By paulgillin | May 29, 2010 - 4:38 am - Posted in Layoffs, Solutions

Last January we told you about Adam Chadwick and Bill Loerch, two filmmakers who are chronicling the decline of the US newspaper industry and the resulting crisis in journalism for a documentary film called Fit to Print. We just got a link to the trailer for their film. Watch it below. The filmmakers have been working on a shoestring budget and could use funding. If you can help them, contact Chadwick directly.

Update 5/23/19: The original video has been taken down. A more recent trailer is available here. There appears to be no embed option.

By paulgillin | April 28, 2010 - 12:43 pm - Posted in Fake News, Solutions

Bobbie Carlton of Mass Innovation NightsMeet Bobbie Carlton. She’s come up with an idea that every newspaper publisher in New England should have had but didn’t. Her success demonstrates how news publishers can reinvent themselves and survive – maybe even thrive – but only if they have completely rethink what they do.

Carlton isn’t a publisher. She’s a career public relations professional who set out a little more than a year ago to figure out a way to drum up new business in a dismal economy. She knew that there were still plenty of innovative companies in the area that were starved for visibility. Finding investors and customers in a crummy economy was a time-consuming, trial-and-error process. The few conferences that were available for such purposes were either expensive or subjected applicants to long and seemingly arbitrary approvals processes.

Carlton hit on the idea of a cheap, frictionless approach she called Mass Innovation Nights. The events would be free to everyone. Entrepreneurs could show their stuff and hope to catch a big break.

Carlton borrowed meeting space from a local museum.  She partnered with Dan Englander of High Rock Media to build a website and a Twitter account and started promoting Mass Innovation Nights entirely through online word of mouth.  There was no hype and no inflated expectations. If the event bombed, then attendees got what they paid for.

Only the event didn’t bomb. MassInno, as the affair is now known, is a raging success, with exhibitors now competing for limited space. The most recent meetup was tweeted more than 600 times and drew more than 400 attendees. Carlton is toying with the idea of syndicating the idea across the country.

Today, Carlton has so much business coming in from startups that were boosted by Mass Innovation Nights that she’s having to refer work elsewhere. That makes her a popular person in the depressed local PR economy. Partner High Rock is booming, too.

Why was one woman able to exploit a simple idea at almost no cost while media institutions with hundreds of employees stood by and watched? Because newspapers didn’t think it was their job. They believed they were in the advertising delivery business, not the business of growing the local economy. Newspapers that continue to think this way will shrivel and die over the next few years. But there is a path to salvation. It’s in doing what Bobbie Carlton is doing on a grand scale. But how many publishers are willing to make the sacrifices to seize that opportunity?

The Folly of Paywalls

Newspaper publishers are confronting their current business challenges in the wrong way. They’re trying to battle online competition by becoming more like their competitors, building massive online presences to serve global audiences when their advantage is inherently local. They’re also hyper-focused on a source of revenue – advertising – that will only become more competitive and less profitable in the future. They need to change the rules.

The eyes of the industry are currently trained on The New York Times, which is trying to re-bottle the evil genie it released 15 years ago when it elected to give away its content for free. The Times’ paywall experiment will be modestly successful because it is The New York Times. Publishers in Baltimore, Dallas, St. Louis and hundreds of other cities will be unable to exploit the idea, however, because they lack the Times’ brand and international reach. Paywalls are a waste of time.

Instead, publishers should concentrate on diversifying their revenue streams away from advertising and into local business services that promise stability, growth and a future. This is a market in which they have a natural advantage. Small business is the one great untapped revenue opportunity left in America, which is why giants like American Express and Bank of America are practically throwing money at the market. But these global companies lack the local connections and the feet on the street to truly become partners in small business success. Local newspapers have that advantage.

Most major metro dailies have long regarded local business advertising as the cherry on top of the sundae of display contracts from national advertisers and department stores.  Local businesses fueled the classified section, but counted for only a small part of the total revenue picture. Now national advertisers are marketing directly to customers, classified advertising has collapsed and local businesses are publishers’ only hope for a future.

The Local Opportunity

Look at the merchants in your local community. Most don’t know the first thing about marketing. Few are even very good at managing their businesses. Marketing is tough for little guys. They spend their dollars on a mishmash of coupons, flyers, Yellow Pages listings, classified ads and occasional radio and television.  Few of them track ROI or have any means to assess the performance of these investments. Online, they’re practically invisible. They know nothing about search marketing or customer relationship management (CRM). In short, the kinds of sophisticated analytics and tools that big companies use are out of reach to mom-and-pops. Lots of businesses want to market better, but they don’t have anyone to teach them how or give them a cost-effective platform to do so.

News organizations can be that platform. They can start by delivering a basic package of marketing and business services on a subscription basis and expand as local conditions dictate. They can potentially manage many of the overhead and backroom activities that sap small business owners’ time. Here are five ways news organizations can monetize this opportunity. There are plenty more where these come from:

Website Development – Few small businesses know anything about the Web.  Outside of restaurants and entertainment providers, most have websites that are little more than online brochures, if they have websites at all. Their sites aren’t optimized for search, don’t deliver calls to action and have no means to retain visitors as subscribers. Forget about analytics. If small business owners want to adopt new platforms like blogs or Twitter, they either pay outside consultants or figure out the tools through extensive trial and error.

This is a huge opportunity for news organizations. These companies have long-term relationships with business customers, local credibility and expertise in publishing. They can deliver advanced online features like e-commerce, e-mail marketing, search optimization and analytics at low cost by leveraging economies of scale. There is no reason why the local newspaper publisher can’t also be the dominant provider of online services to local businesses.

Affinity Programs – Every hotel, airline, national retailer and supermarket chain has a loyalty program these days.  The reason is simple: they work. Customers who carry affinity cards typically buy between 10% and 30% more product from the merchants who offer the programs than from those who don’t. Unfortunately, few small-business owners have the option of participating.  The administrative overhead is high and customers won’t carry cards for every merchant in their community. News organizations could set up these plans as cooperatives, allowing groups of noncompetitive businesses to participate at a modest cost.  Commercial grade analytics could be bought and scaled to provide reporting that demonstrates the return to business owners.  Revenue would come from the fees paid by the participants and potentially even subscribers to premium buyers clubs.

Events – Lots of small businesses would like to use event marketing to share their expertise and meet new prospects, but if you’ve ever tried to stage a promotional event, you know what an ordeal it is. The details and hidden costs can be overwhelming and few small businesses have the means to manage the leads that result.  Again, publishers can come to the rescue.  By building expertise at event management and applying it to different businesses within the community, publishers can provide targeted thematic events (for example, outdoor recreation or pet care) at a scale and cost that makes them affordable to local businesses. They can gather and manage leads that result and create marketing programs that optimize them for their customers. The news organization becomes a business partner and consultant, not just an outlet for advertising. There’s even the possibility of generating fees from event attendees in some cases.

Value-Added Advertising – Craigslist has won the war for the low end of the recruitment advertising market.  Publishers need to stop mourning the loss of this commodity business and move the bar higher. Christopher Ryan and Steve Outing published a manifesto for competing with Craigslist more than a year ago. Unfortunately, few publishers seemed to have noticed.  We won’t try to reinvent their wheel; ReinventingClassifieds.com has some great ideas publishers can apply to take advantage of their local reach and marginalize Craigslist.

For example, they can offer real estate agents or car dealers video walk-throughs of the products they sell. Or they can provide peer recommendations like Angie’s List (more than one million members at $35/year). They can tweet ads and push them to mobile phones. They can even provide transaction and fulfillment services that Craigslist can’t. In short, they can do all the things that Craigslist doesn’t do and build these features into a monthly subscription service that makes them all but invisible to the customer.

Transaction Fees – If you’ve ever used Ticketmaster, you’ve experienced the sticker shock of discovering that those $40 Nine Inch Nails tickets carry an eight dollar “convenience fee.” But you pay it because it’s easier than standing in line for two hours. Publishers can tap into that revenue stream.

The local garden show probably isn’t interested in ticket brokering. It may outsource the task to TicketMaster for the sake of convenience but it would really be interested in using a local organization that could combine fees with demographic marketing, behavioral targeting and amenities like e-commerce. Who better to deliver that experience than a service provider that knows the local community? Do you think restaurant or hair salon owners would like to have automated scheduling? The newspaper could provide that, too, with fees from the buyer, the seller or both.

Bottom Line

The five scenarios outlined above are just a sample of the opportunities available to local publishers once they stop thinking of themselves as advertising vessels and become partners in the success of local businesses. At their core, newspapers are marketing tools. Instead of simply providing advertising space, publishers can become marketing consultants, value-added resellers and service bureaus. They can offer the kind of expertise and analytics at a price that mom-and-pops can finally afford.

There are many more possibilities: Publishers could offer accounting, tax preparation, creative services, executive recruitment, business telephony, technical support, facilities management, order fulfillment and so on. Where they lack in-house expertise, they could partner with local providers under an approved-vendor program. Does this mean publishers might compete with their prospective advertisers? Sure, but how many of those companies are advertising now, anyway? Members of the approved-vendor program could potentially buy bigger schedules from the publishers who feed them business.

Back to the Future

Few publishers will choose to pursue the business model outlined here. It’s too hard. Departments such as circulation will need to be downsized or eliminated. Sales people must be retrained or released. Experts must be hired in new areas and partnership networks will have to be formed. New services will have to be created and priced, software licenses acquired and technology infrastructure put in place. These changes are painful, but reinvention isn’t pretty. It’s easier to sit and hope that paywalls will succeed in letting you do what you’ve always done.  Good luck with that.

If this transformation sounds radical or risky, consider that it’s already been done. More than 20 years ago, many computer companies faced the same kind of near-death experience that confronts newspaper publishers today. Their core hardware products, which generated 80% margins, were suddenly assaulted by cheap, standardized components. Many of these companies died or were acquired, but a few, like IBM and Hewlett-Packard, took the strong medicine that was necessary to transform themselves. Today, IBM derives more than half its revenue from services, a revenue stream that barely even existed 20 years ago. Its 2008 revenue was a record $103 billion. HP made the shift even earlier. Twenty years ago, it was less than one-fifth IBM’s size. In 2009, it was bigger than IBM.

Thanks for sticking with us through this long essay. Now tell us what you think. Are we off the wall or could business services be the prescription that nurses this dying industry back to health?

By paulgillin | March 16, 2010 - 2:35 pm - Posted in Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Solutions

The Chaos Scenario on Newspaper Death WatchIn this video interview, Bob Garfield, the author of The Chaos Scenario discusses the changes being brought about by the collapse of the mass advertising model, and with it the mass media. While Garfield is fundamentally optimistic about the future, he compares the pain being experienced by media professionals and their organizations today to the dislocation that occurred when the craft/artisan economy gave way to the Industrial Revolution. In the long run, Garfield asserts, we’ll be better off for the democratization of media. But there’ll be a decade or two of chaos that precedes new models.

Garfield was interviewed at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, where the people who are incubating the changes he describes have gathered for their giant annual mind meld. Running time: 19:17.

Bob Garfield on Media in Chaos from Newspaper Death Watch on Vimeo.

By paulgillin | March 4, 2010 - 12:13 pm - Posted in Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Solutions
David Cay Johnston in a Newspaper Death Watch interview

David Cay Johnston

We don’t get a lot of e-mail from Pulitzer Prize winners, so we were pleased and intrigued when David Cay Johnston sent a lengthy response to our recent comments on the shortcomings of American journalism schools. Johnston is a reporter’s reporter in the classic mold of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”

In his career, Johnston has certainly done plenty of afflicting. Starting with a staff writer job at the San Jose Mercury in 1968, he progressed through reporting positions at the Detroit Free Press, Los Angeles Times, and Philadelphia Inquirer before landing at The New York Times, where he reported on economics and tax issues until his retirement in 2008. He was awarded the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting “for his penetrating and enterprising reporting that exposed loopholes and inequities in the US tax code, which was instrumental in bringing about reforms,” according to his Wikipedia bio.  He was also a finalist for the prize in 2000 and 2003. Today, he writes, teachers and consults.

You can read much more about his accomplishments in the biography accompanying his book, Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and StickYou with the Bill). It’s one of three bestsellers he has authored, a list that also includes Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super-Rich–and Cheat Everybody Else and Temples of Chance: How America Inc. Bought Out Murder Inc. to Win Control of the Casino Business.

Although Johnston considers himself to be an optimist, he’s anything but cheerful about the state of American journalism and its culture of celebrity-mongering, lightweight lifestyle pieces and regurgitation of factoids spoon-fed to junior reporters by executives and government officials.

“Young journalists need to learn techniques for getting people to open up and especially to check, cross-check and re-cross-check facts; they need to learn how to mine documents which J schools do a lousy job of teaching; they need to become adept at numbers, which goes virtually untaught; they need to learn the underlying principles of whatever issue they cover,” he commented in his e-mail to us. “Use your independent judgment and you stop letting sources tell you what is news.”

This 24-minute audio interview covers the decline of investigative reporting, hopeful signs from early philanthropy-backed experiments and the passive culture of many American newsrooms that has contributed to a dumbing-down of content. “I’ve discouraged a lot of young people from going into journalism,” he told us. But he also noted that if you can make a living in the field, “It’s fun, there’s a lot of freedom and a cachet to it.”

[audio:http://www.newspaperdeathwatch.com/audio/NDW_Interview_David_Cay_Johnston.mp3]
Right-click and save to download.(24:43)

By paulgillin | January 28, 2010 - 11:29 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Solutions

Publishers who cheered The New York Times decision last week to build up a wall in front of its content should be considerably less cheery about the news emanating from Newsday. The Long Island daily has admitted that it has signed up just 35 paying subscribers since it put most of its content behind a pay wall in October. At $260 per subscriber per year, that amounts to just $9,000 in annualized revenue for a relaunch that reportedly cost $4 million.

There’s more to the story, of course. The total audience of potential online subscribers to Newsday is pretty small, given that the service is free to subscribers to Optimum Cable, which is owned by Cablevision. Cablevision bought Newsday for $650 million in May, 2008 after a bidding war. Newsday said Optimum Cable cover 75% of Long Island, meaning that just about everyone who would want to read Newsday online can already read it. The company also said  its goal was never to amass a huge audience but rather to increase engagement and improve advertiser value by focusing on local residents.

Still, you have to wonder about the wisdom of the paywall strategy, given the sacrifices  made to implement it. Editors Weblog says traffic to the site is down by a third since October. However, PaidContent.org says the drop off is only on the order of 10%. Either way, Newsday has traded off a lot of eyeballs for a small number of credit card numbers and unless its advertising rates have increased proportionately, the paywall is probably a net loser at this point.

Newsday is sticking by its guns and saying that the slow ramp up is neither surprising nor a problem. “Given the number of households in our market that have access to Newsday‘s web site as a result of other subscriptions, it is no surprise that a relatively modest number have chosen the pay option,” the company said in a statement that called into question why such a strategy was desirable in the first place.

Give Newsday credit for being a pioneer, though. The industry has been buzzing about paywalls for the last year and the company at least had the cojones to do something.  You do have to wonder about the timing, though. Publisher Terry Jimenez reportedly told the staff last week that Newsday lost $7 million in the first three quarters of last year. It’s now embroiled in a labor dispute with unions that are refusing to accept a 10% pay cut. under the circumstances, this seems like an odd time to make a bet-the-business decision.

iPad is Here. You Can Breathe Again

Our reaction to Apple’s iPad announcement yesterday was summed up in our tweet: “It’s a big iPod Touch? Really? That’s it??”

For a product that was generating over 200 tweets per minute in the hours leading up to the launch event, the reality of the iPad underwhelmed us. Perhaps we’ve just learned to expect bigger things from Apple (although the iPad certainly is bigger than the iPhone – by several inches).

The commentators we read see more potential, however. Nicholas Carr, who’s been documenting the shift of data and applications from the desktop to the cloud, sees the iPad as a potential paradigm shift. In Carr’s view, this product completes the transformation of the end-user device from personal computer to window on the Internet. Unlike a laptop, the iPad relies upon software delivered over the Internet for most of its functionality. The large screen and persistent connection could change user behavior, he observes. People will get into the habit of expecting words, images and sound to be delivered whenever they need it in a slim device that fits in a briefcase, although not a purse.

Ken Doctor evaluates the pluses and minuses of yesterday’s announcement. The good news for publishers is that readers will finally carry around a device that delivers an experience similar to what they have traditionally received from a magazine or tabloid newspaper. That can’t be bad for publishers who are accustomed to working in that format. Doctor also sees the iPad as a “magnet for marketing dollars” from companies that can finally deliver a television-like experience to a handheld device. The tablet may also rejuvenate long-form reading, which has suffered as continually distracted readers have learned to consume information in sips rather than draughts.

Doctor worries, however, that media companies were not a bigger part of the launch. Apple seemed to play it safe, touting the iPad as a work machine but imbuing it with a clumsy virtual keyboard and incorporating features that will obviously be appealing to gamers. The company claims to have more than 140,000 applications in its iTunes store. Publishers who are accustomed to having the biggest brand in their markets are going to get lost in there unless Apple pulls them out of the muck and gives them some visibility. At least at this point, that isn’t happening.

David Coursey looks at the iPad from more of a technologist’s perspective with Six Reasons You Want an iPad, Six Reasons You Don’t. He notes, “Apple wants you to pay $829 for the 64GB device, plus monthly wireless fees for AT&T’s 3G. The first year total: $1,189.” Of course, the iPhone was also vastly overpriced when first announced.

Meanwhile, Amazon last week revised its royalty policy for self-published authors and small presses. Amazon could be ready to make a play for the loyalty of publishers who were shut out of the Apple party. Its licensing terms need to be friendlier, but it’s already showing a willingness to make those changes.


By the way, Ken Doctor’s new book, Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get, will be available next week. We just received our review copy in the mail and while we haven’t had a chance to pore through it yet, we’re confident will contribute important new insights on the transformation of news from print to digital format.

Miscellany

Publishers that seemed to be ready for the toe tag at this time last year are staging some remarkable comebacks. Following hot on the heels of MediaNews Group Inc.’s announcement last week that it will enter a controlled bankruptcy and quickly reemerge in better condition, McClatchy said it has reached a debt restructuring deal with its creditors that will give it more time to get its debts under control. The owner of the Miami Herald, Sacramento Bee,  Kansas City Star and 27 other dailies has shifted its obligations to extend its repayment deadlines for a couple of years and says that 90% of its creditors have agreed to the plan. Year-over-year revenue is still falling at an alarming rate of 20%, but McClatchy said the rate of decline has slowed and it is getting its expenses under control. Its stock closed at $5.60 yesterday, up 1,600% from its 2009 low of 35 cents. Don’t you wish you could turn back the clock?


The good news in McClatchy’s shrinking revenue is that the percentage coming from online sources has grown. CEO Gary Pruitt told an investor conference call yesterday that online advertising now makes up 16% of the company’s total revenues. Perhaps more importantly, Pruitt said that 44% of digital revenue is online-only, meaning that the company is having success seeking out new advertisers and not simply selling discounted Web packages to print customers. He also said the company is ready to experiment with a pay wall, but is looking to the New York Times example for guidance.


Young people are reading newspapers online less than they used to. That’s the finding of an
IBM survey of 3,327 people internationally (900 of them in the United States) as reported on Poynter last week. The good news is that people over 55 are increasing their consumption of online news, but that statistic disguises a more ominous trend. Overall consumption of online sources is up for the population as a whole, which presumably means fewer people are getting their news in print. Poynter’s Dorian Benkoil says the trend suggests that news organizations may have less time than they think to shift their strategies to a digital-first approach. separately, new research from Nielsen shows that consumers spent an average of five hours and 35 minutes on social networking sites in December, 2009, an increase of 82% from December 2008. Facebook is now second only to the telephone in the medium people use most often to reach out to friends and family, and it isn’t behind by much. The problem that creates for news organizations is that they can’t control what happens on Facebook but clearly must adopt strategies to deliver more information that way.

By paulgillin | January 12, 2010 - 12:46 pm - Posted in Layoffs, Solutions
Adam Chadwick and Bill Loerch are two filmmakers who are trying to chronicle the decline of the US newspaper industry for a documentary film called Fit to Print. Chadwick is a laid-off New York Times copy editor and Loerch has spent most of his adult life making films. We spent several hours with them on Saturday and came away very impressed with their knowledge and ambition. What they mainly need now is money. Here’s a video interview that tells a little bit about their venture. Below is the description in their own words.

Fit to Print” is a documentary film that takes the viewer on a behind-the-scenes journey through the current upheaval of the newspaper industry. As subscriptions dwindle and ad revenues decline, newspapers are scrambling to establish their relevance. The newspaper business lost $7.5 billion in ad revenues in 2008, and has reduced spending on journalism by $1.6 billion per year over the past several years. But what does this mean for the individuals whose lives have been turned upside down by the crisis? If the newspaper business is changing, how are journalism school graduates adapting? What happens to career reporters after being laid off? How are newspaper publishers surviving? What is being lost as new media replaces old?

Fit to Print” will ask these questions and tell America’s newspaper story. It will take the audience through the upheaval in the newspaper business through three very distinct perspectives: A newspaper publisher, a career reporter and a journalism school graduate. Anybody who cares about journalism has been exposed to a spate of stories and figures about the decline of the traditional newspaper business. This has spurred much debate about what comes next and how to adapt journalism to a world in which the digital word is quickly replacing the printed word.

But such stories are mostly abstractions. Newspapers are a business, they are crucial to the functioning of a democratic society, but they are often more than that. They are a way of life for those who are a part of them – ordinary individuals contending with turbulent times. “Fit to Print” will tell their story, which is rarely seen in any broadcast news brief.

The numbers so far this year have been startling. Over 100 newspapers have been shuttered. Over 10,000 newspaper jobs have been lost. Print ad sales fell by nearly a third in the first quarter alone. Of the top 25 newspapers, 23 reported circulation declines between 7% and 20%. “Fit to Print” will show the viewer the human side of these numbers. It will ask the question: what is being lost, and what comes next?

If you want to reach either of these filmmakers, contact Adam Chadwick or Bill Loerch.

Update 5/23/19: The most recent trailer is available here. There appears to be no embed option.

 

By paulgillin | December 3, 2009 - 9:19 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Solutions

Perhaps all those fresh-faced young journalism wannabes who are flooding J-schools across the country right now know something we graybeards don’t. While there’s still plenty of legitimate hand-wringing going on over the collapse of publishing institutions, some media seers are beginning to see promise where others see peril.

David Carr’s essay in The New York Times last weekend is drawing considerable attention and well-deserved praise for its glass-is-half-full perspective. Carr, who put in his time at the traditional media watering trough, observes that the technology-enabled young journalists he meets these days increasingly see the collapse of hidebound media institutions as an opportunity to make a name for themselves based upon merit rather than survival. “The next wave is not just knocking on doors, but seeking to knock them down,” he writes. “Young men and women are still coming [to New York] to remake the world, they just won’t be stopping by the human resources department of Condé Nast to begin their ascent.”

We found ourselves nodding vigorously as we read this piece. Carr expresses no nostalgia for an industry that was built on the inefficiencies of traditional advertising that are now being Googled out of existence. Career paths that relied upon young journalists doing “marginal jobs for indifferent bosses doing mundane tasks” are being vaporized and replaced by a meritocracy in which the best may not only survive but thrive. We’re still a long way from the Promised Land, and it’s a scary world if your job security is based upon having outlasted everyone else, but it’s invigorating if you’re young, energetic and enabled with all the trappings of today’s technology.

New York City venture capitalist Fred Wilson agrees. “I believe the move from a velvet rope model to a meritocracy is a good thing and that the new media business we are building in the wake of the old one will be a better media business; leaner, faster, and controlled more by users than media moguls,” he writes. Amen. As sympathetic as we are to the many people whose careers and lives have been thrown into chaos by the collapse of traditional media, we continue to see a much brighter future once the wreckage is cleared away.

AOL to Automate the News

America Online, which recently announced plans to lay off a third of its employees, is breaking some new ground in the newsgathering field. The company plans to use automation to crawl the Web looking for stories that its visitors have indicated they prefer through their clicks and page views. The robot will then advise a team of increasingly dehumanized editors when and where to publish what it finds. AOL will also use its new venture, Seed.com, to outsource assignments to an army of (presumably low-paid) reporters and photographers.

It sounds impersonal and even a little creepy. The idea of building a new site based entirely upon the preferences of viewers strikes us as a little like the model at Digg.com, which generates boatloads of traffic, but tends toward stories about video games and loopy kids. Digg isn’t threatening to upend CNN.

Writing on FastCompany.com, Kit Eaton makes an interesting case for AOL’s actions creating a revenge effect. If social media is actually adding more of a human element to interactions between groups, does a service that removes much of the human decision-making make any sense? Eaton proposes that readers today actually expect more of the human element in their news coverage rather than less. Of course, we haven’t seen the AOL technology in action and human editors could tweak the parameters over time to make its selections look more like The New York Times. But we doubt it.

Miscellany

Last week we told you about a new daily newspaper that is being launched into the Detroit market, hoping to fill a void left by the reduced publication schedules of the two major dailies there. Well, the experiment didn’t last long. The Detroit Daily Press published just five issues before hitting “a bump in the road” and suspending further operations until the new year. The suspension was blamed on “lack of advertising, lateness of our press runs and lack of distribution and sales,” according to an announcement on the publication’s Facebook page. This sounds to us like more than just a pothole, but we hope the owners, who have courted this market before, can overcome their troubles and come back in 2010. Photographer Rodney Curtis offers an insider’s perspective. Having lost his job at the Detroit Free Press earlier this year, he’s now a double-dip victim of the industry’s troubles.


Some local television stations are now crowdsourcing the news assignment process. Broadcasting & Cable reports on stations in Milwaukee, Lancaster, Pa. and Little Rock that are opening their daily news budget meetings to outsiders through video, live blogs and Twitter. News directors say the experiment has been a mixed bag, since audiences that sometimes number over 100 can get stuck on gossip and minutia instead of general interest stories. However, they say the open-air meetings have also resulted in solid news tips, such as the WITI (Milwaukee) story on a father surprising his son at school upon returning from Iraq. The boy’s teacher had clued the station about the visit.


Add MediaNews and A.H. Belo to the short list of newspaper publishers who are considering joining Rupert Murdoch in his crusade against Google’s evil empire. Executives at both companies were quoted recently saying that they may withhold some paid content from Google’s search spiders. However, they indicated that they would not block access to free content. These statements are a minor blow to Google, which says it can work perfectly well with paid content and that publishers using paywalls need Google even more to make their content discoverable.


The Hopi Tribal Council has decided to close down the Hopi Tutuveni, which is the primary newspaper covering Hopi lands. The 6,000-circulation paper, which has been publishing since the 1970s, was called “ineffective” by one tribal Council maker and didn’t merit continued funding by the budget-pressed group.


It’s the end of an era, of sorts, at the Washington Post. The paper plans to close down its last three domestic bureaus – in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago – at the end of this month in a significant retrenchment that focuses on the Washington area. The move continues a recent trend toward embattled big-city dailies shutting down the remote offices as they attempt to go hyperlocal. David Carr quotes Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli as saying “We are not a national news organization of record serving a general audience.” The Wall Street Journal announced plans to close its Boston bureau last month.

By paulgillin | November 26, 2009 - 11:37 am - Posted in Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Solutions

It’s Thanksgiving Day in the US, so we present some thoughtful reading for consumption on a day of rest.

Study Examines Citizen Journalists’ Motivations

There isn’t a lot of good news for traditional media organizations in a new study prepared by two college communication professors and funded by the McCormick Foundation. In preparing New Entrepreneurs: New Perspectives on News, Researchers interviewed approximately 50 female consumers and citizen journalists to learn how they see their role in the evolving news ecosystem and what motivations prompt them to participate. While most of the participants expressed respect for traditional media outlets, they also identified some serious shortcomings, including lack of connection with the local community, failure to innovate and hostility toward the grassroots work the citizens are doing. The 18-page report is quick reading.

One of the more striking conclusions is on the subject of objectivity. The citizen journalists expressed frustration at media reporting that equates objectivity with lack of involvement.

New media creators believe that they can be objective, but still be connected to their community and to the stories they report. They saw a very strong distinction between news and opinion and took great strides to ensure that they, their contributors and their readers understood the difference, but they did not see their “participatory perspective,” a more informed, connected perspective, as encroaching on objectivity.

Citizen journalists also believe that their connections and involvement in the local community gives them an advantage over the frequently shifting ranks of beat reporters.

Being a part of the community rather than detached from it also led to more thorough reporting in the opinion of some of the new media creators. They believed they had better access to sources and were better versed in the issues.

“Our local government was hilarious. A lot of times the paper can’t point that out because the paper is an authority figure, and an authority figure who points a finger and laughs is a bully. Whereas, I was just some person on the back porch.”

There are also indications that both consumers and content creators believe that traditional media overplay conflict in the quest to make stories more compelling. This polarizes participants and frustrates efforts to find common ground. Since citizen journalists have a vested stake in their communities, they believe that sensationalism works against the progress they are trying to achieve.

Several of the citizen journalists also said that local media organizations had reacted to their work with attitudes ranging from neglect to outright hostility.

The new media creators in particular felt that traditional media’s reaction to the changes was to attack the new media rather than embrace it. The passion and respect for journalism that was seen among all creators (and even consumers) may make some feel threatened by any change to the industry. But the new media creators are more likely to see the change as an evolution that can be accepted without threatening the basic standards of the profession.

This last point is the most troubling finding of the research. Read Clayton Christensen’s book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, to learn how market disruption almost always comes from below. The new entrants, which are frequently of inferior quality, are treated with disdain by the market leaders. However, as Christiansen points out, new kids on the block open access to much larger audiences and invariably improve with time. Meanwhile, market leaders tend to stake out the high-end and gradually become niched out of existence. The only way to avoid this fate is to embrace new competition, even if it causes considerable discomfort. Reinvention doesn’t come without pain.

Journalism is Changing, Not Disappearing

Doc Searles present a well-reasoned argument why journalism isn’t disappearing from the earth but simply following the path already blazed by business. Searles, who co-authored the seminal Web 2.O essay, “The Cluetrain Manifesto,” looks at the industry from a technologist’s perspective. Much as personal computers and open source software moved computing innovation from the center to the ends of the network, journalism is undergoing a similar metamorphosis. Journalism isn’t going away so much as being democratized.

This transition is nothing new, Searles points out. Peter Drucker foresaw the end of the modern corporation in the late 1950s because “companies existed at the suffrance of the individuals who comprised them, even as it organized their work and put it to use.”

The current transition will move the nerve centers of journalism from monolithic organizations to networks of individuals. Specialists will be able to profit from their work, but they will compete on a truly open playing field. To use an analogy, in the preindustrial age anyone could set up shop and become a cooper, but only a small number of people were good enough or fast enough to make their living building barrels.

This is small consolation to the out-of-work journalists who have lost the enveloping arms of the corporate parent. Journalism’s traditionally high barrier to entry has kept out the vast majority of wannabes, but those barriers have now fallen away. Journalism in the future will be more competitive, but it will also be more innovative and rewarding because the rewards will accrue to the individual journalists rather than to their companies.

Common Sense on Creative Commons

If the concept of the Creative Commons license mystifies you, check out this essay by Joi Ito, CEO of the nonprofit Creative Commons organization. He draws an analogy to the open source license, which has revolutionized the quality and availability of software. If someone has tried to create a Google in the pre-Internet standards page, the effort would have cost billions of dollars and not worked very well. Google happened because standards were already in place and the founders didn’t have to navigate layers of approval and legal challenge. They built the basic technology for small money and evolved from there. The result is a service that has benefited the world rather than the handful of rich businesses. Had Google been created in the pre-open standards era, the fees the creators would have had to charge to make back their investment would have precluded its widespread adoption

The economics of Creative Commons and open source stands traditional business models on their head. In the past, copyright holders jealously guarded their franchise in the hopes of realizing a (usually small) license fee from its use. Under Creative Commons, the assumption is that good work will be passed around freely, usually with attribution to the author, thereby benefiting the Creator in other ways, such as through paid writing assignments, speaking engagements and publicity.

Ito’s case builds upon Doc Searles’ point that in a democratized economy, intelligence radiates outward the endpoints. The more people who adopt the work for their own use, the greater the benefit to everyone. In most cases, the creator also makes out.

There are exceptions, of course. A small number of large organizations stand to benefit when intellectual property is tightly controlled. However, openness creates opportunity for many others. Witness what has happened in the recording industry as the star-making machinery has ground to a halt and hundreds of thousands of bands have taken their case to MySpace. There may be fewer stars, but there are also more bands making a living by having control over their own destiny.

This idea even works for large entities. The success of Google Maps is largely due to the work of independent developers who have created remarkable mashups, while Unilever’s award-winning Dove Evolution TV ad has benefited from dozens of adaptations and parodies, each of which reinforces the value of the original work.

P.S. We just added a creative Commons license insignia to our right sidebar.

By paulgillin | November 19, 2009 - 11:44 pm - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Paywalls, Solutions

Detroit Daily PressAfter nearly losing its two daily newspapers a year ago, Detroit is actually adding one to the stable. The Detroit Daily Press will launch next week with daily newsstand distribution at first and home delivery scheduled to begin in about a month. This is actually the title’s second appearance; it originally appeared in 1964 and lasted for about four months before folding. The owners, who said they came out of retirement to take another shot at the Detroit market, plan to distribute 200,000 daily copies and charge a fraction of what their competitors charge for newsstand sales and advertising space.

Brothers Mark and Gary Stern say they have enough capital to make a go of it for two months and need 150,000 paying subscribers to break event after that. In light of that short timeframe, the quote in Editor & Publisher seems a little odd: ” “This is a permanent situation for us.” However, the brothers say they have raised private capital and have a much more efficient operating model that does away with unions and captive printing presses, so perhaps they have cash on hand to last much longer. The operation will employ about 60 people. It has recruited several veterans of the Detroit newspaper industry.

The Detroit market was roiled early this year when the Free Press and the News scaled back their home delivery operations to three and two days per week, respectively, in the name of saving costs. Few details have emerged on the financial success of the experiment. Both saw circulation declines in the first half of this year, but well within the average range for the industry

Local writer Isak Dinesen notes that the Stern brothers are Detroit natives and so may have an affinity for their local area. She also points to a Facebook page and online mockup (above) of the new title. The promotional language advertises “paper delivered seven days,” which is a direct reference to its competitors’ reduced schedule.

Miscellany

The question of whether readers are willing to pay for news appears to come down to how you ask the question. Alan Mutters tallies up recent research and finds that the percentage of Americans who say they’d crack open their wallets ranges from a low of 20% (Forrester Research) to a high of 53% (American Press Institute). The amounts vary widely, too. We’d suggest the wording of the question and the makeup of the sample group has a lot to do with the variations. That and the fact that Internet research is inherently unreliable. Forrester at least has been doing this for a long time.


Jeff Jarvis hits the nail on the head again with an essay about the new business model for news organizations. He observes that the cost model for a successful online title is about 10% that of a print property. In other words, there’s money to be made online, but requires the cost structure to be radically changed. The problem is that most newspaper publishers  can’t stomach the idea of eliminating 90% of their staff. Of the major metro dailies that have closed this year, only one — the Seattle Post-Intelligencer — has successfully shifted it is cost model to match the online revenue opportunities. Recent reports have indicated that the P-I actually is profitable online, although few details are available.

It isn’t human nature to shoot nine out of every 10 employees. So for many publishers, it’s easier simply to go under completely. That’s why Jarvis argues that bankruptcy is a bit of a magic potion. It’s an opportunity to get out from under debt, blow up the unions and completely restructure the way an organization works. Unfortunately, he correctly points out that those publishers that have gone through the bankruptcy procedure — which is most of them — have mostly failed to do more than trim a few expenses here and there. That isn’t going to save them; it will just postpone the inevitable.


The New York Times will end its Times Extra aggregation experiment in two weeks, about a year after launching the feature. The company insists that the decision isn’t a backtrack from the goal of aggregating outside content but rather than the content would now be presented within stories rather than on a dedicated site.


The New York Sun, a weekdaily that shut down a year ago, has been rejuvenated online. It will be resurrected for a 20-week run featuring crosswords from famous puzzle editor Peter Gordon for $1 per week. No word on whether management will decide whether to continue publishing the paper, but we expect that revenue will be an important factor.


BusinessWeek is reportedly set to lay off 100 people in the wake of its acquisition by Bloomberg LP. It appears that layoffs will be across the board, with employees who are in the line of fire being asked to submit resumes, news clips, and 250-word statements about their qualifications for continuing to work at the esteemed business publisher. BusinessWeek becomes property of Bloomberg on Dec. 1.


The Associated Press laid off 57 union workers, including 33 editors. The newswire is seeking to cut its personnel expenses by 10% by the end of the year.


Citizen journalism startup AllVoices will start paying professional journalists to cover beats, although the compensation is a meager $250 for now. The site has more than 200,000 registered members, most of whom contribute their work for free. AllVoices’ CEO Amra Tareen said the program is intended to recognize that these are “tough times for many journalists as news organizations downsize” and noted that reporters could earn more than the basic fee if their stories generate a lot of traffic. We profiled AllVoices last year.

And Finally…

Go to the basic Google home page and start typing a question. See what the Genius Google, in its near-infinite wisdom, thinks you’re asking when it provides all those “helpful” suggestions in a drop-down box. It turns out that certain kinds of queries generate amusing suggestions. For example, type “Is there any” (sans quotation marks) and see what Google suggests you really mean. (Okay, so we stole that from TheNextWeb.com.) Let’s get creative… Type in “why will” or “how come” or even “why is it that” and see what you come up with. The results are so strange that this feels like a big practical joke on Google’s part, but it does lend itself to endless experimentation.

By paulgillin | October 27, 2009 - 7:53 am - Posted in Facebook, Paywalls, Solutions

Media-watchers are interpreting yesterday’s horrifying Audit Bureau of Circulation audit numbers that show newspaper circulation falling at an accelerating rate. Alan Mutter takes calculator in hand and figures that readership is at historic lows. “Newspaper circulation now is lower than the 41.1 million papers sold in 1940, the earliest date for which records are published,” he writes. In those days about 31 percent of the population read a newspaper. Today, it’s less than 13%.

Mutter’s analysis draws quite a few comments, several of whom quibble with his math. Martin Langeveld cites figures that are even more alarming than Mutter’s: In 1940, publishers distributed 118 newspaper copies for every 100 households. Today, the equivalent number is 33 copies per 100 households, down from 53 per 100 less than a decade ago.


Writing in the Atlantic, Megan McArdle chooses a blunt headline for her analysis: “This is the End of the Newspaper Business.” In her view, publishers are now at the end of their ropes. They’ve cut all they can cut and still put out a respectable product. The industry is in a death spiral. “We’re eventually going to end up with a few national papers, [most likely] The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and The New York Times…But in 25 years, will any of them still be printing their product on the pulped up remains of dead trees? It doesn’t seem all that likely.”

McArdle’s predictions sound eerily similar to what we wrote more than three years ago in an essay entitled “How the Coming Newspaper Industry Collapse Will Reinvent Journalism.” We picked the same three dailies to survive but gave print only about 15 more years. We tried to place the essay in a few big dailies at the time but were rejected. Too implausible, the editors said.


In a release that served as a preamble to the ABC numbers, the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) provided some context for the circulation plunge. Its latest numbers reveal the impact of publishers’ recent efforts to tighten up on circulation in order to reduce churn and acquisition costs. As a result, newspapers are seeing “higher levels of subscribers retaining subscriptions, with subscriber ‘churn’ falling dramatically to 31.8 percent in 2008, compared with 54.5 percent in 2000.” Publishers are also raising single-copy rates and discounting more aggressively for subscriptions.

The NAA’s analysis is an important counterpoint to the hand-wringing that’s going on over the ABC numbers. At least part of the decline in US circulation is intentional. Publishers are cutting back on free distribution and deeply discounted promotions in an effort to make circulation a profit center. That’s good business sense, although it’s hardly a long-term strategy.

Miscellany

More local weeklies are closing.

  • Oklahoma’s Midwest City Sun will shut down this week after nearly three decades, idling 10 employees.
  • The Shoreline/Lake Forest Park (Wash.) Enterprise will print its last edition tomorrow and four other weeklies in the area will be combined into a single edition, appropriately named publisher Allen Funk announced. Enterprise features Andrea Miller editor puts the loss in human terms. “This leaves more than 65,000 people in north King County without a newspaper devoted solely to coverage of the communities they live in,” she wrote in a thoughtful e-mail to us. The Enterprise has be around more than 50 years and its lineage actually stretches back to 1904, she wrote in a 2007 history.

Last night was the American television debut of Stop The Presses: the American Newspaper in Peril, a 2008 film that claims to be the only documentary about the industry’s downfall. Directors Mark Birnbaum and Manny Mendoza interviewed “reporters, editors, media critics, journalism professors, students and newspaper readers to document the historic role of newspaper journalists as public watchdogs.” They also talked to many journalists like Ben Bradlee and Ken Auletta. It appears that the filmmakers are going to let their work trickle out through localized TV showings over the next year. You can buy a copy at prices ranging from $25 to $250 at AMS Pictures. Now that the vid has appeared on television, it will no doubt pop up online somewhere, but we would never point to a pirated copy. Just who do you think we are? Commenters are another story.

And Finally…

If you’re a newspaper history buff, have we got websites for you. Life just published a collection of classic photos involving newspapers under the banner of When Newspapers Mattered. It includes gems like the image below of Los Angeles gangster Mickey Cohen sitting amidst the newspaper headlines that galvanized his reputation as the kingpin of crime. Cohen and the Los Angeles media enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship, as he sold a lot of newspapers. He and William Randolph Hearst were reportedly pals.

Mickey Cohen


The Library of Congress is now also offering free access to a searchable database of dozens of daily newspapers stretching back to 1880. The service is part of National Digital Newspaper Program, a partnership between the National Endowments for the Humanities, the Library of Congress, and state projects “to provide enhanced access to United States newspapers published between 1836 and 1922.” Nearly 1.5 million pages have already been scanned. It’s unclear how exhaustively they’ve been indexed, but news buffs can view images like the front page from the San Francisco Call-Chronicle-Examiner documenting the earthquake of 1906 (below).

San Francisco Call-Chronicle-Examiner earthquake front page