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.


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. 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 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 | February 12, 2010 - 11:45 am - Posted in Facebook, Hyper-local, Paywalls

During fourth-quarter earnings calls, several newspaper executives tried to put a positive spin on their financial situation, noting that the rate of decline in advertising revenues has slowed. That’s true, says Martin Langeveld, but it’s still a dismal situation overall. Langeveld totes up the numbers from the five publishers who have reported earnings so far and forecasts that the US industry as a whole will show a decline of 16% for the quarter. That’s better than the average 28% decline of the first three quarters of last year, but the overall trend is still in the wrong direction. It’s even uglier when you look at the last five years in aggregate: Total revenues for 2009 will come to about $28.4 billion, compared to $49.4 billion in the boom year of 2005. That’s a decline of 43%.

Langeveld analyzes the earnings announcement so far and finds scant reason for optimism. Publishers are talking of “stability” rather than growth, which means that their dramatic cost cuts of the last year are finally generating some profits. The good news is that this will enable them to finally pay down some of their huge debt burdens, but any growth into new areas still seems a long way off given that most publishers still derive less than 15% of their revenue from online advertising. The sole bright spot was Media General, which reported that total revenues in December “were essentially even with December 2008.” Langeveld takes that to mean that they were only down in the single digits. Still, any stability is a good thing. There’s much more on the Nieman site.

In other good business news, McClatchy’s debt ratings were upgraded by two major credit ratings agencies. While the upgrades were small, they moved McClatchy out of the “highly speculative” category. The company just concluded a sale of $875 million of senior secured notes that pays off impending loans and stretches maturities out to 2017, giving it some breathing room.

Things are getting worse at the Boston Globe, though. The newspaper, which failed to sell for a reported asking price of $25 million last year, suffered a 20.3% drop in advertising revenues in the fourth quarter. Full-year revenue was down nearly 16%. The only glimmer of good news was an increase in circulation revenue, but the Globe, which has been frantically slashing costs since its near-death experience a year ago, continues to sink while it’s much smaller crosstown rival, the Herald, is reportedly earning a small profit.

Optimize Socially

“The old gatekeepers are disappearing. We’ve become our own and one another’s editors.” That’s one of the gems from Ken Doctor’s post this week on Nieman Journalism Lab in which he weighs in on Google Buzz and the rapid socialization of the Web. Noting that the URL shortening service, which is one of about a dozen on the Internet, is now processing about 2 billion link referrals a month, Doctor suggests that news organizations must tap into the link-sharing patterns of social networks to identify new readers. “Are Facebook users of a certain kind more likely to convert to become regular users of (or or than Twitter users?” he asks, citing one example.

It’s an excellent point. Social network practitioners who frequently refer their friends and followers to content from the same source should, in theory, be more likely to become paying subscribers to that source. The tricky part is how to find these people. Amid the deafening social cacophony of the Internet, pinpointing fans can make the task of searching for a needle in a haystack look trivial.

Doctor cites an emerging discipline called “social media optimization,” that is about making content more appealing to people who like to share. This goes beyond packaging or optimizing headlines for search; it’s also about making stuff easily shareable and getting the content producers embedded into the networks that grow around their products.

The Death Watch on Facebook

Our day job is helping businesses understand and adapt to the social Web, so it seems only natural that the Death Watch should go up on Facebook. Well, here we are. We’ll use this platform to point to the many stories we read but don’t get  a chance to summarize in our occasional blog entries. We’ll also post some discussion topics and would like to hear your comments on the choices we make. Fan us! It’s hot in here.


Gerald Posner resigned from the Daily Beast this week amid a swirl of charges of serial plagiarism. In a post on his blog, Posner admitted that he had copied material from the Miami Herald, among other sources, but insisted that the plagiarism was inadvertent. Posner’s shame highlights a risk of the copy-and-paste nature of Web publishing, in which original information quickly becomes intermingled with notes lifted from other sources. While that’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation of how the need for speed, combined with the portability of printed words, can be a recipe for disaster. When in doubt, select the text and copy it into Google. You’ll quickly see if you’ve violated someone else’s property.

The Berkeley Daily Planet, which isn’t daily, will cease print publication and go online only, although the owners held out the possibility of a return to the newsstands. Distribution was only one of several problems the paper faced. The city of San Francisco’s recent ban on freestanding newspaper stands hurt distribution, and the Daily Planet’s often critical reporting on local businesses didn’t help with advertising sales. The newspaper also suffered from a campaign by a group of East Bay Zionists to dissuade businesses from advertising because of editorials that criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

And Finally…

Two amusing closing items today:

The funny folks at 10,000 Words are back with their collection of Valentines for journalists. Although vaguely suggestive, they’re mostly G-rated and should be good for a laugh if your beloved happens to end his or her love letters with “-30-.”

It was 113 years ago yesterday that the phrase “All the News That’s Fit to Print” first appeared on the front page of The New York Times. The phrase was actually being used in marketing and advertising prior to that date and had assumed a modest place on the Times’ editorial page, but it was a slogan contest organized in late 1896 by publisher Adolph Ochs that catapulted the now-famous slogan to the banner. W. Joseph Campbell, whose 2006 book entitled The Year That Defined American Journalism documented the momentous events of 1897, recounts some of the entries that didn’t win the contest and its $100 prize.  They include:

  • Always decent; never dull;
  • The news of the day; not the rubbish;
  • A decent newspaper for decent people;
  • All the world’s news, but not a school for scandal.

We think Ochs made a good choice, though his choice of words probably didn’t anticipate the Internet.

By paulgillin | February 9, 2010 - 7:27 pm - Posted in Fake News, Hyper-local

Following up on today’s earlier post about the changing job environment…

Comments Off on In Case You Haven't Seen It…
By paulgillin | - 8:46 am - Posted in Fake News, Hyper-local

Yesterday I visited with a journalism class at a major university. This institution’s journalism program is considered one of the finest in the country and its faculty boasts notable veterans of the newspaper and broadcast field. I spoke to a small class for about 90 minutes, devoting the first hour of that time to a discourse on the state of the US media: Why it’s in a predicament, how the story is likely to play out and what it all means for aspiring journalists. The rest of the time was discussion.

My material wasn’t the type of stuff these students are used to hearing, judging by their reactions. About 2/3 of my talk was about economics and business. Among the topics I addressed were:

  • How advertising efficiency is devastating the media economic models that are based on the inherent inefficiency of mass-market advertising;
  • The irony that newspaper readership is at an all-time high even as the industry craters;
  • How the efficiency of online publishing permits new media organizations to operate much more cheaply than their predecessors;
  • Why the 57-year-old average daily newspaper reader is an undesirable target for advertisers;
  • Why advertising costs will continue to go down and why this is a problem for traditional media;
  • Why Craigslist has devastated newspapers’ most profitable revenue source;
  • How the need to sustain high circulation levels has made newspaper editorial content bland, inoffensive and, ultimately, vulnerable to competition.

The students were aware that they’re stepping into an uncertain world but they didn’t seem to grasp the finer points of the media business. Looking at the journalism department’s website later, I could see why. The curriculum lists 29 courses in the journalism program, and not a single one is about the economics of publishing or how to sustain a career as a journalist.

This university is failing its students. I suspect that so are a lot of others.

Learning a Trade

Journalism schools are essentially trade schools. When I was going through a J-school program in the late 1970s, everything was focused on getting the students out into the working world with the skills and savvy needed to get to the top. Judging by my recent experiences with journalism schools, the same career path that was advised 30 years ago is still being recommended today. This begins with a low-paying job at a small daily and proceeds through a series of staff positions at increasingly larger publications. The Holy Grail is to land a job on the staff of The New York Times, which itself has laid off 200 journalists in the last year.

This career path isn’t going to work in the future. Newsroom staffing levels today are 55% of what they were eight years ago. While elimination of high-paying jobs has created some entry-level opportunities, the path for career journalists will increasingly be up and out into the freelance world where they will have to compete on speed, agility and business skills.

The business side of the equation is where the greatest disconnect occurs. Journalism schools mostly disdain the moneymaking side of the house. Students are taught that revenue is somebody else’s job; they are in the position of delivering information. In fact, the ad sales department is often portrayed as a den of evil, full of conniving capitalists who only want to bastardize the product journalists so lovingly nurture.

The failure of the economic model is the reason most news organizations are in such trouble today. Journalists are mostly unprepared to help. The church-state separation that is intrinsic to the culture of newsrooms prevents them from understanding why the business is in trouble. Most journalists I have met still show alarming ignorance of the business that pays their salaries.

I’ve written before about the need for young journalists to develop entrepreneurial skills. This doesn’t necessarily mean going door-to-door selling ads, but it does mean understanding how advertising works, how audiences can be monetized and how diversified revenue streams can build a sustainable income. These topics are distasteful to veteran journalists, who have never had to worry about such things. Unfortunately, they’re very relevant to the students they teach.

Journalism schools need to become small business foundries if they are to continue in their mission of preparing students for the real world. Unfortunately, most of them change slowly, and the rapid decline of media institutions has caught them flat-footed. They need to move quickly to adjust their curricula in order to avoid sending their students unprepared into the tumultuous job market that awaits them.

By paulgillin | February 3, 2010 - 7:12 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Paywalls

Alan Mutter is stirring things up again with a spreadsheet that journalists can use to value their work. His thinking: Stop debasing yourself by working for peanuts. Figure out what your time is worth and charge accordingly.

With his characteristic eye for detail, Mutter figures such factors as the self-employment tax and capital expenses in his calculations. The sample shows a fictional reporter charging about 55 cents a word to cover his/her fully loaded costs figuring an average pay rate of about $30/hour, which is union scale in Pittsburgh. Your mileage may vary, of course.

If journalists “don’t put a value on what they do, then no one else will, either,” Mutter declares, noting that media organizations are using the explosion of blogs and citizen media operations to “pick off writers, photographers and videographers on the cheap.”

We have enormous respect for Alan Mutter, but we find ourselves in complete disagreement on this one. In our view, journalists who draw lines in the sand and start charging only what they think they’re worth will find themselves practicing a lot less journalism.

Are media organizations taking advantage of plummeting freelance rates? You betcha. Is what they’re doing wrong? We don’t think so. Supply and demand is the underpinning of a capitalist economy, and if the rules have changed in a way that devalues quality journalism, well, those are the cards we’re dealt. It sucks, but it’s how the system works.

Journalists can try to charge what they think they’re worth, but they’ll ultimately live or die by what the market is willing to pay. With the arrival of Web 2.0-style publishing, millions of people have started playing at journalism and it turns out some aren’t half bad at it. The trouble is that many of these casual journalists don’t make a living as reporters. Their journalism is a sidelight to their day jobs. They may be happy to work for a vague reward defined as “exposure” if it pays off in speaking jobs, consulting work or book contracts.

Mutter is outraged that people contact him asking “to commission an article or reprint a post in exchange for the ephemeral compensation known as ‘exposure,’” but the reality of the market is that a lot of people are willing to work for that (full disclosure: we recently approached Mutter about contributing to a for-profit website in exchange for a modest fee; he politely declined). For example, many book authors write extensively about their expertise for free in exchange for exposure in major publications.

We sympathize with journalists who have seen the market value of their work collapse over the last couple of years. We’ve experienced some of that pain personally and we have many friends and colleagues who are suffering because of it. However, the market has spoken, and the solution to collapsing fees isn’t to insist on getting a rate that employers will no longer pay.

Is there a solution? Well, journalists who specialize in everything from geography to gastroenterology can still command higher prices than general assignment reporters. Also, a lot of journalists work for commercial clients on the side so that they can afford to practice their craft. There’s money in speaking, consulting, writing books and corporate ghost-writing. Some of that work may be distasteful, but at least it pays the bills.

That doesn’t solve the problem of who is going to embed in Iraq for six months at 25 cents a word. That’s a much tougher issue and we wish we had better ideas how to solve it. But drawing lines in the sand is career suicide.

Indianapolis-based freelance journalist Christopher Lloyd sees things our way. He’s passionate about movies and has contributed free movie reviews to some area newspapers since being laid off by the Indianapolis Star. “I knew I wasn’t going to drop my passion for film criticism. If I was going to do it, I might as well have it published,” he writes. Plus, movie studios won’t pay attention to a journalist whose work isn’t being read by anyone. He’s still plugging away and some of his clients are now paying a modest fee. He’s also got a site for film buffs called The Film Yap, where contributors work for, you guessed it…

Speaking of careers, a university professor has analyzed six months worth of recent job postings and discovered that traditional and non-traditional news outlets differ in their criteria for hiring journalists. Dr. Serena Carpenter, an assistant professor in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, looked at 664 online media job postings and concluded that established media organizations such as newspapers tended to favor candidates with solid writing and reporting skills while new media operations looked favorably on what she calls “adaptive expertise.” That includes broad-based experience and creative thinking.

Seth Lewis, a former Miami Herald editor and Ph.D student at the University of Texas, has joined the Nieman Journalism Lab as a contributor (paid?) specializing in journalism education and he’d like to know your ideas for what J-schools should teach. Perhaps stealing a line from the research noted above, Lewis is inclined to recommend a focus on adaptability. He defines that as the skills “to work in unpredictable settings, to generate their own funding as needed, and otherwise learn as they go.” In the process of interviewing for a faculty position at various academic institutions, Lewis says he was often asked what journalism schools should teach, which indicates that the profs at those schools are perplexed as well. Maybe you can provide him with some guidance.


Opponents of government subsidies for media organizations overlook an important detail: US media has been subsidized for 200 years, reports The New York Times. Citing a report released last week by the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California, the Times notes that government support of newspapers has actually been declining in recent years as mailing discounts have diminished laws requiring businesses to buy newspaper ads for certain kinds of legal notices have been dropped. In fact, the study’s authors estimate that annual government support has declined from more than $4 billion in 1970 to less than $2 billion today.

News organizations are starting to figure out how to monetize social networks. The Austin American-Statesman is charging for tweets and actually booking revenue. Local businesses can buy two tweets per day of up to 124 characters (to allow for retweets). The messages are labeled as ads and must prompt the reader to take action. Huffington Post is experimenting with the same idea. The New York Times is also selling packages of ads against visitors to its Facebook site. Nobody’s making much money at this yet, though.

Gannett executives demonstrated a rarely-seen attitude during this week’s earnings call: Optimism. “”We are very excited by what we are seeing,” said CEO Craig Dubow. Circulation is beginning to recover and profitability is returning to the income statement, enabling Gannett to pay down some of its debt. Profitability was still driven more by cost-cutting than by revenue growth, however. Classified revenues were down nearly 22% in the quarter and digital revenues fell 7.2% due largely to the dismal picture state of employment advertising. More coverage.

Newspaper readership continues at record levels when you factor in online traffic, according to the latest results from Nielsen Online and the Newspaper Association of America (NAA). More than 72 million people — about one quarter of all Internet users, according to the NAA — visited a newspaper site in the fourth quarter, racking up 3.2 billion monthly page views. The NAA declined to provide year-to-year comparisons, citing a change in Nielsen’s measurement technique.

By paulgillin | January 20, 2010 - 8:16 am - Posted in Google, Hyper-local

Watching the heart-rending images and stories coming out of Haiti over the last week, we’ve found ourselves worrying not only about the human tragedy but also about how much we really know about what’s going on down there.

The Haitian earthquake is a vivid example of how the world still relies upon the mainstream media to tell the stories that no one else will. The news media is often guilty of overkill, such as when Tribune Co. sent 14 reporters to cover a Super Bowl in which none of its hometown teams played or when reporters jam-pack a Presidential press conference to report on the same thing everyone can see on TV. Haiti is different. A natural disaster needs to be told through many images and personal accounts. There can’t be enough reporters in that devastated region right now.

Who’s going to fill that role as news organizations shrivel? We have more information available to us today than ever, but we rely on organizations with fewer and fewer resources to tell us about important events like the Haitian earthquake. Few bloggers are going to travel to an impoverished and devastated region on their own dime and the participants in the tragedy are too focused on survival to tweet what’s going on around them.

Calculating Media’s Value

A new research study dramatizes the continuing value of mainstream media, albeit in a small domain. The Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism looked at the news ecosystem in Baltimore for one week last summer and followed six major narratives that dominated the headlines. It concluded that while there was lots of chatter going on, eight out of 10 stories merely repeated or repackaged information published in mainstream media and 95% of all new information came from traditional media sources.

The most important source of original reporting was the Baltimore Sun, which contributed nearly half of all original news reported in the area. However, the study also found that the Sun produced 32% fewer stories than it did in 1999 and 73% fewer stories than in 1991. The good news is that researchers found 53 different outlets disseminating news. Unfortunately, “83% of stories were essentially repetitive, conveying no new information,” said Digiday Daily.  “Of the 17% that did contain new information, nearly all came from traditional media either in their legacy platforms or in new digital ones.” Radio accounted for if a pitiful 7% of all original news.

Perhaps news organizations in the future will mobilize groups of stringers to cover momentous events while cutting back on pointless trips to political conventions. Or perhaps they won’t. A 2008 survey found that, faced with shrinking staffs, newspapers were actually consolidating their coverage on fewer stories and shedding the special interest stuff that didn’t draw large audiences.

An interesting side note is that the Pew study also found that 63% of the stories were initiated by government officials, most notably the police. Since those institutions generally don’t talk to anyone but the traditional press, perhaps a bigger issue is how to democratize access to the sources of information.

Public relations blogger and new media expert Shel Holtz contributes some interesting perspective. He points out that while social media is serving as an effective means of accelerating knowledge of a news event, “it’s not panning out as a replacement for professional journalism.” Social media has had considerable value in the Haitian disaster as a fund-raising vehicle, but not as a primary news source.

The Newspaper Association of America might consider how it could use the public’s fixation on the Haitian disaster to tactfully point out that it was mainstream media that brought this story to the world. Perhaps the industry can use events like this to warm consumers to the idea that these services have value and deserve to be supported.

By the way, Google has used its satellite imaging service to dramatically document the devastation in the region. The Google Earth images are available here and will be continually updated.

By paulgillin | January 8, 2010 - 8:32 pm - Posted in Fake News, Google, Hyper-local

We don’t entirely agree with Michael Kinsley’s piece in the Atlantic this week criticizing newspapers for verbosity, but we’ll defend to the death his right to say it (briefly). Kinsley (below right) eviscerates both The New York Times and the Washington Post for their coverage of health care reform by dissecting lead paragraphs and quotation choices. Are all these words really necessary? Kinsley thinks not.

The Post, for example, leads its story with 13 words of pointless Presidential rhetoric and then proceeds to quote other lawmakers making equally vapid statements. Readers don’t care if legislators are “answering the call of history,” Kinsley notes. They want to know what happened. Unfortunately, reporters and editors have been trained to frame everything within the bigger context of “what it means,” and in the process have obscured news of the actual event.

Michael Kinsley

Perhaps the most controversial point in the piece is Kinsley’s criticism of the standard journalistic tactic of attributing analysis where attribution really isn’t needed. He cites a recent New York Times story about the unintended consequences of regulatory crackdowns on Wall Street bonuses. It turns out some executives who were forced to take stock instead of cash are now making a killing as financial stocks rebound. The reporter clearly considers this irony, Kinsley notes, but she’s not allowed to say that. So she digs up a quote from an obscure trade editor to validate what everybody already knows.

This last point is a slippery slope for news organizations. Facing competition from bloggers whose stock in trade is opinion, journalists are redoubling their efforts to sound impartial. Of course, impartiality doesn’t really exist, so reporters search for third-party sources whose opinions validate their own. Bloggers have no such limitations, so they are free to get to the point, state an opinion and move on. This has the effect of actually making blogs more efficient to read than stories in the mainstream media.

We don’t think it’s that simple. The most common complaint we hear about the decline of mainstream media is that people don’t know whom to trust anymore. By at least taking a stab at presenting an unbiased view, mainstream news organizations can save readers from having to triangulate multiple perspectives to form their own opinions. The risk, as Kinsley accurately observes, is that reporters pick and choose analysis that matches their own. That’s worse than misleading; it’s downright deceptive.

We have always believed the smart people have the capacity to hold opinions while also fairly representing multiple points of view. We see nothing wrong with the reporter in the Times piece writing a separate opinion, whether as a blog entry or something else, that states the view of an informed observer. If anything, that should encourage a reporter to present a more balanced perspective in the piece that’s labeled news. Just don’t mix the two.

Freelance Free Fall Threatens Quality

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, James Rainey laments the freefall in freelance compensation that is forcing writers to scramble to make a fraction of what they made two or three years ago. With publishers paying as little as five cents a word for assignments advertised on Craigslist, journalists are finding they can’t afford to practice their craft and are fleeing the profession.

The problem is systemic. Advertising doesn’t pay the bills the way it used to and online publishers have to shovel information into a bottomless pit in order to generate revenue. As advertising gets cheaper, the pit only gets deeper. Amateur writers and offshore competitors who work at a fraction of the traditional freelance wage are attractive new sources of words.

But what are those words about? As the pressure to generate traffic intensifies, online publishers are tempted to push out anything that will drive page views. So the news is increasingly dominated by sex, drugs and “Twilight” instead of investigative or interpretive journalism.

This is a real problem. And there are precious few ideas what to do about it. There will always be an elite cadre of journalists who can command a living wage for what they do, but the vast middle class of meat-and-potatoes reporters are seeing their livelihood seep away. A lot of publishers are working on ways to make advertising more profitable through better targeting and contextual relevance, but until those new models emerge, the freelance market will become less and less appealing for quality journalists.


Usage of newspaper websites is trending slowly upward, although the numbers reported by various sources remain surprisingly small. The Readership Institute says the percentage of people who never use newspaper websites has dropped from 70% in 2003 to 62% in 2008. The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers says about 20% of the population accessed  a newspaper site in the past 30 days. On the other side of the equation, Scarborough Research reported a couple of months ago that  74% of American adults read a paper in print or online during the past week. Pew Research reported a year ago that 35% of American rely primarily on newspapers for news. Each survey examines slightly different slices of the public, but the discrepancy between the figures from all four sources indicates that someone is asking the wrong questions.

Hyperlocal news site EveryBlock added its first major enhancements since its purchase last summer by Visitors will now be able to post their own announcements, which will show up in the localized views that the service provides. asks what the appeal of advertising will be if advertisers can simply publish their own notices for free. Presumably they’ll get some kind of enhanced placement.

Speaking of PaidContent, it’s hiring. The website is seeking reporters with specialties in either digital entertainment or the combination of tech, media and finance. Both jobs are based on the West Coast.

Former Baltimore Sun copy chief met John McIntyre continues to document the declining investments publishers are making in copy editing. He notes that Media General will consolidate the copyediting of three of its largest newspapers into one desk and that the Minneapolis Star Tribune is cutting 30 editorial jobs, with more than half of them coming from the copy desk. The paper says it won’t sacrifice quality. “Uh-huh,” McIntyre comments.

They’re taking the concept of hyperlocal seriously in the Netherlands. Telegraaf Media Groep has moved the former editor-in-chief of the Dutch tabloid Spits to lead a new venture that will create a network of hyperlocal information platforms. Details are still sketchy, but Bart Brouwers says the venture will ideally incorporate existing local bloggers. He also has some interesting ideas about slanting advertising to be written in more of a blog style to engage the audience rather than pushing messages. Imagine that.

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, former Financial World magazine and 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


  • 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.


  • 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.
  • 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.


  • 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, 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


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 24, 2009 - 10:22 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local

Animated_Christmas_TreeThe Guardian’s Dan Kennedy has an intelligent piece about why the great newspaper collapse of 2009 didn’t pan out as expected. If you remember, early this year there were dramatic closures in major markets like Denver and Seattle, along with threats of similar harsh medicine in San Francisco and Boston. But as 2009 comes to a close, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Boston Globe are still alive and kicking and there have been no major newspaper shutdowns in nine months. Kennedy points out that publishers took strong action to reverse the tide after that scary first quarter, cutting back sharply on expenses, boosting subscription prices and finding novel new ways to generate revenue. They also had considerable success whittling down the debt that has paralyzed many of their operations

Most daily newspapers, in fact, operate in the black but massive debt accumulated during multiple rounds of consolidation earlier this decade were threatening their existence. The threat is still there, but it looks like there was more fat in newspaper operating budgets than many observers had believed. Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth has pointed out that her paper employs twice as many journalists as it did during the Watergate years, even after multiple rounds of cutbacks.

Time to celebrate? Hardly. This industry is not a growth story and probably never will be, but it does appear that publishers are finding ways to gracefully manage their print operations down to sustainable levels. Early experience indicates that online news publishers can the profitable at about 20% of the expense level of their print counterparts. It’s likely that some publishers will figure out ways to get there without shutting down the brand entirely. Of course the price of advertising is also in decline, but that’s a different problem entirely.

It turns out that shares a Gannett Corp. were a heckuva buy in March when they plummeted to $1.85. The stock hit $15.49 on Wednesday as a leading analyst upgraded his outlook for the newspaper industry, saying December could be the industry’s best month in three years. Well Fargo Securities analyst John Janedis said the slide in advertising is slowing and that ad revenues could be down only 8% or 9% next year, compared to more than 30% this year. Janedis raised his rating on Gannett to “outperform” from “underperform” and on New York Times Co. to “market Perform” from “underperform.”

Not in Our Back Yard

We continue to be amazed at how newspapers bury the lead when announcing bad news about themselves. Check out this press release from the Washington Times as reprinted on Talking Points Memo:

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.

Offered as a combination controlled market and paid general interest newspaper at a price of $1.00, the new print edition will be available at retail outlets and newspaper boxes throughout the D.C. metropolitan area. The current newspaper’s last Sunday edition will publish on December 27.

That’s right: the news is that the Times is killing its Sunday edition. This is on top of laying off 40% of its staff a few weeks ago. The paper is also reportedly considering eliminating its sports section entirely. Perhaps the Times reporters wouldn’t bury the lead on this particular story, but the PR department surely did.


Slate’s Jack Shafer throws cold water on publishers’ love affair with e-readers. Citing slick recent demos by magazines like Sports Illustrated, Esquire, GQ and Wired of their content running on handheld tablets, Shafer harkens back to the days of the Washington Post‘s experiment and Newsweek on CD-ROM. Publishers thought those delivery vehicles were going to reinvent their business but the efforts crashed and burned for reasons ranging from the public apathy to the relentless commoditization of information. E-readers are simply another delivery device, Shafer asserts and the tiny sales generated by iPhone apps aren’t going to replace revenue lost from print advertising. The devices also negate the tactile and visual appeal of a print publication, reducing the editorial product to just another stream of content.

The New Bedford Standard-Times becomes the latest paper to start charging readers for online access. Its rather convoluted plan announced this week gives readers three stories per month for free, seven more stories if they register and full access for $4.60 per week. That package also includes a print subscription, which usually costs $4.23. So online access for existing readers comes at an additional charge of $.37 per week.

If you’re looking for an inspiring message to give journalism school students, you can’t do much better than the one NewsLab’s Deborah Potter invented for graduates of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Today’s journalism professionals need to be inquisitive, resourceful and versatile, she says. Yes, news organizations are contracting and pay levels are shrinking but journalists have an unprecedented opportunity to reach a global audience. You’re on your own more than you’ve ever been, but that can be energizing as much as it’s terrifying. The future of journalism is “what you DO, irrespective of where you do it…your credibility depends on HOW you do what you do, not where you do it.” Believe, us it reads better in context. Potter’s also confident that revenue models will emerge that make journalism sustainable.

If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about augmented reality, Jeff Jarvis has a nice collection of video clips showing different ways in which the commendation of images, databases and mobile access can make the world around us more accessible. Here’s one:

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.

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