By paulgillin | April 10, 2008 - 7:46 am - Posted in Fake News, Paywalls

All News Must Stand On Its Own

Encyclopedia Britannica kicks off a “Newspapers & the Net Forum” with an excerpt from Nick Carr’s new book, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google.He states what publishers have known for some time: the shift from print to online delivery changes the product entirely. No longer can high-margin classified ads support expensive investigative reporting. In today’s world, every item of content is an island and must stand on its own merit. Advertisers want contextual adjacency. This creates pressure to publish stories about high-definition TVs instead of stories about Iraq.

Among the more than two dozen comments is one that notes “I have a copy of Newsweek with a cover story entitled, if I am recalling correctly, “Are Newspapers Dead?” The magazine is from around 1965. So this debate has been going on a long time.” True, but this is the first time those predictions really appear to be coming true.

The Forum goes on all week with some other provocative topics that I promise to get around to reading. Here’s the index page.

Rethinking the Value of News

Tom Abate thinks newspaper publishers could learn a few things from the airline industry. In other words, figure out how to charge different prices for the same product. As he sees it, the background notes that a reporter collects, which would never be of interest to a mainstream newspaper audience, could be a gold mine to businesses that specialized in that area. Use a blog to publish those notes and attract those special-interest readers and then sell ads to businesses that will pay top dollar to reach those people.

Abate laments all the attention being paid to, a snarky linklog with a juvenile sense of humor. Newspapers shouldn’t be trying to out-Fark Fark, he says (although, if you look at Fark, it sends a lot of traffic to newspaper websites), but should focus on attracting the highly engaged readers who appreciate depth and context. There’s sensible thinking behind his comments, although the airline industry isn’t exactly the gold standard of business models and the devil would be in the details.

Abate would probably find a soul mate in Ted Gup, a journalism professor at Case Western. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, he laments his students’ appalling ignorance of basic current events.

Quoting:”Nearly half of a recent class could not name a single country that bordered Israel. In an introductory journalism class, 11 of 18 students could not name what country Kabul was in, although we have been at war there for half a decade. Last fall only one in 21 students could name the U.S. secretary of defense. Given a list of four countries — China, Cuba, India, and Japan — not one of those same 21 students could identify India and Japan as democracies. Their grasp of history was little better. The question of when the Civil War was fought invited an array of responses — half a dozen were off by a decade or more. Some students thought that Islam was the principal religion of South America, that Roe v. Wade was about slavery, that 50 justices sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, that the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1975. You get the picture, and it isn’t pretty.”

In his view, we’re raising a generation of kids who are so distracted and self-absorbed that they’ve tuned out the rest of the world. And part of the problem is that the don’t read newspapers or watch serious television.

Confidence in the Future

The publisher of the LA Times says the company is getting it together. In a memo to employees published on Los Angeles Times Pressmens 20 Year Club, David Hiller talks of adding 400 new regional advertising accounts, expanding Spanish language products and topping 100 million page views online the last two months running. There’s a new organization, new management and a commitment to build a vision and financial model that is sustainable for the long term. He also mentions in passing that there will only be merit raises this year and that they’ll be three months late. The Pressmen tap dance on that news. More to come during an April 30 town meeting.

Meanwhile, the Albany Times Union believes in the future of print. The company’s about to spend $55 million to enlarge its headquarters and install a new printing press that will print color on all pages. The additional 70,000 sq. ft. faciliity is also intended to position the Times Union as a printer for other publications in the region.

Silver Linings in Pink Slips

Slate’s Jack Shafer sees some goodness in the latest wave of buyouts: a chance to bring new blood into the organization. The boomers who sit atop the editorial pyramids at all the big publications are too invested in the way things have always been done, he says. Get some whippernsappers in there for whom experimentation is a way of life.

Quoting: “‘There goes our institutional memory,’ somebody usually laments whenever a graybeard leaves a news organization. The speaker is usually another graybeard who, if pressed, couldn’t tell you what is so vital about the institutional memory wheeling out the door.”

Buyouts can mean rebirth for those taking the buyout, too, Shafer says. Longtime Washington Post political reporter Thomas B. Edsall is now at Huffington Post, where he says seeing his work appear without the meddling of a dozen editors is a rebirth.

And Finally

Leave it to Canada to buck the North American trend. Newspapers are actually doing pretty well up there, says Editors Weblog: “Total 2007 revenues, including online operations, slipped only 0.8%, with print advertising decreasing 2.4%. In contrast, online revenue grew 29% over 2006. Newspaper circulation as well took a very minor fall in 2007, decreasing 1.2% after a 3.8% rise the previous year.”

A Racepoint Group blogger saw some value in my opinions and interviewed me about the future of newspapers. The fellow is a regular NDW reader, which makes the whole thing rather incestuous. Or perhaps circular. In any case, I blather.



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