost savings. Advance has said that it will make similar frequency cutbacks across its portfolio.

Oregon journalists are already rushing in to show their support. Former Oregonian reporter Ryan Frank has taken to social media to raise funds for a bar tab for laid-off staffers. He’s already raised more than $3,000. Follow the fund’s progress at #OregonianBarTab on Twitter. And give generously.

Thanks to Brian Parks for tipping us off to this news.


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By paulgillin | June 11, 2013 - 5:54 pm - Posted in Journalism


Infographic from InsideClimateNews series on the Dilbit oil spill

Infographic from InsideClimateNews series on the Dilbit oil spill

Editor & Publisher has details on InsideClimate News and the “ambitious, in-depth investigative series that began as a fluke,” winning the tiny nonprofit organization the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting.

The online-only service, which publishes its work under a Creative Commons license, beat out some of the biggest U.S. newspapers to win the honor for its three-part investigative series “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard Of.” The series focused on a 2010 crisis caused by a ruptured oil pipeline that spilled at least 1 million gallons into Michigan’s Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River, forcing 150 families permanently from their home.

The watchdog organization has a staff of only seven full-timers who work virtually in offices and homes around the country. It’s funded entirely by donations, a similar model to ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative reporting service launched in 2007 that has won two Pulitzers.

The E&P also documents the resourcefulness and determination that enabled the service to bring this story home despite a tiny budget and far-flung staff. The visibility of its work was helped by the fact that media coverage of climate change has declined steadily since 2009, according to E&P.


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Police Roam MA Suburb In Search Of Boston Bombers

Police Roam MA Suburb In Search Of Boston Bombers (Photo: Talk Radio News Service)

Those who fear that crowdsourcing may soon make professional journalists obsolete should take a look at some of the links below related to an amateur sleuthing experiment on the popular Reddit social news site that went horribly awry last week.

The goal was commendable enough. A “subreddit” was set up to enlist the members of this massive community (14 million monthly visitors by one report) in the hunt for suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing. Participants were told not to name names and to focus their effort on combing through thousands of photos posted on the Internet in hopes of finding the origins of the backpacks that exploded, killing three people and injuring 282 others.

The rules quickly went by the wayside, though. Names began being tossed out more or less at random, photos of anyone carrying a backpack were flagged as suspicious and chatter from the Boston Police Scanner were posted as fact. Most damaging was a rumor that Sunil Tripathi, a Brown University student who has been missing for a month, was one of the bombers.

Twitter did its part both to spread misinformation and to serve professional journalists who sought to calm the hysteria.  Some mainstream media organizations picked up on the Tripathi rumors and amplified them, while other journalists tried to settle the crowd by pointing out, among other things, that police scanner reports are unconfirmed and often wrong.

The accusation that Tripathi was involved in the bombings was particularly damaging. When the popular @NewsBreaker Twitter account reported that the missing student had been confirmed as a suspect based upon police scanner chatter, “social media went crazy,” said Reddit General Manager Erik Martin in an interview on Atlantic Wire. “It was posted so many times in [Reddit subgroup] /r/FindBostonBombers that I had to stay up the entire night deleting them.”

Martin called the experiment “a disaster,” and issued an apology to the Tripathi family on behalf of Reddit, which is owned by Conde Nast. Media critics have been swarming in the wake of the incident, with Reddit getting nearly universal condemnation. About the only contribution the crowd made to the investigation was to identify one photo of the suspected bombers that the FBI hadn’t seen. However, the distraction the experiment caused as professional reporters tried to untangle the web of amateur accusations more than offset the small benefits. A chastened Reddit has since launched a new crowdsourced campaign to help locate Tripathi.

Questioning Crowdsourcing’s Value

Does this mean crowdsourcing is a bad idea? In certain situations, yes. Criminal investigations require specialized expertise that no group of amateurs can match. FBI and police investigators had access to intelligence that enabled them to evaluate and discard spurious information that the Reddit crowd didn’t. In a highly charged atmosphere like this, investigation is best done behind closed doors, with information revealed selectively when it can move the process along. The crowd is enlisted to help authorities but not to solve the case.

We can’t help but wonder what the public response would be if police officials conducted their investigation the way Reddit did. If every rumor and bit of speculation was held up to public comment, then our opinion of law enforcement might be quite different. Sometimes there’s good reason to withhold information from the public, as the irresponsible actions of the Reddit crowd made very clear.

However, we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath. Crowdsourcing can have great value when applied to analysis of very amounts of data or eyewitness accounts. Witness the comprehensive Wikipedia report on the Marathon bombings for an example of how many eyes can tell a story better than a few.

The incident also offered some shining examples of traditional media at its best. On Friday the Boston Globe, which has been a poster child of newspaper industry tumult, posted this marvelous account of the factors that set two likable young men on the road to terrorism. It was mainstream media at its best.


Mathew Ingram has a different view. He believes Reddit, Twitter and other popular tools are capable of producing quality journalism, but not in the way we’ve traditionally defined it. Ingram believes that journalism is “atomizing” into component parts, and that the fact-checking and validation functions can be better handled by a crowd.

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By paulgillin | April 23, 2013 - 7:49 am - Posted in Best/Worst, Journalism, Layoffs

Citing newspaper closures, high stress and low pay, CareerCast has rated newspaper reporter as the worst job in the nation, behind lumberjack, oil rig worker and meter reader.

The ratings, which the jobs portal has published annually since 1988, factor in criteria like income, growth opportunity, environmental factors, stress and physical demands in ranking 200 jobs annually. Newspaper reporter was ranked #126 in the first published report 25 years ago. However, the last decade has seen ad revenues shrink 60% and reporting staffs dwindle by 30%. At the same time, deadlines have become shorter while demands for output have increased.

The job of newspaper reporter “has attracted many aspiring writers, been romanticized in movies and helped bring down corrupt presidents,” the company said in a press release. However, Publisher Tony Lee said people who like to write are better off seeking careers in advertising, public relations or online publishing these days.

The three top-ranked jobs in the nation are actuary, biomedical engineer and software engineer, the survey said. The rankings aren’t necessarily intuitive. For example, “senior corporate executive” is rated #155, attorney #117 and air traffic controller #170. Mining, a job that many people would say is the worst in the nation, isn’t ranked at all. You can find a list of all 200 rated jobs here.

The the 10 biggest losers, with approximate pay levels, are below.
200. Newspaper Reporter – $36,000
199. Lumberjack – $32,870
198. Enlisted Military Personnel – $41,998
197. Actor – $17.44/hour
196. Oil Rig Worker – $37,640
195. Dairy Farmer – $60,750
194. Meter Reader – $36,400
193. Mail Carrier – $53,090
192. Roofer – $34,220
191. Flight Attendant – $37,74


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By paulgillin | March 1, 2013 - 8:13 am - Posted in Future of Journalism, Journalism, Newspapers, Solutions

Occasionally a tool comes along that is so drop-dead useful that it causes you to change the way you work. We encountered such a tool a couple of weeks ago via an interview with Craig Silverman, founder of the Regret the Error blog (now hosted by Poynter) and the new Director of Content and Product Strategy at Spundge.

Spundge is a tool for content curation, a discipline we’ve written about in the past that helps readers cope with information saturation by aggregating and summarizing relevant material by topic. We think there’s a lot of value in curation, and if publishers can get over their not-invented-here mentalities, they can take advantage of it.

It’s hard to describe Spundge; it’s best to try it. If you consume content by reading RSS feeds – as we do – then its value is immediately obvious. The basic Spundge service includes RSS feeds from more than 45,000 sources that it calls the “fire hose.” It also has publicly available feeds from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus and several other social networks. You can add your own RSS feeds by pasting in individual URLs and uploading OPML files.

Users create a “notebook” for each topic and specify keyword combinations that are either required, optional or excluded. We created a simple one for this site that you can see here. You can create as many workbooks as you want and optionally share them. Other people can contribute to your notebook or just watch.

Spundge from Spundge on Vimeo.

Once you specify your keywords, Spundge goes to work filtering the fire hose to deliver items that match your query. Results consist of headlines and the first 500 characters or so of each article. This is usually enough to get a sense of what the piece is about. You can accept or decline each result. Accepted results go into a workspace for later use, while declined results disappear. Spundge is supposed to learn from your decisions and deliver more targeted results over time. That particular feature is a work in progress that will get better with time.

The items you save can be published as embeds on any site that accepts Javascript. Embeds don’t actually live on the target site, but are hosted on Spundge and displayed there. YouTube videos are commonly shared via embeds, and Storify is an example of a popular curation service that uses embedding. We’ve included an embed below that shows you how it works. One cool feature is that embeds are updated every few minutes, so the content actually updates even after you’ve published it.

Everything we’ve described so far is part of the free Spundge service. If you pay $9 a month, you get a WYSIWYG editor that enables you to customize content, write your own headlines, add comments and generally munge content however you want. The resulting HTML can be posted on any website or blog. At that price, it’s a no-brainer.

Love at First Byte

We love Spundge, and we’re recommending it to everyone who’s tired of picking through RSS feeds or filtering tweets looking for nuggets of information. We’ve long used an RSS reader to monitor the sites listed in the lower left sidebar of this site. That’s more efficient than visiting each site individually, but the lack of filtering is still a problem. We have to scan each headline and summary manually.

With Spundge, we imported our favorite feeds from an OPML file, specified some keywords and were off to the races. Plus we got to take advantage of those 45,000 feeds that the Spundge developers had already found for us, not to mention Twitter and LinkedIn. Our reading time has been reduced dramatically and we’re discovering stuff we didn’t know existed before.

Spundge is still in development, and it’s not perfect. The workspace can’t easily be customized, so you can’t selectively display items without jumping through hoops. Spundge lets you specify how many items to embed, but not which ones. The service makes it easy to share items from your workspace on social networks, but links go to a copy of the content on Spundge rather than to the source. We think content providers will have a problem with that.

The biggest shortcoming we’ve seen so far is the recommendation engine, which is supposed to “learn” from your choices and deliver more targeted content over time. We haven’t noticed that the quality of our feed is improving, but let’s be fair: Machine learning is devilishly difficult to implement. If Spundge is successful, the investments will come and the quality will improve.

For now, we give the basic Spundge service an unqualified endorsement as a leap forward in technology to filter and organize information. We’re going to experiment with the paid service, and you’ll see the results here. In the meantime, our recommendation is to get thee to a Spundgery.

If you need that link again, Spundge is here.


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Media critics have been buzzing for more than a week about “Snow Fall,” John Branch’s feature in The New York Times about a tragic avalanche that claimed three skiers’ lives in the Tunnel Creek area of Washington state early last year. Some people say it‘s the future of journalism, and they’re right – in a way. A loud chorus of naysayers who point out that “Snow Fall” is just the Times showing off. They’re right, too.

What’s important isn’t whether this package – which doesn’t fit neatly into the category of article, video documentary or e-book – is a turning point, but rather its importance as an evolution in story-telling. There’s nothing revolutionary about the technology the Times used. It’s the way the elements were combined that makes “Snow Fall” a great experience.Snow Fall Intro screen

For example, some of the graphics unfold as the reader scrolls down the screen, illustrating elements of the narrative in a way that feels seamless and natural. Embedded slide shows appear next to the names of key people in the tragedy, showing them in happier times. It’s a moving tribute to dead and their families that doesn’t seem heavy-handed or maudlin. It’s just part of the story.

Romenesko says the package racked up 3.5 million page views in its first week and that one-quarter of them were new visitors to Ad Age complains that the ads the Times ran next to the copy nearly ruin the reading experience. Mathew Ingram superbly balances comments from both fans and critics. He concludes that, for all its elegance and beauty, “Snow Fall” still doesn’t address mainstream media’s frustrating fiscal woes. Laura Hazard Owen suggests that the “e-single” version of the feature – which sells for $2.99 – is an important endorsement of the growing mini-book concept.

We dropped by to see what all the fuss was about and ended spending an hour reading every last word and viewing every last video. “Snow Fall” is a visually stunning example of what a well-resourced news organization can produce when it spares practically no expense to break the mold. Few media companies can attempt something so ambitious (although there are some corporate marketing departments that could foot the bill). What’s important about “Snow Fall” is the ideas it introduces – ideas that will be adopted and iterated by other publishers on a smaller scale. We don’t think that’s showing off. It’s just being creative.

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By paulgillin | December 21, 2012 - 12:28 pm - Posted in Journalism, Newspapers

Physician and award-winning documentary filmmaker Ben Daitz (now there’s a combination you don’t see too often) Has been keeping us up-to-date on his latest project, a documentary that celebrates small-town newspapers. We haven’t had a chance to watch the whole film yet, but we like the trailer. Ben writes that the film has had “very successful screenings at festivals and J-schools and will be shown at the Newseum” in Washington.

Here’s a description. You can order a copy for $29.95 at New Deal Films.

Smithsonian Magazine once asked the rhetorical question, “Can a weekly paper in rural New Mexico raise enough hell to keep its readers hungry for more, week after week?”

The Rio Grande Sun, published in Española, NM, is considered one of the best weekly newspapers in the country. Bob Trapp, the Sun‘s founder, editor, and publisher, is the quintessential newspaperman—the last of a vanishing breed—a scrupulously honest, fearless, independent journalist, and a mentor to generations of young reporters.

The Sun is known for investigative reporting. The paper broke the story that its own rural community had the highest per capita heroin overdose rate in the country. It has led the fight for open records and open meetings in a county where political shenanigans are the rule.

The film follows the Sun’s
 reporters and editors as they write about the 
news, sports, arts and cultures of a 
large rural county.  John Burnett, a
 National Public Radio correspondent,
 reports on the Sun‘s Police Blotter—“the
 best in the country.” The Sun‘s 
journalists investigate the largest
 embezzlement in the state’s history, and the 
widespread use of tranquilizers in the county jail.

“The Sun Never Sets” is narrated by Bob Edwards, National Radio Hall of Fame and Peabody award-winning news anchor and radio host. It is an official selection of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival and the Ojai Film Festival, and will be screened at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.


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Two filmmakers who identify themselves as Lenny Feinberg and Chris Foster have released a trailer for what they say will be an upcoming documentary called Black and White and Dead All Over. We haven’t seen anything more than the four-minute clip embedded here, but it appears that the authors have interviewed an impressive cast of journalists and publishers. The trailer presents a sympathetic view of the plight facing the U.S. newspaper industry, pointing out that the information people expect to find for free online has to come from somewhere, and that the institutions that provide it are in peril. As one speaker puts it, “Where is the Internet going to get its information if the newspaper in your town goes out of business?”

The documentarians provided few details about when or where the full film will be available. The URL for goes to a parked GoDaddy page. We don’t even know who these guys are. Maybe they’ll leave a comment and tell us more.


Fake storm photo Hurricane Sandy

The photo at right was one of several that made the rounds on the Internet as Hurricane Sandy lashed the east coast on Monday and Tuesday of this week. It’s a powerful image. It’s also completely bogus, a two-year-old Photoshop mashup that took on new significance when no one had a clear picture of what was happening on the Atlantic seaboard. It was one of many false reports that circulated on social networks during the storm. Although the increasingly Twitter-dependent mainstream media didn’t circulate this photo, it reported its share of falsehoods.

We personally heard the CNN report of three feet of water in the New York Stock Exchange. In fact, live security camera feeds showed that the floor was dry. We also heard media reports that Con Edison had shut off power to all of Manhattan. Also not true. The Detroit Free Press rounds up some of the prominent rumors here.

Instagram was the new kid on the block for this event. The photo-sharing service communicated some powerful images, like the fully lit Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn surrounded by flood waters (left), but it was also used to drag out Photoshopped favorites from years past that reappear with each new disaster. The Verge has a roundup of photos shared on Instagram and Twitter during the storm and the Atlantic put together a great collection of real, fake and questionable images shared on social media.

Are these deceptions proof that citizen journalism sucks, that the ability to reach a global audience tempts people to spread falsehoods and make mischief?

We don’t think so. While social networks spread a lot of rumors during the storm, that’s nothing unique to the Web 2.0 age. Disasters always spawn speculation. Remember the reports of planes flying into buildings in Chicago and San Francisco on 9/11? The difference today is the speed at which falsehoods spread. But another important difference is the speed at which they’re dispelled.

We like John Herrman’s analysis on BuzzFeed. He notes that Twitter users were just as quick to disabuse each other of storm-related misinformation as to spread it in the first place. “Twitter is a fact-processing machine on a grand scale, propagating then destroying rumors at a neck-snapping pace,” he writes. “To dwell on the obnoxiousness of the noise is to miss the result: that we end up with more facts, sooner, with less ambiguity.”

Sites like and Wikipedia are effective at sifting fact from fiction. Although neither is under the same time pressure as CNN, in the long run they get it right. Electronic media are always under the gun during a news event, and have always been susceptible to reporting bad information. To their credit, the news networks are usually good about qualifying unconfirmed information as just that. Any experienced reader of blogs or social networks knows that fantastical claims shouldn’t be taken at face value. New media even have some fact-checking features built in. For example, The New York Times used geo-location to verify that eyewitness tweets were in fact from people who might reasonably be assumed to be eye witnesses.

We think more information is always better than less, even if some of it is bad. As layoffs continue to hack away at mainstream media, those outlets continue to turn to citizens as front-line news sources. We don’t see that changing anytime soon. Rather, the tools for spotting bad information will mature and our bullshit detectors become more refined.

Anyone watching the #Sandy or #Frankenstorm hash tags on Monday and Tuesday read amazing stories from people who taking the storm head-on. Mobile social networks continue to deliver information from blacked-out areas that would otherwise have no outlet. The fact that some of that information is bad is the price we pay for having a First Amendment.

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