By paulgillin | July 24, 2018 - 7:54 pm - Posted in Hyper-local, Layoffs

The cure for the newspaper  industry’s ills was once thought to be a “hyper-local” focus, but that’s not proving to be the salve for New York City, which is suffering an unprecedented decline in local news coverage. The latest casualty is the New York  Daily News, which on Monday said it would cut its newsroom staff by half. The Washington Post points out that this means that a paper that employed 400 journalists in 1988 will have a reportorial staff of just 45 when the latest cuts new owner Tronc take effect.
U.S. newspaper employment has fallen by 55% since 2000, from 424,000 people to 183,300 in mid-2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ironically, the cuts are hitting hardest in New York, which is one of the media capitals of the world. Politico notes that The Wall Street Journal shut down its own experiment in hyper-local journalism called “Greater New York” in 2016 while The New York Times has cut back on metro coverage and the Village Voice shut down its print edition last year. Newsday pulled out of Manhattan long ago and no one knows about the condition of The New York Post, whose finances are closely held secret of owner Rupert Murdoch.
BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith, who is a veteran New York reporter, summed it up best, telling the Post, “Politicians know nobody is watching in a state where everything from economic development to the electoral system is plagued by systematic corruption.” The Daily News has won 11 Pulitzer Prizes, including one last year for its work with ProPublica on the abuse of eviction rules in New York City.
Arthur Browne, who served as editor-in-chief of the Daily News last year, told the Daily Beast last year that the borough of Queens, which has 2.3 million residents, now has no full-time court reporter, despite the fact that it experiences 35,000 major crimes a year and that the local courthouse hears 200,000 criminal cases annually.
Robert York, the Daily News‘s new EIC, asked the staff for 30 days to define a new strategy, which was apparently not in place before the firings were announced. York has a 20-year-plus journalism career, including some recent successes with the Allentown, Pa. Morning Call, but his background has been mostly limited to features and photography, and he has no experience in the rough-and-tumble New York market.
Among the casualties was former Daily News EIC Jim Rich, who had reportedly resisted demands for further staff cuts. Rich didn’t respond to media inquiries, but issued this tweet, which sort of sums up the situation in NYC right now.

Cuts are expected at other Tronc papers, which include The Baltimore Sun and The Chicago Tribune, but Tronc CEO Justin Dearborn said they wouldn’t be as draconian as they were at the Daily News. 

Image: Pixabay
By paulgillin | March 29, 2010 - 7:43 am - Posted in Hyper-local, Layoffs

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

By paulgillin | December 22, 2008 - 1:03 pm - Posted in Fake News, Google, Layoffs

It looks like 2009 will be a make-or-break year for many media companies, thanks to an advertising climate the some forecasters are predicting will the worst in generations.

Media economist Jack Myers is predicting an “advertising depression,” says Dow Jones. “Myers, a longtime industry consultant who runs JackMyers.com, is now forecasting an unprecedented three straight years of declines in advertising and marketing spending in the U.S. starting this year,” the wire service says. “To put that in perspective, the industry hasn’t suffered even a two-year spending decline in advertising since the 1930s.” The result will be a “massive shakeout” in industries that depend on advertising for their livelihood. Myers expects advertising spending in the U.S. to call 2.4% this year, 6.7% next year and 2.3% in 2010. His forecast roughly agrees with estimates by Publicis Groupe. The downturn will make it more difficult for media companions to effect the transformations that are necessary to survive in the customer-driven marketing environment of the future.

Meanwhile, Barclays Capital expects domestic ad spending to drop 10% next year, which is dramatically worse than performance during both the 1991 and 2001 recessions. The forecast is a substantial revision of Barclays’ prediction just two months ago that next year’s decline would be a less-drastic 5.5%. The investment bank sees trouble in the local advertising industry, which is often seen as the best hope for newspaper salvation. Local spending, which makes up some 39% of the $252.1 billion U.S. ad market, will fall 12.2% in 2009, while national spending will drop 8.4%. Barclays forecast that local ad spending would decline an additional 1.4% even when the broader market recovers in 2010. The one positive note: Internet advertising should increase 6.1% in 2009 and 12% in 2010, but that segment will still account for just 10% of ad spending next year.

Given those forecasts, it’s not surprising that asset values have tanked. “Some 30 US newspapers are up for sale…but few buyers have emerged in spite of rock bottom prices,” notes the Financial Times. Valuations have fallen by at least half compared to their highs and signs that the advertising environment is worsening aren’t helping, the paper says. To illustrate the degree of loss in asset values, the Boston Globe was valued at $650 million by a consortium of buyers just two years ago. Today, the value of the Globe and the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette combined is just $120 million. In fact, The New York Times Co.’s most valuable New England asset may be its equity stake in the Boston Red Sox. It was worth about $135 million before the financial crisis hit. And that’s without Mark Teixeira.

Some Good News, Too

While admitting that 2009 will be a mostly crummy year for the economy, Poynter Media Business Analyst Rick Edmonds sees reasons to believe better days are ahead. For one thing, oil is comparatively cheap right now and the price of paper is coming down. While you shouldn’t get comfortable with short-term trends in these commodities, at least they are two fewer factors weighing on the industry. The buyouts and layoffs of 2008 will show also benefits in 2009 as newspapers remove those costs from their books. And there are promising signs in newspapers’ online activities that may broadly benefit the industry. Edmonds is careful to hedge his bets, but he wants to exit the year on a positive note.

Cuts Take Toll on Quality

Print editors are accustomed to getting letters from readers taking them to task for erroneously saying the California Gold Rush started in 1845 instead of 1848 and  concluding, “Shoddy fact-checking like this makes me skeptical of anything you report in your journal.” Editors usually laugh off these missives, but with readers enjoying a bounty of choice these days and freely publishing their own critiques, the gaffes caused by overworked news staffs potentially become more damaging. Detroit NASCAR Examiner Josh Lobdell points out three major errors in a Detroit News story and questions how a newspaper in the Motor City can do such a shoddy job of covering motoring. The Sunday Business Post of Ireland restates almost verbatim what we suggested 2 1/2 years ago: that the cycle of cutbacks will lead to inferior products that people won’t want to read, which will harm circulation and lead to more layoffs. You don’t cost-cut your way to leadership.

valley_newsIf errors are your thing, read Craig Silverman’s year-end column in the Toronto Star about the worst publishing gaffes of 2008. Our favorite is the AP’s reference to Joseph Lieberman as a “Democratic vice-presidential prick.” There are plenty more on Silverman’s awesome blog, Regret the Error. Be sure to read his annual celebration of the worst errors and corrections in the media, an award he calls the Crunks. One of the best has to be this front page of northern New England’s Valley News, which actually managed to misspell its own name on its front page one day.

Report: Newspaper Sites Embrace Web Tools

The Bivings Group examined the websites of the 100 top U.S. newspapers to see what they’re doing with the Internet. While a few activities have changed little over the last year (RSS, reporter blogs and video), there have been striking increases in the use of some features:

  • Fifth-eight percent of newspaper websites post user-generated photos, 18% accept video and 15% publish user-generated articles.  That’s way up from the 24% that accepted such material in 2007.
  • Seventy five percent now accept article comments in some form, compared to 33% in 2007.
  • Facebook-like social networking tools are beginning to gain traction, with 10% of newspapers now using them, or double last year’s figure.
  • Three-quarters list some kind of most-popular ranking, such as most e-mailed or most commented. Just 33% had that feature in 2006.
  • You can now submit articles to social bookmarking sites like Digg and del.icio.us at 92% of newspaper sites, compared to only 7% in 2006.
  • Only 11% of websites now require registration to view full articles, compared to 29% last year.
  • Other stats: 57% have PDF editions, 20% have chat, and 40% offer SMS alerts.

Don’t strain your eyes: Click the image below for a larger version. More charts and data is in the summary report.

bivings_comparison

Miscellany

Journal-Register has reportedly closed a chain of Connecticut weeklies. The North Haven Courier reports, “On Dec. 18, members of [the Shore Line and Elm City Newspapers, a weekly newspaper chain in the shoreline and Greater New Haven area] were notified they had been laid off…The affected papers include the North Haven Post, the East Haven Advertiser, the Branford Review, the Shore Line Times of Guilford and Madison, the Clinton Recorder, and the Pictorial Gazette and Main Street News in Westbrook, Old Saybrook, Essex, Deep River, Chester, Lyme, and Old Lyme…Joyce Mletschnig, who until Thursday was the Pictorial Gazette’s associate editor, said that their newspapers would be shut down.”


The Seattle Times is asking about 500 non-unionized employees to take a week’s unpaid vacation in order to avoid more layoffs. Employees can take the seven days off at any time over the next two months. Management at the Times, which has cut 22% of its staff this year, may believe that further layoffs will undermine quality to too great a degree, so it’s getting creative with strategy.


Russ Smith has some good quotes in a piece on Splice Today about what he believes is the inevitable demise of print newspapers. Smith, 53, is an unabashed newspaper fan but he’s noticed that even his contemporaries are dropping their print subscriptions or not noticing when the paper no longer arrives on the doorstep. He also notices that his kids and their friends are just as well-informed about current events as he, a counter to the conventional wisdom that young people don’t read. Smith boldly predicts that The New York Times will be sold by the end of 2009, with Rupert Murdoch on the short list of likely buyers. On the other hand, Murdoch may be content simply to let his nemesis fade away.


Raleigh News & Observer Staff Writer Mark Schultz writes with passion about why he got into newspapers and why they’re still relevant. His best line comes in an account about interviewing a woman in her trailer home in Mexico: “We enter people’s lives for an hour and ask for instant intimacy.”


The Knoxville News Sentinel has apparently managed to avoid the carnage that has devastated many of its brethren. In an upbeat column plainly titled “News Sentinel is NOT going out of business,” Editor Jack McElroy pays homage to owner E.W. Scripps Co. for shrewdly diversifying its revenue stream and not loading up on debt. He also says the News Sentinel wisely diversified into TV and specialty publishing to insulate itself from the newspaper advertising downturn. Critics naturally accuse the paper of selling out to political interests.


The New York Times will launch “Instant Op-Ed” next month in a bid to compete with instant cable television analysis. The Web feature will post immediate expert viewpoints on breaking news, according to Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal.

And Finally…

The Baltimore Sun’s John McIntyre asked readers to contribute the best line heard in the workplace. They come through with some winners. Our favorite: “Yeah, he thinks he’s God’s gift to sliced bread.”

By paulgillin | December 4, 2008 - 5:18 pm - Posted in Fake News, Layoffs

Back in late October, Gannett Co. announced plans to cut 10% of its workforce.  This week, the hacking began in earnest. A sampling:

All this and more is being documented in gruesome detail on the Gannett Blog, Jim Hopkins’ remarkable watchdog website.  Gannett may not be revealing the extent of its job cuts, but Hopkins has assembled field reports from employees at 71 newspapers, as of today.  In addition, more than 100 comments have been posted. Peter Kafka of All Things Digital pays homage to the blog here, as does Editor & Publisher, which quotes extensively from it.

Unrelated to the Gannett moves:

And to all a good night…

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By paulgillin | August 12, 2008 - 7:59 am - Posted in Fake News, Google, Layoffs

Eric Schmidt, CEO, GoogleGoogle CEO Eric Schmidt, whose company has played a critical role in the destruction of the US newspaper industry, bemoaned the decline of investigative journalism, a discipline he called “fundamental to how our democracy works,” in remarks at the the recent Ad Age Madison & Vine conference in New York. The executive said a fundamental challenge to the industry is that readers are spending less time on content and thus less time being monetized. The idea that new advertising models will emerge to support quality journalism after the newspaper industry collapses is misguided. “The evidence does not support that view,” he said.Schmidt observed that newspapers are being challenged by the triple whammy of advertising competition, high newsprint prices and a decline of non-targeted advertising. “These guys are in a world of hurt and we as a community need to find economic models that will fund really great content,” he said. He noted ruefully that sketchy coverage of the war in Iraq is a particularly compelling example of the loss of investigative resources.

Redesigns Called “Reinventions”

South Florida SunSentinel before and after That’s the South Florida Sun-Sentinel before (left) and after its forthcoming redesign. Or should be say the SunSentinel? That’s right. As Charles Apple wryly notes, amid the cutbacks at Tribune Co., the new SunSentinel has laid off a hyphen.

Apple quotes SunSentinel design director Paul Wallen saying, “Although our median reader is in the mid to late 50s, our target audience is almost a generation younger. We’re after occasional readers, people who don’t feel they have the time or enough interest to read our paper on a regular basis…We want the paper to feel vibrant and alive, much like the community it serves.” The new design formally launches on Sunday. To get a larger (and different) example, click on the image at left.

Another Tribune Co. property, the Baltimore Sun, will debut a new design on Aug. 24. No prototypes are being floated yet, but Editor & Publisher quotes Sun publisher Tim Ryan saying the overhaul is a “reinvention.” There’ll be three sections: news, sports and features. The features section will be called “You” in a nod to the complete USATodayification of the American newspaper industry. Tribune Chief Innovation Officer Lee Abrams called the Sun redesign “a tour de force package that’s going to help re-write the Tribune Co. — and newspapers.” We’ve already shared our opinion on the business value of redesigns.

Milwaukee Feels the Pain

The Milwaukee Business Journal writes of forthcoming layoffs at the Journal Sentinel as the paper struggles to meet its goal of a 10% staff cut. The piece illustrates the scope of the industry’s pain. Milwaukee should be a good newspaper town. It’s got a solid blue-collar middle class, people who don’t change their habits very quickly. The Journal Sentinel has a near-monopoly position, with 70 percent readership among Milwaukee adults on Sundays and about 50 percent on weekdays. Yet ad revenue is down 13 percent so far this year on top of an 8 percent decline in 2007 and 4 percent in 2006. Sunday circulation is down 16% from a decade ago.

The story has the obligatory Newspaper Association of America quote about combined print/online audiences being larger than ever, but the nut graph is a quote from a Morningstar analyst: “For every dollar daily newspapers have lost in print revenue, they’ve been able to replace it with only 15 cents in revenue from their Web sites.” The only way newspapers can survive the online shift is to get smaller, the analyst says. It’s just that no one knows how small they have to get.


A Journal Sentinel columnist is taking a buyout package and looking ahead. In this wistful, but ultimately uplifting farewell column he reminisces on the joys and frustrations of journalism and looks forward to taking a chance and spending some time with his family.

Miscellany

Former New York Times editor John Darnton recently retired from the paper. But instead of writing a tell-all memoir, he’s aired some dirty laundry in the form of a murder mystery called Black and White and Dead All Over (order it on Amazon). Reviewer Seth Faison knows many of the people who appear in Darnton’s fiction, including Publisher Arthur Sulzberger and Executive Editor Bill Keller. Faison praises the book for offering candid insight on the politics, chaos and juvenile behavior that characterizes a city newsroom. Darnton may lose friends as a result of this bitingly satirical work, but he’s made for darned good summer reading.


Tucson Citizen assistant city editor Mark B. Evans has some kind words for political bloggers who are, in some cases, outclassing the area’s newspapers in political coverage. We ignore these new voices at our peril, he says. Newspapers are falling further behind, so why not welcome these emerging opinion leaders into our fold and benefit from the readership and revenue they can bring?


The Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader is trying to further reduce staff through buyouts. Kentucky’s largest newspaper already cut its workforce from 417 to 382 in June, but that wasn’t enough. Executives didn’t set a target figure for this round of cuts.


The Christian Science Monitor‘s Jan Worth-Nelson has quietly, subtly replaced her morning newspaper with a MacBook and an RSS feed, but she still remembers the days when reading the Sunday paper was a treasured ritual. Sadly, cutbacks at the LA Times have made the paper less relevant to her Sunday mornings and she misses the thrill that came with snapping open that first issue of the day to drink in the fresh news that it promised.


Howard Rheingold has an interesting essay on how to get more out of Twitter. Best advice: keep the list of people you’re following short and engage in meaningful interactions with them. He also doesn’t tweet what he had for breakfast. (via Mark Hamilton)


End of an era: In a nod to the realities of advertiser pressure and a weakening print market,  Rolling Stone will ditch is unique, awkward trim size and switch to a standard format effective with the Oct. 30 issue. The magazine’s size will be reduced from 10″ x 11 3/4″ to 8″ x 10 7/8″.

And Finally…

Bad warning sign

People always celebrate success, but they don’t give enough credit to really creative failure. Thank goodness, then, for The Fail Blog, a photographic tribute to failures big and small. Don’t look at this site in the office. Your colleagues will wonder why you’re laughing so hard. And don’t, under any circumstances, view it while you’re drinking milk, if you know what we mean.

By paulgillin | January 21, 2008 - 8:42 am - Posted in Fake News, Layoffs

Scott Karp offers some thoughtful and constructive perspective on citizen journalism, which he calls “networked journalism,” in this post on Publishing 2.0. One of the greatest risks of unfettered community reporting is the risk of someone gaming the system, he notes. There are thousands of blog posts already out there that describe strategies for driving up vote totals on community recommendation engines. A particularly controversial one is here. The advantage of the “command-and-control” journalism model is that it’s relatively transparent. Fact-checking and decision-making are done by human editors who are responsible for their actions. In contrast, decision-making by algorithm is inherently subject to manipulation.

Karp takes issues with those who argue that algorithms can be developed to detect gaming. The most sophisticated schemes will always be hard to detect, he says. That doesn’t make citizen journalism bad, though. In the end, Karp argues, there’s much to recommend the community-driven model, but we need to be aware of its flaws, too.

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By paulgillin | January 17, 2008 - 6:35 am - Posted in Fake News, Layoffs

Mother Jones has another one of those opinion pieces by a journalist who is outraged – outraged, I tell you! – over the loose editing and poor fact-checking of citizen journalism. In this case, the villain is the Tallahassee Democrat, which published a popular blog by a local PR person whose topics sometimes touched upon issues that related to her clients. In one anecdote highlighted in the piece, the blogger supported a proposal to build a Wal-Mart near town while her firm was doing PR for Wal-Mart.

Well, shame on the Tallahassee Democrat, and shame on the blogger, but please no shame on citizen journalism. The problem here is that the newspaper chose to feature prominently someone whose profession should have raised warning flags and then didn’t fact-check her work. In a true citizen journalism environment, the blogger would be subject to community fact-checking, which would have quickly identified her conflicts of interest. She also wouldn’t have enjoyed the unfair advantage of the newspaper bully pulpit. She’d have to earn respect and trust on her own instead.

In attempting to trash citizen journalism, this article actually does the opposite. It highlights the risks of the hybrid models now being tried by mainstream newspapers as they desperately seek a viable business model. Take the newspaper out of this story and there’s, well, no story.

Update

Adam Weinstein, author of the Mother Jones article, responded to my comments via e-mail:

“Read your comments about my Mother Jones piece, both on their site and your own blog, and I just wanted to say: I couldn’t agree more. If I had it to write again, I would want to stress that the problem is not with citizen journalism, but with one particularly offensive media corporation’s attempt to co-opt it. They were less interested with understanding the open system, or with improving their responsiveness to community issues, than with cutting corners every step of the way.

“My gut says that print organizations can partner with citizen media and better use the Web, but that might require a greater degree of editorial vigilance, a tough pill to swallow for both (justly) free-spirited bloggers and (unjustly) penny-pinching newspaper publishers. But there’s a whole lot more Stacey N. Getzes out there, and until the mainstream media and readers grow to understand exactly how citizen journalism polices itself, a lot of Stacy Getzes are going to give bad names to both the ‘professionals’ and ‘amateurs.'”

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By paulgillin | August 22, 2007 - 5:24 am - Posted in Fake News, Layoffs

This remarkable exercise in community journalism from last June just came to my attention from reading Jay Rosen’s PressThink post. Working from a terse report by the Greensboro News & Record of layoffs of 41 of its own employees (why are newspapers so timid about covering their own bad news?), Ed Cone decided to let the people affected by the layoffs tell their own story.

And they did. As you can see from the frequent updates to Cone’s original post, affected staff members named names, told of the subdued atmosphere in the newsroom and fretted about the future. Some of their comments are touching. This account certainly adds depth and clarity to the unspecific report from the newspaper itself.

But I guess Ed Cone shouldn’t be taking seriously. After all, he isn’t a “journalist.”

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By paulgillin | - 5:08 am - Posted in Fake News, Layoffs

Jay Rosen at PressThink has amassed an interesting list of triumphs of citizen journalism that he plans to post in response to Michael Skube’s rather self-righteous essay on the difference between bloggers and journalists.

The debate over whether bloggers are journalists strikes me as pointless because it’s so subjective. Wikipedia defines “journalist” as “a person who practices journalism, the gathering and dissemination of information about current events, trends, issues and people.” But is a person who contributes an essential fact or perspective to a story also practicing a form of journalism? For that matter, isn’t Wikipedia acting in a journalistic capacity with coverage of events like the Crandall Canyon mine disaster?

Earlier this year, CNN and other major news organizations turned to bloggers and camera phone users to help with coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings. Was it wrong to rely on these eyewitnesses because they weren’t professional journalists? Does someone have to carry a press card to contribute meaningful reporting?

This is a debate over terminology that is increasingly meaningless in a new world in which everyone is a publisher. Yes, news organizations will always have a vital role to play in disseminating credible, balanced, well-researched information, but individual citizens and groups of people who choose to act as journalists should also be heard. Ultimately, the checks and balances of a free debate will expose inaccuracy and bias. Shouldn’t the decision about what constitutes “journalism” be left up to the person who consumes the information?

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