Cold Type

No slug is safe in today’s newsroom

Archive for April 2009

… and we’re still looking for a paddle

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No sooner had I posted my last entry when @fadingtoblack had posted a new blog entry answering — sort of — the question I’d just posed in Up the proverbial stream. In this post, they allude to a study on Physorg.com that states “researchers from the City University of London have found that at least 75 percent of revenue can be lost and Web traffic can actually fall when a newspaper moves from print and Web to Web-only.”

Aside from another reference to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer going online-only, the researchers also studied Finnish financial daily Taloussanomat, which has done the same. While the Finnish daily actually started to make money, largely because they’d allegedly been losing it for so long, some disturbing trends emerged that should give pause for anyone vested in good journalism. These namely included “a greater consumer focus, more sensational/celebrity stories and a shift away from original reporting.” No surprise, I suppose, but one has to wonder where we’re headed if print does indeed “go the way of the double ought,” as an editor I once worked under liked to say.

What concerned me even more, though, is that the researchers found that six months after going online-only, Taloussanomat “was no more innovative in their use of multimedia or user-generated content than sites with a print or broadcast parent.” Ouch. Reminds me of a debate I once had with some editors who insisted that all reporters should become proficient at video production. It’s doable but is it a wise use of their skills? But I digress.

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April 28, 2009 at 12:50 am

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Up the proverbial stream

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A Pew Research Center study reported recently that online journalists aren’t nearly as freaked out about the future of journalism as they were a year ago. While most still agree that online reporting is changing for journalism as a whole for the worse, fewer of them feel that way now and they’re very or somewhat confident a new business model will be found to keep journalism intact for years to come. Considering journalists in general are a cynical bunch, maybe there’s some hope in all of this?

Or maybe not. Count me in the skeptical camp for now. As someone who’s still on the inside, working for a daily newspaper, I have to report that the business model isn’t there yet to sustain online journalism. It’s hard to get exact numbers from the top brass, but last I heard we only get about 5% of our overall revenue from online efforts, whether it’s display or classified ads. A couple of years ago, it was slightly higher and increasing but then came the recession and further massive erosion of classified dollars that fled to Craigslist.

I’m trying to remain optimistic but I have to wonder if we’ll ever see the online revenue stream come even close to those we see in print. Maybe if we pulled the plug on print and forced the ad dollars over to digital, though I’d think that would only work if you were the only big paper in your market. The Seattle P-I recently saw it’s online traffic take a hit after going strictly online, but it’s competing with The Seattle Times which still has a print product to market the online side and a much bigger reporting staff. Until a major metro market is left with only an online news resource, we may not know if a truly successful digital business model will be spawned and if one is, can it survive against broadcast competition?

Written by coldtype

April 27, 2009 at 10:54 pm

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Never thought there’d be a TweetDesk

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We’ve all seen the obits for print media. The end is near, but never fear because journalism will live on. And how.

Journalists across the globe are scrambling to find the Next Big Thing. Nothing new. This is how we got pack journalism and now Twitter is giving us one more tool for the herd to follow the herd as someone put it online commentary responding to a Guardian piece.

A good friend of mine in the UK likes to skewer Twitter as the “bauble of the moment,” and he certainly has a point, but is it a completely daft idea? There have been reports of news and information breaking on Twitter and being very useful to people, ie, last year’s horrendous fires in southern California. And you have sites like Breaking Tweets distilling micronews into a useful stew of information.

Myself, I think Twitter is a useful channel of information and a great way to connect with people and glean ideas you might otherwise miss in media coverage, print or online, simply because there’s so much out there we can’t possibly hear every chirp.

That said, is a Twitter correspondent a wise use of resources? Is Sky News onto something or have they lost their baubles? Only time will tell, but for now at least one media organization doesn’t want to get beat on anything breaking in the so-called Twittersphere.

Written by coldtype

April 14, 2009 at 1:37 pm

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Solving problems could solve ours

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If you haven’t read Bill Virgin’s farewell piece in The Seattle P-I, you should. Somehow I missed it until today and I have a feeling it’s going to stick with me for a while. His “final exam” for his readers begs the question: how do you kill a newspaper? Virgin argues it isn’t just the Internet or the economy and he’s right. In a nutshell, he asserts it’s because newspapers simply stopped providing enough value for the money and for its myriad audiences, whom it alienated with bad business decisions.

I’m reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point,” in which the point is made that a trend often doesn’t tip until many factors converge. That’s the case with newspapers. Bad decisions eroding audience + Internet eroding customers + economic meltdown + high debt = Doom.

Those first two are the doozies, of course. We used to solve lots of problems for our advertisers and our readers and we did it well. Then, along came magazines, radio, TV and the Web and they solved some of those same problems and, in may cases, did it better and/or cheaper, ie, Craiglist.

In my mind, that’s what we need to keep in mind every day from this point forward. We need to ask ourselves what problems we’re solving for our customers? Are we providing the best and most affordable means for them to promote their businesses? Are we providing fair and accurate reporting and are those reports timely and easy to find in print or online? Are we still a community watchdog? Are we helping our community connect and engage with each other to make it a better place to live? The list goes on and on, but I think it’s a list we take for granted.

We need to take our dose of humility that’s being served to us right now, learn from our mistakes and refocus, re-energize and retool the ways we do business or the P-I’s Virgin will be right: Class will be dismissed.

Written by coldtype

April 4, 2009 at 11:27 pm

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Room for debate

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If you haven’t been there already, you may want to visit The New York Times’ Room for Debate, a collection of blogs and discussion by newspaper and media executives, editors, writers and so on who are engaging in a lively, well, debate about the future of print journalism.

Written by coldtype

April 2, 2009 at 11:46 pm

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This much we know

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Ok, so this much we know:

1) Newspapers are dying, at least in print form, some because they’re too far in debt to survive this economy, some because they’re mismanaged, some because they’re No. 2 in a multi-paper town and some because they suffer from a combination of those.

2) Everyone has a theory on how to save newspapers and none has been proven as the next bonafide publishing business model.

3) Most people in the newspaper business agree that print’s days are numbered. Well, that is except for some folks still toiling away at newspapers, where they’ve deluded themselves into thinking print will be around for a long, long time. And maybe it will. We just won’t have 7-day-a-week newspapers serving massive audiences, save for maybe USA Today and a couple others.

4) Just because print as we know it isn’t going to be around forever, doesn’t mean journalism is in jeopardy. Good journalism is happening all around the print industry. Print is often just too arrogant to acknowledge that.

5) It’s time for newspapers to start creating a roadmap to transition from their print-centric models to one that’s digital in nature. Actually, that time came and went a while ago but some papers are still in denial.

6) Nostalgia is not a business model. This isn’t my line. It’s from a great blog, Missing the Link. You should read it, especially the post that line came from.

7) There’s more, a lot more to say on this subject. 

 

Written by coldtype

April 2, 2009 at 11:45 pm

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