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 | 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 | October 15, 2009 - 8:23 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Paywalls

Paid-content advocate Steven Brill (right) has been busy defending his position lately. He squares off over the pay wall issue with visionary Clay Shirky on McKinsey & Co.’s website.  Shirky says forget about charging readers for content. They’ll pay only if the information is “necessary, irreplaceable and unshareable.”  The Financial Times can get away with charging for online access because people make money from the information they find there, but few outlets have the kind of audience demographics to do the same. On the sharability point, Shirky notes that preventing paying subscribers from sending interesting information to their friends goes against the grain of the Internet, thereby subverting the pay wall by its very nature.

Brill begs to differ. The point is not to charge everyone for access, he says, but rather to charge those people who are most committed to the product and are willing to pay. So a college newspaper could ask alumni to pay for a subscription in order to subsidize free copies for the students. Brill says he basically agrees with Shirky but thinks publishers should go after subscription revenue where they can get it. He resorts to that most annoying of branding tactics by inserting that little ™ symbol whenever he mentions his own products. We at the Death Watch™ just hate that.

Brill was also at an event sponsored by the Paley Center for Media that put him up against National Public Radio CEO Vivian Schiller, iconoclast Jeff Jarvis and media consultant Shelly Palmer. The most damning quote came from Vivian Schiller, who was previously general manager of NYTimes.com during the newspaper’s ill-fated TimesSelect experiment. The pay-walled venture “made $10 million, but I don’t think it was worth it,” she said. “Trying to force a change in audiences’ behavior is the fundamental problem I have with some of these pay wall models.” PaidContent.org’s David Kaplan notes that despite the debate format, the panelists really weren’t that far apart on the fundamental issues. All of them believe publishers need to find new ways to monetize their audiences. It’s just that most believe that charging for content that readers can find elsewhere for free is not the way to do it.

Bloggers Need Shield Laws

Writing on Media Shift, Clothilde Le Coz says a double standard applies when it comes to shield laws for citizen journalists. She notes that 37 states have passed laws that protect journalists from prosecution for failing to reveal their sources. Now there is a bill awaiting Senate approval that proposes to implement a shield law on a national level. The problem is that the bill defines journalists as people who work for professional media organizations. Bloggers are not specifically addressed in its language, which seems a rather blatant oversight these days.

Josh_WolfLe Coz cites the 2005 case of journalist and blogger Josh Wolf, who was jailed for failing to hand over video of a clash between protesters and police during the G8 summit. Wolf spent a month in jail but was eventually released under the terms of California’s shield law. “Imagine what would have happened if Wolf wasn’t a journalist and couldn’t argue his right to protect his sources?” Le Coz writes. “He would have been forced to give up his footage and thus become an accomplice in the arrest of protesters.”

Blogger anonymity is a thorn in the side of many professional journalists, but the writer argues that it’s an essential tool for bloggers in some countries if they are to speak freely at all. Even in the US, the rise of citizen journalism as a legitimate complement to mainstream media would seem to argue for an extension of legal protection to those who happen to be on the scene when something happens and who report the details.

Miscellany

If you have a couple of hours to kill and want to trace the history of the Boston Globes near-death experience at the hands of owner New York Times Co., PaidContent.org has a link list of its coverage in reverse chronological order.


USA Todays loss is The Wall Street Journal‘s gain. As the Gannett-owned week daily announced a plunge in daily circulation figures earlier this week, the Journal reported a year-over-year increase of .8%, making it the top-circulating US daily. The shift in industry leadership has more to do with accounting practices than actual leadership habits. USA Today attributed much of its circulation plunged to Marriott’s decision to stop distributing the paper free to all guests in its hotels. Meanwhile, changes in Audit Bureau of Control rules now permit the Journal to count more of its deeply discounted copies as legitimate circulation.


“We bought BusinessWeek to invest in it,” says Bloomberg Chief Content Officer Norm Pearlstine in an interview with PaidContent.org. The former Wall Street Journal and Time, Inc. executive says Bloomberg did have some reservations prior to its blockbuster acquisition of the struggling newsweekly, which was announced earlier this week, but that the financial publisher sees BusinessWeek as a tool to expand its reach into the executive suite. Bloomberg intends to invest in the magazine’s editorial staff and become a “true newsweekly,” meaning 52 issues a year and no games during slow times. Paid content.org has a history of the BusinessWeek sale in links.


Huffington Post is doing some pretty creative stuff with customization, reports Zach Seward on the Nieman Journalism Lab. It’s writing two different headlines for some stories and showing them randomly to viewers for five minutes. After that time, the headline that generates the most clicks becomes the default. Huffington Post is also toying with the idea of regional versions of its homepage that would serve up, for example, a different menu of stories to the lunchtime crowd in New York than to people just arriving at their workplace in Los Angeles.


After years of cutbacks and sales declines, the Dallas Morning News is fighting back by raising subscription prices and investing in better journalism. The seven-day home delivery rate just jumped 43%, making the Morning News one of the US’s most expensive metro dailies. The paper has also added pages, increased local news and sports coverage, expanded its recipe section and introduced a new feature in the business section. And it’s looking to hire five reporters. “We need it to continue to be profitable so that we have the funds to invest to make the transition…to digital,” says publisher Jim Moroney.


If you’re using WordPress for your blog (and who isn’t these days?) then be sure to check out this list of 85 WordPress plug-ins for blogging journalists. They include gems like BackType Connect, which pulls comments posted about you on other social media sites into your own pages, and Global Translator, which translates entries into 34 different languages. We’ll include a plug here for Apture, a utility that makes it drop-dead simple to insert links and media into posts without going through the tedious download and upload process. See our ham-handed application of Apture in the Wikipedia clip above. We’re still learning.

And Finally…

Ninety-three percent of all newspaper sales “can now be attributed to kidnappers seeking to prove the day’s date in filmed ransom demands,” reports The Onion in a hilarious spoof on the industry downturn. It seems that evildoers just can’t get enough of “the smell of ink coupled with the mildew odor of a windowless basement.” Publishers are seizing the opportunity to cater to this influential audience by targeting advertorials and special sections devoted to ski masks, abandoned warehouses and industrial meat freezers.

By paulgillin | July 16, 2009 - 9:43 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local

Gannett gave the industry some welcome good news by posting quarterly results that actually exceeded expectations. In the wake of three layoffs of steadily increasing scope over the past year, conventional wisdom was that Gannett would lay a stinker on investors when it reported earnings this week. Instead, its stated results of 46 cents per share beat Wall Street expectations by nearly a dime. “Demand seems to be firming up a bit in some categories and in some geographic locations,” the CFO said.

Maybe those results are a harbinger of better times, because it looks like advertising spending is going to drop 2% next year. That would ordinarily be terrible news, but in 2009 it’s cause for celebration. That’s because ad spending is off 14.5% this year and 18% in the second quarter alone, the worst showing since the Marx Brothers were movie marquis headliners. The new estimates come from Magna, a unit of the Interpublic Group and a closely-watched monitor of advertising activity. The forecaster expects growth to resume in the second half of 2011 but to expand at an anemic 1% annually through 2014. Online advertising – particularly search – will lead the way, although local TV, national cable and outdoor venues will also grow. Not surprisingly, the big losers are newspapers (3.7% annual decline through 2014) and magazines (3.3% over the same period). Magna’s Brian Wieser says the newspaper industry is in “terminal decline.”

Buy BusinessWeek For Less Than a Copy of BusinessWeek

bwHave you always wanted to own a newsweekly? Well, you can buy BusinessWeek for $1. If that sounds like a bargain, keep in mind that the magazine is reportedly set to lose $75 million this year. That’s down from profits of up to $100 million during the dot-com boom. Times certainly have changed.

Alan Mutter’s prescription is for BW to niche itself at the high end, doing deals with peddlers of pricey Wall Street reports that funnel subscribers their way. He also suggests that the magazine could become the ultimate destination for crowd-sourced financial information, since there are so many smart people out there who want to give advice. His ideas would be plausible if they didn’t involve completely reinventing the culture and the brand at a business that’s hemorrhaging money right now. Perhaps a buyer could effect that transformation by firing 90% of the staff and starting over. There’s also the small problem of the complete irrelevance of a weekly in a world that can barely even support dailies any more.

However, Alan M. Webber thinks BW is a steal at $1. The Fast Company co-founding editor thinks the title is perfectly positioned to become the American foil to The Economist, which seems to be doing just fine these days. “BW could bring fresh energy, opinion, and perspective to all of the change in business that is so hard to make sense of,” he enthuses on Huffington Post. So what are you waiting for, Alan? Just a buck.

Shirky on Journalism’s Future: Put Down the Phone!

Clay Shirky may not always come up with breakthrough ideas, but he has an uncanny ability to derive sensible trends from apparent chaos. Read Shirky’s views on the future of journalism from the Cato Institute. His basic insight: journalism as we’ve know it has long been supported by advertising inefficiencies that made it possible for coupon clippers and automobile buyers to fund journalism that they didn’t personally care about.

The Internet has removed so much inefficiency from the market that these subsidies are no longer viable, so journalism must find sustainable new models. Shirky sees three: crowdsourcing or “participatory” journalism, database mining and patronage.

Working journalists might be most interested in his description of Off the Bus, a Huffington Post venture that monitored polling places using a crowdsourced model last year and achieved remarkable success. Off the Bus couldn’t have worked without a dedicated team of behind-the-scenes editors who made sense of reports filtering in from across the country. That’s journalism, but it’s not what Shirky terms “the ‘phone call’ model of reporting — one paid journalist talking to one source at a time.” Instead, the journalist is an organizer and interpreter.

Shirky  also likes the database-driven style of journalism practiced at The Smoking Gun, which mines public documents and databases for insights. Again, the idea that journalism requires phone calls and reportorial shoe leather is losing relevance in an age when shoe leather is becoming free.

Miscellany

San Diego Weekly Reader and the new owners of the San Diego Union-Tribune are engaged in a vicious battle over allegations by former employees of U-T owner Platinum Equity Partners that the investment firm engaged in ritual acts of sexual harassment, including sex-for-favors and hush-money payments.

The dispute originated from lawsuits filed anonymously by three former employees in 2007, which were ultimately dismissed. Reader describes the allegations in detail and also republishes a lengthy warning shot letter by a Los Angeles lawyer called “Mad Dog” Singer that threats all kinds of terrible consequences if Reader goes ahead with its story (which it did) or publishes Singer’s letter (which it also did). The dispute tarnishes some of the shine on Platinum, whose rescue of the U-T staved off possible closure of the paper. The Reader also tells of Platinum’s latest venture: to take over bankrupt auto-parts maker Delphi Corporation with help from General Motors and Federal bailout money.


Mark S. Luckie has been running 10,000 Words for nearly two years now and he celebrates the liberation of unemployment in an uplifting essay entitled “Why being an unemployed journalist is the best thing to ever happen [sic] to me.” Luckie celebrates his layoff last December as a chance to redouble his efforts to become a multimedia journalist and do the blog right. He also praises other grass-roots efforts by former employees of the East Valley Tribune and the Newark Star-Ledger as evidence that “all the talk of journalism dying is hooey.” Several unemployed journos contribute supportive comments about their own reinvention, but one notes that Luckie fails to address a basic question that also occurred to us: how is he making a living?


branded_keyboardLast week’s demise of The Printed Blog evidently didn’t put the final nail in the blogs-in-print coffin. A UK startup called The Blog Paper is taking a run at the same idea. It’s inviting bloggers to submit their stuff to a community ratings machine that will determine which entries are most print-worthy. Co-founder Anton von Waldburg thinks this Digg-like functionality is distinctive as he repeatedly tells Online Journalism Blog. One of the most highly-rated entries on the site today is an idea to put advertising on keyboards (right). Good luck with all that.


Two upstate New York newspapers have dropped a day from their publishing schedules. The Tonawanda News cut its Monday edition and will now publish Tuesday through Saturday. The Medina Journal-Register eliminated its Tuesday edition and now publishes four days a week.


Did you know that 4,000 bloggers contribute to Huffington Post, all of them for free? Michelle Haimoff cites this statistic in a HuffPo column proposing a rewards system for bloggers. Haimoff says her proposal is a way to “create a sustainable business model in the long term,” but we think getting people like John Kerry and Larry David to write for free is a pretty good model to begin with.

By paulgillin | July 13, 2009 - 5:13 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Solutions

Printed_Blog

Back in January, we told you about The Printed Blog, a venture by serial entrepeneur Josh Karp that sought to flip the online publishing model by delivering blogs in print. The idea was to take the best entries by local bloggers and rush them into print for consumption by busy commuters, whom advertisers would want to reach. “If his idea reaches its full potential, he’ll have hyper-local twice-daily editions in thousands of communities around the US,” we wrote. “Chicago alone could support 50 localized Printed Blogs.”

Well, it turns out Chicago could barely support even one Printed Blog for more than a few issues. Josh Karp shut his doors last week, having poured more than $100,000 of his own money into a venture that barely got off the ground. The Printed Blog published 16 issues in seven regions and it was a pretty interesting read. Its slogan – “Like the Internet, only flammable” – betrayed its playful nature and the website is the essence of Web 2.0 shareability. The venture was a victim of a harsh economy, in part, but also the reality that people apparently don’t want to read 13-hour-old blog entries about the White Sox in print, as the Christian Science Monitor account points out. It was a long shot that drew skepticism from the start, but it generated huge publicity for Karp, who we hope will quickly find a more successful outlet for his ample creativity.

Karp posted several closing entries on his blog, including this one about the lessons he learned from the venture. Among the half-dozen he lists are this one: “Instead of focusing on one thing – revenue – on a small enough scale to prove our model, I decided to try and publish the paper in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles… I got carried away, and we spread ourselves too thin too fast.” We’re going to be seeing a lot of entrepreneurs try to fill the void left by dying newspapers in the coming years and they would do well to read Karp’s advice. Or even bring him on as a publisher.

The Flap Over Free

freecoverWe don’t know if you’ve followed Wired editor Chris Anderson’s latest book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, but the premise is worthy of attention from publishers. Anderson’s premise is that the Internet has created a new competitive dynamic that is relentlessly forcing the price of all things digital – and some things physical – toward zero.

Software that once commanded six-figure license fees is now free.  The entertainment industry has all but abandoned efforts to copy-protect music. Artists now give away music and make money on concerts.

Anderson further argues that other businesses may be pulled into the low-cost business model orbit. T-shirts are basically free, but the cost of a Major League Baseball logo is $30. Casinos give away flights and hotel rooms and make it back on gambling. Ryan Air has staged promotions in which its flights are given away for free while revenue is derived from value-added services like luxury meals or gambling.

This has big implications not just for publishers but for anyone whose value is predicated upon delivering content. Anderson’s premise is controversial and scary to many people. Others simply don’t buy it, including Malcolm Gladwell, who penned a well-argued review in The New Yorker last week. Gladwell points out that Anderson’s argument ignores the value – and cost- of the distribution network. He notes that YouTube makes most of its money from advertising sold against professional programming that it buys from entertainment companies. Thus, the company’s supposedly free content model is really underwritten by real cash money.

Anderson fires back with a respectful rejoinder, telling the story of GeekDad, a blog he started a few years ago that is now run by a largely volunteer workforce. These writers do a heckuva job delivering a product that would have formerly required an expensive publishing infrastructure, and they do it for personal fulfillment, Anderson says. He suggests that this is where the news model is going: “I can imagine far more subjects that are better handled by well-coordinated amateurs than those that can support professional journalists. My business card says ‘Editor in Chief’, but if one of my children follows in my footsteps, I suspect their business card will say ‘Community Manager.’ Both can be good careers.”

True to form, Anderson is giving away digital copies of Free (you can read the whole thing here) but charging for the book. Publicity will no doubt help sustain his five-digit speaking fee. That’s further support for the book’s premise. It isn’t helping his magazine, though, which is among the worst-performing print magazines of 2009. Free can apparently only get you so far.

Miscellany

The Cincinnati Enquirer appears to be shouldering more than its share in the latest round of Gannett Co. layoffs. The paper has laid off 101 people out of a total staff estimated at between 800 and 920. It has also laid off the entire staff of CinWeekly,  companion publication aimed at young readers. Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press is escaping the axe entirely, but that’s because it and its JOA partner the Detroit News have already cut 17% of their combined workforces since December.


More than half of business communicators surveyed by Ragan Communications think Twitter is a fad that will crest and decline as people run out of interesting things to say. The 28% of respondents who have a microblogging policy in place credit it with improving employee engagement, helping customer service, building reputation and boosting website traffic. Another 40% have no microblogging plan in place. EMarketer remarks on Twitter mania, noting that when people start attributing world-changing characteristics to a new technology, it’s time to start worrying.


The New York Times Co. has extended until late this month the deadine for bids on the Boston Globe. The move is intended to give prospective bidders (three at the moment) time to see if advertising revenue has leveled off and whether the Newspaper Guild approves a tentative contract containing $20 million in concessions. Meanwhile, a lively discussion is going on within the Guild ranks over whether to approve the proposed deal.


A federal judge has cleared the way for Journal Register Co. to emerge from bankruptcy with 90% of the company in the hands of its debtors. The company’s reorganization plan had been held up pending resolution of a dispute over a $1.3 million “shutdown” bonus, which will pay some senior managers to lay off staff and shut down publications. Opponents argued that the bonuses are excessive and unwarranted, but Judge Allan L. Gropper ruled that the fact that the fact that the plan was approved by secured lenders and the company’s creditors committee justified its validity. Under the reorganization plan, JRC gives up 90% of the company in exchange for $225 million from lenders.

And Finally…

gazetaThe comedy team of Bob & Ray once had a skit about an idea called edible food packaging. It turns out the notion may not have been so far-fetched, as publishers are trying every possible idea to make their print products palatable. In Moscow, the the GazetaPacket is delivering news, crosswords, recipes and advertising on printed paper bags. It’s been running since last August. Editors Weblog tell of other ideas, like Bill Shein’s suggestions for edible paper, martini-flavored ink and naked women on the cover. That last one’s been tried and apparently doesn’t work, but you know what they say about if at first you don’t succeed…

By paulgillin | June 24, 2009 - 9:09 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local, Solutions

globe_deadline

Management at the Boston Globe finally wore down union leadership last night and won tentative agreement on a revised contract that is substantially similar to the one the union rejected a little over two weeks ago.  The new contract slightly reduces the pay cut management had originally sought, although it includes additional benefit reductions.  More importantly, the Globe and its parent New York Times Co. emerged victorious on the biggest issue: the right to end lifetime job guarantees for 170 employees.

Union members still have to ratify the proposed contract in a vote set for July 20, but approval seems likely now that union leadership has endorsed the deal.  The end of the last bitter labor dispute between Globe management and employees also positions the paper for sale to one or more of several interested suitors, which include investor and Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca,; Partners HealthCare chairman Jack Connors and former Globe executive Stephen Taylor.

Schedule Cutbacks Have Unforeseen Effects

More than 100 daily newspapers in 32 states have cut at least one daily edition in an effort to reduce costs and avoid layoffs.  But if you think that changing frequency is a matter of just shuttling around the work schedule, read this excellent piece in Editor & Publisher on the ripple effects of becoming somewhat-less-than-daily. Joe Strupp talked to editors around the country and found that cutting as little as one day’s worth of print news can force significant changes in the way a newspaper approaches its mission. “We try to cover Saturday through Monday on Tuesday. But we don’t staff Sunday night so we can staff more the rest of the week. There is more breaking news that goes up on Monday,” says Dan Liggett of the Wilmington (Ohio) News Journal in a quote that typifies the kind of calendar soup that these editors must contend with.

Some papers have had to add pages on days following gaps in the production schedule because print diehards still want local news and won’t go online for it.  Big news stories tend to lose momentum when they occur just before a break in the production schedule.  This forces editors to alter subsequent coverage to keep reader interest from waning. The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, which are the most prominent dailies to cut back on print, have moved more enterprise reporting stories into the Thursday, Friday and Sunday editions that land on subscribers’ doorsteps.

In communities with active high school sports schedules, the loss of a Saturday edition has prompted website editors to boost the priority of local sports in Saturday online coverage and to add Sunday pages to handle the demand. Other publishers have found that weekly columns and features that appeared on certain days have had to be moved to other days because readers didn’t want to give them up.

The good news is that “editors are becoming more convinced that print-devoted readers will stick around even when fewer editions are available and stories get published days after a news event,”  Strupp concludes.

R.I.P. Ann Arbor News

Ann_Arbor_News_BuildingThe Ann Arbor News, which announced plans in March to scale back from daily to twice weekly frequency, is apparently going a little further than that.  Writing on Poynter.org, Rick Edmonds reports that the 174-year-old daily is effectively shutting down.  The “unspecified number of layoffs” the paper announced in March is in fact the entire staff, Edmonds says. The headquarters building (right) will be sold and an entirely new online operation launched with a twice-weekly print edition that looks pretty lightweight. Staffers will have the opportunity to apply for jobs at a much lower pay scale than what most of them are currently earning.  Edmonds suggests that Ann Arbor’s young, hip college-age crowd is more attuned to online media and extrapolates the same scenario playing out in cities like San Francisco, Boston, Minneapolis, Seattle and San Jose, where a young, upwardly mobile populace creates a hostile environment for a daily newspaper.

Miscellany

Editor & Publisher continues to try to find insight in the increasingly meaningless “time-spent-on-sight” statistics for major newspapers.  We pointed out some of the weaknesses of this metric in our analysis of last month’s figures, including the paradoxical fact that big spikes in traffic can actually drive down time-spent figures.  Did the Washington Post really do anything to deserve a one-third drop in reader time commitment from May 2008 (16:04) to May 2009 (10:58)? If you look at the snapshot for those two months, things look pretty negative for the Post, but the April 2008 time-spent number was 12:55, which hints that the figure from May of last year was a fluke.  We wish Nielsen would stop flouting these monthly snapshots and concentrate instead on six month moving averages, which would filter out the short-term spikes that make year-to-year comparisons practically useless.


Fans of Jim Hopkins’ hugely popular Gannett Blog can breathe a sigh of relief.  The crusade to be the world’s most reliable source about what’s going on inside the company will continue at Gannettoid after the blog shuts down on July 19. Gannettoid is “a Web site that serves as a collection of stories, links and other Web sites about Gannett Company.” While it isn’t formally affiliated with Gannett Blog, Gannettoid is welcoming devotees to continue their conversations in the forum section.  No word on whether Hopkins will pop in for a visit now and then.


The new owners of the San Diego Union-Tribune are already selling off property acquired in the purchase of the newspaper last month. Two properties have gone on the market at a combined sale price of $9.1 million, which is nearly 40% higher than what Platinum Equity paid for them. The move would tend to confirm Ken Doctor’s theory that Platinum Equity acquired the U-T primarily for its real estate value and got the newspaper thrown in for free. (via Gary Scott)


Sun Newspapers will eliminate 115 full- and part-time positions in mid-August as part of a sweeping reorganization plan that will reduce the company’s portfolio of weekly newspapers by half and outsource accounting, payroll and home delivery to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Both organizations are owned by New Jersey-based Advance Publications.


The Columbia Journalism Review profiles Alan Mutter, whose Reflections of a Newsosaur blog has stirred up the industry and created a launch pad for Mutter’s ideas about reinventing news organizations. It’s a good companion to our Feb. 18 audio interview with Mutter that includes details about his new ViewPass venture, which seeks to give publishers a viable subscription model.


Katharine_WeymouthWashington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth addressed graduates of the Medill School Of Journalism at Northwestern University over the weekend, urging them to continue to fight the good fight and declaring that “the need for great journalism is stronger than ever.” You can read the full text of her address here. Dan Gillmor tweeted that it was a “defensive commencement speech by WashPost publisher; she plainly has no strategy for future.”  However, Weymouth’s remarks indicate that she understands that the old model is collapsing and that publishers must adapt to a new world in which they are no longer “a toll booth over a bridge” to their readers.  Read the text and draw your own conclusions.


Last week we noted that MySpace is struggling against Facebook and other adult-oriented social networks, calling into question the effectiveness of Rupert Murdoch’s management strategy.  Now MySpace is laying off two-thirds of its international workforce, or 300 people, on top of the 400 laid off in the US last week.  Altogether, the company has cut its total workforce by nearly 40%.  Which only goes to show, we suppose, that media dislocation isn’t limited strictly to old media.

And Finally…

Oyster_ReportersThere is hope for veteran journalists.  Oyster Hotel Reviews is a fledgling online venture that employs 13 journalists to conduct extensive reviews of lodgings for business and leisure travelers.  The site, which is funded by Bain Capital Ventures, bucks the current trend toward wisdom-of-crowds reviews by employing professionals to visit hotels under cover and write about their experiences. “Oyster.com is a great opportunity for these journalists as they provide full benefits, competitive salary and a job that includes travel to various hotels around the world fully paid for—who wouldn’t want that as a job?” a publicist wrote us.  We’re wondering where to apply.

By paulgillin | May 27, 2009 - 8:26 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local

Is Twitter a blessing or a curse for newsrooms?  Editors are struggling with that issue in light of a recent episode in which a New York Times reporter tweeted news of the company’s discussions with Google from a supposedly confidential meeting. The Times raised eyebrows yesterday by appointing Jennifer Preston, the former editor of its regional sections, as the paper’s first social media editor.  The job involves coordinating the newsroom’s use of social media, but it can also be seen as an effort to rein in reporters from sharing news before it’s been fully baked. Similar positions have recently been created by BusinessWeek, the Los Angeles Times and the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Journalism professor Edward Wasserman tells how Matt Drudge supposedly broke the story of President Clinton’s affair with a White House intern more than a decade ago.  In fact, Drudge didn’t break the story but rather related the fact that Newsweek was sitting on it.  The information had been leaked to Drudge by a disgruntled Newsweek staffer, making it possibly the first example of reporters using social media channels to take publishing into their own hands.

Wasserman says the real risk of Twitter is that it will incline journalists to spend more time in front of their computer screens and less time pounding their beats.  What the issue really comes down to is control.  Editors are struggling with the conflicting priorities.  On the one hand, they understand that tools like Twitter help satisfy readers’ needs for immediacy and transparency.  On the other, they have trouble accepting the idea that reporters can now take their stories directly to the public without an editor’s approval. The Wall Street Journal recently issued guidelines for appropriate uses of social media by its staff, including the requirement that reporters gain approval before “friending” confidential sources.

The Times says that Preston won’t be a Twitter cop, but the coordinating function can involve shutting down social media just as easily as enabling it.  In the end, editors will lose this battle.  Media organizations have to get used to the idea of writing their first draft of history without level of fact-checking and oversight to which they are accustomed. That’s because if they don’t do it, somebody else will.  This isn’t a comfortable idea, or even a good one, but it’s where the media world is headed.

Time-Spent-Reading Numbers Baffle

The latest Nielsen online reports about the amount of time people spend on newspaper websites has been released, and again the results are all over the map.  A sampling of the monthly time-spent-reading figures comparing April 2008 to April 2009 (percentages approximate):

  • Wall Street Journal down 40%
  • Chicago Tribune up 20%
  • San Francisco Chronicle up 35%
  • Atlanta Journal Constitution up 90%
  • Seattle Times down 60%

And on and on.

Editor & Publisher tries to sort all this out.  It talks to the assistant managing editor for digital at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, whose readers spend an average of 40 minutes per month on the site. Terry Sauer tells E & P that the high numbers may be due to the placement of homepage links on individual articles, but he admits it lots of other papers do this as well.

Maybe the real issue is that time-spent-reading is a poor indicator of affinity.  With more and more people using tabbed browsers, it’s possible to leave a webpage open for hours without looking at it.  Also, heavy spikes of traffic prompted by local news events may actually drive down time-spent numbers because visitors come and leave so quickly.  Finally, a one-month snapshot in time is virtually meaningless.  Nielsen would do better to measure affinity in increments of at least six months.

Pressmen Feel the Pain

Newspaper cutbacks are falling apart on the shoulders of pressmen, the true ink-stained wretches of the industry.  Some big papers have cut back their pressroom staffs by 50% or more. Last year, the Boston Herald outsourced its print operations and cut 130 production jobs. The Boston Globe then said it would close its Billerica plant and lay off as many as 200 employees. The pressroom that printed the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and still print the Seattle Times has been whittled back from 62 to 27 employees.

Against that backdrop, unions representing mailers and printers at the Globe this morning agreed to concessions with the New York Times Company that chop more than $7 million in salaries and benefits.  The pressmen’s meeting was described as “angry.” Unions representing editorial staff and drivers are scheduled to vote on concessions next month.

The Joy of Bankruptcy

Editor & Publisher has an excellent piece on the wonders and dangers of bankruptcy.  The story is timely because many newspaper companies must face the music this year.  Some people think the newspaper business is losing money, but that’s actually not true.  Most major dailies still make an operating profit but their ownership is burdened with crushing debt acquired during the ill-conceived consolidation binge of a few years ago.

On the plus side, bankruptcy is a way to freeze debt payments, cancel long-term contracts and renegotiate debt, often to much lower levels.  The negatives: Less flexibility to invest in anything beyond keeping the lights on, difficulty finding suppliers and the possibility that a judge could decide that the company isn’t worth saving.

That last item is the most ominous one for the industry.  E & P notes that judges will permit a company to exit bankruptcy only if they believe that the company has a reasonable chance of surviving.  If the judge doesn’t buy that prospect, he or she can simply shut down the operation.  That hasn’t happened yet, but with organizations like Tribune Co., Sun-Times Media Group, Journal Register Co., Philadelphia Media Holdings and the Minneapolis Star Tribune already in bankruptcy and several other companies facing the prospect, the picture could take shape quickly.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services on Friday slashed its rating on McClatchy Co. deep into junk-bond territory after the company offered to buy back $1.15 billion in debt at just 20 cents on the dollar. McClatchy is now rated a CC borrower, which is just three steps away from a default rating.

Miscellany

Jim Hopkins, who started Gannett Blog nearly two years ago, will put it in hibernation at the end of September. Hopkins says he never intended to publish the blog longer than two or three years to begin with and that his decision was hastened by the increasingly negative tone of the roughly 4,000 comments he receives each month.  The news will no doubt come as a huge relief to Gannett executives, since the blog had become a major soapbox for disgruntled employees.


The St. Louis Post-Dispatch moved circulation functions to two other newspapers owned by Lee Enterprises, cutting 39 jobs in the process.


The Huntington, W.Va. Herald-Dispatch cut 15% of its workforce, or 24 positions.


Talking Points Memo, the Web startup that has drawn attention as a possible model for new journalism, unveiled a new design that looks a lot more like a newspaper. Alexander Shaw talks about the thinking behind the new look, which moves more news “above the fold.”

And Finally…

British workers in the media, publishing and entertainment industries are the heaviest drinkers, according to the Department of Health. A survey of 1,400 people by YouGov found that media people consume an average of 44 units (presumably, 1.5-ounce drinks) a week, or almost twice the recommended maximum. The finance, insurance and real estate sectors came in second at 29 units per week.

By paulgillin | March 11, 2009 - 8:20 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News

Newspapers continue to struggle with the paradox of skyrocketing popularity of their product while their their business model crumbles.

The Newspaper Association of America (NAA) has released new Nielsen Online data for January that shows nearly a 12% year-over-year increase in monthly unique audience for newspaper Web sites. That’s “the highest for any month since NAA began tracking these numbers in 2004,” according to a press release.

Also up (year-over-year): Unique audience (11%), reach (7%) and page views (15%). Here are all the numbers. No doubt the Presidential inauguration and the cratering economy had a lot to do with growth, but the trajectory is still impressive.

Meanwhile, layoffs are running well ahead of last year’s pace, half the newspaper holding companies in America are in or near bankruptcy and Time magazine just published its list of The 10 Most Endangered Newspapers in America. We can’t remember a greater disconnect in any industry between product success and business failure.

The NAA’s announcement comes during the association’s MediaXChange conference going on in Las Vegas. We were surprised to learn about this event since we had managed to overlook it entirely until the press release showed up this week. The program looks to be focused on the right things: mobile, monetization, metrics, models and so on. Keynoter was Tony Hsieh, the Zappos CEO who has become a bit of a Twitter icon.

The NAA’s website for the event still betrays a certain clueless about the ways of the Internet, though. It’s positively hostile toward search engines and its blogs lack the essential element of the blogosphere: links. Here’s a short tutorial on why links are important. If you want to do a crash course in search optimization and online promotion, drop us a line.

Miscellany

Lots of colleges and universities now give away materials from past courses as a way of promoting the quality of their curricula. Online Degree World has a nice list of 100 Free Open Courseware Classes on Journalism, Blogging and New Media. This is the future, right? So what are you waiting for? College courses for free!


chronicle_in_ruins

That’s the headline that appeared atop this paid opinion (PDF) in the San Franciso Examiner last Friday, urging public action to save the Chronicle. The author, who identifies himself as Delfin Virgil, evokes images of William Randolph Hearst and historic photos of guys with suits and mustaches to argue that the Chron is an institution that belongs to the people and it should be given over some group unspecified group of citizenry to keep it alive.


The South Wales Echo just launched a new design with an edgy grunge video that “manage[s] to make the newspaper seem really cool,” according to Charles Apple. He’s got a link to the 1:43 clip or you can see it on YouTube. Learn from this.

And Finally…

Two gems from Erica Smith:

Former Journalist Christopher Ave has written a song called the Copy Editor’s Lament (The Layoff Song), celebrating the contributions of the many copy editors who are being cast aside as news organizations shift to blog-style journalism:

AP Stylebook is my bible,

Helps me stop the suit for libel,

But nothing ensures my survival now…

I don’t know what what I’ll do,

Now that I am through,

Killing my last adjective.

When not writing songs Ave is the political editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Erica also offers her favorite selection from someecards:

cant_lay_us_off

By paulgillin | February 23, 2009 - 9:52 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local

The New Republic devotes 3,400 words to an examination of The Politico, a beltway publishing phenomenon that is upending the balance of media power on Capitol Hill. The piece implies that the Politico is not a place where aging reporters go to live off their reputations. It’s a pressure-cooker environment fueled by the constant drive to be first with everything and to win the attention of broadcast outlets. Witness its Politico44 diary, which documents the activities of the Obama administration literally minute by minute.

Politico’s 60 reporters file their first stories of the day by 8 a.m. and carry tech gear that makes it possible for them to post from anywhere, including a city bus. Stories are written and formatted to be read on a BlackBerry. Speed is essential. Politico aims to be first with every story and it has scored some notable exclusives, including last fall’s scandal about the price of Sarah Palin’s wardrobe.

Worked to Exhaustion

Reporters are handsomely paid but worked to exhaustion. The piece relates the story of one Politico staffer starting his daily column as other reporters covering the Hillary Clinton campaign where shuffling off to bed after a long day. Journalists are encouraged to promote their own stories. A staff of three publicists spend their days sending links to political bloggers to do just that.

The goal is not just to be first, but also to the influence of the media.  Political strategy is to be the number one source of breaking news for the cable networks that cover Washington on almost a 24/7 basis.  It is making rapid gains against the Washington Post, which initially offered to incubate the startup before alternative funding sources emerged.

Started by two ex-Washington Post editors and funded by media mogul-to-be Robert Albritton, The Politico is upsetting the applecart in Beltway journalism. On Capitol Hill, it’s considered a must-read. However, it’s earned its share of critics among mainstream media, who sniff that The Politico is too quick to go with gossip in the absence of facts.

The Politico makes most of its revenue from a print edition that recently expanded to five days a week, but Allbritton says he’s preparing for the day when print is out of the picture and The Politico makes its money online. Those preparations are going pretty well; Allbritton said the operation could turn a profit in six months. “We’re way ahead of budget…It wouldn’t surprise me if the profit this year would count in the millions of dollars.”

Blogger’s Growing Influence Doesn’t Faze Gannett

Gannett Blog's Hopkins

Gannett Blog's Hopkins

Dow Jones profiles Jim Hopkins, the man behind the popular Gannett Blog. Hopkins took a buyout from Gannett a little more than a year ago and has been living on severance, savings and the kindness of visitors ever since. He hopes to generate about $6,000 per quarter in advertising and donations revenue. At 100,000 page views a month, the site has impressive traffic for one about such a specific topic.

Gannett Blog is a great example of how blogs have changed corporate communications. In this case, the chief source of information about a company is outside its own walls, yet Gannett continues to ignore Hopkins. That only magnifies curiosity about the blog and boosts its visibility, not to mention its word-of-mouth popularity among disenfranchised employees. Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell is quoted as saying that Hopkins doesn’t want to hear the company’s side of the story. “Since that’s a frustrating process with him, we try to keep it to a minimum.”

But Gannett doesn’t have to engage with Hopkins. Blogs have a feature called comments that enables visitors to state their opinions directly, without a media filter. If Gannett would start engaging with readers through comments, it would win sympathy just for listening, regardless of whether Hopkins agreed or not.

There’s plenty of evidence that engagement works.  About 18 months ago, Dell Computer reversed its practice of ignoring blogger commentary and adopted a new policy of responding to each and every post, whether positive or negative. The initiative reduced negative commentary from 50% to 20% in a little less than a year. For businesses have good reasons for doing what they do, engagement is always a better strategy than avoidance. Gannett still doesn’t get it.

Miscellany

It’s the middle of winter and nerves are fraying up in Canada. Quebecor Media has locked out 253 employees at its flagship paper, the Journal de Montréal. Employees there “have refused to accept cuts to benefits, a longer workweek for no extra pay and a loss of journalistic independence over the paper’s content,” writes Lyle Stewart, who admits that he is affiliated with the newspaper’s union. And he thinks the Montreal Gazette may not be far behind. “Unionized workers there recently rejected a contract offer that would have eliminated several positions and offloaded the editing of the paper to a centralized office in Hamilton, Ontario.”

If you wonder why you haven’t read more about this, all we can say is how’s your French?


Tim Burden has assembled an impressive timeline of quotes about the micropayments debate. His discussion thread begins last Dec. 20 with a post by Joel Brinkley and goes for exactly two months. He hits all the high points we’ve seen. It’s a great running script of this tortuous debate and we hope he updates it from time to time.


The Yakima (Wa.) Herald-Republic says business isn’t bad, it’s making money and the layoff of four to six employees – or less than 3% of the workforce – is a response to general economic pressure. In fact, the company just signed a deal to print the 5,800-circulation Ellensburg Daily Record.


The Daytona Beach News-Journal laid off nine more staff members, bringing to 185 the number of employees it has furloughed in the last eight months. That’s 25% of the workforce. Commenters weigh in with the usual collection of politics-laden diatribes, making us wish they was a way to lay off them.

And Finally…

TJ Sullivan has posted an online petition calling upon newspaper companies to wall off their Web sites to non-paying subscribers for one week in July. He posts an extended explanation of his thinking on LA Observed. Lots of people have blogged about the petition over the last two weeks, yet it has garnered less than 200 signatures. It’s not such a bad idea, but maybe the sheer impracticality of it is inspiring ennui.

By paulgillin | February 11, 2009 - 8:44 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Solutions

Over the last few weeks, the mood in the news industry has shifted from a kind of morbid resignation to one of fiery indignation over the forces that are tearing apart a once-mighty business. The promising development is that media supporters have stopped trying to resurrect a dying print industry and are now focused on saving the essence of quality journalism. They’re getting creative in their approaches. Below are a few recent opinions.

Lean, Mean Media Machine

Writing in the Dallas Morning News, John Chachas says the time has come for the US government to jettison old cross-ownership rules and grant media companies broad license to prosecute people who steal their content.

Chacas, who co-heads the media practice at Lazard, proposes granting news organization “a finite (36-month) anti-trust law exemption to permit deployment of an industry-wide system to track and charge for re-use of their content.” Today’s bloggers thumb their noses at the organizations whose content they steal, and newspapers’ unwillingness to defend their value is their undoing, he says.

Chacas also calls on the government to repeal laws that prohibit media cross-ownership in regional markets. Information no longer knows geographic boundaries, he says, and laws that make it easier for the Los Angeles Daily News to merge with The New York Times than with the Orange County Register are a set of handcuffs on media businesses. Conversely, it’s no longer relevant for the government to try to preserve multiple voices in a market when readers and advertisers no longer believe they’re needed. His four-point proscription is an intelligent call for legal and legislative change.

Reinvent the Model; Save What’s Best

The New York Times rounds up opinions from thought leaders around the industry. The consensus: stop trying to revive the traditional model and focus on finding places to add value.

MinnPost.com CEO Joel Kramer says news organizations will need to derive more revenue from readers in the future, even if that means shrinking circulation: “A newspaper that sold 400,000 copies at 50 cents daily and $1.25 on Sunday might sell only 100,000 at four times the price. But there would be a business incentive to keep quality high, because each extra copy sold should increase profit, not subtract from it.”

Steven Brill mostly agrees. He says the key is to find the crevices where local information needs aren’t being served: “Local newspapers are the best brands, and people will pay a small amount online to get information – whether it be a zoning board meeting or a Little League game – that they can’t get anywhere else.”

Geneva Overholser of the Annenberg School of Journalism is in the same camp. She sees value in a hybrid of community journalists and professional publishers. “These changes will be difficult for newspapers which have considered themselves the primary newsgathers, but they may lead to the next chapter of American journalism,” she writes.

Craig Newmark, whose Craigslist.org is often seen as the Great Satan by the newspaper industry, says media companies need to involve their readers in the process of determining what they do. Quoting David Weinberger, Newmark says, “a paper should be perceived as ‘ours’ (the public) not ‘theirs’ (the owners).” Perhaps the Great Satan is really the newspaper owners.

Author Andrew Keen picks up the thread, suggesting that the future is in a layered model in which community members contribute information that’s then organized by staffs of professional editors. “Rather than slithering into the democratic swamp of crowd-generated content, smart local publishers should focus on their core expertise – the organization and curation of information by professionals,” he writes.

Edward Fouhy of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism tells the story of three small operations that are proud of providing balanced, accurate coverage of local news. “Citizens are inventing a new form of locally based and financed journalism while preserving the values of accuracy, objectivity and independence,” he writes, hopefully.

There are more than 180 comments as of this morning. Thankfully, they are mostly free of the partisan politican ranting that seems to plague this discussion.


BTW, Jack D. Lai thinks micropayments are stupid and he’s got a long list of links to people who agree. It’s an impressive archive and we really hope to get around to reading it all.

Micropayments with a Twist

Steve Outing opens his Editor & Publisher column by dissing micropayments (“that model will only hasten newspapers’ death spiral”) and then goes on to make a passionate case for…micropayments! Okay, we’re oversimplifying. What Outing doesn’t like is the idea that each publisher would have its own system for charging people a few cents to consume its content, sort of like running a PayPal button in the sidebar. He’s right: That’s a dumb idea. The solution may be in a service like Kachingle, a system that distributes payments to website owners based upon their readership.

Kachingle users only have to set up and fund one account. Whenever they visit a site that’s part of the network, Kachingle allocates a portion of their account to that provider. If Newspaper Death Watch gets 20% of your monthly visits, then the owners get 20% of the payment you set aside. Thanks! Readers decide how much they want to pay and Kachingle takes care of the accounting. In theory, the value of the network grows as membership expands. The New York Times may be helping Newspaper Death Watch by joining the network, but the equation also works in reverse. Somehow, we think we’d get the better of that deal.

Steve Outing is nothing if not thought-provoking. Although this column is a tad more enthusiastic than his usual fare, he’s found an interesting model to promote. Hopefully, the column will still be available at SteveOuting.com after E&P inevitably pulls it off its website. You can also comment at SteveOuting.com, but not at E&P.

Miscellany

Last month we told you about The Printed Blog (“Extra! Extra! Blog All About It!”) a startup that’s proposing to reinvigorate print publishing by harvesting content from local bloggers. Simon Owens called up founder Joshua Karp and found an Internet entrepreneur who’s serious about print.

“The print newspaper doesn’t need to go away simply because it’s on paper,” Karp told him. The problem is that publishers haven’t revisited the way they produce their printed products to include the work of the community. The Printed Blog is on thin financial footing unless more funding can be found, Karp said. He’s funding the first issues himself and needs to find venture capital “over the next few weeks.”


They dribble out the news about cuts at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in this story. The paper will lay off 17 people but wait, there will probably be more. The neighbor island bureaus will be shut down. Oh, and there’ll be a redesign from a broadsheet to a tabloid. Praent Oahu Publications is also discontinuing its Friday edition of the MidWeek tabloid. You have to stick with this story to the end in order to learn everything.


The Charleston Post and Courier has laid off 25 employees after a buyout failed to achieve cost reduction goals. When the company announced its buyout offer in July, the newspaper reported that it had 513 full-time and part-time employees. It will employ 460 people after the latest cuts.