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.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, December 3rd, 2009 at 9:19 am and is filed under Advertising, Business News, BusinessModel, Citizen Journalism, Future of Journalism, Journalism, Layoffs, Local news, Murdoch, NewMedia, Newspapers, Solutions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

5 Comments

  1. December 3, 2009 @ 11:24 am



    Paul, for someone who references Alan Mutter with such frequency, I have no idea where the optimism in your “glass half-full theory” comes from. There are many innovations spurred on by technology that seem wonderful conceptually or that look great on paper. But if you were to look deeper you’d see that this new media “revolution” thus far is not a revolution at all, because all it offers are a pitifully scant number of jobs that actually PAY. Until a new paid model of journalism rises from the ashes of the established system – and it is nowhere even close to doing so – new media will struggle to be anything more than a novelty, even if millions of people read the doggerel churned out by young J grads too naive to demand a damn paycheck.

    Posted by Anon
  2. December 3, 2009 @ 5:57 pm



    I’m not sure why the reference to Alan Mutter is relevant, since he has expressed optimism that new models can be found and is putting money behind at least one effort. I have never said that this transition would be easy or that the new models that evolve will provide the kind of lifetime annuity that veteran journalists have traditionally enjoyed. What they will create is a competitive market, which will benefit those who are best suited to compete. Perhaps it’s a leap of faith to assume that rewards will accrue to the successful, but we’re all making our fair share of assumptions right now.

    I share the belief of many Americans that competitive markets are ultimately good for producers and consumers alike. Journalism has hardly been a competitive market in this country for the last 100 years. That is about to change. Many people will be hurt and some people will enjoy great success as a result. Whether journalists will be better off as a whole is an open question, but there’s no doubt that a meritocracy will reward those with the most talent and ambition. With journalism school enrollments at record highs right now, there are lots of young people willing to take the gamble. I applaud their faith and their nerve.

    Posted by paulgillin
  3. December 5, 2009 @ 1:33 pm



    If you want to blame anyone for the brouhaha that’s currently shaking up all the media (NBC is merely the latest casualty in a war that encompasses all forms of reproduction and transmission,) blame Bob Tailor, the Pentagon bureaucrat who devised the ARPA network.

    Little did he suspect that he would change everything that he knew into something barely recognizable, change how the people in his world work and change how money gets around.(1)

    Best of all, and worst of all for the media, was his changing of the fundamentals of how people communicate.

    Best of all, and worst of all for the media, all media, was his changing the fundamental of how businesses communicate from 1:N (the broadcast model) to N:M (the internet model.)

    Businesses don’t need the media anymore to piggyback their messages onto.

    The sooner you align your vision to that, the faster and clearer the limitations of the current 1:N model come into focus.

    Disconnected media, 1:N media, like print, radio and television, (all reflections of how they are produced and transmitted,) are mere Dead Men Walking.

    The communication medium that you must fix your gaze upon is the connected (wired or wireless,) N:M medium.

    That will be all that survives in ten years, except as curiosities, museum exhibits and anachronisms.

    The content creation and production modalities of symbolic, auditory and visual data and information will still be around and very much in demand.

    Its up to to us to protect ourselves from the winner take all mentality that creates monopolies.

    The content creator should not be the content carrier.

    Comcast should NOT be allowed to own a production company as it will favor that producer.

    1) money as cash, what is commonly understood to be the money supply, is only a small portion of the volume of transactions that occur.

    Posted by msbpodcast
  4. December 5, 2009 @ 1:35 pm



    You know you really need a preview message feature.

    Posted by msbpodcast
  5. December 7, 2009 @ 2:35 pm



    The collection of payments for things like news on the internet, specifically in this article in the New York Times, about Axel Springer, owner of the German newspaper Bild amongst other publications, points to the need to provide access wherever in the country, or in fact the world, the clients/customers/readers/viewers/audience members happen to reside.

    Given that Germany is, as Mr. Springer states, the home of Gutenberg, in a multi-national, multi-linguistic Europe, what is needed is for an organization with international agreements (which really doesn’t care about what it conveys, as that is someone else’s business.) to be the gate keeper of the pay-walls.

    That gate keeper should be the post office which could benefit from the added role giving paid access to their IT infrastructure to pull RSS files from their servers to grant access to article files on the news organization’s server. By acting as a gate keeper the post office can be a state supported, customer paid for disseminator and arbitrator which could come in handy in the case of long term subscriptions being terminated early by the publisher (and they possibly have a police service function against spammers.)

    This would allow for the indexing of the content by Google but give access to a news provider’s content through the use of paywalls, like the using the Post Office’s RSS gateway mechanism. (Content can come out from behind a paywall after a while too, [and the publisher can determine how long.])

    Posted by msbpodcast