Thursday, June 25, 2009
After months and months of bad news for journalism, it was a great morale boost this past weekend to go to the IRE Convention in Baltimore.
Investigative Reporters & Editors is headquartered at Missouri's School of Journalism, but its heart is all over the country - wherever there are journalists who believe in public service and trying to right some wrongs.
One of the profession's deans, who sought to rally the troops, was the man who helped uncover Watergate. Bob Woodward laid it on the line:
"Social media? It's noise. Twitter? Facebook? It's all a diversion. Good reporting is always going to be about hard work; about waking up every morning with the thought: What are the bastards hiding today?"
Woodward conceded that journalism has had major setbacks this past decade. He wasn't talking about the salary cuts, unpaid furloughs, layoffs or newspaper shutdowns. He was speaking of the failure to expose the phony weapons of mass destruction (WMD) justification - before America was marched into a war against Iraq.
Lest one think IRE's meeting was just another venue for Bush-bashing, plenty of skepticism was expressed about the Obama Administration.
James Bamford, who has detailed the intelligence failures that resulted in 9/11, said Obama is in danger of simply being "Bush with charisma." That thought was echoed by Pulitzer-prize winner Seymour Hersh, who criticized Obama for moving too slow to get us out of Iraq and for digging us deeper into war in Afghanistan.
"I was like many people who went to bed on election night thinking we had elected the virtuous prince," said Hersh. "It is becoming apparent that it was just another frog."
I don't buy a lot of what Hersh and Woodward have to say, but it's good to see their "fire in the belly." It's good to see the watchdogs still barking.
At the IRE awards banquet, I sat with reporters from conservative papers, who are digging into scandals erupting with the Wall Street bailouts and abuse of stimulus package money. Good for them! Keep digging!
At the banquet, it was gratifying to watch TV clips of news stories outing public safety officials who shirked their responsibilities to protect school children or city water supplies. It was inspiring to hear about The Seattle Times' work in exposing lax procedures at health facilities that resulted in the spread of staph infections.
Leonard Downie, another dean of American journalism, told reporters to buck up. He said journalism was changing, but not going away. He said the old model of big news companies with lots of advertising is dying.
News will be done by non-profits, by universities, by community papers, by partisan Web blogs with impartial investigative units. Downie said people are finding new ways to find news and it's time to embrace a new era.
One-time reporter, 'Wired' creator testifies about newspapers, blasts new and old media as short-sighted
Simon didn't mince words in leveling blame at "old-media" ownership more than changes in technology, although he scoffed at the notion of "new media" bloggers and citizen journalists somehow replacing well-trained, dedicated and competent professional journalists.
"Readers acquire news from the aggregators [for free] and abandon its point of origin – namely, the newspapers themselves," he said. "The parasite is slowly killing the host."
And old media? Here's an excerpt:
“When you hear a newspaper executive claiming that his industry is an essential bulwark of society and that it stands threatened by a new technology that is, as of yet, unready to shoulder the same responsibility, you may be inclined to empathize. And indeed, that much is true enough as it goes,” he said.
“But when that same newspaper executive then goes on to claim that this predicament has occurred through no fault on the industry's part, that they have merely been undone by new technologies, feel free to kick out his teeth. At that point, he's as fraudulent as the most self-aggrandized blogger.
“In short, my industry butchered itself and we did so at the behest of Wall Street and the same unfettered, free-market logic that has proved so disastrous for so many American industries. And the original sin of American newspapering lies, indeed, in going to Wall Street in the first place.
“When locally-based, family-owned newspapers like The Sun were consolidated into publicly-owned newspaper chains, an essential dynamic, an essential trust between journalism and the communities served by that journalism was betrayed.
“Economically, the disconnect is now obvious. What do newspaper executives in Los Angeles or Chicago care whether or not readers in Baltimore have a better newspaper, especially when you can make more putting out a mediocre paper than a worthy one? The profit margin was all. And so, where family ownership might have been content with 10 or 15 percent profit, the chains demanded double that and more, and the cutting began – long before the threat of new technology was ever sensed…
“Absent this basic and belated acknowledgment that content has value -- if indeed it still does after so many destructive buyouts and layoffs – and that content is what ultimately matters, I don't think anything else can save high-end, professional journalism."
His complete testimony is online at -- http://reclaimthemedia.org/journalistic_practice/wire_creator_david_simon_testi0719/
Monday, June 22, 2009
Experts Say Walling Off Content Would Damage Outlets, Boost Aggregators
By Nat Ives
Published: June 22, 2009
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The Newport Daily News in Rhode Island has a new digital strategy: close its free, ad-supported site and sell an electronic edition that costs more than twice as much as getting the print paper in your driveway. It's a bold move that just might work. So why isn't every newspaper so brave? What if every newspaper gated off everything tomorrow? What if newspapers embraced the idea of "going Galt"?
Well, it would be suicide.
"Going Galt," a defiant notion getting new attention in some quarters, refers to Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged." Protagonist John Galt advocates that creators should cease creating so that the government, painted as a parasite, can't impose taxes on the profits from their creations. Today some libertarians and conservatives want to protest the federal tax burden by "going Galt" and reducing their earnings. Their frustration is echoed in the newspaper business, where executives regret making all their content free online -- only to see aggregators and other sites get traffic and ad revenue by posting their news stories.
Print-ad revenue sank 30% in the first quarter to $5.9 billion, a quarterly mark not seen since 1985, according to the Newspaper Association of America. But newspapers aren't switching dollars to their websites. Online revenue fell too, 13% to $696 million -- still nearly an order of magnitude smaller than print.
So why shouldn't newspapers starve the web tape worms? As the CEO of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News said recently, "We can't spend $53 million on newsroom costs and give it away on the back door."
But neither tax protestors nor newspapers have enough leverage to hurt anyone but themselves.
First and foremost, newspapers would be abdicating to everyone from CNN to the Huffington Post, said Ken Doctor, a newspaper veteran who's now an analyst at Outsell. "If you're those companies, you say, 'This is our chance to finish those guys off.' CNN's not going to put up any pay wall. They don't need to."
"Going Galt" would be "the greatest boon for native internet journalism and content producers that there could be," said Michael Wolff, founder of Newser, a site that aggregates and summarizes news from around the web. Politico would keep reporting original news and publishing it free; Newser would keep rewriting and condensing articles, both from behind the papers' pay walls and elsewhere. And there's plenty of "elsewhere" for Newser to choose from. At its start 20 months ago, Mr. Wolff said, it got 85% of its material from traditional news sources. Now it gets about 55% from traditional sources. That's because the competition keeps growing.
"This is not the experiment that I would recommend," said L. Gordon Crovitz, former Wall Street Journal publisher -- and, before that, head of electronic publishing for Dow Jones. Mr. Crovitz and Steve Brill have started Journalism Online, which offers services meant to help newspapers get paid for digital content.
But they're not advocating a high and wide wall for everyone. "It's now possible for news publishers to use online usage data to have their cake and eat it, too -- to have plenty of inventory to meet advertiser needs while also generating significant subscription revenue," Mr. Crovitz said. "The opportunity is for publishers to focus closely on what their brand and journalism truly stand for -- and what differentiates their offerings so that they can migrate their most engaged 10% of online users to become paying subscribers. As more news publishers pursue this hybrid or 'freemium' strategy, they will benefit from the added bonus that advertisers are delighted to pay a premium for page views by paying subscribers, whose engagement with the site is highest."
That model, which Journalism Online is discussing with undisclosed news publishers, could generate "tens of millions of incremental profit per year for many publishers," Mr. Crovitz said.
The Newport Daily News experiment might work mostly because it comes in a market with little competition for local news. That actually reinforces the fact that newspapers got almost all their leverage from near-monopolies. The strategy also highlights advertising's central place in the story, despite the hopes pinned on new circulation revenue online. Why is home delivery of the Newport Daily News in print cheaper than the electronic edition? Because the price of the print paper doesn't cover the cost of producing and delivering it; advertising covers about 85% of those costs.
"The real crux of this is that the next couple of years are going to be about experimentation," said Andy Ellenthal, CEO of QuadrantOne, a joint venture by some newspaper companies that sells sites' local inventory packaged into multimarket buys. "No one expert or pundit or thought leader or someone like myself can say, 'This is what's going to happen.'"
"It's unlikely that newspapers will throw all their content behind a pay wall," said Randy Bennett, senior VP-business development at the Newspaper Association of America. "The bulk of the revenue newspapers will get will continue to be from advertising. And that means aggregating a mass of eyeballs."
"So it's more about: Is there some incremental revenue? Are there ways to protect the print franchise? And is there a way to gain a fair share of revenue from advertising that is placed against newspaper content outside of their own sites?"
What to do (and not to do)
REALLY BAD IDEAS
* Pay walls for all: By establishing subscription-only news, newspapers will open the doors to aggregators and other news sites who will pay for subscriptions but then rewrite news and disseminate for free.
* Limiting eyeballs: By walling off all of their news content, newspapers would be limiting the number of people they can attract to their sites, thereby making them even less attractive to most advertisers.
REALLY GOOD IDEAS
* Added value for some: Not everyone will pay for everything a newspaper has to offer, but some truly avid and interested readers will pay for added information, more in-depth reports and access to community information not available elsewhere. Charge for that.
* Get ads to follow content: Newspapers need to find a way to get credit for all the audience their content attracts, even outside their own sites. Rather than taking all their content away, they should be working on a model to get those who use their content to pay for it, either by sharing ad revenue or charging syndication fees.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Surprise! J-school grads are finding jobs
By Jeff Bercovici
Jun 11th 2009
Filed under: Economy, Media
It's a baffling phenomenon: As the job market for journalists has gotten worse and worse, enrollment in journalism schools has gone up and up. How to explain this?
As it turns out, there's a fairly simple, if surprising, explanation: As bad as things are in the media industry, j-school grads are, far more often than not, finding jobs. And not as subway buskers or strip-club managers, but as reporters, editors and fact-checkers. At least that's the case for recent graduates of two New York journalism schools, one of them venerable, one young.
Of the 306 students who earned degrees from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism last month, 197, or 64 percent, already reported having jobs or other post-school plans (such as internships, fellowships or continuing education) lined up by May 28, according to Elizabeth Weinreb Fishman, the school's associate dean for communications. Adds Fishman, "Many of our students have gotten job offers in the last couple weeks, so 64 percent is lower than the actual number now employed." It's also better than last year's graduating class was doing at the same time.
And the places where Columbia grads have found work include some of the same institutions that have made headlines recently for laying off employees: The New York Times, NPR, CNN.
New degree-holders from CUNY's Graduate School of Journalism have found a similarly welcome reception in the workforce, according to Stephen B. Shepard, the school's dean (and former editor-in-chief at BusinessWeek). The most recent class of graduates earned their diplomas in December 2008; of those 45 students, says Shepard, 60 percent have full-time jobs in journalism, while another 15 percent have quasi-full-time internships or freelance gigs.
"Times are indeed tough, but our students are doing very well under these circumstances," says Shepard.
He believes CUNY's curriculum, which focuses on teaching students to practice journalism across all media platforms, has helped them to find spots in rapidly-digitizing newsrooms. Fishman, meanwhile, credits her school's success in placement to the prestige of the Columbia name and "the truly prodigious efforts of our career services team."
My guess is at least some of it is a direct result of the massive staff cutbacks just about every media organization has enacted in the past couple years. It's a corporate cliche to lay people off and euphemize it as "restructuring," but you can be sure that some of the companies that are letting go well-paid editors and writers in their 40s and 50s are quietly stocking up on fresh j-school grads whose lack of real-word experience is at least partly made up for by their effortless fluency in the ways of the web -- and their willingness to work for $35,000 a year.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
WIU Journalism grad Chris Ward has written a new comic, which is getting decent media attention -- perhaps because of its subject: President Obama.
MTV's Rick Marshall of its Splash Down web page writes, "This August, Bluewater Productions will publish Political Power: Barack Obama, one of several comics featuring notable figures from recent U.S. elections. Along with the Obama comic, Bluewater also has comics in the works featuring Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and, well… even the Obama’s dog, Bo.
"And it’s that last comic, Puppy Power: Bo Obama, that prompted one of the funnier exchanges I’ve ever had with an interview subject — in this case, Barack Obama author Chris Ward.
“ 'This Bo Obama comic book really burns my ass,' laughed Ward. 'Now I have to work twice as hard to make sure my Barack Obama comic sells more copies, or I’ll instantly shame my entire family. I’m not kidding. My grandmother’s dying words were, "Chris … outsell that godd—ed puppy comic".' "Ward was a Western journalism student and Courier writer before graduating and working for Wizard magazine, among other publications.
In an email, Ward said, "I'm going to be on WGEM pretty soon, which will be the first thing I've actually done with my broadcasting degree. I'm also going to be in the Eagle and the Courier, so I have now seen the mountain top."
Ward also helps run the "Worst Cartoons Ever" web site at www.worstcartoonsever.com/
For Splash Down's full feature on Ward's comic, go to
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Millennials Among Those Who Don't Appreciate Twitter
By Laurie Sullivan
Millennials -- 18- to-26-year-olds -- don't see value in Twitter, although they spend hours daily texting friends and communicating on social networks in real time, according to a study released Monday from the Participatory Marketing Network (PMN).
The study suggests that only 22% of Millennials use Twitter, the real-time microblogging site that allows posts of up to 140 characters. Of those young people who use Twitter, 85% said they follow friends, 54% follow celebrities, 29% follow family, and 29% follow companies. That's not great news for marketers and companies trying to reach this demographic through the site.
"Twitter has a problem on their hands if they want to become a long-term viable player," says Michael Della Penna, PMN co-founder and executive chairman. "Part of that communication of value must speak to Gen Y and show them the benefit of using Twitter."
Some might suggest that Millennials aren't the only ones who don't see the value in Twitter.
When asked about social networks, nearly all who participated in the survey revealed having an active profile on at least one site. Eighty-nine percent have downloaded an application to their profile page; 89%, photos; 53%, games; 51%, entertainment; 32%, news; and 29%, weather.
Mobile social networking is heating up for Millennials, too. Thirty-eight percent have an iPhone or iPod Touch. More than 50% have downloaded games; 35%, entertainment; 31%, lifestyle; 28% have downloaded free financial applications, and 7% have paid financial applications. More than one-quarter -- 26 percent -- indicated that they have not downloaded any.
PMN conducted the study in May 2009 with its research partner, the Lubin School of Business' Interactive and Direct Marketing (IDM) Lab at Pace University, by questioning 200 PMN panel members and consumers between the ages of 18-24.
Monday, June 1, 2009
Cities that place at the top of the list have the highest INAs and highest percentages in the US of adults reading newspapers in print, online or in both formats. At 87%, the INA of Rochester means that 87% of adults in the Rochester DMA read a printed newspaper, a newspaper's website, or did both during the past week. Following closely behind Rochester are Cleveland and Buffalo, each with an INA of 86%.
Few other products or services have such a reach, obviously.
In fact, in the 81 local markets measured by Scarborough, the group finds the 75% figure at odds with the recent spate of negative newspaper-business coverage.
"This data begs the question: Is the constant negative news feed on the industry warranted when newspapers are actually being read by three-fourths of the adult population? When you look at audience data, it seems irrational that advertisers are leaving newspapers because the numbers speak for themselves," said Gary Meo, SVP, print and digital media, Scarborough Research. "If you are an advertiser seeking to reach a large, upscale audience, newspapers are among the most effective media for doing so."
Scarborough states that this data indicates that readership rates vary market-by-market and often defy generalizations about declining audience.
"In order to obtain an accurate, in-depth portrait of newspaper health, in print and online, one needs to drill down to the local level," Meo said.
The research also shows that more than half of the adult population reads the newspaper in those cities with lower than average INAs. For example, in Bakersfield, Calif., and Las Vegas, Nev., (the two lowest ranking markets for INA), 59% of the adult population read some form of newspaper during the last week.
The data from Scarborough did not break out the number of print-only vs. online-only readers.