Near the end of the overview section of the Pew Research Center’s exhaustive study of the business issues facing American newspapers, one unnamed executive sums up the industry’s dilemma:  “There might be a 90% chance you’ll accelerate the decline if you gamble and a 10% chance you might find the new model. No one is willing to take that chance.”

That’s it in a nutshell. The newspaper industry is standing on a railroad ­trestle 100 feet above a rushing river while a locomotive bears down on it. The only thing worse than getting hit by the train is jumping out of the way. The study outlines in depressing detail how paralyzed the industry is in its search for new business models, although there are glimmers of hope in the successes of a few innovators.

Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism surveyed 38 US newspapers and conducted extensive on-site follow-up interviews to examine the industry’s search for new business models. The sample was representative of the composition of US newspapers as a whole, with a mix of geographies and a preponderance of smaller titles.

In general, small papers are faring better than the large ones, but all are facing the same specter off print advertising declines that far exceed growth of digital alternatives. In fact, researchers concluded that for every $1 gained in new digital revenue, newspapers are losing $7 of print revenue.

“There’s no doubt we’re going out of business right now,” said one executive.

No Names, Please

How Quickly Newspapers are Growing Digital RevenueOne of the project’s most frustrating characteristics is its anonymity. Researchers had to promise not to name names in order to get executives to let down their guard. The result is some memorable quotes but few actionable examples. We learn of one small paper that posted 63% growth in digital revenue in the last full year while also growing print sales 8%. Another major metro daily was said to have grown its digital business 50% in the last year. It would great if these outliers would come forth and tell everyone else how they did it, but we may never know their identities.

The Pew study is emphatic in identifying the industry’s core problems as more cultural than operational. “There’s a big difference between understanding the new media environment and comprehending what it takes to adapt,” says one executive.

Fifteen years after the arrival of the commercial Internet, the industry continues to rely on print advertising to an alarming degree and has made only halting progress in developing new revenue streams. That isn’t for lack of trying. Everyone is trying to find digitally savvy salespeople, most are paying premiums for online ad sales and all publishers are aware of the need to experiment with alternative revenue sources like daily deals and business services.

However, they’re mostly having meager results. Few papers studied in the report are taking advantage of the growth in targeted digital advertising. Most are still reliant upon low-margin display ads. Nearly half of the publications have experimented with alternative revenue streams like consulting services and digital shopping malls, but only one reported any significant revenue.

Culture Clash

Unfortunately, rapid sales declines in the profitable print business are creating a hair’s-on-fire hysteria that sabotages change. The kind of salespeople publishers need to hire don’t want to work in an industry that’s in crisis. The number of print-focused sales representatives outnumber digitally focused reps by about 3-1 at the newspapers surveyed and there continues to be debate at some companies about whether digital is event the future. That sounds incredible, but the study identifies entrenched resistance among many publishers to diverging from the business model that served them so well in the days of monopoly market share and 20% profit margins.

Officials at 10 of the 13 companies said their biggest challenge was the continuing tension between people in their organizations who are advocating a more aggressive digital approach and those more aligned with the legacy tradition. In essence, they described a conflict between going faster and going slower…”We haven’t needed innovative people,” explained one executive. “So you get what you need. The kind of people that came into this industry were more operationally focused, executors instead of innovator risk takers.”

The good news is that there is broad awareness at the highest levels of the companies surveyed that the industry’s problems aren’t going to heal themselves. In fact, no one quoted in the report suggests that the current downturn is temporary or cyclical. Where they differ is on what to do about it. “The data and interviews suggest companies are almost evenly divided between optimists and pessimists-evidence of a lack of consensus on how to proceed in developing the new business model,” the report says. Unfortunately, at a time like this the only certainty is that inaction is death.

By Paul Gillin | February 28, 2012 - 7:25 pm - Posted in Future of Journalism, Journalism, NewMedia, OnlineMedia

Latitude News logoIf you’re the type of person who skips past the international section in the newspaper because it just isn’t relevant to you, maybe you should have a look at Latitude News.

The fledgling operation, which was launched in November, doesn’t look particularly different from any news site on the Web at first glance. The intriguing philosophy that underlies it, however, says a lot about how the Internet has crafted a global village.

Latitude News’ focus is mainly on international events, but it approaches them with an eye toward the U.S. audience. A piece on the recovering business climate in Poland is framed in terms of the reverse diaspora it has sparked among Poles in the U.S., who are now returning home in droves. It was one of the few outlets to report on Brazilian aerospace company Embraer’s entry into the U.S. market for what has historically been an American stronghold: corporate jets.

These kinds of stories might have run in any U.S. newspaper, but Latitude news founder Maria Balinska wants them to be a staple of a new service that takes a novel look at international events.

“There are lots of people in the U.S. for whom it’s not a stretch to go to the BBC or The Guardian,” she said in an interview. “What’s missing is a bridge between their experiences and what those outlets are reporting on.”

In other words, one of the reasons most Americans care so little about overseas news is that they see no relevance to their own lives. The mission of Latitude News is to find those threads and draw them out so that Americans can understand how international events affect them. “People are put off by things that seem very far away,” she said. “Our view is that if there isn’t a local angle, we shouldn’t do it.”

Globe Trotter

Latitude News Founder Maria BalinskaThe idea for Latitude News sprang from Balinska’s multi-cultural childhood and peripatetic career as a journalist working in Europe. She had lived in five countries and attended 10 schools by the age of 18. As a journalist working on the European continent and for the BBC she became fascinated with the international stories that captured the attention of British readers. “People were very interested in individual storytelling and in comparisons,” she said. “They wanted to understand what they could learn from the French health system or what mountains of garbage in Germany meant to them.” She explains some of the research and thinking that led to Latitude News here.

Balinska returned to the U.S. on a Nieman Fellowship two years ago and took advantage of an International Women’s Media Foundation grant to get the venture off the ground. She’s been able to hire a small full-time staff and has some freelance dollars to spend. “We’re looking for people who have a global perspective but who can scratch the surface of American communities and find links and parallels,” she said.

Storytelling is a core feature of the service. In contrast to the often detached perspective readers see in international news coverage, Latitude News strives to find people whose experiences illustrate the local impact of faraway events.

For example, the staff is currently trying to reach victims of the Syrian diaspora who have fled to the U.S. to see if activists living here may later emerge as leaders back in Syria. A story on the Greek debt crisis  is told from the perspective of three Greek citizens who are learning to cope with an economy in a tailspin.

Balinska won’t say how much funding the venture has raised or when it will become self-sustaining. The site is still rough around the edges (clicking on one of the featured stories on the home page today returned a 404 error) and working on a unique voice, but it’s yet another example of how journalists are stepping in to fill the vacuum left by traditional news organizations with innovative experiments.

 

Tablet computers have been hailed as the salvation of the newspaper industry, but most publishers are squandering the opportunity, writes Newsosaur Alan Mutter in a searing sendup of newspaper tablet apps on Editor & Publisher.

“In contrast to the crisp, graphically engaging and highly interactive apps flooding the Apple store, the typical newspaper site is filled with gray, meandering columns of text requiring multiple swipes to get to the bottom of the page. That is to say: Newspapers don’t come close to leveraging the power of this new medium,” Mutter writes, pointing to products from the San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia Inquirer and even The New York Times as examples.

Many publishers are opting to use the native tablet browser to deliver content rather than customizing the experience for the device, and some are simply delivering PDF versions of their print products, Mutter says. This laziness is particularly alarming in light of the fact that people who consume information on tablets are among the most desirable prospects for paid circulation and advertising. The Newsosaur believes once they get a load of the visually rich and interactive offerings from magazine and broadcast competitors they’ll never come back to the digital broadsheets being offered by the dailies.

Although we own a tablet, we’ll admit we haven’t spent much time surveying the landscape of news apps. RSS feeds do the job just fine for us. However, if Mutter’s critique is on the mark, this is a head-slappingly stupid mistake on the part of publishers, who finally have a platform that at least some people are willing to pay for. Anyone who has worked in both print and digital media will tell you that the design and presentation skills that work in one format fail badly in the other. The worst mistake a print publisher can make is to put print designers in charge of online look and feel. It’s even worse on tablets, where apps offer a whole new level of interactivity. This is software, not ink on dead trees.

NYT Co. Takes Earnings Hit

New York Times Media Group revenue

Now the sobering news about The New York Times. Coming off a promising third quarter in which the company reported strong growth in subscriptions to its digital editions, parent New York Times Co. reported a $40 million loss in the fourth quarter on an 8% decline in print advertising. The paper’s paywall continues to thrive, and digital advertising revenue was up 5% in the quarter. However, the success online can’t make up for the continued free-fall in the much more profitable print advertising business.

The collapse of that revenue stream was dramatized by blogger Paul McMorrow, who came up with the chart at right. We can’t vouch for the accuracy of the numbers, but the choice of scale demonstrates clearly the industry’s dilemma. Digital revenue is nowhere close to making up for the decline in print.

The Times Co. was also hurt by a dramatic drop in the performance of About.com, the online encyclopedia/how-to engine it acquired for $410 million 2005. About.com was victimized by recent changes to Google’s search algorithms that penalized so-called “content farms” like Demand Media, which pay freelancers pennies to produce crap in the name of driving search traffic. About.com used to top Google search results for a lot of popular consumer queries, but no more. Profits at the site dropped 67% in the quarter on a 25% revenue decline.

 Miscellany

Social media is beginning to cover itself. Social blogging site Tumblr, which hosts more than 42 million blogs, will hire two professional editors to write about what’s going on on Tumblr. The thinking is that a community with that many members must generate a lot of content all by itself. Twitter and Facebook have both recently hired journalists to write about what’s hot in those communities.


Speaking of Facebook, if you’re trying to improve your presence there, take a few tips from Entrepreneur magazine. Starr Hall’s advice includes naming your page appropriately and greeting visitors with a “welcome” page rather than the Facebook wall. And have you heard about the new subscribe feature that lets people follow your public updates without friending you? Read more about that. We also recommend these tips for small businesses and these tips for slightly larger businesses, perhaps because we wrote them. The key to success on the world’s largest social network is engagement, not publishing. Ask questions, prompt response, provoke and amuse. Our vote for the most awesome Facebook page: Skittles. Unique voice and dripping with personality. “Skittles now has 20 million fans? If I had that many guinea pigs, I’d be unstoppable.”

By Paul Gillin | January 19, 2012 - 2:59 pm - Posted in Advertising, Business News, OnlineMedia

this release is republished verbatim from eMarketer. More here.

U.S. Print Versus Online Ad Spending ForecastUS online advertising spending, which grew 23% to $32.03 billion in 2011, is expected to grow an additional 23.3% to $39.5 billion this year-pushing it ahead of total spending on print newspapers and magazines, according to eMarketer. Print advertising spending is expected to fall to $33.8 billion in 2012 from $36 billion in 2011.

Online Growing Even Faster Than Expected: eMarketer’s previous US online advertising forecast from July 2011 was among the more bullish estimates issued during the year-forecasting 20.2% growth to $31.1 billion in 2011-yet consistently stronger-than-expected results from major industry players and the IAB/PwC benchmark through the first three quarters of 2011 contributed to the upward revision.

Total Ad Spending is Growing Too: Despite concerns about the troubled economy among agencies and marketers, total ad spending in the US is expected to rebound in 2012 after rising 3.4% to $158.9 billion in 2011, according to eMarketer. US total media ad spending will grow an estimated 6.7% to $169.48 in 2012, boosted by the national elections and summer Olympics in London, eMarketer estimates.

TV is Steadily Up: Spending on TV advertising grew 2.8% in 2011 to $60.7 billion, eMarketer estimates. This year, TV ad spending will grow an estimated 6.8% to $64.8 billion-driven the Olympics and election-while remaining resilient from worries about the soft economy.

Digital remains the sole bright spot for newspapers and magazines: eMarketer estimates US digital newspaper ad revenues grew 8.3% to $3.3 billion in 2011. Print advertising revenues at newspapers fell 9.3% to $20.7 billion in 2011. At magazines, US print ad revenues are expected to rise 0.5% to $15.34 billion in 2012, up from $15.3 billion last year. US digital advertising spending at magazines grew 18.8% to $2.7 billion in 2011.

By Paul Gillin | January 5, 2012 - 12:25 pm - Posted in Advertising, Business News, BusinessModel, Classifieds, Local news, OnlineMedia

We’ve posted several positive items about the local Patch operation in our community, a one-person news bureau that has become our favorite – and most timely – source of information about local events. So we feel it’s also important to share the news that AOL’s Patch operation, a constellation of more than 800 hyperlocal news sites, looks like a train wreck.

Tim Armstrong, AOLBusiness Inside says Patch has generated only about $8 million in revenue in 2011 on an investment of more than $160 million. InvestorPlace says revenues were closer to $20 million, but that Patch still lost $150 million on the year. Some investors are calling for the head of Tim Armstrong (right) the former Google executive who took the helm at AOL nearly three years ago. Armstrong conceived of Patch in 2007 and funded the first two years of its operations before assuming the top job at AOL in 2009 and buying Patch outright. Since then he’s embarked upon an aggressive expansion program to place hyperlocal news bureaus in as many US locations as possible. He’s also spent lavishly on the acquisitions of Huffington Post and TechCrunch. At this point, critics are calling the strategy a bust.

The problem with Patch is that the hyperlocal revenue model doesn’t work nearly as well as the hyperlocal news model. According to Business Inside, Patch sells advertising through a network of mostly outsourced telesales representatives. It’s clear that these sales people don’t have their tentacles into the local communities that are the core of Patch’s model. The advertising on our own local outlet is mostly a mix of display ads from big national brands (presumably sold at remainder prices), Google AdSense and a smattering of classifieds. With that kind of revenue base, it’s not surprising Patch is losing a fortune.

As we’ve argued before, the hyperlocal model needs to work from both the content and revenue perspectives. Patch has clearly succeeded in hiring editors who are closely tied in to their communities, but it isn’t doing that on the sales side. This is a tough problem to solve. Small businesses aren’t big advertisers to begin with, and the cost of deploying dedicated sales reps to 800 local communities would be far higher than the centralized telesales model. On the other hand, the centralized model isn’t exactly killing it.

We hope Patch figures it out, because it’s inventing some creative new ways to report the news. We continue to like the business model of Sacramento Press, which positions itself as an integrated marketing partner rather than an advertising outlet. Addiction to advertising revenue is one of the reasons newspapers are in so much trouble in the first place. In its current iteration, Patch appears to be making the same mistakes.

Miscellany

As if reporters don’t like to gripe enough, there’s a new website where they can do it anonymously in public. It’s called Dash30Dash.org, and it was started by a former newspaper reporter who wants “to give reporters, editors and others a chance to post comments about their jobs and their ever-changing profession.” So far, it looks like the commentaries are mostly limited to contributions from the site’s creator, but it’s still early. The writing is lively and pointed, so check it out.


An Australian philanthropist and Internet entrepreneur has pledged more than $15 million to fund a new, nonprofit media venture called The Global Mail. Graeme Wood says he has only one goal in mind: “produce public-interest journalism.”

Wood, whose personal fortune is estimated at $337 million, was apparently taken with the example of ProPublica in the U.S. That nonprofit investigative venture was also started with a large grant from a single donor but has been successfully diversifying its support base and now employs 34 editorial staff members. Wood’s commitment to support The Global Mail for at least five years resulted from a dinner party conversation with former Australian Broadcast Corp. journalist Monica Attard, who is now the site’s editor-in-chief. That’s pretty good sales efficiency in our book.

 

By Paul Gillin | December 20, 2011 - 2:11 pm - Posted in BusinessModel, Circulation, Demographics, Layoffs, Newspapers, OnlineMedia

Building ImplosionThe Annenberg School at the University of Southern California created a stir last week with its prediction that only four US daily newspapers will still be in print in five years. “We believe that the only print newspapers that will survive will be at the extremes of the medium – the largest and the smallest,” said Jeffery I. Cole, the school’s director of the Center for the Digital Future. “It’s likely that only four major daily newspapers will continue in print form: The New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.  At the other extreme, local weekly newspapers may still survive.”

How could this be? There are still more than 1,400 metro daily newspapers publishing in print in the US. As one tweeter pointed out, dailies would have to perish at the rate of five per week in order to meet USC Annenberg’s forecast.

We think the five-year timeframe is pessimistic, but we certainly believe USC Annenberg’s prediction will come true within a decade. We made precisely the same prediction five years ago – including identifying the same four titles Annenberg did – only we gave the print industry until 2025 to implode. It now appears that we were optimistic.

Here’s why the Annenberg prediction isn’t so far-fetched. American newspapers had a near-death experience three years ago when two venerable dailies – the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News – closed their doors, each after more than a century of continuous publication. Two other major titles – the San Francisco Chronicle and the Boston Globe – had their own brush with the reaper at the same time. Both were pulled back from the brink only after their unions made massive concessions and hundreds of highly-paid journalists lost their jobs.

Busting the Union

Early 2009 was when publishers broke the back of the Newspaper Guild. At the Globe, the union bargaining position was so weak that the contract that members finally accepted was actually worse than management’s original offer three months earlier. The showdown at the Globe was a turning point for the US newspaper industry. The management victory in the labor negotiations was so complete that publishers across the country were effectively given carte blanche to fire people by the thousands. Which they did. The amazing Erica Smith counted nearly 15,000 newspaper layoffs in 2009 and another 6,700 in the two years since. And her count doesn’t include the many jobs that were eliminated or scaled back without public announcement.

Newspaper publishers basically bought themselves time, and they used it to bring costs in line with revenues. Most newspapers have drastically scaled back the size of their print editions and many have cut back regional distribution. Publishers have raised subscription prices to milk more dollars out of the dwindling cadre of loyalists who are willing to pay for print. Unfortunately, they don’t have much time. The average ago of a daily newspaper reader in the US today is between 56 and 60, depending on whose estimates you believe. That population will shrink more rapidly than any other demographic group over the next 10 or 15 years. Seniors are also the least attractive audience to the advertisers who support print advertising. It’s a bad combination.

For the time being, printed newspapers can survive simply by cutting costs and raising subscription fees, but that strategy invariably turns into a death spiral. At some point publishers will no longer be able to afford to deliver a product that people want to pay to read in print.

Tipping Point

Circulation declines, which have been running about 8% to 10% annually, will accelerate. A tipping point will be reached and the whole print model will fall apart. We don’t know when that threshold will be reached, but demographic trends that indicate it will certainly happen within the next 10 years and will probably hit a lot of titles simultaneously.

The death of the printed daily doesn’t mean the death of print. Many publishers have cut back out unprofitable Saturday and Monday editions as a way to save costs, and more will certainly follow suit. Sunday editions may be around 20 years from now because of the revenue from flyers and coupons. But many newspapers will no longer be able to support a daily publishing schedule within a few years.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that many publishers are beginning to figure out the economics of digital revenues. A milestone was reached just a couple of months ago when the New York Times Co. released its first earnings report since it instituted a paywall early this year. As we reported at the time, Ryan Chitturn of the Columbia Journalism Review estimated that the Times’ digital revenue in the quarter actually exceeded its editorial costs, meaning that the paper could conceivably publish profitably without a print edition. We don’t expect the Times will shut down its presses anytime soon, but publishers across the country should cheer its success at crossing that threshold.

The Times is making the move to digital faster and more effectively than any other daily newspaper. Assuming other publishers follow its lead, we can expect that many major metro dailies will figure out a sustainable digital formula over the next five years. At that point they can begin to wind down their print operations without fear of giving up the farm. This won’t be pretty. Lots of jobs will go away when the presses shut down. However, the brands may survive and even begin to grow again.


Speaking of The New York Times, the parent Times Company is in “advanced talks” to sell off 16 regional newspapers, including titles in Florida, California, North Carolina, and Alabama. The Times Co. will continue to own the Globe and International Herald Tribune. Analysts are saying the move simply removes a headache for the Times, since the regional media were collectively losing money, and the company can now focus on its core business, which is a good thing these days.

Miscellany

We know the U.S. Postal Service is hemorrhaging money and facing criticism that it’s slow, antiquated and inflexible. So in a bold move to remedy its situation, the USPS is responding by becoming slower and less flexible. Read what the recently announced changes in service mean to publishers. We actually don’t want to be too hard on the Post Office, since many of its problems stem from a congressional requirement that it fund retiree health benefits 75 years into the future. That’s not a typo: 75 years.

And Finally…

Craig SilvermanThe holidays bring family, friends, eggnog, and, best of all, the Crunks. Only they’re not called the Crunks any more since our friend Craig Silverman (left) gained the legitimacy of a Poynter affiliation and began publishing his collection of the year’s best media gaffes as “The year in media errors and corrections” on Poynter Online. Thankfully, the content is still the same.

This year’s roundup of the funniest and most outrageous mistakes and corrections is headlined by several major news organizations that confused the President of the United States with the world’s most notorious terrorist and announced the death of “Obama Bin Laden.” One anchorwoman on Canadian television made the mistake three times in just 17 seconds and apparently didn’t even notice.

We like the newspaper headline that reminded readers to “turn your cocks back one hour at 2 a.m. Sunday,” but our favorite is a lengthy correction from The Guardian about this year’s Royal wedding. It includes the passage:

“The piece referred to “damaging stories of royal profligacy past: Charles with his staff of 150, and an aide to squeeze his toothpaste for him”. [The couple’s press secretary] writes, “The Prince of Wales does not employ and has never employed an aide to squeeze his toothpaste for him. This is a myth without any basis in factual accuracy.”

This stuff is too good to be made up. Thank you, Craig.

The federal judge has ruled that a woman who describes herself as an “investigative blogger” is not entitled to First Amendment protection for allegedly defamatory statements she made about an Oregon attorney.

Crystal CoxCrystal Cox (right), a real estate agent and blogger from Eureka, Mont., set up a network of websites, including this one, that criticize the conduct of attorney Kevin Padrick in his role as trustee of the failed financial firm called Summit Accommodators, which collapsed in 2008 amid charges of fraud.

Among Cox’ accusations is that Padrick hired a hitman to kill her, a charge that Padrick vigorously denies. The attorney says that Cox’ allegations have so overwhelmed the search engines that his business is off more than 80% this year. “Google ‘Kevin Padrick’ and you’ll see the first 10 pages are from Crystal Cox,” Padrick told Oregon Live.

Cox, who sarcastically describes herself as an “Unhinged Blogger Exposing Corruption in the US Bankruptcy Courts,” fills her blog with accusations, obscenities and character assassination, tactics which are typical of hate bloggers. “‘Unhinged Blogger’ Crazy Crystal Cox Says that Jeff Manning of the Oregonian is Bought and Paid for AGAIN, oh and Jeff Manning, Oregonian, is an Asshole,” she titled one post. It’s filled with accusations about an investigative reporter for the Oregonian newspaper, none of which are backed by citations. The post is peppered with links to copies of the same article on other websites, most of which are presumably maintained by Cox, as well links to other hate sites that the author has created.

On the other hand, Cox has also assembled a substantial library of documents related to Kevin Padrick and the trust he administers. She presents most of these without comment, challenging her audience to do their own research. We demurred, but we admit that she appears to have done her homework.

In ruling that Cox was not entitled to the protections provided to mainstream news outlets, U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez said the blogger “was not a journalist because she offered no professional qualifications as a journalist or legitimate news outlet. She had no journalism education, credentials or affiliation with a recognized news outlet, proof of adhering to journalistic standards such as editing or checking her facts, evidence she produced an independent product or evidence she ever tried to get both sides of the story,” according to the AP report.

So who’s right in this case? Much as we find Cox’ vendetta-fueled tactics repugnant, we’re more concerned about any efforts to inhibit free speech, even by someone who is clearly a little nuts. However, we are also concerned about attempts to create distinctions between traditional and new media. We’d rather see this case judged as a libel issue, where precedents are clearly established. Why is the distinction between blogger and media outlet even meaningful at a time when properties like Huffington Post and Mashable can go from sideline to superpower in a matter of a couple of years?

There is an intriguing dimension to this case that the court didn’t address: the impact of Cox’ activities on her target’s search engine performance. The case illustrates that a motivated and energetic blogger can significantly damage someone else’s reputation by surrounding their name with negative keywords in search results. Is that a form of libel? Could Google be compelled to change its search algorithm as a consequence of a First Amendment court decision? Do we even want to go there?

By Paul Gillin | November 25, 2011 - 7:35 pm - Posted in Citizen Journalism, Future of Journalism, Local news, Newspapers, OnlineMedia

News coverage of a fatal single-car crash that occurred early on Thanksgiving Day in our home town of Framingham, MA spotlights the tradeoffs between traditional news reporting and the less constrained world of the real-time Internet. Look at the distinctions between them and tell us what you think.

The first report of the crash came from Framingham Patch, the one-person news bureau that covers the town for AOL’s Patch network. It reported  Thursday morning that a vehicle had struck a utility pole and tree at about 3:30 a.m. and that an occupant may have been killed. The news of the fatality wasn’t confirmed, but was speculation based upon police scanner requests for a medical examiner and accident reconstruction team.

It was nearly a full day before Patch published a more complete account of the accident, republished here unedited and in its entirety. The latest version is here.

Junior Koga Killed in Franklin St. Crash; Wife Pregnant

Framingham accident victim Ricardo JuniorMembers of the Framingham Brazilian community were discussing the death of Junior Koga on WSRO radio in Portuguese, on Twitter and even on Framingham Patch Thanksgiving day.

Friends say Junior Koga is man who crashed into a pole and then slammed into a tree killing himself on Franklin Street, early Thanksgiving morning around 3:10 a.m.

Framingham Police and other authorities have not returned calls or emails about the fatal crash. No official identification of the driver has been released.

At the scene, Thanksgiving morning Framingham Police requested, on the scanner, for the Massachusetts State Police reconstruction team, the Middlesex District Attorney’s office and the medical examiner.

Friends say Koga’s wife is pregnant. Koga, according to friends is a Brazilian national from Santa Catarina, a state in South Brazil. One friend said his wife is due to give birth in a couple of weeks. Koga is employed as a mechanic and lives in Framingham, according to friends. He is in his 30s.

Thiago Prado commented on Framingham Patch Thursday “very very sad news – Junior we gonna miss you.”

Nayara Martins, who tweeted the Framingham Patch video of the accident, also tweeted “Hate to see once again another life cut short so quickly because of driving drunk. When are people going to learn?! <|3 #RIPJunior”

Friends tell Framingham Patch Koga “came back from a night club, was brought to his home and got into his own car to go out again.”

Friends said they suspect alcohol may have been involved.

Police are still investigating, and have not released any information on the fatal crash, including an identification.

The crash happened just after the Mt. Wayte Shopping Center at 384 Franklin St.

At the scene, Framingham Police blocked off the road. The Framingham Fire department placed a sheet over the car lodged into the tree and then added a second sheet to block the scene, while awaiting the State Police reconstruction team, which was coming from another Thanksgiving fatality in Freetown.

A neighbor near the crash, who didn’t wish to be identified, said the driver was partially ejected from the car. “It is a nasty scene,” he said.

Nearly 10 hours after the Framingham Patch report appeared, the local Metrowest Daily News reported its version of the story, again reprinted here in its entirety.

Framingham man dies in car crash

A 31-year-old Framingham man died early Thanksgiving morning after crashing into a telephone pole and then a tree on Franklin Street, police said today.

Ricardo Junior, of 67 Georgetown Drive, was the only person involved in the one-vehicle crash, which happened at about 3:10 a.m. yesterday, police said.

“It looks like he was killed on impact,” Deputy Police Chief Craig Davis said.

Davis said alcohol may have been a factor, as police found several Heineken beer bottles in the vehicle Junior was driving. Some of the bottles were full, and others were broken, he said.

“The initial indication is the cause is excessive speed,” Davis said. “There was an excessive amount of damage to the car.”

Junior crashed in the 300-block of Franklin Street, near Newton Place, Davis said.

We were struck by several contrasts between the coverage by these two outlets and the questions they raise about the conventional rules of sourcing in this tweet-saturated times. The spelling, formatting and grammatical mistakes aside, it’s unlikely that the Patch story would have ever made it past the desk of an editor at a metro daily.  Among the factual holes are:

  • The identity of the victim is unconfirmed and an age and address aren’t supplied.
  • Most of the details about the crash and the victim are sourced to unidentified friends.
  • Details about the reported pregnancy of the victim’s wife are sketchy and unconfirmed.
  • The police would neither confirm nor comment upon any of the facts in the story.
  • Perhaps most importantly, allegations that the driver was drunk are raised by unidentified “friends” but never confirmed.

Junior on Facebook

In fact, the Patch story got an important fact wrong: the victim’s real name was Ricardo Junior, not Junior Koga. Other than that, though, Patch provided more information and better context than the official account published by the local newspaper. And it did so nearly 10 hours earlier.

Among the unique details in the Patch story are a photo, news that the victim’s wife is pregnant (unconfirmed, but likely, given the photo on Junior’s Facebook page), the location of his home town in Brazil and comments by friends who knew him.

On the role of alcohol in the crash, Patch provides context about the incident that the official account lacks. The report that Junior was driven home from a night club by friends would indicate that he was probably seriously intoxicated when he got in his car. It also raises questions about his judgment and responsibility, given that his wife is due to deliver a child shortly. However, that information is sourced to unidentified “friends.”

Community Service or Slipshod Reporting?

So the Patch account is better than that of the local newspaper, but its use of unconfirmed and anonymously sourced information would make it unfit to publish  under the traditional rules of news journalism. But should those rules apply any more?

The Metrowest Daily News’ sole source in its coverage is the local police department, which is standard practice in these cases. Patch had no access to those official channels and so had to piece together its story from unidentified friends, talk radio accounts and Twitter chatter. Anonymous sourcing permitted Patch to beat the local daily by many hours and to add details that would never appear in the police log. In the hours since its account appeared, other people have confirmed the victim’s identity and added a few details via comments.

Anonymous sourcing is dangerous, though. While the events would indicate that Junior was drunk (high-speed, single-vehicle crash in the early morning hours on the eve of a holiday), there was no official confirmation of that fact. Driver impairment is an important issue not only because of the victim’s reputation but also for legal reasons. What if Junior was sober and responding to a friend’s call for help when he hit a police cruiser parked with its lights off? The town could be liable for damages.

Standard journalistic practice is to confirm a story through official channels before publishing, but standard practice assumes archival permanency. Online, our mistakes are quickly corrected. For example, in the time since we began writing this entry, Patch has already corrected the victim’s name. The Patch editors sacrificed absolutely accuracy for speed and  the interests of residents who wanted details as quickly as possible. In the process, it made one major mistake and an inference that could have legal ramifications.

Patch’s sourcing style is increasingly typical of online-only news operations. Is it making the proper tradeoffs or sacrificing accuracy for expediency? Post your comments here.

 

The New York Times released quarterly earnings that indicated that is paywall is working. The report is the first to give some indication of incremental subscriber growth beyond the initial surge of sign-ups that came when the paywall went up in March. It shows that more than a quarter million people are now paying at least the $15 minimum fee. Even better is that traffic to the NYT.com website is actually up 2% from a year ago.

“The Times has created the perfect paywall,” writes Ryan Chitturn on Columbia Journalism Review. “It’s getting tens of millions of dollars from hardcore readers while letting in enough Google traffic and casual readers to continue boosting its online readership and collecting ad revenue off of those eyeballs.”

Chitturn estimates that the Times will take in about $63 million in digital subscriber revenue this year and more than $210 million in total digital revenue. That’s more than it costs to operate the newsroom. Which means that The New York Times could theoretically get out of the print business entirely and still make money.

New York Times Paywall

Does that mean it’s time for everyone to jump into the pool? Bill Mitchell thinks so. Writing on Poynter.org, he tells of moderating a panel at the World Editors Forum in which publishers who had taken the paywall plunge spoke of their initial trepidation and then relief when the steep declines in traffic that they had feared failed to materialize. Traffic to the Berliner Morgenpost has actually doubled since it put up a paywall in late 2009.

Mitchell quotes The New York Times’ Jim Roberts saying the wall has had a morale dividend. “There is more of an investment I feel in the newsroom among our journalists since the introduction of the paywall. They feel a greater stake in the product,” he said.

Perhaps the time is right. The Newspaper Association of America reports that traffic to newspaper websites jumped 20% in September compared to a year ago among the coveted adult demographic. “Average daily visits were up 21%; total pages viewed were up 10%; total minutes spent were up 11 %; and unique visitors were up 9 %,” the NAA reported.

Thus the great paradox continues. Newspapers are more popular than they’ve ever been, but the business model is broken beyond repair. The NAA numbers are encouraging, and perhaps indicates a flight to quality among readers who are fed up with social media noise. For the past five years people have been  publishing all kinds of nonsense online because they could. Now the novelty is wearing off and quality is becoming a differentiation point.

Google’s new Panda search algorithm is supposed to be a game changer in its ability to distinguish quality content from crap. We noted recently that Demand Media, which specializes in crap, has had to remove 300,000 articles from its website because Google won’t pay attention to them anymore. And the world hardly noticed.

The fact that newsrooms turn out a good product has never been debatable, but the idea that people who had been accustomed to getting it for free for 15 years would decide to pay for it is still an open question.

Give credit to the early adopters for fine-tuning the balance of free vs. paid content to achieve some success. The idea is to grant just enough access to entice readers to pay but not enough to give away the farm. The Wall Street Journal lets you read a couple of hundred words gratis but then wants a credit card. Perhaps it and the Times have figured out the formula.

We’ve been skeptical about paywalls for two years, but we’d be the first to cheer their success.  If they enable good journalism to flourish once again, we’re all for it.

Washington Post Co. Holds Out

Katharine WeymouthApparently the Washington Post Co. isn’t convinced. Publisher Katharine Weymouth was quoted in Politico last week saying that paid subscriptions don’t make sense for the Post at the moment. The newspaper’s philosophy is that its website should be “open to everybody and attract as many people as we can to spend as much time as they can with our journalism, and assume that that will bring them back for more.”

Politico points out that the Post has hardly been a beacon of publishing success lately. It has shed more than 45% of its newsroom staff and it just last month announced plans to close nine of its 11 suburban regional bureaus. The Post Co. does have a couple of things going for it, however, including its profitable Kaplan education division and its phenomenal 30% market penetration. You’d think a market share like that would be an incentive to charge more for the product, but Weymouth seems in no hurry. She isn’t ruling out a paywall but says she’s content to wait and see what works.

“They Won’t Invest in You”

Invantory is developing software tools to help people sell things. It wants to be kind of an alternative to Craigslist, with a mobile twist. The founders thought newspaper publishers would be potential customers, because they already know the classified advertising business and they have a desirable channel. But Invantory gave up on doing business with newspaper publishers. The principal reason: their computer are a mess.

“Newspapers’ online technology platforms [are] not standard,” wrote co-founder Ian Lamont on the Invantory blog. “This means that non-trivial integration work is required for practically any new feature or service, whether created in-house or purchased from a vendor. There are dozens of online content management systems (CMS) in use, most heavily customized.”

In other words, any chance newspaper publishers might have to federate their once-highly profitable classified advertising businesses into a network that could compete with Craigslist is undercut by technology decisions made years ago and incompatibilities perpetuated by customization.

The Invantory co-founders met with Newsosaur Alan Mutter at the New England Newspaper Publishers Association. Mutter, who himself tried to start a business to service newspaper publishers a couple of years ago, told them to forget about pursuing a model based up on serving the dying newspaper industry. “VCs with any experience won’t invest in you,” he said.

Miscellany

The i newspaper celebrated its first anniversary this week, challenging the conventional wisdom that print dailies are dead. The commuter-friendly daily, which delivers news in bite sized nuggets, has succeeded in building a paid circulation of 184,000 during its first year. And it’s reportedly profitable, too.


“Data journalism,” in which reporters mine public information to discover nuggets of news, is an increasingly popular discipline. Editors Weblog has a list of free tools anybody can use to become a data journalist.

By Paul Gillin | October 12, 2011 - 10:29 am - Posted in Best/Worst, Business News, Journalism, Layoffs, Newspapers, OnlineMedia, Paywalls

Craig DubowGannett CEO Craig Dubow (right)  resigned last week for health reasons, saying that back and hip problems prevent him for fulfilling his duties. He leaves a job that could pay him as much as $9.4 million this year, but don’t feel too bad for Dubow: He’s eligible for severance pay of up to $37 million.

The irony of this kind of executive compensation for a company that has laid off nearly 40% of its workforce over the last six years isn’t lost on former New York Times columnist Peter Lewis, who posts a savage send-up of Gannett’s extravagance on his blog. Lewis is particularly brutal in contrasting Dubow’s performance to that of Steve Jobs, who died last week:

Annual base pay: Steve Jobs $1. Craig Dubow $1.2 million.

Stock price during CEO tenure: Apple, up 4,000+ percent. Gannett, down 85 percent.

Job creation during CEO tenure: Apple, plus 28,000. Gannett: minus 20,000.

Notable new products as CEO of Apple: Macintosh, iMac, MacBook, iPod, iTunes, Apple Stores, iPhone, iPad, etc., etc.

Notable new products as CEO of Gannett: ?

Executive pay has been out of control at US companies for decades now, but the practice is particularly offensive at companies in dying industries that are downsizing their way out of existence. Is it conceivable that a talented and motivated executive could be found to lead Gannett at a salary of less than $9 million? How does a company look its employees in the eye and ask them to accept yet another layoff or salary freeze when it nearly doubled the salary of the head of its US newspaper division?

We might just go occupy Wall Street over this.

Open Source Journalism

Make MagazineNikki Usher and Seth C. Lewis dig into the application of open source software principles to journalism and find some parallels. “The news industry is one of the last great industrial hold-overs, akin to the car industry,” they write. “Newsrooms are top-heavy, and built on a factory-based model of production.” In contrast open source software and the so-called “maker” culture exemplified by Make magazine encourage collaboration, sharing and continuous experimentation.

Rethinking journalism requires time and open-mindedness that a lot of journalists might not have, but the power of the open source model can’t be denied. Usher and Lewis imagine a new role for journalists as creators of “the building blocks for the story. And while they write this code, it can be commented on, shared, fact-checked, or augmented with additional information such as photos, tweets, and the like.” Seems to work OK for Wikipedia. The Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership is working on ways to make this model viable. We hope they succeed.

Quality at 5¢ a Word

Demand Media, whose mission is to erase the distinction between journalism and typing, says it doesn’t need freelancers so much any more.  That’s because Google changed its search algorithm, and that means Demand’s editorial mission has shifted.

In case you’re not familiar, Demand Media employs freelance writers to churn out search-optimized content for posting on enormously popular websites like Cracked.com, LiveStrong.com and eHow.com. The company assigns stories based upon search popularity, meaning that it favors how-to and top-10 formats. A perfect Demand story would be “10 Ways to Remove Coffee Stains.”

Demand is noted for paying freelancers next to nothing while touting the benefits of brand-building and flexibility. “No matter where you end up, you have the potential to influence millions of people with your articles,” says its Writing Jobs page. Writers can make up to $25 an article, or even more! With so many journalists out of work, Demand has succeeded in a recruiting a large pool of contributors, despite its starvation wages.

But apparently not so much now. Google is on a campaign to remove the stuff that these content farms churn out, so the company is shifting to slide shows and videos. Demand says it has eliminated 300,000 low-quality articles from eHow and is focusing on going upscale. “It’s all about quality for us,” said Chief Revenue Officer Joanne Bradford. At a nickel a word.

It’s Not a Paywall, It’s…

Paywalls continue to sprout like crabgrass, but publishers are beginning to show some creative thinking. The Day of New London, Conn. will now charge between $9.99 and $22.99 per month for access to its online content, archives and mobile versions, but subscribers will also become part of a brand loyalty program called The Day Passport, “which features rewards, events and giveaways to local businesses, entertainment venues and cultural institutions.” We were pushing this idea two years ago. Publishers need to expand their revenue base beyond advertising and subscription fees. Affinity programs for local businesses are a natural extension.

We also like what the Richmond Times-Dispatch is doing: Instead of firewalling its content, it’s creating premium content packages such as this one on the Civil War sesquicentennial. The Civil War feature combines historic pages from the newspaper archive with original new material. Pricing begins at $1.99/month, though it’s not clear what other premium packages are planned. We like the concept the concept of charging for added value, and we’re particularly glad to have the chance to use the word “sesquicentennial” in a sentence.