By paulgillin | February 20, 2018 - 12:13 pm - Posted in Facebook

“Research has shown that the downside of powerful, centralized networks is their susceptibility to being subverted and exploited,” writes The Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims in a fascinating analysis of why social networks, which were supposed to challenge hierarchy, have reinforced it instead.
Delving into network theory, Mims explains why networks that start out with flat, distributed power structures ultimately, become vertical hierarchies. That was true in the Bolshevik revolutions of 1917, when a circle of insiders around Joseph Stalin created a hierarchy within the supposedly distributed network of citizens who overthrew the Czar.
It is also true in the 16th century, when the printing press and Martin Luther’s vernacular versions of the Bible, rather than democratizing access to information, led to nearly 200 years of civil war. The impact of the internet has often been compared to that of Gutenberg’s invention.
“Even when networks aren’t architected for this kind of control, they tend to organize themselves in ways that lead to disproportionate influence by a handful of their members,” Mims writes. “When any new person or entity joins a network, it is likely to attach to the most visible hubs, making them even more influential.”
Facebook magnified this effect by designing its algorithms to optimize for engagement rather than for truth. Russia understood this, and brilliantly exploited it to foster confusion and misinformation in the 2016 election.


Pro Publica is using fire to fight fire. Co. Design reports on the work that a team at the nonprofit news organization has been doing to employ the tools of big data to see if companies like Amazon and Facebook are living up to their own policies.
The team crowdsourced the process of identifying examples of people who felt their free-speech rights had been violated by Facebook, or that they had been denied information because of some arbitrary decision. Facebook publishes its censorship rules, but verifying compliance is nearly impossible. That’s what the big data team at Pro Publica figured out a way to do. It used a Facebook Messenger survey to gather input from the crowd and then combed through the most puzzling cases by hand. In the end, Facebook had to admit not following its own policies in 22 examples brought forth by members.
The Pro Public team’s next step will be to investigate how political ads work by using a browser plug-in that scrapes Facebook ads and analyzes them using machine learning. The team has already published some of its initial findings, including the fact that many political ads don’t carry the required disclaimers or candidate endorsements.

Image: Wikimedia Commons
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By paulgillin | May 17, 2010 - 7:53 am - Posted in Fake News, Google

News executives who insist upon seeing Google as the Great Satan would do well to read James Fallows’ 9,000-word analysis in this month’s Atlantic. Fallows is well-equipped to write the story of Google’s tortured romance with the news industry. He is a veteran traditional journalist with a technology bent who is as comfortable writing for PC Magazine as for Atlantic.

There’s a lot to digest in this article but a few insights struck us as particularly important. One is that Google sees itself as having what one executive calls a “deeply symbiotic relationship” with news organizations. Second is that Google is devoting a lot of bright people and significant amounts of money to help news organizations reinvent themselves. The third is that Google believes advertising will become a lucrative and sustainable source of income for news organizations in the future, but only if they change their tactics.

Thief or Robin Hood?

Google is often pilloried by publishers for “stealing” content. This is despite the fact that Google lifts no more than a few characters from each story, doesn’t sell ads on its Google News service and is the number one source of traffic for most newspaper websites. The real reason Google is so despised is because it has accelerated the “unbundling” of news. This is at the root of the industry’s disruption. Newspapers traditionally have delivered their entire product in one package with advertising in lucrative sections like automotive and food subsidizing the stuff no one wants to pay for, like correspondents in Afghanistan. Search engines have blown apart this model by making it possible for online readers to navigate directly to the content they want. When each form of content is forced to justify its own existence, the world/national news, statehouse coverage and other staples lose out.

Fallows points out that Google and newspapers have a lot in common. Google’s well-being is tied to the availability of high-quality information online. One of the reasons its executives feel such urgency about helping the newspaper industry is that they fear that the loss of this content will diminish Google’s core value. Fallows also astutely points out that Google’s business model is itself a bundle: the company makes the vast majority of its profits from search, which enables it to fund loss leaders like News and Books.

Genuine Concern

Google CEO Eric SchmidtFallows spent a year interviewing Google executives and he portrays their concern about the news industry’s crisis as heartfelt and earnest. Certainly, no Internet company has been more visible in trying to engage with publishing executives. CEO Eric Schmidt addressed the American Society of News Editors last month and has been quoted many times despairing about the industry’s troubles. Of the other online companies that have taken their share of news industry flesh, only Craigslist’s Craig Newmark has shown any concern about the consequences.

Fallows’ piece is basically upbeat. Google executives express unequivocal confidence in the future of display advertising, a vehicle that has been widely written off as a dying intrusion on users’ reading experience. Advertising on the Internet is still in its infancy, executives assert, and advances in targeting will enable display ads to do for readers what Google’s AdWords technology has done: deliver relevant contextual offerings to readers based not only on the article in front of them but also on their self-described interests and recommendations of their friends. As advertising increasingly reflects a two-way dialogue between reader and publisher, “news operations will wonder why they worried so much about print display ads, since online display will be so much more attractive,” Fallows writes.

The company is applying technology to increase the yield of advertising in the same way that airlines adjust their pricing, planes and schedules to maximize revenues per mile. One innovation is an arbitrage system that enables publishers to adjust the allocation of premium priced advertising on a second-by-second basis. Another is Fast Flip, a Google experiment that seeks to mimic the print reading experience on a computer screen. Google has even adjusted its treasured search algorithm to accommodate complaints from individual publishers. There is little or no revenue in these efforts for Google; the company’s motivation appears to be giving publishers more options.

Rethinking News

However, Fallows also emphasizes that Google executives believe news organizations must take responsibility for their own health by rethinking their approach to the business. Krishna Bharat, a distinguished research scientist at Google and the driving force behind Google News, probably reads more newspaper content than most humans. He notes that duplication of effort saps the productive potential of the industry as a whole.

“You see essentially the same approach taken by a thousand publications at the same time,” Bharat says, referring to pack journalism. “Once something has been observed, nearly everyone says approximately the same thing.” This repetition is a relic of the days when readers had limited sources of information and hundreds of reporters might cover the same event. Now this approach has become antiquated. Publishers would get more bang for the buck by pooling their efforts to provide the five Ws and devote more resources to “something else, equally important, that is currently being neglected.”

Executives also emphasize that while they believe the ad picture is bright, a continued overreliance on display advertising will be the news industry’s undoing. Instead, they advise a “lots of small steps” approach based upon continuous experimentation and diversification of revenue streams. “The three most important things any newspaper can do now are experiment, experiment, and experiment,” says Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist.

Which, when you think of it, is how Google works.

Presentation by Google Chief Economist Hal Varian

By paulgillin | March 24, 2010 - 10:42 pm - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local

Perhaps it’s because we were headed down to Long Island for a day-long visit to a journalism school today, but an opinion piece in the Loyola student newspaper got us riled up about the state of journalism education when we came across it yesterday.

Michael GiustiIn it, Loyola journalism professor Michael Giusti (right) makes a misguided assumption that the print media model is going to be just fine, basing his conclusions on the assumption that the worst is over, advertising activity is starting to pick up again and that his own reading habits can be projected out to the general population. We hope this isn’t what he’s teaching his students, but we suspect otherwise.

Giusti does have some interesting figures from Lee Enterprises to support his point. They show a 50% drop in classified advertising revenue compared between 2006 and 2009, compared to just a 20% decline in display advertising. Giusti finds reason for optimism in this fact, based on the assumption that a recovering economy will stimulate the latter category while the worst is over in the former. Even better, newspaper publishers have largely completed their cost-cutting initiatives and will learn to make due with smaller staffs.

“With their leaner personnel roles, newsrooms can continue operating within their tighter post-Craigslist budgets. Most publicly traded newspapers are now posting positive numbers, and many are even on track to post profits for the first quarter of this year.”

This conclusion appears to assume that nothing will change in the future, but evidence indicates otherwise. The Internet  recently became the world’s largest advertising market and it’s going nowhere but up in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, newspapers who  have lost the young audience are focused mainly on milking whatever revenue they can out of an aging reader base while doing little to prepare for a digital future other than trying to charge for the content they now give away. This is not a healthy state of affairs.

It’s disturbing to see such blind optimism from someone who is supposed to shape young minds. For starters, the core problem for newspapers isn’t Craiglist but efficiency. Advertisers now have vastly more leverage in the way they invest their dollars than they did a few years ago. What’s more, the online competitors that newspapers face operate far more efficiently than print publishers do. The cost of advertising is only going to decline further in the future. Publishers are enjoying a respite right now because of the slowly recovering economy and the benefits of cost-cutting over the last two years, but to believe that the worst is over and the future is bright is to take a dangerously optimistic point of view. The business model is anything but “solid;” it is on very shaky ground.

Also, Mr. Giusti’s statement that “I plan to read my newspaper in its paper edition long into the future” demonstrates that he is out of step with his students. We addressed a class of public relations seniors at a major university last week and asked our usual question: How many of you have read a print newspaper in the last week? Out of a room of 25 students, one hand went up. This is par for the course in our experience with young communicators and it indicates that while Mr. Giusti may plan to read his newspaper far into the future, very few of his students will.

Online News Readers are Tech-Savvy

Alan Mutter quotes new research demonstrating that visitors to newspaper websites are more technologically savvy than many of us would believe. The research by Greg Harmon found that online newspaper readers are about the same age as their print-focused counterparts but are 1.5 times more likely to own a smart phone. He also quotes Harmon characterizing as “stunning” the finding that 30% of these readers are hungry to buy an Apple iPad.

It seems that the usual pattern in consumer gadget purchase is that about twice as many people plan to buy a gizmo at any give time as actually own it at that moment. But Harmon discovered that in the case of the iPad, five times as many online newspapers readers plan to buy it or some other kind of e-reader as currently own one.  This suggests that newspaper enthusiasts are keen to embrace the new technologies, a finding that should encourage news executives to get off the mushrooms on which they’ve been sitting since late January and start figuring out how to turn these loyalists into e-reader subscribers.

Sadly, the whole newspaper industry has been gloomily silent in that time. Perhaps they’re waiting for the population of iPads to reach critical mass – by which time someone else will have captured the market – or maybe they don’t know how to offer a differentiated product on a portable digital platform. Here’s an idea: regional aggregation. And there’s more where that came from if you’d care to give us a call.

Miscellany

The Financial Times must be thinking it has figured out the paywall model. The British business daily has completely eliminated free access to its content, except for readers who arrive from Google. Previously, FT.com visitors got five articles per month for free and 25 if they filled out a free registration form. Now those thresholds have been reduced to 0 and 10 stories, respectively. Annual subscriptions cost as much as $550.


Gannett's Craig Dubow, Newspaper Death WatchCurrent and former employees of Gannett Co, who aren’t known for reticence with their opinions, are likely to be royally steamed to learn that CEO Craig Dubow took home a $4.7 million paycheck last year even as revenue declined 22%, the company laid off 6,000 people and shut down the Tucson Citizen. However, those employees should keep in mind that the market capitalization of Gannett increasedby about $3 billion during the year. As far as shareholders are concerned, Dubow’s bonus is cheap.


Only 544 newspaper employees were laid off in the first two months of 2010, says the blog News Cycle. indicating that the blood flow may be slowing. That compares to more than 30,000 newspaper jobs that were lost between 2008 and 2009, according to Erica Smith. Smith’s 2010 numbers are less optimistic than News Cycle’s: she  counts more than 1,650 lost newspaper jobs this year, but that may include the 600 people at the Honolulu Advertiser who have yet to receive their formal termination notices. We’re inclined to trust Erica, who has documented this trend with unerring discipline for more than three years.


Speaking of Erica Smith, her latest blog entry is about Paper Haters, a blog that documents the more outrageous and ignorant complaints that newspaper editors get from readers. “The blog is intended to point out the irrationality and sometimes utter ignorance of newspaper readers and their often misplaced anger,” blogger Maggie Jenkins tells Smith. “It’s all at once funny and frustrating.”

A scan of the site reveals that readers do complain vociferously about seemingly ridiculous things. Jenkins, who fields reader letters as part of her job, estimates that only about 1% of communications from readers are positive. The most common complaints: alleged favoritism toward a particular restaurant/school/candidate and the classic “You’re just a bunch of bleeding-heart liberals” accusation. She invites you to submit your own favorites, whether from print, broadcast or online.

And Finally…

Reporters are editors disagree all the time, but rarely do you see their differences erupt in the way they did between these two TV newsmen in a recent exchange. We assume these guys don’t often go out for beers after the evening newscast.

By paulgillin | March 9, 2010 - 1:32 pm - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Paywalls

TechCrunch has an interview with Marc Andreessen in which the Internet boy wonder advises media companies to “burn the boats,” an analogy to the instructions Cortés supposedly gave his army upon landing in Mexico nearly 500 years ago in order to insure that the soldiers pressed on.

Print newspapers and magazines will never get [to new online business models], he argues, until they burn the boats and shut down their print operations. Yes, there are still a lot of people and money in those boats—billions of dollars in revenue in some cases. “At risk is 80% of revenues and headcount,” Andreessen acknowledges, “but shift happens.”

Andreessen has a point that it makes senses to abandon failing models in the long term, but setting fire to profitable print operations is the wrong strategy at the moment. After years of fretting over declining circulation and trying desperately to rejuvenate a dying business, newspaper publishers are finally adopting an intelligent strategy. They’re milking all they can from their profitable business while trying to manage it down to a level that new models can take over. It won’t be easy.

The strategy that most publishers have recently adopted has three parts:

  • Raise subscription rates in order to milk as much revenue as possible out of an aging but loyal reader base;
  • Manage costs downward in a manner that preserves profitability without alienating traditional readers;
  • Invest in growth markets that can preserve the brand and generate new profits.

The New York Times reported last year that its second-quarter subscription revenues nearly matched its advertising revenue. Aggressive price increases, combined with a substantial reduction in discounted circulation, are turning paying subscribers into a profit engine. Other publishers are adopting this approach, which is why the seemingly catastrophic declines in circulation of the last couple of years aren’t as devastating as they seem. Many businesses have legacy customers that generate a small but profitable business. Successful long-term franchises, however, also have the skills to move on.

A Successful Online Model

New media news entities have demonstrated that they can earn a profit with about 20% of the revenues of print organizations. That’s because their operating expenses are about 90% lower. These organizations are profitable, but a lot smaller than print publishers.

In their most recent round of earnings reports, most publishers stated that they are now deriving between 12% and 16% of their revenue from online advertising. Most of them have also not done nearly as much as they can to monetize other sources such as events, transaction fees and value-added and classified advertising. Once publishers reach the threshold of 20% online revenue, they can conceivably shutter their print operations while sustaining the business and the brand. They’re trying to get to that threshold gracefully, though. Lots of money can still be made in print if publishers can manage that asset down steadily while reducing costs in lockstep.

That’s a tricky process. If publishers cut costs too deeply, they risk losing loyal print subscribers and circulation revenue could enter a free-fall. They also don’t have the luxury of much time to complete the transition.

Even harder is the third bullet point. The people who run newspapers are skilled at operations and asset management, not visionary investments in emerging markets. In the TechCrunch interview, Andreessen correctly points out that technology companies are adept at dealing with constant disruption to their markets, a situation that faces Microsoft right now. Successful technology companies manage this challenge through a kind of creative destruction process. Successful executives are experts at learning to identify new opportunities and quickly discarding old product lines without looking back.

However, technology companies don’t have the luxury of a loyal legacy base that newspaper publishers have. The audience of committed daily readers may still buy the newspaper industry another 10 years of life in print, although that business will eventually become unsustainable. It isn’t crazy for publishers to want to milk the cash cow for a few more years. The hard part is finding new opportunities and having the stomach to invest in them in the face of inevitable shareholder demands for greater profits.

Burning the boats isn’t a wise strategy at the moment. But it’s a good idea to start collecting firewood.


Newspaper executives and their largest advertisers will gather next month in Orlando to discuss the transition to a digital media world. Advertisers in attendance include Staples Inc., Walgreens, Best Buy,  Home Depot, RadioShack, Target and many other print media veterans.

It’s good to see the industry tackling its challenges head on, but we have to wonder if this is the right crowd to do it. Nearly every person in the room will have a career and a business built on a crumbling advertising model. It seems unlikely that much innovation will flourish in that atmosphere. And if you believe what people like Mark Potts and Steve Outing are saying, then the future of these companies is about diversifying revenue and cultivating local advertisers, not finding new ways to squeeze more blood from the display advertising stone.. Meanwhile, the agenda is packed with speakers from the newspaper industry. We trust Huffington Post wasn’t invited.


Meanwhile, Outsell has a new report predicting that US companies will spend more on digital marketing than print for the first time ever this year. Of the $368 billion that Outsell expects US advertisers to spend this year, roughly $120 billion will be spent online and $111 in print. Of the total online spending, 53% will be on company websites. Outsell expects print newspaper ad spending to drop 8.2% to $27 billion. The report costs $1,295. More here.

And Finally…

The folks who brought you the wonderful Fail Blog have aggregated some of their best media miscues into Probably Bad News, a site whose tagline is “News Fails, because journalism isn’t dying fast enough.”You can upload your own favorite typos, double entendres and acts of sheer stupidity for others to vote upon. Many of the examples are computers gone haywire, which lack the sheer hilarity of printed mistakes, in our view. But there’s some good stuff there, anyway.


Dan Bloom has been pushing the idea of renaming newspapers “snailpapers.” He’s put the cause to music. It’s six-and-a-half-minutes of countrified banjo-picking. Watch it if you can.

By paulgillin | February 19, 2010 - 12:22 pm - Posted in Facebook, Google, Hyper-local

This week’s sorry tale of a New York Times reporter being forced to resign for plagiarizing content from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and other sources, apparently over a long period of time, raises questions about how traditional practices can survive the pressures of the online age.

Zachery Kouwe (right) walked the plank after editors at the Wall Street Journal complained that passages in a post on the Times’ DealBook blog substantially duplicated material published in the Journal a couple of hours earlier. The Times published a correction and later suspended Kouwe. He resigned on Tuesday.

In an interview with The New York Observer, Kouwe apologize for the transgression but explained that it was an honest mistake brought on by the need to respond to a rival’s story combined with the relentless pressure to produce weekly output of about 7,000 words. “I was stupid and careless and fucked up and thought it was my own stuff, or it somehow slipped in there. I think that’s what probably happened,” he said.

There’s never an excuse for plagiarism, but an understanding of the environment in which young reporters like Kouwe work can at least explain his acts, if not excuse them.

Deadlines in Minutes

It wasn’t long ago that reporters at a big paper like the Times had the luxury of turning out a story a day or even less. Print deadlines measured in hours offered an opportunity to check sources and rewrite notes in a timeframe that seems positively leisurely today. A few skilled professionals, mostly wire reporters, excelled at deadline reporting. Their expertise in synthesizing and contextualizing large amounts of information, often in chaotic environments, was the product of years of experience.

Today, everyone who writes news online is a wire service reporter. Deadlines are measured in minutes and anyone who wants to compete has to put speed at the top of the agenda. Not everyone is good at working under that kind of pressure, so it’s not surprising that the quality of deadline news reporting is becoming more erratic. Budget cuts at newspapers have also forced a lot of young, relatively unseasoned reporters to the front lines where their work nevertheless carries the moniker of a 150-year-old trusted brand. Such was clearly the case with Kouwe who, at 31, has developed his journalism skills inside the culture and pressure of the Internet.

The craft of note-taking has also changed. In today’s cut-and-paste world, journalists assemble background information from snippets published elsewhere. Notes are typed rather than hand written. In a document made up of first-person interview notes mashed together with clips from other sources, it’s not surprising that the origins of information can become confused. That’s not an excuse for shoddy note-taking, but it is an explanation for how errors can happen.

Changing Views on Copyright

The standards of intellectual property ownership that have been broadly accepted for so long are also growing fuzzier. Many bloggers don’t even post copyright information on their sites or they choose from one of an assortment of Creative Commons licenses that can themselves be confusing. The nonprofit culture of the blogosphere largely looks the other way when people lift content from each other. Many people use blogs as essentially online notepads, posting everything up to and including their shopping lists. Even if they cared about plagiarism, it’s difficult to spot violations and usually not worth the trouble of chasing the offenders. This works okay in the blogosphere because few bloggers practice their craft for money. In some cases, theft of content is actually considered a compliment to the author.

Then there are the proliferating forms that online communications take. Are Twitter messages copyrightable? If so, then isn’t the coveted retweet a form of copyright infringement? Google Voice has a feature that transcribes phone messages and makes it easy to embed those transcriptions in websites. Is that also a legal problem?

Finally, software tools now enable  someone to republish entire articles on multiple sites without even copying and pasting. Posterous is just one that makes this process automatic. A person using this feature may be violating someone else’s intellectual property without even knowing it.

This is not an excuse for Kouwe’s transgressions. A professional reporter should understand the fundamentals of the craft. However, the freewheeling nature of the democratized information landscape creates all sorts of gray areas. Journalism schools and editors need to do a better job of giving young journalist the tools to living with the growing pressures of deadlines and information overload without violating basic principles of ownership.

New Image Protection

Photographers have a particularly difficult time tracking copyright violations. Search engines don’t index images and the content embedded within tags gets lost as pictures are copied and redisplayed around the web. Watermarking affords some protection, but it also can make the image unattractive to potential publishers.

PicScout is trying to do something about this. Founded in 2002 to market an image recognition and classification technology, the company has a new platform that analyzes images and stores ownership information in a registry. That information travels with the image wherever it’s reproduced, thanks to technology that is capable of recognizing certain patterns within the bitstream. With one click, a potential user of the image can be connected to the license holder to work out terms.

License holders can upload their images to PicScout for indexing. The service then continually scans the Web looking for reuse of that content. License holders get a regular report on potential violations, along with company name and a screen capture. Users can download a free plug-in that alerts them to images that are listed in the PicScout database. The company just signed a partnership deal with PhotoShelter, a website for professional photographers and enthusiasts, that will automatically include PhotoShelter images in the PicScout registry.

Miscellany

If you think the demise of newspapers has killed good journalism, take a look at the list of the 13 winners of George Polk Awards for 2009. The awards, which have been administered by Long Island University for more than 60 years, cover a wide range of national and international accomplishments, ranging the New York Times reporter who documented his seven-month captivity by the Taliban to a ProPublica journalist who reported on the dangers of a natural gas-drilling process that yields carcinogenic byproducts. While the honorees include the usual lineup of mainstream media sources, a few surprises crept into the group this year. They include a team of Stars and Stripes reporters that unearthed a Pentagon campaign that profiled journalists in order to steer them toward positive coverage of the war in Afghanistan and a group of Bloomberg reporters who documented abuses of the government’s bank bailout program.


The Phoenix-area East Valley Tribune just won’t die. Owner Freedom Communications filed a motion with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court this week seeking approval to sell its Phoenix-area publications — including the Tribune — to 1013 Communications LLC. The purchase price is reportedly just $2.05 million. Freedom has been in bankruptcy protection since September and has been trying to unload the Tribune for more than a year. It had earlier announced plans to shut down the paper at the end of 2009, but is keeping the lights on in hopes of finding a buyer.


Growth of digital coupons is outpacing growth of newspaper coupons by a factor of 10 to 1, according to a company that has a stake in the digital market. Coupons.com reports that more than 45 million American consumers are now using online coupons, a nearly 20% increase from the 38 million who used them in 2008. “Of that number, nearly a third (13.1 million) don’t clip coupons from their Sunday paper, a 140% increase over 9.4 million in 2008,” said Coupons.com. If anyone can explain how the difference between 9.4 million and 13.1 million comes out to 140%, we’d like to hear it.


Questions are already being raised about Apple’s iPad licensing terms and whether its policy of keeping subscriber data close to the vest is a deal-killer. The Financial Times reports that the generous royalty model that Apple uses with book publishers (they get to keep 70% of the take) doesn’t work so well in subscription models.  It’s particularly bad in light of Apple’s practice of gathering all subscriber information and sharing nothing with its publisher or developer partners except download and sales totals.  “Is it a dealbreaker? It’s pretty damn close,” says one senior US media executive. Here’s another opportunity for Amazon. Publishers appear to prefer the Kindle platform for a number of reasons, but Amazon’s licensing terms grant them too little of the subscription revenue. If Amazon would loosen up quickly, it could grab most-favored-reader status in this important market. So far, though, Amazon shows little inclination of changing anything.

And Finally…

“There is nothing more frustrating than having a perfect comment for a conversation the two strangers in front of you are having.”

“It’s never more important to me to look my best than when I’m gonna be around someone I can’t stand.”

“I don’t understand the purpose of the line, ‘I don’t need to drink to have fun.’ No one does. But why start a fire with flint and sticks when they’ve invented the lighter?”

Those are just three of the gems from Ruminations, a website that accepts short, funny, original observations or anecdotes and then encourages its members to vote them up or down the popularity scale.

Reading Ruminations is like listening to a nonstop Steven Wright standup routine. Many of the contributions are hilarious, but some of them make you ponder the odd, illogical and bizarre things that humans do. “How many times is it appropriate to say ‘What?’ before you just nod and smile because you still didn’t hear what they said?” asks one contributor. The site was started by author and comedian Aaron Karo (above), who has a newsletter by the same name.

By paulgillin | January 22, 2010 - 9:48 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News

The New York Times is building a paywall despite the 2005-2007 disaster that was TimesSelect. On Wednesday, the Times announced the decision to start charging for access beyond a specified number of articles beginning in 2011. Details, including the fee and the access threshold, weren’t revealed. The Times is leaving itself plenty of leeway to modify or even call off the program, knowing that the eyes of a $35 billion industry are upon it. “We can’t get this halfway right or three-quarters of the way right. We have to get this really, really right,” said Times Co. publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.

The Times is stepping with characteristic caution into territory that its own coverage acknowledged has both “tempted and terrified” publishers. The most well-read newspaper in America is under pressure to set a precedent that others can follow while at the same time preserving its dominance and an online revenue stream that is a growing part of its business.

A Q&A on the Times‘ website sounds almost apologetic in tone. It points out that readers will continue to have full access to Times content from search engines but will not be able to click through to other stories on the website without paying a fee. Readers will be entitled to access a certain number of articles each month at no charge, but the limit was not specified. The decision to announce the paywall a year before implementation gives the Times some breathing room to assess reaction and set thresholds that readers can live with. The article in the Times notes that most readers still arrive at NYTimes.com via search engine, meaning that their experience will be undisturbed. The piece also notes that reader reaction on the Times’ website has been modestly favorable toward the move.

Even if the Times‘ paywall experience is successful, there’s no guarantee that other newspapers will be able to duplicate it. The newspaper enjoys a cachet that few other titles can duplicate and it’s likely that some readers will support the initiative in the name of keeping the hallowed title afloat. The same can probably not be said for the Chicago Tribune.

The New York Post reports that New York Times Co. minority owner Carlos Slim is a big fan of paid content and has been  pushing Times Co. executives behind the scenes to take the plunge. TimesSelect was an early stab at paid content that floundered when columnists complained that their visibility plummeted when a price was put on their work.

The problem with paywalls is that they cannibalize Web traffic that could otherwise be monetized with advertising. ClickZ reports that Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey predicts that ad revenues for NYTimes.com will drop by up to 50% after the paywall is erected. It also notes that Newsday saw website traffic drop 21% in the month after it built a limited paywall last fall. The trick is to find the right balance and The New York Times, with its history of online innovation, is the best candidate to reach a happy medium.


The Times is diversifying its revenue through a novel partnership with four institutions of higher learning that deliver Times expertise as online courses. This spring, the Times will start awarding certificates to paying students. For example, Ball State University just launched a six-week course on video storytelling that bestows certificates in “emerging media journalism” co-validated by the Times and Ball State. We love this idea. While tuition will never be a major revenue stream for the old Gray Lady, it is at least a diversification out of the declining advertising business. And with more citizens wanting to learn the craft of storytelling, perhaps a course with Times reporters and editors is something they’d be willing to pay for.

Internet Out of the Courtroom

Print journalists can take some heart – while new-media advocates roll their eyes – at two court decisions last week that limit the dissemination of trial coverage over the Internet. First, the U.S. Supreme Court overrode a trial judge’s decision and blocked video coverage of a federal trial about the constitutionality of California’s law banning gay marriage. Then a Florida judge ruled later in the week that a Florida Times-Union reporter couldn’t live blog a capital murder trial.

The California case is important because it involves a highly polarized issue that has implications in other states. A 5-4 conservative majority ruled that the judge in the case had erred by initially allowing video of the trial to be streamed to other courtrooms even though that practice is usually denied in federal cases. However, the justices did not address the bigger constitutional question of whether live video is permissible in legal proceedings.

In the Florida case, the judge banned a reporter from live blogging because he said the noise was distracting. A second reporter who was texting notes from the courtroom on a cell phone was also told to cut it out. However, a third reporter who was writing notes on paper was not disciplined. The tweeting journalist had drawn a more than 1,300 followers on Twitter for her coverage of the trial.

The cases illustrate the discomfort that new media is creating in the trial courts. The capability of anyone to relate the events of a trial would seem to comply with the founding fathers’ desire for legal transparency, but the fact that those narratives can now be communicated worldwide makes some jurists nervous. Both of these issues are likely to need a Supreme Court resolution.

Miscellany

When Nielsen orphaned Editor & Publisher in a sale of several of its titles to e5 Global Media last month, the staff at the venerable newspaper industry trade publication held out for a rescue. It came. Duncan McIntosh Co., an Irvine, Calif.-based publisher of trade magazines that ironically include FishRap News (which has nothing to do with newspapers), has picked up E&P and will continue more or less uninterrupted publication. “We’re all very excited around here about the news,” said staffer Mark Fitzgerald, who gains a promotion to editor in the process. Monthly print publication will resume next month and entries on the magazine’s two blogs – Fitz & Jen Give You the Business and the E&P Pub – have already resumed. Hooray.


The parent company of MediaNews Group, Inc. will file for bankruptcy, the 13th such filing by a U.S. newspaper publisher in the last 13 months. But it doesn’t look like MediaNews plans to stay in Chapter 11 for long. It has a debt restructuring plan in place that will cut its debt from about $930 million to $165 million and swap senior debtors’ paper for stock. The 116 creditors will have a majority of stock but not voting control. The Hearst Corp. and the family of MediaNews co-founder Richard Scudder are reportedly giving up interests in the company. Hearst took a $300 million stake in MediaNews in 2006 and that investment is now effectively worthless.  MediaNews said newspaper operations, employees and suppliers wouldn’t be affected and that the debt restructuring plan would enable the company to quickly emerge in better financial condition.


Dan Bloom has come up with a new word for newspapers. He calls them “snailpapers.” Only the longtime newspaperman insists this is a term of endearment, not derision. He thinks maybe if newspapers poked more fun at themselves instead of getting all righteously indignant about new media, they would generate more sympathy. More on his blog.


The Greenwood Lake (N.Y.) News is shutting down after 46 years, idling a small staff. The weekly had been honored for  editorial quality by the New York Press Association.

Dramatic Effect

We get some unusual requests at the Death Watch and always try to be helpful, but we were stumped by this inquiry from Amy Wimmer Schwarb, a 15-year journalism veteran:

“What’s more old-school than the print-on-paper newspaper we both love?” she writes. “The theater, of course. I’ve been working on and off for the past 18 months on a script that I’m about to start submitting to play competitions around the country. The title is ‘Dash Thirty Dash: An Allegory for the End Times.’ The piece celebrates the fun and beauty of the business and documents the suicide of newspapers.

“My concern about submitting this play through traditional channels is that I want it to be seen NOW, and sometimes, such channels have long lag times. Through your online travels and contacts, do you have any suggestions for how I might distribute this work? In my dreams, it will be performed in small independent theaters around the country.”

We couldn’t help, but perhaps you can. Post any ideas below as comments, or e-mail us using the contact box on the right and we’ll put you in touch with Amy directly.

By paulgillin | December 31, 2009 - 11:35 am - Posted in Fake News, Hyper-local

As 2009 draws to an end, about the best thing anyone in the US newspaper industry can say about it is, “Thank God it’s over.”

This was unquestionably the worst year in the history of the business. Circulation plummeted to pre-World War II levels and advertising revenues hit regions not seen since the Johnson administration. The year opened on a dismal note with the closure of major dailies in Denver and Seattle and threatened shutdowns in San Francisco, Boston and Chicago. Many pundits predicted a bloodbath with dozens of dailies folding during the year.

But then the unexpected happened. Union concessions and deep cost cuts brought the Boston and San Francisco papers back from the brink. While smaller dailies did give up the ghost in Tucson and Ann Arbor – and more than 100 weeklies shut down – the doomsday scenario never occurred. Instead, publishers came to grips with the reality of their plight and made earnest attempts to stabilize their operations. In a January column on WallSt.com, former Financial World magazine and Switchboard.com president Douglas McIntyre listed “Twelve Major Media Brands Likely To Close In 2009.” In fact, only one – Gourmet magazine – did.

As the year wore on, signs emerged that sales declines are slowing and circulation revenue from the core of loyal readers is making up some of the advertising gap. A broad consensus has emerged that the ink-on-dead-trees model is mortally wounded, giving publishers permission to turn their attention from saving a dying industry to managing it profitably downward while investing in new ventures that have growth potential.

Creative revenue ideas ranging from pay walls to behavioral targeting sprung up this year. Enrollments in journalism schools hit all-time highs and undergrads said they are approaching their careers with the idea of building personal brand rather than working for a big metro daily. Many industry veterans applauded their spirit.

As the second decade of the new millennium begins, there is a palpable sense of optimism, not only about the economy but also the potential to reinvent journalism. It’s an attitude we have tried to encourage in our own small way, for this blog long ago turned its attention from death to rebirth.

We’ll be posting less frequently during the first six months of 2010 as we tackle a new book on business-to-business social media. Your comments and many words of encouragement have been a constant source of delight in this otherwise dreadful year. We wish you better times in 2010. Keep your chin up.

For now, here are some of the more memorable items from the 178 entries we posted this year, presented in no particular order

Uppers

  • Doc Searles presented a well-reasoned argument why journalism isn’t disappearing from the earth but simply following the path already blazed by business. 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, he wrote. Journalism isn’t going away so much as being democratized.
  • Los Angeles gangster Mickey CohenLife magazine published a delightful collection of classic photos – like the one of Los Angeles gangster Mickey Cohen at right – about the contribution of newspapers to our culture under the banner of When Newspapers Mattered.
  • A team of publishing veterans that includes Backfence founder Mark Potts and super-blogger Jeff Jarvis announced GrowthSpur. The startup is building a back-end business system that it hopes will enable bloggers and small publishers to quickly monetize their businesses while building a network that multiplies opportunity for every member.
  • News-editor-turned-Silicon-Valley-entrepreneur Alan Mutter proposed ViewPass, a subscription service that would aggregate editorial content and collect visitor data that could be used to sell higher-priced ads. Mutter estimated that the system could more than double the CPMs that publishers charge advertisers and would manage copyrights more effectively than the current haphazard system.
  • Former Rocky Mountain News Washington correspondent ME Sprengelmeyer penned a splendidly written essay about the joys of rediscovering his journalist roots as publisher of a small weekly newspaper.
  • Writing in The New York Times, David Carr presented a glass-is-half-full perspective about the future of journalism. Carr observed that the new breed of technology-enabled young journalists see the collapse of 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 wrote.
  • A new Bay Area nonprofit was funded to the tune of $5 million by a local investor. The venture is a collaboration between public broadcaster KQED and the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.
  • The Knight Foundation funded nine new-media projects to the tune of $5.1 million. The biggest winner was DocumentCloud, a project conceived by journalists from The New York Times and ProPublica to create a set of open standards for sharing documents. Other winners included one to help citizens use cell phones to report and distribute news, a project to develop a media toolkit for mobile applications and an online space where the people can report and track errors in the media.

Downers

  • The New York Times published a jaw-dropping correction from its July 17 “appraisal” of Walter Cronkite’s career. Among the eight errors in the story where Wikipediable factoids such as the date of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. Ombudsman Clark Hoyt was blunt in his explanation: “A television critic with a history of errors wrote hastily and failed to double-check her work…editors who should have been vigilant were not.” The critic, Alessandra Stanley, has a history of being so careless with facts that in 2005, “she was assigned a single copy editor responsible for checking her facts.”
  • The owner of Editor & Publisher, which has covered the newspaper industry for 125 years, announced that it will shut down the magazine.
  • The bankrupt Tribune Company sent “14 reporters, columnists and photogs to this year’s Super Bowl, even though neither Super Bowl team came from a city where Tribune actually has a newspaper,” observed Mark Potts.
  • Many publishers apparently took advantage of recent changes to Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) rules to overstate their real readership numbers. The rules changes enabled publishers to count “bundled” subscriptions of paid and online editions as two subscribers, even if only one person was doing the reading.
  • Ahwatukee (Ariz.) Foothills News staff writer Krystin Wiggs told of being victimized by an elaborate hoax concocted by a young man who claimed to be a gifted and successful chef. The man convinced Wiggs that he had won scholarships to culinary school and landed a sous chef job at a top restaurant at the age of 21. He even enlisted an accomplice to masquerade as head chef at the restaurant for a phone interview.
  • BusinessWeek was put up for sale for $1. It was no bargain, since the legendary newsweekly was on track to lose $75 million this year. Bloomberg eventually paid up and then took a hatchet to the senior staff.
  • Sydney Morning Herald technology writer Asher Moses was publicly embarrassed over comments he made about a sex scandal involving a prominent former rugby star. Although the comments were made during his off hours, Moses’ impartiality was widely questioned.
  • Amazon.com had a chance to win friends among the ranks of newspaper publishers by offering paid subscriptions to their products via the Kindle e-reader. Unfortunately, Amazon’s onerous licensing terms entitled it to keep 70% of the subscription fees.
  • Todd Smith, who was shot on the job while working as a reporter for the Missouri-based Suburban Journals chain of newspapers, was called to a meeting at headquarters on April 15. Smith thought that maybe the staff had won an award for coverage of the massacre. Instead, he learned that he and several others were being laid off.
  • Boston Herald Sunday editor Tom Mashberg reprinted an e-mail exchange between him and Keith O’Brien, the author of a harshly critical story about the Herald that appeared in the rival Boston Globe. The e-mail outlined O’Brien’s intention to include negative comments about the Globe in his story as well as the fact that the Herald was profitable while the Globe wasn’t. None of that information appeared in the final piece. “Looks like the editors got hold of this and turned it into a hatchet job,” Mashberg wrote.
  • Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth (right) canceled plans for a series of dinners at her home after an overzealous Post marketing executive issued flyers positioning the events as a way for sponsors to buy access to the paper’s journalists and members of Congress. Weymouth said the promotions “should never have happened.”
  • French President Nicolas Sarkozy said his government would double its advertising in print and online newspapers in an effort to prop up an industry that many people believe needs a radical overhaul more than money. That’s on top of previously announced subsidies that give every 18-year-old French citizen a free newspaper subscription.
  • In a Vanity Fair profile of New York Times Co. CEO Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., Mark Bowden described one management offsite exercise in which Times Co. executives played a game that challenged them to decide between safe choices and riskier but potentially more rewarding long shots. An employee who had seen many groups play the game observed, “This is the most conservative group I have ever seen.”
  • A press release from the Washington Times, as reprinted on Talking Points Memo, also buried the lead about its own bad news: “The Washington Times today announced that it will begin producing a more focused Monday through Friday edition designed to feature its most distinctive news and opinion content.” In other words, it was killing the Sunday edition.
  • Kubas Consultants polled 500 newspaper executives in November and found them to be optimistic that the worst is almost over. Blogger Alan Mutter e-mailed the researcher who conducted the survey and learned that even he didn’t believe the resutls. “Optimism is better than slitting your wrists,” reasoned Ed Strapagiel.
  • A new newspaper in Detroit, the Daily Press, published just five issues before hitting “a bump in the road” and suspending further operations until the new year.
  • ZDNet blogger Richard Koman alleged that Yahoo had passed the names and e-mail addresses of hundreds of thousands of bloggers to Iranian authorities during the country’s controversial election. It turns out Koman‘s unnamed source for the story was an Iranian blogger with a vested interest in spreading misinformation. Paul Carr ranted about the incident and ZDNet retracted the entry and apologized.

Signs of the Times

  • The online-only Huffington Post set up a small investigative unit to examine the nation’s economy. The online news site is collaborating with The Atlantic Philanthropies and others on the Huffington Post Investigative Fund with an initial budget of $1.75 million and a staff of 10 investigative journalists to coordinate work done by freelancers.
  • The Media is Dying iconWriting under the pseudonym of @TheMediaIsDying, microblogger Paul Armstrong racked up more than 21,000 followers for his stream of tweets about the troubles of mainstream media.
  • One print paper did just fine this year. The Slammer boasts a newsstand profit margin that “is four times that of most local dailies, and its circulation has grown to 29,000 – up nearly 50 percent from 20,000 just last year,” wrote The Christian Science Monitor. The Slammer is full of mug shots, crime reports and allegations of misdeeds and carries the slogan “All Crime, All the Time.”
  • The Wall Street Journal launched an interactive map showing “adverse events at the top 100 newspapers” since 2006.
  • More newspapers began pooling resources to share stories, with consortia forming in Florida, Tennessee, New York and New Jersey. In New York, five newspapers banded together to exchange content in the largest such arrangement since the share-nicely trend began in 2008. Bloomberg and the Washington Post did a deal to create the Washington Post News Service With Bloomberg News. The alliance includes a revenue-sharing agreement to create a co-branded online business section on the Post’s website in the first quarter of 2010.

Numbers

  • A Pew Research study in January found that the Internet passed newspapers as the preferred source of news among Americans. The survey of 1,489 adults found that 40% get most of their national and international news online, compared with 35% who rely primarily on newspapers. Television continued to be the number one choice, at 70%. Among people under 30, however, the Internet is now as popular as television for news.
  • In March, Mark Potts toted up the market capitalizations of publicly held newspaper companies in the US and came to a striking conclusion: Their combined value was just $1.3 billion, or a little more than the $1.1 billion that The New York Times Co. paid for the Boston Globe in 1993. Valuations had recovered somewhat by year’s end.
  • One-third of Americans under the age of 40 told Rasmussen Reports that Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart (right) and the Colbert Report are replacing traditional news outlets.
  • A survey of 95 editors by the Associated Press Managing Editors found that newsroom workers between the ages of 18 and 35 were the most likely to be laid off, despite the industry’s need to increase its appeal to precisely that age group.
  • Nevertheless, journalism schools saw an astonishing surge in enrollments. “According to an annual survey by the University of Georgia, the number of undergraduates enrolled nationwide in journalism and mass communication schools jumped more than 41% between 1997 and 2007,” reported the Capital Times of Madison, Wisc.  Also, Forbes.com noted that journalism schools at Columbia University, the University of Maryland and Stanford University saw significant spikes in applications in 2008 — 30 percent, 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively.
  • Martin Langeveld calculated that in 1940 publishers distributed 118 newspaper copies for every 100 households. Today, the number is 33 copies per 100 households, down from 53 less than a decade ago.

Notable Quotes

“Our newspaper’s biggest revenue source today is foreclosure notices.”

Clifford Buchan, editor of the Minnesota-based weekly Forest Lake Times.

“That’s like asking someone in another business if they want to get vaccinated with a live virus.”

-Tribune Co. CEO Sam Zell, commenting on the prospect of finding a merger partner for his bankrupt company.

“Most people would hear you say that, and they would say, you know, he doesn’t — with all due respect, you don’t get it.”

Charlie Rose to Mortimer Zuckerman regarding the latter’s plans to continue publishing the New York Daily News because, among other things, his 11-year-old daughter is going to be the next publisher.

“Students will work to make their blogging more vivid using the fundamentals of the craft, such as imagery, foreshadowing, symbolism, and viral paparazzi photos of celebrity nip slips.”

McSweeney’s Internet-age writing syllabus and course overview

“JFK assassin8d @ Dallas, def. heard second gunshot from grassy knoll WTF?”

-The UK’s Guardian in an April Fool’s Day announcement that it would cease print publication after 188 years and go Twitter-only.

“There was nothing [in these newspapers] of remote interest [to] just about any sentient being. But that’s not what the paper’s editors were aiming for. The point is that there was nothing there that could possibly offend anyone.”

Bill Wyman’s blunt, sometimes savage essay on Five Key Reasons Why Newspapers Are Failing

“I don’t know how to write an inverted pyramid story or even really what that is. I do know how to write for different platforms, be scrappy and break news. I’ve had zero important alum connections and never got an internship at a big daily. And, in hindsight, that’s probably the greatest stroke of luck I could have had.”

BusinessWeek’s Sarah Lacy writing on TechCrunch

“As I rose through the editorial ranks of various magazines, I was encouraged to cultivate a mild contempt for readers.”

MIT Technology Review Editor Jason Pontin in a prescription for saving print media

“The 500-year-old accident of economics occasioned by the printing press – high upfront cost and filtering happening at the source of publication – is over. But will The New York Times still exist on paper? Of course, because people will hit the print button.”

Clay Shirky

“Newspapers are an important part of our lives, not to read, of course, but, when you’re moving you can’t wrap your dishes in a blog.”

-Stephen Colbert quoted in the Columbia Journalism Review

“There’s an enormous amount of vanity among journalists who forget that people buy newspapers not just for journalism but crosswords, cartoons, TV listings and indeed advertising.”

-Paul Bradshaw on Online Journalism Blog

“‘Jon and Kate’ for first mention, ‘Jesus, ENOUGH’ afterwards.”

@FakeAPStylebook, a Twitter-based parody that has quickly amassed more than 82,000 followers.

“Completion of a tower that will give Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport controllers technology and visibility to monitor air traffic for the foreseeable future, settling a contract that will keep the controllers on the job and redefining air space corridors, are keys to the Valley airport’s future, Robert Sturgell, FAA deputy administrator, said Thursday.”

-Unattributed quote cited by former Baltimore Sun copy chief John McIntyre as an example of the tortured inverted pyramid prose that is driving readers to blogs

“It’s safer to make an outrageous statement about Saddam Hussein than to make a mild criticism of a local car dealer. It’s something newspapers don’t like to admit. It has always mattered who pays the bills.”

-Alternative weekly publishing veteran Jeff vonKaenel

“This is the thought of the day and this is where you put the thought of the day as if anyone has a thought for the day. And can’t work out what the hell is going on. But who knows what is happeningishness. – Jesus Mark 7:21-23 (Bible for Today)”

-Dummy copy mistakenly published as the Thought for the Day in Australia’s Advertiser

Images

The AP posted this photo of discarded newspaper racks languishing in a San Francisco junkyard. Updated: This was the consequence of a new city ordinance banning stand-alone newspaper racks. However, the image acquired particular power in light of the industry’s plight.

Discarded newspaper racks


An ad created by the North Carolina Press Association to urge citizens to fight legislation that would allow local governments to post public notices on the Web instead of in local newspapers appeared to portray newspaper readers as old and technophobic.

North Carolina Press Association newspaper ad


Christopher Ave, the political editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, isn’t a copy editor but he’s sympathetic to the pain of wordsmiths around the country who are falling victim to layoffs. He created this clever music video to dramatize their plight.


This monologue by a resident of Santa Cruz, Calif. testifying before the city council about, we think, vegetables, raises questions about whether as a population we can, you know, express stuff.


A 26-year old Berkeley musician named Jonathan Mann joined forces with the staff of the East Bay Express to come up with a solution to newspapers’ business problems. Wait till the end to hear it.


The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News took very different approaches to commemorating their final issues.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer final issue

Rocky Mountain News final front page

By paulgillin | December 18, 2009 - 10:30 am - Posted in Google, Hyper-local

One of our favorite year-end delights is the annual publication of Craig Silverman’s Crunk awards. Silverman, whom we interviewed about a year ago, devotes hundreds of hours each year to documenting the missteps of media organizations large and small on his Regret the Error blog. Each year around this time, he publishes the high — and mostly low —  lights of the previous 12 months of media messups. It’s a half hour of reading pleasure.

Silverman’s award for the “Correction of the Year” goes to the Washington Post for this brief but symbolic beauty:

A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number.

The misstep gets the award because of the torrent of reaction it sparked. The Post‘s error was ridiculed in leading online publications like Techdirt and Huffington Post and even sparked a twitter hash tag (#washingtonpostcorrections) in which thousands of people have posted satirical corrections based on literal interpretations of popular songs.

There’s a serious side to the story, however, and Silverman provides some perspective at the top of his lengthy retrospective.

dekalbhookerNews organizations can be forgiven occasional lapses under the burden of deadline pressure, but it’s unfathomable that basic errors of historical fact can occur when the truth is only a Google search away. This reality was brought into sharp relief in July, when The New York Times published a stunning correction of eight errors in a reporter’s retrospective on Walter Cronkite’s career. They included such Wikipediable factoids such as the date of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

Such careless disregard for easily verifiable facts doesn’t do news organizations any favors at a time when their credibility is at historic lows. Silverman points out that the media watchdog function has passed into the public domain and sparked several efforts at self-regulation by media companies. Newspaper correction columns have long been a casual afterthought that did little to address the pain and humiliation that the original error may have caused. Publishers  could get away with that in the days when they owned the channels of information. Today, bloggers and tweeters can turn an error into a persistent chorus of mockery.

In the case of the Post‘s correction, the lyrics of the Public Enemy song were easily available online, along with interpretations. The abuse that the newspaper earned for the transgression may have been extreme, but hopefully it turned a few heads among the ranks of top editors.

Turning back to the Crunks, there are too many good ones to summarize here, so read through and choose your favorites. You can also show your support for Silverman’s efforts by buying a copy of his book. Our personal favorite comes from the Advertiser in Australia, which published an editor’s dummy copy as this Thought for the Day:

This is the thought of the day and this is where you put the thought of the day as if anyone has a thought for the day. And can’t work out what the hell is going on. But who knows what is happeningishness. – Jesus Mark 7:21-23 (Bible for Today)

We suspect that nearly every veteran journalist can relate to that one.


We’d like to quietly note that this is the 500th post on Newspaper Death Watch since this blog launched in March, 2007. Thanks to the nearly 1,000 people who visit this site on a typical weekday. Your many comments and messages of encouragement do far more to keep us motivated than the sporadic beer money from Google AdSense.

Comments Off on Celebrating the Crunks
By paulgillin | December 10, 2009 - 3:32 pm - Posted in Facebook

As if to dramatize the crisis facing the newspaper industry, the owner of the 125-year-old Editor & Publisher magazine announced it is shutting down the title. The venerable trade magazine was the unwanted child in a deal between Nielsen Business Media and e5 Global Media Holdings, LLC involving the sale of eight brands in Nielsen’s Media and Entertainment Group. The closing was announced in a one-sentence mention in a memo from Nielsen Business Media President Greg Farrar. AFP has the facts and Huffington Post, considered by some to be the standard-bearer for the new breed of publishers that will succeed daily newspapers, adds detail.
That includes E&P’s string of 11 Neal Awards, a prestigious honor awarded to trade publications by American Business Media, as well as the magazine’s once-formidable position as the journal of record for the newspaper industry. E&P writes its own obituary and suggests that there’s still a possibility that the title could be carried on in some form. It also obligingly lists the e-mail address of all staff members for the benefit of recruiters.
We have often cited E&P‘s work in our posts on this website, and had just this morning written a commentary on an excellent dissection of the circulation experiment at the Dallas Morning News that appeared in E&P this week. While the publications articles could be annoyingly terse at times, its features are often very good and its coverage was always timely. We have particularly enjoyed the work of Mark Fitzgerald and Jennifer Sabba and hope that they quickly find a new place to showcase their talents.
It’s perhaps fitting that we learned of E&P’s demise the way an increasing number of readers consume their news these days: it was posted on Twitter.

By paulgillin | September 4, 2009 - 7:33 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local

We’d like to be able to close out the week on a happier note, but the evidence that newspaper executives and union leaders have no friggin’ clue about the enormity of the challenges facing them just keeps on coming. Consider:

Newspaper layoffs have hit young people the hardest, according to a survey by the Associated Press Managing Editors. The survey of 95 editors found that newsroom staffs have shrunk more than 10% in the last year and that workers between the ages of 18 and 35 were the most likely to be shown the door. This information comes at a time when newspapers are desperately struggling to become relevant to precisely that age group. It’s not that the editors want to lay off all the young staff, but union rules require them to preserve the jobs of older – and more change-averse – employees at the expense of younger and cheaper workers. We like Silicon Alley’s graphic accompanying this story. It shows a man aiming a revolver at his foot.

Ken Doctor of Outsell has a new report on the state of newspaper companies’ digital migration efforts and he comes to some pretty bleak conclusions. Newspapers derived just 11% of their revenues from digital sources in 2008, Doctor found. In comparison, the rest of the information industry gets 70% of its revenue online. In other words, the specialty publishing markets have substantially completed their migration to digital business models while newspapers are just beginning.

It gets worse. Online revenue for newspapers is now static or declining while it’s growing nearly everywhere else. And all the major publishers except Dow Jones are losing market share. “The news segment still stands out as the biggest laggard in the information industry overall,” Doctor says. Listen to our August interview with Doctor.

Miscellany

The number of reporters on Capitol Hill isn’t declining, but the profile is changing. There were 819 accredited reporters from mainstream US newspapers and wire services on the Hill in 2009, a decline of 193 – or 19% – from the previous year, according to the Pew Research Center. However, the gap is being filled by reporters from niche and specialty publications. There were 500 of them in the galleries this year, up from 335 a decade ago. As a result, the full Washington press corps has remained fairly stable at between 1,300 and 1,500 souls over the last 20 years. It’s just that newspapers now make up less than half the total, compared to two-thirds a decade ago.


The authors of the study note that ordinary Joes are privy to less and less information about their government, while well-heeled business types can afford to finance on-site reportage that keeps them in the lobbying loop. And the advantage isn’t limited to conservative business interests. “The Washington bureau of Mother Jones, a San Francisco-based, left-leaning non-profit magazine, which had no reporters permanently assigned to the nation’s capital a decade ago, today has seven, about the same size as the now-reduced Time magazine bureau,” the study notes.


The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is the latest newspaper to jump on the pay-wall bandwagon. Its new PG+ section went live this week, offering bonus features like “social networking, live chats, videos, blogs and behind-the-scenes” look at the daily news,” according to president Christopher H. Chamberlain. Standard daily fare will remain free, but for $3.99/month or $36/year, readers will get exclusive access to the thoughts of Steelers reporter Ed Bouchette, as well as undefined special offers. We’ll see. You can tour the “PG+ Experience” here.


The folks at North America’s largest French-language daily must have liked what they saw in Boston, where The New York Times Co. successfully stared down unions at the Boston Globe and won significant cost reductions. Montreal’s La Presse will shut down Dec. 1 if the newspaper’s eight unions don’t help it cut $26 million in operating expenses. Among the concessions management is seeking are the end of a four-day work week for full-time pay and elimination of as many as 100 of the 700 jobs at the newspaper. The union says it’s open to discussion if it can see the paper’s books. La Presse cut out Sunday publication earlier this year in order to save money.