By paulgillin | May 24, 2018 - 10:20 am - Posted in Uncategorized

The United States Holocaust Museum is conducting an interesting exercise in crowdsourced research using newspaper archives from the 1930s and 40s. Called “History Unfolded,”, the project asks students, teachers and anyone else who’s interested to look in local newspapers for accounts of 34 different Holocaust-era events that took place in the U. S. and Europe, and to submit those articles to the national database.
As of May 24, nearly 3,000 people had scanned and uploaded more than 17,600 articles. The contributions not only form an archive of the “first draft of history,” but also deliver a historical snapshot of how the Nazi threat was perceived in its earliest days. It’s fascinating reading and a treasure trove for history buffs.

By paulgillin | April 28, 2010 - 12:43 pm - Posted in Fake News, Solutions

Bobbie Carlton of Mass Innovation NightsMeet Bobbie Carlton. She’s come up with an idea that every newspaper publisher in New England should have had but didn’t. Her success demonstrates how news publishers can reinvent themselves and survive – maybe even thrive – but only if they have completely rethink what they do.

Carlton isn’t a publisher. She’s a career public relations professional who set out a little more than a year ago to figure out a way to drum up new business in a dismal economy. She knew that there were still plenty of innovative companies in the area that were starved for visibility. Finding investors and customers in a crummy economy was a time-consuming, trial-and-error process. The few conferences that were available for such purposes were either expensive or subjected applicants to long and seemingly arbitrary approvals processes.

Carlton hit on the idea of a cheap, frictionless approach she called Mass Innovation Nights. The events would be free to everyone. Entrepreneurs could show their stuff and hope to catch a big break.

Carlton borrowed meeting space from a local museum.  She partnered with Dan Englander of High Rock Media to build a website and a Twitter account and started promoting Mass Innovation Nights entirely through online word of mouth.  There was no hype and no inflated expectations. If the event bombed, then attendees got what they paid for.

Only the event didn’t bomb. MassInno, as the affair is now known, is a raging success, with exhibitors now competing for limited space. The most recent meetup was tweeted more than 600 times and drew more than 400 attendees. Carlton is toying with the idea of syndicating the idea across the country.

Today, Carlton has so much business coming in from startups that were boosted by Mass Innovation Nights that she’s having to refer work elsewhere. That makes her a popular person in the depressed local PR economy. Partner High Rock is booming, too.

Why was one woman able to exploit a simple idea at almost no cost while media institutions with hundreds of employees stood by and watched? Because newspapers didn’t think it was their job. They believed they were in the advertising delivery business, not the business of growing the local economy. Newspapers that continue to think this way will shrivel and die over the next few years. But there is a path to salvation. It’s in doing what Bobbie Carlton is doing on a grand scale. But how many publishers are willing to make the sacrifices to seize that opportunity?

The Folly of Paywalls

Newspaper publishers are confronting their current business challenges in the wrong way. They’re trying to battle online competition by becoming more like their competitors, building massive online presences to serve global audiences when their advantage is inherently local. They’re also hyper-focused on a source of revenue – advertising – that will only become more competitive and less profitable in the future. They need to change the rules.

The eyes of the industry are currently trained on The New York Times, which is trying to re-bottle the evil genie it released 15 years ago when it elected to give away its content for free. The Times’ paywall experiment will be modestly successful because it is The New York Times. Publishers in Baltimore, Dallas, St. Louis and hundreds of other cities will be unable to exploit the idea, however, because they lack the Times’ brand and international reach. Paywalls are a waste of time.

Instead, publishers should concentrate on diversifying their revenue streams away from advertising and into local business services that promise stability, growth and a future. This is a market in which they have a natural advantage. Small business is the one great untapped revenue opportunity left in America, which is why giants like American Express and Bank of America are practically throwing money at the market. But these global companies lack the local connections and the feet on the street to truly become partners in small business success. Local newspapers have that advantage.

Most major metro dailies have long regarded local business advertising as the cherry on top of the sundae of display contracts from national advertisers and department stores.  Local businesses fueled the classified section, but counted for only a small part of the total revenue picture. Now national advertisers are marketing directly to customers, classified advertising has collapsed and local businesses are publishers’ only hope for a future.

The Local Opportunity

Look at the merchants in your local community. Most don’t know the first thing about marketing. Few are even very good at managing their businesses. Marketing is tough for little guys. They spend their dollars on a mishmash of coupons, flyers, Yellow Pages listings, classified ads and occasional radio and television.  Few of them track ROI or have any means to assess the performance of these investments. Online, they’re practically invisible. They know nothing about search marketing or customer relationship management (CRM). In short, the kinds of sophisticated analytics and tools that big companies use are out of reach to mom-and-pops. Lots of businesses want to market better, but they don’t have anyone to teach them how or give them a cost-effective platform to do so.

News organizations can be that platform. They can start by delivering a basic package of marketing and business services on a subscription basis and expand as local conditions dictate. They can potentially manage many of the overhead and backroom activities that sap small business owners’ time. Here are five ways news organizations can monetize this opportunity. There are plenty more where these come from:

Website Development – Few small businesses know anything about the Web.  Outside of restaurants and entertainment providers, most have websites that are little more than online brochures, if they have websites at all. Their sites aren’t optimized for search, don’t deliver calls to action and have no means to retain visitors as subscribers. Forget about analytics. If small business owners want to adopt new platforms like blogs or Twitter, they either pay outside consultants or figure out the tools through extensive trial and error.

This is a huge opportunity for news organizations. These companies have long-term relationships with business customers, local credibility and expertise in publishing. They can deliver advanced online features like e-commerce, e-mail marketing, search optimization and analytics at low cost by leveraging economies of scale. There is no reason why the local newspaper publisher can’t also be the dominant provider of online services to local businesses.

Affinity Programs – Every hotel, airline, national retailer and supermarket chain has a loyalty program these days.  The reason is simple: they work. Customers who carry affinity cards typically buy between 10% and 30% more product from the merchants who offer the programs than from those who don’t. Unfortunately, few small-business owners have the option of participating.  The administrative overhead is high and customers won’t carry cards for every merchant in their community. News organizations could set up these plans as cooperatives, allowing groups of noncompetitive businesses to participate at a modest cost.  Commercial grade analytics could be bought and scaled to provide reporting that demonstrates the return to business owners.  Revenue would come from the fees paid by the participants and potentially even subscribers to premium buyers clubs.

Events – Lots of small businesses would like to use event marketing to share their expertise and meet new prospects, but if you’ve ever tried to stage a promotional event, you know what an ordeal it is. The details and hidden costs can be overwhelming and few small businesses have the means to manage the leads that result.  Again, publishers can come to the rescue.  By building expertise at event management and applying it to different businesses within the community, publishers can provide targeted thematic events (for example, outdoor recreation or pet care) at a scale and cost that makes them affordable to local businesses. They can gather and manage leads that result and create marketing programs that optimize them for their customers. The news organization becomes a business partner and consultant, not just an outlet for advertising. There’s even the possibility of generating fees from event attendees in some cases.

Value-Added Advertising – Craigslist has won the war for the low end of the recruitment advertising market.  Publishers need to stop mourning the loss of this commodity business and move the bar higher. Christopher Ryan and Steve Outing published a manifesto for competing with Craigslist more than a year ago. Unfortunately, few publishers seemed to have noticed.  We won’t try to reinvent their wheel; has some great ideas publishers can apply to take advantage of their local reach and marginalize Craigslist.

For example, they can offer real estate agents or car dealers video walk-throughs of the products they sell. Or they can provide peer recommendations like Angie’s List (more than one million members at $35/year). They can tweet ads and push them to mobile phones. They can even provide transaction and fulfillment services that Craigslist can’t. In short, they can do all the things that Craigslist doesn’t do and build these features into a monthly subscription service that makes them all but invisible to the customer.

Transaction Fees – If you’ve ever used Ticketmaster, you’ve experienced the sticker shock of discovering that those $40 Nine Inch Nails tickets carry an eight dollar “convenience fee.” But you pay it because it’s easier than standing in line for two hours. Publishers can tap into that revenue stream.

The local garden show probably isn’t interested in ticket brokering. It may outsource the task to TicketMaster for the sake of convenience but it would really be interested in using a local organization that could combine fees with demographic marketing, behavioral targeting and amenities like e-commerce. Who better to deliver that experience than a service provider that knows the local community? Do you think restaurant or hair salon owners would like to have automated scheduling? The newspaper could provide that, too, with fees from the buyer, the seller or both.

Bottom Line

The five scenarios outlined above are just a sample of the opportunities available to local publishers once they stop thinking of themselves as advertising vessels and become partners in the success of local businesses. At their core, newspapers are marketing tools. Instead of simply providing advertising space, publishers can become marketing consultants, value-added resellers and service bureaus. They can offer the kind of expertise and analytics at a price that mom-and-pops can finally afford.

There are many more possibilities: Publishers could offer accounting, tax preparation, creative services, executive recruitment, business telephony, technical support, facilities management, order fulfillment and so on. Where they lack in-house expertise, they could partner with local providers under an approved-vendor program. Does this mean publishers might compete with their prospective advertisers? Sure, but how many of those companies are advertising now, anyway? Members of the approved-vendor program could potentially buy bigger schedules from the publishers who feed them business.

Back to the Future

Few publishers will choose to pursue the business model outlined here. It’s too hard. Departments such as circulation will need to be downsized or eliminated. Sales people must be retrained or released. Experts must be hired in new areas and partnership networks will have to be formed. New services will have to be created and priced, software licenses acquired and technology infrastructure put in place. These changes are painful, but reinvention isn’t pretty. It’s easier to sit and hope that paywalls will succeed in letting you do what you’ve always done.  Good luck with that.

If this transformation sounds radical or risky, consider that it’s already been done. More than 20 years ago, many computer companies faced the same kind of near-death experience that confronts newspaper publishers today. Their core hardware products, which generated 80% margins, were suddenly assaulted by cheap, standardized components. Many of these companies died or were acquired, but a few, like IBM and Hewlett-Packard, took the strong medicine that was necessary to transform themselves. Today, IBM derives more than half its revenue from services, a revenue stream that barely even existed 20 years ago. Its 2008 revenue was a record $103 billion. HP made the shift even earlier. Twenty years ago, it was less than one-fifth IBM’s size. In 2009, it was bigger than IBM.

Thanks for sticking with us through this long essay. Now tell us what you think. Are we off the wall or could business services be the prescription that nurses this dying industry back to health?

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 | October 6, 2009 - 9:12 am - Posted in Facebook, Paywalls

gourmet-magazineThere was a bloodbath at Condé Nast yesterday. The publisher, which has been rocked by the declines in lifestyle advertising, closed four magazines – Gourmet, Modern Bride, Elegant Bride and Cookie – and laid off at least 180 people. More turmoil seems likely as Conde Nast sorts through the problem of deciding which staff members to keep and which to boot in order to make way for them. The news comes as September ad page figures for the publisher showed a stunning fall of nearly 1,700 pages. Allure, Gourmet, Self and W were all off 50% or more. Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl is tweeting her feelings about the whole affair.

Reuters reports that Time, Inc. is spearheading an effort to assemble a consortium of U.S. magazine publishers who will cooperate on digital delivery of their products. The wire service says the effort could be announced as early as next month with a “digital newsstand” on the market sometime next year.

You can already buy many magazines on the Amazon Kindle, but publishers hate Amazon’s fee structure, which skives off 70% of the subscription revenue. The digital newsstand would be device-independent, meaning that readers could download magazines to devices from Apple, Sony, E Ink and others. Why Amazon doesn’t move more forcefully to consolidate its hold on the burgeoning market continues to be a mystery to us.

The Economist, which continues to defy the freefall in print circulation, is raising the barriers to free online distribution but still not charging for new content. The magazine will start charging for all content more than 90 days old (previously, the threshold was one year) and will make its digital print replica edition available only to paying subscribers. However, new stuff will still be free to the world online. It’s not like the Economist’s back is to the wall: its 1.39 million circulation was up nearly 7% in the most recent six-month reporting period and operating profits climbed 26% on a 17% revenue increase.

BTW, magazines are only a sidelight for us. If you want to follow the industry with a Death Watch twist, checkout Magazine Death Pool.

Poynter’s Rick Edmonds is expecting to see newspaper circulation results for the first six months of 2009 and he believes a Halloween release date could be appropriate. A variety of factors are contributing to accelerating circulation declines, including the recession, publishers’ efforts to exercise more discipline over their subscriber lists and a continued flight to online alternatives. Edmonds is estimating that the drop in newspaper circulation soon to be reported will exceed the record 7% year-over-year figure for the period ending in March. This will accelerate revenue losses, which will lead to more cost cuts and smaller issue sizes that fewer people will want to pay for. There’s also the problem of coupon and circular distribution. Unlike display advertising, those revenues drop in direct proportion to circulation.

The deadline has passed for new suitors to emerge for Chicago’s Sun-Times Media Group (STMG) and nobody stepped forward. That leaves local investor Jim Tyree as the sole hope of keeping the bankrupt company afloat. Tyree has said he won’t do the deal unless the unions agree to a 15% pay cut. Five of the 16 unions at STMG have said they won’t agree to the terms. The parties have until late December to agree to terms, but the company’s current management says it doesn’t have enough money to stay afloat until then.

Members of the Newspaper Guild at the Boston Globe must be seeing red now that their union chief has been formally charged with misappropriating funds. Daniel Totten spearheaded the union’s disastrous negotiations with The New York Times Company a few months ago. He’s been charged with, among other things, faking a countersignature on his own paycheck. The union’s governing board takes up the matter tomorrow night.

The executive director of the Nevada Press Association says newspapers won’t die; they’ll just shift shape sort of like the keyboard did. “When computers came along, with ‘word processing,’ there was no longer any need for a typewriter,” writes Barry Smith. “I used to have two typewriters — one at home, one at work. Now I look around and I have at least six keyboards, not counting the touch pad on my phone. You have to look at what they do, not what they are.” That’s a great analogy, except that you have to remember that IBM was able to sell a Personal Computer for a whole lot more than a Selectric.

If all goes well, we could be removing the Claremont (N.H.) Eagle Times from the R.I.P. list next week. An anonymous e-mail says that the paper, which closed in July, will reopen on October 12 as a weekdaily. It also says that the Weekly Flea, an advertiser also owned by the Eagle Times, restarted publication last week. We are unable to find any published verification of this information.

By paulgillin | September 3, 2009 - 7:18 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local, Paywalls, Solutions

Jeff vonKaenel has spent more than 30 years in alternative weekly publishing and he has some interesting observations about the paradox of publishing success. The CEO of the News & Review newspapers in central California is a student of media history, and he notes that the trend toward consolidation and monopolization that began in the 1970s dumbed down newspapers’ editorial product and set them up for failure when the rules changed.

The real demon was blandness. Alternative weekly publishers know that advertisers don’t like to run next to controversial editorial content. This is one market dynamic that keeps the alternative press small. Monopoly newspaper publishers aren’t small, however. They thrive on big-ticket schedules built on co-op ad dollars from giant national brands. They can’t afford to piss off million-dollar clients, so they intentionally keep the product inoffensive.

“It’s safer to make an outrageous statement about Saddam Hussein than to make a mild criticism of a local car dealer,” vonKaenel writes. “It’s something newspapers don’t like to admit. It has always mattered who pays the bills.” This is true. How many times can you remember the automotive section of your daily newspaper offering advice on how to get a better deal on a used car?

This dilemma creates a scenario that we’ve seen play out again and again: big industries and big companies collapse hard on the heels of their most successful years. That’s because success creates risk-aversion which leads to mediocre products (see General Motors). That strategy works fine until the rules change, and it served newspaper publishers very well for more than 30 years. But, as Bill Wyman pointed out in a recent essay, it also led them to create mediocre, inoffensive and bland products. When a low-cost alternative medium emerged, newspapers were poorly equipped to retain readers because, well, they sucked.

VanKaenel’s essay has one interesting twist: It implies that the current fascination with hyperlocal media could be in for a hard reality check. Noting that alternative weeklies’ coverage of music and nightlife topics has been heavily influenced by the willingness of those kinds of advertisers to run in those papers, he suggests that hyperlocal publishing will by driven by market forces. In other words, don’t expect a lot of critical stories about local merchants if those merchants are paying the bills. This reality actually could drive new-media publishers to broaden their scope. After all, they can’t afford to piss off thousand-dollar clients.

Orange County Register Owner in Bankruptcy

The small print of the bankruptcy filing by Freedom Communications Holdings Inc. contains a startling figure: circulation at the Orange Country Register is off 23% in the past four years. How can any business survive when it’s on a run rate to lose more than half its customers in a decade? The problem is made worse by the fact that the newspaper business model scales down so badly. The Register can’t cut back by 23% on printing or delivery expenses because of the high fixed costs involved. That means that operational expenses must be chopped to a disproportionate degree in order to make up for the shortfall. That comes directly out of the quality of the product, which leads to reader dissatisfaction, which creates bigger circulation declines.

This is why the newspaper industry is in a death spiral. The only way to turn the situation around is to dramatically improve the quality of the product, but economics demand that quality must take the biggest hit in order to keep the operation afloat. And so another noble publishing franchise falls into the hands of its bankers. They are always the owners of last resort for businesses whom, in their misguided greed, they chose to support.

Divide by 2

Did we say spiral? Alan Mutter has some sobering statistics. He projects that US newspaper revenues will fall $10 billion this year, making the industry about half the size it was in 1986. The most devastating collapse has been in classified advertising. For example, recruitment advertising was a billion-dollar quarterly business as recently as 2006. In the most recent quarter, it generated $202 million in revenue. The story is similar in automotive and real-estate advertising. While the recession has hit these categories hard, it’s hard to believe that they will ever again resemble their former size now that the Web provides nearly limitless advertising inventory.

By paulgillin | August 5, 2009 - 11:42 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local, Solutions

Sprengelmeyer“If you look very closely, the small-town newspaper’s business model does and always has resembled a miniature version of the direction the big-city papers will eventually reach.”

That’s one of several gems in this splendidly written essay by ME Sprengelmeyer (right), a former Washington correspondent for the Rocky Mountain News and now the proud publisher and editor of the Guadalupe County Communicator, “the sixth-smallest weekly in the 36th most populous state.”

Writing on the blog of John Temple, former editor and publisher of the Rocky, Sprengelmeyer explains how his 18-month track across the US chasing the presidential candidates had the secondary objective of helping him find a new home in small-town journalism.

What he found was a century-old model that looks much like the future of big market dailies. ” They have tiny staffs – only what the day-to-day cash flow can sustain. They aren’t afraid of reader-generated content. They outsource many functions, such as printing and distribution…they keep their communities addicted to the print product because they…do not give away a whole lot of material for free.”

Most don’t make much money — in fact, some lose money — but that’s usually because they aren’t particularly well run. Big media organizations don’t bother with small markets and even if they cared, the cost of opening bureaus in thousands of small towns would cripple them.

Sprengelmeyerwrites about the “caravan of great journalists” who showed up to help him relaunch his paper. They spent the weekend strategizing, mapping the local area and redesigning the product. Then they left. “I cried some more,” Sprengelmeyer writes, “because then I was alone again, facing my first week on the job with the scariest boss in the world: myself.”

The account is an inspiring story of personal discovery and reinvention. It may make you cry, too.

The Times Regrets All the Errors

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 files an explanation with this blunt assessment: “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, is apparently much admired for her intellectual coverage of television, but is so careless with facts that in 2005, “she was assigned a single copy editor responsible for checking her facts.” Those were the days…

According to Columbia Journalism Review, Stanley’s latest miscues have vaulted her into the top five most corrected journalists on the Times staff again and guaranteed her more special attention. Hoyt’s play-by-play is a fascinating glimpse into the operations of a journalistic institution and the mishaps that can bedevil even the most rigorous quality process.

It’s also a commentary upon editors’ willingness to overlook screw-ups because of perceived countervailing virtues. Be sure to read Mark Potts’ remarks upon the Times incident, in which he relates a few war stories of careless reporters he’s known. “I edited a reporter who had little or no concept of how to use commas; another who would submit long stories with gaps labeled ‘insert transitions here;’ and a third who infamously spelled a type of citrus fruit as ‘greatfruit,’” he writes. His account will make you alternately laugh and groan.

Daylife Draws Big-Media Attention

The New York Observer profiles Daylife, a startup that is partnering with media companies — and increasingly with commercial clients — to build cells of thematic content. With a small staff of 26, the New York City-based venture has already signed up the Washington Post, NPR and USA Today as clients. It takes a different approach to reporting the news. Editors are skilled not only at identifying important stories but also assembling webpages on the fly that combine all sorts of widgetized information.

The big difference between the Daylife approach and that of conventional media, explains founder Upendra Shardanand, is that Daylife assumes that news is a living and evolving organism, not a shrink-wrapped package. Investors include the odd pairing of The New York Times and Craig Newmark, whose Craigslist is considered the great Satan by many in the newspaper industry. Headlined “The Aggregator That Newspapers Like,” the story merits at least a quick read from publishers seeking reinvention, because these guys are doing something right.


Newspaper websites attracted more than 70 million visitors in June, who collectively spent 2.7 billion minutes browsing 3.5 billion pages, according to the Newspaper Association of America (NAA).  The figures are part of a new measurement methodology developed by Nielsen that measures a larger sample size and reports more granular information, according to an NAA press release.

The trade group has been on a campaign recently to stress the value of newspaper advertising.  It released a report last month showing that six in 10 US adults use newspapers to help make purchase decisions and that newspaper ads are more valuable than ads in any other medium.

The NAA’s timing may not be so great. Online ad spending declined 5% in the second quarter and the situation isn’t expected to improve much until the middle of next year, according to two reports released today. In the US, the rate of decline was 7%, or slightly above the global average. Classified ads fell 17% and display ads were down 12%. A J.P. Morgan report issued this morning said that search advertising, which has been one of the few bright spots in the market over the last year, dropped 2% in the second quarter, mainly due to poor results at Yahoo and AOL. Results were also dragged down by a 31% decline in ad sales at

Google has quietly quadrupled the number of articles in its News Archive Search service. The oldest newspaper digitized to date is this June 2, 1753 edition of the Halifax Gazette. Google hopes to make money by selling targeted advertising against the archives, a market that has traditionally been the source of some revenue for publishers themselves.


Two groups of former Los Angeles Times journalists have organized themselves into contract editorial groups selling journalism and photography. They’re called the Journalism Shop and Pro Photography Network.

The Boston Globe is said to be considering an option to become a nonprofit organization as a way to bail itself out of its current financial woes. Columnist Howie Carr of the rival Herald pens this vicious satire of the idea, calling his crosstown rivals “the bowtied bumkissers.” If you’re a disciple of editorial savagery, there is no more skilled practitioner than Carr.

The Fresno Bee will begin charging 29 cents a week for its TV supplement.

If you like the Amazon Kindle, you’re going to want to keep an eye on a new product from Britain’s Plastic Logic, which is due to launch early next year. The razor-thin reader will reportedly sell for around $300 and will have a flexible screen that makes it easy to carry. It’s also larger than the Kindle, which should warm the hearts of newspaper executives who don’t want to give up their broadsheet format. Here’s a video:

By paulgillin | June 23, 2009 - 8:51 am - Posted in Fake News

We had the good fortune this year to get connected to the Knight Digital Media Center at the University of Southern California for a series of seminars that help publishers connect with the new world of social networking.  Last week we delivered a brand new presentation on how to diversify revenue sources and get away from the traditional over-reliance on advertising.  It turns out there are a lot of ways to monetize a publishing business.  See the presentation below.

By paulgillin | June 2, 2009 - 2:14 pm - Posted in Facebook, Google, Hyper-local

US Newspaper Classified SalesThe Newspaper Association of America made no attempt to draw attention to its release of the first quarter financial results for America’s newspapers — and with good reason.  Sales skidded an unprecedented 29.4%, driven by disasterous results in classified advertising amid the weakest economy in 60 years.  Alan Mutter notes that if this trend continues, the US newspaper industry could close out 2009 with total sales of less than $30 billion — a 40% drop in just four years.

The wreckage is across the board — even online sales were off more than 13% — but the worst-hit sectors were cyclical ones: Employment classified advertising down 67.4%; Real estate classifieds off 45.6% and automotive classifieds down 43.4%.  All in all, classified ad sales were down 42.3% for the quarter. “In records published by the NAA that date to 1950, there is no precedent for the sort of decline suffered in the first three months of this year,” Mutter writes.

Slate’s Jack Shafer has a historical review of the factors that got the newspaper industry into this fix.  Publishers knew by the 1970s that they were toast, he says.  Demographic factors were to blame.  The flight of professionals out of the cities and into the suburbs challenge the economic model of the big dailies, and their halfhearted attempts to regain momentum mostly failed.  Some executives took consolation in the fact that their circulation was growing despite the reality that the gains badly lack lagged overall population growth.  The game was really over long before the story began to show up in the financial results.

More Fodder for Pay-Wall Debate

In the continuing debate over whether newspapers should charge for content, Martin Langeveld contributes perspective from Albert Sun, a University of Pennsylvania math and economics student with an interest in journalism.

Speaking at a recent conference put on by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute  at the Missouri School of Journalism, Sun suggested that newspapers shouldn’t be too monolithic in their approach to pricing.  Rather, they should take inspiration from the airline industry, which charges different prices for the same seats depending on traveler needs.

In the same manner, newspapers should look at their product as a collection of boutique services, each with different price tiers depending upon perceived value.  For example, a casual reader may pay nothing for a weather forecast, but a weather bug might part with $10 a month for detailed technical reports and historical records. Langeveld writes:

Establishing a single price point for online content…might work for a time but is not revenue-maximizing in the long run.  The right way entails the exploitation of a variety of niches all along the curve – and therein lies the problem, since the culture of newspapers is still mainly that of a monolithic, one-size-fits-all daily product, whether in print or online.

In another post, Langeveld flags a quote from Denver Post publisher and MediaNews Group CEO  Dean Singleton in an interview with the Colorado Statesman:

We will be moving away from giving away most of our content online. We will be redoing our online to appeal certainly to a younger audience than the print does, but we’ll have less and less newspaper-generated content and more and more information listings and user-generated content.

Devalued Journalists Fight Back

We've been outsourced Two stories caught our eye this week about journalists attempting to skewer the current trend toward devaluing their profession.

Three Connecticut alternative publications – the Hartford Advocate, New Haven Advocate and Fairfield County Weeklyoutsourced all of the editorial content for last week’s issue to freelance journalists in India. But instead of burying the move, the papers actively promoted debate with a provocative headline: “Sorry, we’ve Been Outsourced. This Issue Made In India.” And to drive home the absurdity of the whole affair, the editors assigned Indian journalists to principally cover local news, entertainment and culture.

The move had elements of a publicity stunt playing off of American capitalism’s current love affair with all things Indian. However, editors made a sincere effort to see the project through, producing nine stories about local affairs written by reporters half a world away. They wrote about their experience:

If our owners want to replace us with Indians, all we can say is good luck! If they find locating, hiring and keeping after these writers half the challenge we did, they might think twice about replacing us. Far from giving us a week off, it took practically the entire editorial staff to assign, edit, manage and assemble this project.

The myth that Indian reporters work for peanuts was belied by one Indian veteran who asked for $1 a word, which is less than what the publishers pay in the US. The experiment also had its lighthearted moments such as when one overseas journalist shared a vindaloo recipe with the publicist for a mind-reading act.

Michelle Rafter writes about the questionable editorial oversight practices at content aggregators. These Web-based organizations, which principally republish material from contributors in exchange for a share of the revenue, have been labeled in some quarters as the future of journalism.  If so, then the experience of Los Angeles freelancer L. J. Williamson indicates that they have a long way to go.

Williamson wrote a series of articles for, a string of localized aggregation sites targeting major cities.  She noticed that her stories were passing through to the site with little or no editing.  Editors seemed far more interested in traffic-driving strategies.  So Williamson began concocting increasingly outrageous topics full of  “exaggerations and half-truths. I also wrote a series of preposterous articles on topics like why peanuts should be banned, why panic was a totally appropriate response to the swine flu outbreak, and why schoolchildren were likely to die if they were allowed to play dangerous games such as tag,” she wrote in an e-mail to’s Daily FishbowlLA. “And no one at Examiner noticed or cared what I said or did for quite some time.”

Williamson was finally outed by lawyers for one party that was victimized by her reports.  She was “fired” from a job that had never paid her and had to settle for the satisfaction of telling her story to the world.


The Wall Street Journal says a private equity firm, HM Capital, is close to a deal to acquire Blethen Maine Newspapers, which owns the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, and two smaller newspapers. The small chain has been on the block for more than a year, during which time it has become an albatross around the neck of the Seattle Times, which owns Blethen.

The Nieman Foundation has suspended its annual conference on narrative journalism, dealing another blow to the already dwindling support for long-form storytelling.

The long-form clearly isn’t dead at Denver-based 5280 magazine.  It has an Investigation Of The Circumstances Leading Up To The Closure Of The Rocky Mountain News that runs to nearly 10,000 words.  We haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but feel free to knock yourself out and send us a summary.

Writing on True/Slant, Ethan Porter says Matt Drudge’s popularity is waning. A Drudge Report story last week about a potentially incendiary quote from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went nowhere, he says.  Could Drudge’s conservative politics be losing favor in a recession wracked world? Dare we be so hopeful?

McClatchy Watch catches the Miami Herald in the act of promoting circulation with an offer of a free subscription to a magazine that hasn’t been published in two years.

By paulgillin | March 30, 2009 - 9:20 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Hyper-local

Asserting that the collapse of mainstream media demands the same urgency as “the threat of terrorism, pandemic, financial collapse or climate change,” two authors of a forthcoming book called Saving Journalism propose massive government intervention in the journalism crisis. Writing in the liberal journal The Nation, John Nichols and Robert McChesney say the recent debates over micro-payments and nonprofit funding is all well-intentioned, but these rescue scenarios don’t address the serious structural problems the US media faces. In essence, the public watchdog function is vanishing with nothing to replace it.


Media Post chart

This trend isn’t new; cost-cutting in the newsroom began in the 1970s when media tycoons began to form quasi-monopolies under the umbrella of government protection. Today, the media is a pathetic shadow of its former self, doing “almost no investigation into where the trillions of public dollars being spent by the Federal Reserve and Treasury are going but spar[ing] not a moment to update us on the ‘Octomom,'” the authors write.

Government already subsidizes media to the tune of tens of billions of dollars annually through mailing discounts, government advertising, monopoly broadcast, cable and satellite licenses and copyright protection. However, private interests have taken advantage of those subsidies to create wealth, and in the process are destroying the services they provide the public, Nichols and McChesney assert.

And they get specific about what needs to be done:

  • Eliminate postage for periodicals that get less than 20% of their revenues from advertising;
  • Give all Americans an annual tax credit for the first $200 they spend on daily newspapers or online sources that meet certain quality criteria;
  • Allocate funds to enable every middle school, high school and college to have a well-funded student newspaper, a low-power FM radio station and accompanying substantial websites.

Face it: The old system is collapsing and won’t be resurrected, they say. We are entering a world in which government abuse and corporate greed will run rampant because no one is watching over the abusers. The business media completely misled the public about what was happening in Iraq and completely missed signs of financial disaster. And that was before 20,000 more journalists lost their jobs.

Although you need to take the left-wing source into account, this article is a pretty compelling argument for government intervention.  It is particularly chilling in its description of the impact that media cutbacks have already had on the public’s ability to understand the financial crisis and its own legislators’ actions.  The authors maintain that the estimated $20 billion cost of their proposal is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount being spent on the financial bailout.  The stretch may be in equating the urgency of the two problems.

Uphill Climb

Stewart: Millennials' Cronkite?

Stewart: Millennials' Cronkite?

The Nation will have a battle convincing a skeptical American public that government support is the answer. Recent data from Rasmussen Reports paints a picture of a public that is largely disengaged from traditional media institutions while increasingly deriving its news from entertainment. A telephone survey of 1,000 Americans early this month found that 30% overall read a daily newspaper, but among respondents under 40, that percentage was only half as large. The survey also showed that newspaper websites have less “stickiness” than a product that arrives at the front door each day. Only 8% of US adults say they read their local paper’s website every day.

Meanwhile, one-third of Americans under 40 say Comedy Central’s Daily Show and Colbert Report are replacing traditional news outlets, which is slightly more than the 24% of Americans overall who think this is true. And there’s a popular opinion that this is a  good thing. “Thirty-nine percent of adults say programs of this nature are making Americans more informed about news events, while 21% believe they make people less informed,” the report says. Interestingly, Democrats are much more inclined to share this positive view than Republicans, by a margin of 48% to 28%.


The New York Times Co. imposed temporary 5% pay cuts for most employees in hopes of avoiding cuts to the newsroom staff.  Nevertheless, the Times also laid off 100 people in its business operations and said it would reduce freelancer spending and possibly consolidate some sections.  The pay cuts are subject to union agreement. Times management threatened to lay off 60 to 70 people out of its 1,300-person news staff if the union doesn’t concur.  The Times Co. cited an overall drop in advertising revenue of 13.1% in 2008 and 17.6% in the fourth quarter.  The pay reductions were described as temporary.  Salaries will revert to their previous level next year unless economic conditions improve fail to improve.  The company has already laid off more than 500 people this year.

The recession has clearly taken hold in the advertising business and the result is likely to be “the closing of more big regional daily newspapers and bankruptcy declarations from even more big publishers,” according to Media Post. Fourth-quarter 2008 results were a disaster, and that’s coming on top of two years of declines that seemed to get worse with each quarter. Newspaper classified advertising fell 39.2% overall in the quarter, with job-recruitment advertising plunging nearly 52%. Perhaps more ominous is that online revenue at newspaper sites was off  8% in the quarter, although online advertising is weak across the board right now.

The Rockingham News of southern New Hampshire has just published its final edition, and the weekly that has served the region for more than 40 years offers quite a lesson in its own history. Aubrey Bracco must have interviewed a couple of dozen local residents to get their recollections of what the paper meant to them, and he pens a loving and informative farewell.

Mike Hughes, president and creative director at the Martin Agency, pens an impassioned plea to his colleagues to support newspapers with their advertising dollars. “Our industry needs newspapers — but just as important, so does humankind,” he writes.  So stop following the latest trend and putting your advertising in the trendiest places.  “How many agencies aren’t selling newspaper advertising to their clients as hard as they should? It’s time for a wake-up call.” It’s an invigorating argument until you read the bio and see that Hughes’ employer is the “agency of record for the Newspaper Association of America.”

Writing on Mashable, Woody Lewis lists five ways newspapers can embrace social media more effectively. He notes that The New York Times now has an application programming interface that third parties can use to access its content from their programs. This is a cool idea. He also says partnerships with strong technology partners are a good idea.

Jay Rosen lists a dozen articles about journalism that he really thinks you should read, although we can’t fathom his top pick: Paul Starr’s laborious New Republic epic. Many of the others are excellent, though, and a few we hadn’t seen before.

And Finally…

We were thrilled to be included among the “Death of Newspapers” bloggers cited by Paul Dailing in Huffington Post. We agree with him that our self-absorbed, righteously indignant, told-you-so attitude is crap and that we have no answers to the problems facing the industry. We encourage you to boycott our book (available in fine bookstores everywhere) in support of his position. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

By paulgillin | March 16, 2009 - 7:38 am - Posted in Facebook, Fake News, Google, Hyper-local

clay shirkyClay Shirky takes us back 500 years to reflect on the revolution that’s going on right now. Everyone who wonders “What will become of journalism when newspapers are gone?” should read this superbly voiced essay by the author of Here Comes Everybody. The piece has racked up 225 comments and trackbacks just over the weekend, and there will be many more.

To sum up Shirky’s case:  The game is over for newspapers. Nothing can save the business, so it’s pointless to try. We’re in the middle of a revolution and revolutions are uncomfortable things because “The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place.”

His distant mirror is 16th century Europe, when the printing press was beginning to lift the world out of the Dark Ages. As translations of the Bible into languages other than English began to threaten the church-dominated world order, everyone frantically searched for assurance that the old institutions would be preserved. This applied even to disrupters like Martin Luther,  who insisted he wasn’t creating a schism in the church even as he was inventing Protestantism.

“And so it is today,” says Shirky, fast-forwarding. “When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution…They are demanding to be lied to.”

Revolutions are messy things because old institutions have to be destroyed before new ones are put in place. We’re witnessing the destruction now but we have no idea what will grow out of the rubble. And that’s scary.  “The list of models that are obviously working today, like Consumer Reports and NPR, like ProPublica and WikiLeaks, can’t be expanded to cover any general case, but then nothing is going to cover the general case,” Shirky writes. The only certainty is that the newcomers will be more specialized, distributed and democratized than the old, vertically integrated institutions.

We won’t say Clay Shirky puts our minds at ease, but he at least points out that we have come this way before and that everything turned out pretty well in the long run. All we have at this point is faith and optimism.  The sooner we can turn our attention from salvaging the unsalvageable to inventing the future, the sooner we can get on with the rebuilding.

Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard columnist Bob Welch should read Shirky’s essay. So should Mark Willes, former publisher of the Los Angeles Times and now head of Deseret Management Corp., who’s quoted in this Salt Lake Tribune story remarking “[I]f we’re going  to have all the things I think are central to having a civilized society and a successful society, [newspapers] must grow.”

Union Grants Broad Concessions to San Francisco Chronicle Management

Their collective backs against the wall, members of the Northern California Media Workers Guild voted 10-1 to give the San Francisco Chronicle broad authority to lay off employees without regards to seniority as well as to cut vacation time and extend working hours. The union, which represents 483 employees at the Chron, had little choice. Owner Hearst Corp. has threatened to close the entire operation without major concessions. Even so, Hearst is still likely to lay off 150 Guild workers.

Union members took consolation in the fact that that figure is one-third less than the 225 jobs Hearst originally threatened to eliminate. The Guild was also able to secure a decent severance package for laid-off employees. However, members will pay more for health benefits, lose 25% of their vacation and work longer hours. The Mercury News story notes that Hearst had threatened to make “most” of the 225 threatened job cuts in the Chron‘s 260-person newsroom. This seems incredible, since a cutback of that magnitude would leave less than 200 reporters covering the entire Bay Area. That may still be the case after the anticipated layoffs happen. Hearst is also eliminating 100 unionized pressroom jobs after it outsources printing to a Canadian contractor in June.

How to Save the Classified Advertising Business

bullhornChristopher Ryan and Steve Outing propose some head-slappingly simple ideas in their “Classifieds Manifesto.” So why aren’t more newspaper companies following them?

Newspapers can still have important and profitable classified advertising businesses, the authors say, but first they have to stop thinking about classifieds as agate type on a page. Craigslist has won that battle, so newspapers have to change the rules of the game.

Why not open a used-car lot for your auto clients? Or create a division that helps realtors sell homes? And while you’re at it, reinvent the way you present information. Craigslist is butt-ugly, man. Use tables and icons and easily navigable ways to get readers to the stuff they want to buy. And while you’re at it, get a video camera out to those properties that realtors are trying to sell and give them a hand.

There are a bunch of other smart and simple ideas in this essay. Send the URL to the head of your classified advertising group.


Mark Potts totes up the market capitalizations of the publicly held newspaper companies in the US and comes to a striking conclusion: Their combined value is just $1.3 billion, or a little more than what The New York Times Co. paid for the Boston Globe alone ($1.1 billion ) in 1993. This same group of companies was worth over $7 billion just six months ago. And speaking of the Globe, Potts says Barclays recently valued the paper at just $20 million.

McClatchy Watch is reporting that the Kansas City Star could announce a layoff early this week that’s larger than the newspaper’s last three layoffs combined. This rumor is a little confusing, however, since the Star announced plans to cut 15% of its workforce just last week.


Owners of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and its pressmen’s union have reached agreement on a set of union concessions involving layoffs, wage cuts, health care premium increases and staffing reductions. No details were released pending a vote by members on the agreement this week.


McClatchy Watch is reporting that the Kansas City Star could announce a layoff early this week that’s larger than the newspaper’s last three layoffs combined. This rumor is a little confusing, however, since the Star announced plans to cut 15% of its workforce just last week.