Friday, February 27, 2009

Markets have killed the daily newspaper. Let's get creative about the future of journalism

THERE has been considerable energy spent on industry blogs in recent weeks debating questions that were, in my view, resolved a long time ago. That it is taking some so long to speak honestly to our problems is either testament to our industry’s notorious, self-focused blindness or confirmation that too many industry leaders were constrained from speaking their minds — speaking their truth — because of their jobs, their bosses, their bonuses or simple reticence to step out in front.

My take, for what it is worth:
1. Our industry’s central debate ought not to be about saving newspapers and, in fact, that hasn’t even been an open question for some time. The American newspaper as we have come to know it in the post-war era is not going to survive. I said this at a Washington State University symposium four years ago and was widely attacked for my pessimism, particularly within my own newsroom. But folks, this isn’t pessimism, it is reality. Don’t misunderstand me. News and information will be distributed in print for decades to come. But the contemporary mass-market American newspaper familiar to generations of Americans, is — OK, I’ll say it — already dead.
The shadows of once-great community papers carry on at one level or another. But they are shades. Too many industry pundits, focused on the big-5 or even the big-10, continue to think of the American newspaper industry in terms of the giants. Even as they suffer their own declines, their pain is as nothing compared to what we’re seeing outside the Northeast.
This isn’t about the Post or the Times or the Journal. The tragedies of which I speak are taking place in Wichita, Spokane, Seattle, Denver, San Jose, Tucson, and countless other communities. I am not suggesting great journalism is dead in those places. Nor am I suggesting papers are dead, at least as credible businesses.
And good journalists carry on. They continue to do good work, to fulfill their obligations to citizens and community. But we must be honest. How can we suggest a newspaper is fulfilling its fundamental responsibilities to a community when there is, for example, one education reporter instead of four, one statehouse reporter instead of three, one public safety reporter instead of two. Publishers will say it’s not about the numbers. Bullshit. When it comes to journalism that serves community, it is all about numbers.
One good reporter can do a good job covering some aspects of a state legislature. But one good reporter simply cannot do the work of three. Something is going to be uncovered, unreported. And it will be something important.
Publishers who continue to argue their papers are strong despite massive cuts in newsroom staff, are twisting the truth in order to save their businesses. They talk about the migration to niche products, to smaller, leaner papers and efficient websites. Saving journalism isn’t part of their agenda. To be fair, especially in the current marketplace, they can’t save both. They always will default to the money side, they have no choice. So a niche website devoted to golf may generate revenue for the business. But it will not serve citizens who rely on journalists to reveal civic truths.
2. Did the industry make a mistake giving away for free on the web content generated for a profit in print? I don’t know if it was a mistake or not. It really doesn’t matter anymore.
I was an advocate of a web pay model in Spokane, a model we adopted. But it didn’t do anything for us and so I began to argue for a free model. But, to be honest, that wouldn’t have changed anything.
The pay-no-pay issue already has been resolved by consumers. Readers will not pay for online news content provided by traditional mass-market news organizations. I doubt they will pay for it from non-traditional sources, either, but that question remains open for now. For traditional newspapers, the genie is out of the bottle. No organization can hold on to its information long enough to make it a viable commercial commodity in the digital world. Once published anywhere or in any way, the information is out there, for free, for everyone.
I’m amused by those who suggest the problem is the quality of the web content. Better journalism, indispensable journalism that people simply must consume, will generate revenue, it is argued.
Sorry. Spend some time cruising the nation’s best newspaper web sites. The critical, indispensable journalism is there. In many cases, it is better written, better researched, better presented and more relevant than ever before, although there isn’t enough of it. And it isn’t selling. The problem isn’t the content, it’s the medium. The Internet is a free medium. That’s it. And that is why traditional mass-market newspapers have failed in their efforts to successfully transfer their print business model to the Internet.
3. If there is any good news in the inability of publishers to properly fund and supply content for existing websites, it is this: The “traditional” Internet newspaper is as doomed as the mass-market print variety. The era of the newspaper website designed for a desktop computer is passing and fast. The future, for the short-term anyway, is in mobility.
Not only do people want their information for free, they want it right now, wherever they might be and from whatever source they can tap. Oh, did I say this already, they want mobile news for free, too.
One of the things I’ve learned quickly working on a college campus is the insane futility of the “traditional” web model. Old farts of my generation may hold on to their desktops or their laptops. But the rest of the world is trying to figure out how to install information aps on their 3G phones. They are experimenting with the Kindle. They are waiting for the portable, roll-up flat panel.
I have heard from any number of publishers who say they are just hanging on to their businesses for now so that when the economy turns, they can come back and reinvest in their papers, rebuild gutted web operations.
They will be too late to recapture their markets. They need to be investing right now in mobile information platforms that will be the mass-market tool for the near-term future.
4. All of which really brings us back to the core question: How do we save the qualities and values of newspaper journalism when the businesses that have supported it are losing their grip on the future, selling their future for a few more years of business survival?
This is where industry debate is most helpful and most needed.
I have argued before for multi-platform newsrooms that generate revenue from a variety of different streams that, collectively, might help support those newsrooms. Let’s find the newsrooms where multi-platform innovation is possible and argue about ways to support that innovation.
Partnerships between newspapers to share content are good short-term steps and they are growing. But the partnerships that would help more would involve same-market newspapers, radio and television outlets. Newsrooms could become news wholesalers rather than retailers, producing content for all available media in any market and charging the providers rather than or in addition to consumers.
I believe partnerships between professionals and academics hold promise. Programs that blend professionals with academics and students in an “institute” environment could bring quality journalism built around select topics to select geographic or interest communities. Could an institute for legislative journalism hosted by a major university and utilizing professional and academic resources produce quality legislative coverage for a state? Sure. Are their ethical issues? Probably. Are they any worse than the ethical dilemmas posed by profit-desperate publishers trading legislative reporters for yellow-page salesmen? No. We can figure this out.
I believe there will be a place for low-overhead news products, mostly digital, produced by a small number of like-minded community journalists who will derive a livable wage from voluntary consumer support, from grants and low-overhead advertising. Turn-key (and free) digital platforms that do for online publishing what Blogger did for blogging will happen. Such platforms might make it possible for half-a-dozen laid off Silicon Valley reporters, for example, to combine to produce a mut-read Silicon Valley report without having to worry about buildings, distribution, IT experts or ad sales staff.
Even without such platforms, it may be possible for a single journalist, operating on her own, to cover a legislature somewhere in a format as crude as a newsletter or pamphlet and generate enough from her efforts to make a modest living.
The market — and panicked publishers — are killing, have killed, the traditional mass-market newspaper. But they ought not to be allowed to kill the vital public-service journalism that serves citizens. It’s time to stop debating the obvious. It’s time for journalists to take back the debate and save themselves.


Newspapers could actually try online

IN the myriad of — mostly misguided — solutions recently offered to save newspapers I’ve yet to see anyone suggest ways for newspapers to simply take better advantage of the situation they’re in. The reality is, tho they pontificate otherwise, newspapers have not really taken advantage of the web and the new medium that it offers. Even today, most newspapers aren’t putting a real effort into online news and that’s leaving them ill prepared for the “secular changes in the industry” that are helping to destroy them.
So here’s my radical idea: get serious about being in the online news space. Stop thinking some rich guy (or rich government) will save you and save yourself. Stop paying lip service to the web and start playing like you mean it. Here’s how:
First and foremost, recognize that the web is different from print and it really is its own “new” medium. It is not, as so many tend to think, simply a collection of “old” media all rolled up in one place, it’s something entirely new. This concept is really important as it is the foundation needed to build everything else on. Once this is really understood, traditional print operations can start to see where other changes need to be made.

Staffing. Because the web constitutes an entirely new medium, it needs an entirely new mindset. What has worked well for 20 years in print, might not work well online (and vice versa). You have to have the experience and skill with the medium to know the difference.
Most daily newspapers employ a talented print staff, on their second or third newspaper, and would never dream of throwing a brand-new, fresh off the truck, reporter into a senior editing or news decision roll. Yet they do it all the time in their online operations, seemingly grabbing whomever is walking by (or worse, some dreg that they can’t place anywhere else) and chucking them into an “online content editor” roll (or whatever it’s called at your paper). Then they mark it off on some checklist that they placed someone in an online position and sit back and wait for the web traffic (and revenue) to come rolling in. And they can’t figure out why is doesn’t work.
Look, most newspapers got onto the web in the mid 90s, this means there ought to be a fair number of people with nearly 10 years of online news experience — and on their second or third paper to boot — running around. Odds are they probably came originally from the print side as well. Why aren’t newspapers hiring them?
There is, of course, more to it than just raw years of service. You want people who are avid and active consumers of the online medium, just as traditional newspaper people are by nature avid and active consumers of newspaper products. I’m talking about people who can make good decisions about the value of a story online because they get that the web is different than print. They get that if a story plays out over time then it needs to be done in such a way that various RSS readers, mobile sites and whatever else comes a long needs to be able to update properly, as opposed to just posting a “write-thru”. I’m also talking about people who are active in both in the writing of and the consuming of blogs. I’m also talking about people actively involved in social sites like Facebook as well as being immersed in other aspects of the online medium (perhaps “how many RSS feeds are in your Google Reader?” might be a good interview question).
These are the people who will build and maintain a serious web presence.

Web Design. Hopefully your crack new web staff knows what should be obvious: newspapers websites suck. Why? Because they were built by newspaper people and follow that same potpourri newspaper model that works so well for, well, newspapers. Problem is, it is the modern equivalent of reading the newspaper on the radio in the 1930s.
Rip all that shit out. Adopt the topic or the storyline approach to better facilitate story-telling online. Also recognize that some stories destined for the newspaper, just might not attract anyone online, which is fine, so don’t post them.
Additionally deploy content using a more linear model. Most newspaper websites are a mishmash of headlines and ads all vying for the readers eye much like the physical newspaper, but resulting in nothing more that a cacophony of visual clutter. Streamline and simplify. I’ve seen newspaper website statistics that routinely show that the traffic on the average story page (or photo) is a miniscule percentage of overall site traffic. This isn’t the case with more linear blogs where article traffic is almost always commensurate with site traffic. This, to me, translates into gross inefficiency and lost traffic potential because stories are scattered all about
Also market your /news, /sports and other subsections directly and focus traffic to them, away from the busy mess that you still call a “homepage”. Not only does this increase you SEO, but it gives readers a reason to come back again and again as news and information updates because they’ll have something to follow. Or better still, design the site to automatically change, so during peak news events users never have to leave.
In short, tailor your web site for the web, not for the printed newspaper.

Workflow. Finally, with a more web savvy staff and a more web savvy site, you have one more dragon to slay: your heretofore broken story workflow. I’ve ranted about this before but even still, damn near every newspaper I’ve ever visited is still working with print-centric story workflows (nevermind the fact that most are also still working with 1990s technology).
Here’s a free tip: if you’re still automatically (or semi-automatically) shoveling content from the “print product” to the “web product” you’re doing it wrong. Just stop. Instead take advantage of the idea of “curation,” where your web editors — using that wealth of online experience you hired them for — pick and choose the best stories and present them in a way that will work well online. But make sure they’re pulling from a story pool before they are edited for print. Give them the tools to easily add web-centric content such as visualizations, embedded video, and yes cross-referenced hyperlinks to other content.
To do this, of course you’ll need a content management system that doesn’t suck as well, something most newspapers just don’t seem to have — either for print or online. Given the huge sums of money flushed each year into ineffective publishing systems and the man-hours used to apply duct-tape to them, I’d think there’d be substantial savings and improved efficiency all around if someone would take the time to invest in newer solutions. And there are newer solutions, especially for web content (and many are free).
Or, newspapers can continue to attempt to become more efficient in other ways, through cutbacks and layoffs, which work in much the same way that cutting off your fingers makes you a more efficient typist. It’s their call.
There is a sense of panic in the newspaper industry, that newspapers are dying, and even though newspapers have been ill for a lot longer than most people think, it has only been recently that real discussion about it has taken place. This gives me some hope, because maybe, just maybe the decision makers are finally ready to get serious about this newfangled web thing.


The Packers Model: another solution to save newspapers

AS the financial climate forces many local newspapers to cut jobs or shut down, news teams search for a rescue solution. Many publications are debating the non-profit model and the micropayment model to sustain newspapers. One of the latest ideas to save the newspaper is community ownership or the so-called Packers model, named for the Green Bay Packers, the only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team in the United States.
The Packers model idea and the metaphor were proposed in January by Jonathan Golob in an article of the Stranger as a solution to save the Seattle Post-Intelligencer after Hearst Corporation announced plans to sell the publication. Golob stresses that he does not think a city government should own a paper, just as the city of Green Bay does not own the Packers, but rather have many shareholders, each only owning a few shares of the paper.
According to Eli Sanders of the Stranger, the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild held a meeting yesterday for P-I employees to discuss a possible online news site to replace the P-I if necessary. As employees who do not yet know whether Hearst plans to launch an online-only edition itself, this meeting was "just the crafting of a contingency plan." Most likely, says Sanders, Hearst will introduce the web edition, and since this will require a much smaller staff than the current P-I, "tonight's contingency plan could quickly morph into tomorrow's plan for a competitor." One model under consideration for the possible employee project is the Packers Model, which would involve asking community members to purchase shares in a publicly owned P-I.
Whether or not the Packers Model actually progresses for the Post-Intelligencer, Kirk Lapointe contends on Media Manager that community ownership could be a viable solution for newspapers. Lapointe takes the metaphor even further, pointing out that the Packers belong to a league, the NFL, that performs important functions for it, allowing the team to function commonly across franchises so there are no market advantages, and the Packers can win as much as a big-market team. Lapointe says, "I'm not sure the community ownership is the saving grace as much as the collective league and player agreement in controlling costs and ensuring competitiveness."
Blogger Howard Weaver says that he doubts "sufficient community support could be found for a second paper in a two newspaper town," but that if a city lost its only daily paper the community might be more willing to cooperate. Since it is in the public interest to maintain printed newspapers that provide a public service, Lapointe might be right in asserting that the Packers Model is "a concept worth exploring."

Source: The Stranger, The Media Manager, Etaion Shrdlu

Newspapers' supply-and-demand problem (Why you should quit doing what everyone else is)

A lot of bits have been spilled over the apparent absence of a viable business model for news on the Web to replace one that no longer works for print. The ad-supported model doesn't seem to work, but clearly neither do pay walls. There's even talk of micropayments again (hello, 1998!).
I'm no economist, but I think the problem comes down to this: The Internet is a single, efficient market governed by the laws of supply and demand*. Because there's surplus ad inventory online — particularly low-grade inventory — prices are falling. But what if the surplus inventory is largely the result of a glut of duplicative content? Would the problem go away if news organizations simply stopped doing about half of what they do and focused on the stuff nobody else is producing?
Consider a scenario: Newspaper A posts a local scoop to its website. The story is picked up by other news organizations. It's rewritten, repackaged, sent out on wires, and within hours that story or some version of it — sans additional reporting — is on a hundred different websites. Much of this duplication is automatic, but some of it is done by human editors. (See Google News any day for an example of this.) Best-case scenario, a few of those sites actually link back to Newspaper A.
Now let's say most of the duplication stops. Because there are fewer versions of the story, more eyeballs now find their way to the original scoop on Newspaper A's site. Good. But aren't many of these additional eyeballs just single-page, out-of-market visits that have little value to advertisers? Maybe, but if Newspaper A is sticking to its core mission of covering local news, it will be able to deliver an audience that's more cohesive on the whole — and therefore more sellable — than if its content is all over the map.
Those of us who have worked for years in online news remember a time when repackaging news from all over was a large part of what we did. At some point most of us figured out it was a waste of time. But sadly, there's still a lot of duplication going on in mainstream media websites, in part because it's seen as necessary for a newspaper to be a broad and semi-comprehensive sampling of the day's news and information.
Well, no more. You want comprehensive? Go to the BBC.

If newspaper bosses are serious about preserving the kind of journalism that makes newspapers great, here is what they must do right away:

1. Stop wasting time on stuff other people are already doing. This means focus obsessively on local or topical content. The era of the newspaper as bundler of many varieties of content is over. If you cover a community, do nothing that doesn't relate to that community. If you cover a topic, do nothing that doesn't relate to that topic.
2. Stop syndicating valuable content to other websites. Let them link to you. (And for goodness' sake, link out. Do it for the karmic rightness of it all, or do it because it adds significant value to your own content. However you justify it, putting your stuff squarely into the clickstream is essential to staying relevant. You can't just be the endpoint.)
3. Scale back or cancel wire service agreements. They're not helping your online product and they might be stealing value from your own content. I have a lot of respect for The Associated Press and the work that all wire-service journalists do, but I just don't think the AP's ownership structure and funding model make sense anymore. (If Reuters can thrive as a standalone news organization, maybe AP can too. But newspapers can no longer afford to subsidize the creation of content that doesn't benefit them directly.)
Am I saying I think newspapers can increase the value of their content to advertisers simply by reducing inventory, the way OPEC does for oil? No (and we can see how well that strategy's worked for OPEC recently, too). Ad inventory, unlike oil, is not a fungible commodity. This isn't about reducing inventory in general. It's about reducing low-value inventory: all those impressions from random walk-ins who aren't a sellable audience because they have nothing in common.

We talk about the newspaper's unique status as a profit-driven public trust and the threat that ongoing structural changes pose to that fragile duality. But how big does a newspaper actually need to be in order to fill the public service role we ascribe to it? Could the Los Angeles Times effectively and profitably cover Los Angeles with, say, 300 journalists (half its current staffing level)? My guess is it could, if that's all those 300 people did.
I feel for my dedicated and talented industry colleagues who have lost jobs in the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere. This disruptive event is clearly a painful one for journalists. But if newspapers make smart choices this year, maybe it won't be a crisis for journalism.

Souce: Knight Digital Media

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thomson Reuters CEO: No paper, please

THOMSON Reuters Corp, the company that employs me and runs this blog, posted fourth-quarter financial results on Tuesday. My colleague and I wrote them up for the wire, and you can see them here. Meanwhile, here’s something that didn’t make it in to the story that we wanted to share.
During a conference call with reporters, I asked Chief Executive Tom Glocer, who ran Reuters before Thomson Corp bought it, what the company plans to do regarding investing in news. I also asked if the company could ever be in the market for another print newspaper. Remember that Thomson Reuters likes to tout the fact that Thomson Corp long ago got out of the newspaper business, thinking there was more of a future in electronic information that you make people pay a lot of money for.

On news spending:
We’ve continued to invest in news and we think 2009 is a very good year in investment for us both in terms of having brought in some of the journalists who have joined from Thomson Financial, but also investments we’re making in new editorial systems, in the video, multimedia presentation of news. So I think one of the good things about the strength of our financial performance is that we can continue to invest when a lot of pure media companies aren’t.
On getting “back” into the newspaper business (I asked whether the Financial Times or The New York Times-owned International Herald Tribune would be good fits, specifically. But why not The New York Times? Everyone with more than a few pennies to rub together is a candidate to buy it these days.)
[Thomson was] so early in getting out of newspapers that now to go back in when our business model is so focused on professionals and so overwhemingly electronic doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. … If there were a fantastic information product that was 95 percent electronic and 5 percent a print output device, we would do it — maybe — if it otherwise made sense. I’m not convinced that we know how to run a newspaper any better than the ones running them today.
If newspapers keep cutting their print editions, it might not be long before the “95-5″ ratio is normal in big U.S. cities.

Source: Reuters

It's Not Newspapers in Peril; It's Their Owners

Dailies Still Make Good Money, but Debt-Laden Publishers Post Losses

FOR all the apocalyptic news about newspapers, there's a distinction worth making: Newspaper owners are far more endangered than the medium itself.
Even as they take blow after blow from recession and digital media, newspapers themselves still earn decent profits. They do even better outside big cities, which tend to get all the attention.
"Not a lot of papers are operating at a loss," said John Morton, the veteran industry analyst. "There are roughly 1,400 daily newspapers. We only hear about the top markets. That leaves at least 1,300 papers out there."
Publicly owned newspapers averaged an operating profit of 10.8% in the first three quarters of last year, Mr. Morton said. That's not the margin enjoyed by newspapers when they were monopolies, but it's not nothing either.

Problems at the top
The owners, on the other hand, are variously posting huge losses, at least on paper; watching their stock prices plunge; and, crucially, struggling to make payments on debt they took on under projections that didn't pan out.
Some owners even borrowed that money to double down on newspapers, which aren't engines of growth even when their balance sheets are healthy.
More newspaper owners will probably follow Tribune Co., where Sam Zell's rescue attempt has failed, into bankruptcy protection. Some papers will be handed to lenders. There will be fire sales.
But there's no reason for newspapers themselves, whoever owns them, to stop the presses. Most operations are plenty profitable.
And demand for their core product -- news -- is growing, as shown by the soaring traffic to newspaper websites. Those web surfers don't bring the same ad rates that print readers do. But the business of newspapering has a longer bridge to the future than it often seems.

Take a look at Lee Enterprises, which operates papers primarily in midsize markets but reported an $889 million net loss for the 12 months ended Sept. 28. Its loss primarily reflected a huge accounting write-down as the company adjusted its estimated value. It's not that $889 million of cash flowed from the coffers just to make payroll and keep the presses running.
Strip out the accounting charge to look at the real dollars Lee papers collected and spent. Its operating profit for those 12 months topped 20%. That's a better return than Carlos Slim is getting on his 14% loan to The New York Times Co., which finally suspended its dividend payments last week to shore up cash flow.
Lee, moreover, bought itself more time late last week by reaching agreements with lenders to refinance $306 million of debt tied to its 2005 purchase of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The publisher of the Southern Illinoisan, a Lee paper, used the occasion to distinguish between Lee's finances and his paper's health, telling readers that the refinancing and related moves "quashes ill-considered speculation that Lee's debt obligations could somehow impair the ability of The Southern Illinoisan to continue serving readers and advertisers."
In a similar fashion, McClatchy is freezing pensions and hunting another $100 million in budget cuts. The company, publisher of papers including the Sacramento Bee and the Fort-Worth Star Telegram, is struggling under more than $2 billion in debt, much of which it assumed in 2006 to buy Knight Ridder -- doubling down on newspapers at a cost of $4.6 billion.
But look past the interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization and charges such as severance; they matter, but they affect the owner's balance sheet more than they reflect newspapers' viability. McClatchy's underlying newspaper portfolio just delivered a 21.5% operating profit margin.

Gannett profits
The country's biggest newspaper publisher, Gannett, is rolling in layoffs and busily writing down its own estimated value. But excluding one-time charges such as severance and write-downs, its newspapers -- from big markets such as Phoenix to small towns such as Ithaca, N.Y. -- produced an 18% operating profit margin last year.
Scripps is trying to decide whether to sell or shut down the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, which lost $16 million in 2008. But its overall newspaper portfolio, perhaps better typified by the Naples Daily News in Florida, last week reported a 2008 operating profit margin of 9.8%.
Even the newspapers owned by Tribune, which entered Chapter 11 last December because it took on too much debt going private, returned a modest 5.4% operating profit in the first three quarters of last year.
The bigger markets, to be sure, are struggling more. "Smaller markets tend to have relatively high margins because you're more of a quasi-monopoly," said Alexia Quadrani, an analyst at J.P. Morgan. "The New York Times is going to have low margins because of its high expense base. The Boston Globe's margins have deteriorated meaningfully in recent years, just because of the ongoing weakness in that marketplace."

Worse year than last
And even if newspapers aren't the walking dead, they're obviously the walking wounded. Public newspaper companies were reporting operating profit margins averaging 21% as recently as 2006, according to Ken Doctor, a longtime newspaper executive turned industry analyst for Outsell. "At that point it had been dropping about a quarter percent, a third of a percent, each year for three years," he said. "It had been a slow drop in relatively good economic times. Now we know 2009 is going to be worse than 2008."
We don't know how much advertising will return to newspapers once the recession lifts, Mr. Morton pointed out. "In all previous recoveries from recession, newspapers were able to recapture almost everything they lost," he said. "It has since become much more competitive for eyeballs and advertisers. I'm sure it won't be 100%."
All that probably means today's newspaper owners won't all be in the business much longer. Many will exit one way or another, following the Chandlers, who once controlled Times Mirror, and the Bancrofts, who once owned Dow Jones.


Australia: Fairfax signals cuts and mergers

FAIRFAX Media has pointed to further job cuts and mergers of newspaper sections across the group as it battles a crumbling classified advertising market and a struggling broader economy.
The company yesterday announced a 23 per cent fall in underlying net profit to $157.6million. But after Fairfax wrote down the value of a series of assets across the company, including its radio assets, that fell to a bottom-line net loss of $365.3 million.
Fairfax chief executive Brian McCarthy said any redundancies would not be of the size of the company's "Business Improvement Program" announced last year, which led to 550 staff being cut across the company.
In response to questions from The Australian, he defended likely moves by the company to trim numbers further throughout the organisation, including in the editorial department.
"When the job cuts were done (last year), there was the usual hue and cry from certain sectors of society that said quality will suffer," Mr McCarthy said. "I don't think it has suffered. So we will move on and do what we think is right under any circumstances: whether it's editorial, or any other part of the business."
As foreshadowed in The Australian yesterday, the company confirmed it would merge the business sections of its two flagship metropolitan newspapers, The Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne's The Age, as a prelude to similar moves that could include the merger of the company's Canberra bureaus.
Asked if the business-section merger was happening, Mr McCarthy replied: "Yes, we have certainly looked at the business area. And it's not just in relation to the two papers ... but would also embrace our online (business) writers in some form. We think that's the best strategy going forward."
On the merger of the Canberra bureaus of the two papers, as well as that of the Fairfax-owned The Australian Financial Review, Mr McCarthy said: "We are working through everything within the company, and there has been no decision taken about that either way."
Senior Fairfax sources claimed the merger of the business sections did not, at this stage, involve job losses. "The intent is not staffing levels; the intent is driving improved quality, scope and scale of business coverage," a Fairfax executive said.
Mr McCarthy was positive about further section mergers. "If those opportunities make sense, we'll look at them," he said.

Source: The Australian

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What Malaysian Think About Politics

POWERED by PULSE, a recent online survey commissioned by Marketing magazine reveals some interesting insights about what Malaysians think with regards to Malaysian politics.

Do see any hope for change in the Malaysian political landscape as seen happening in the US recently?

66% of Malaysians were upbeat that there was hope for change in the Malaysian political landscape in line with events that were happening around the globe, especially in the US.

Do you believe the power of digital media (Web 2.0 tools, blogs, Twitter, websites, sms, Facebook) is effective in changing people's perceptions of national issues?

A thumping 95% said that Digital Media had a key role in changing people's perceptions on national issues, and beyond.

When asked what were their main sources of daily news, they cited Newspapers (20%), Television (20%), Online newspapers (19%), Blogs (14%), Radio (13%), Word of Mouth (10%), RSS updates (3%) and Twitter 2%.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Trinity Mirror to cut 70 jobs at Glasgow newspapers

Almost a third of editorial staff face redundancy at Daily Record and Sunday Mail

TRINITY Mirror is cutting up to 70 journalists, almost a third of editorial staff, from its Glasgow-based Scottish newspapers, including the Daily Record and Sunday Mail, as part of a radical shakeup.
Editorial operations for Trinity Mirror's Glasgow papers are to be integrated, with the Daily Record editor, Bruce Waddell, appointed to the newly created role of editor-in-chief of the two flagship titles to oversee the adoption of a new web-based content management system, ContentWatch.
Allan Rennie, the Sunday Mail editor, has been moved to a new role of editorial development director of Trinity Mirror's national titles, including the Daily Mirror and the People, as well as Scottish papers.
According to Trinity Mirror, initial changes involve the reorganisation of the senior editorial team, which also includes weekly titles the Glaswegian and Business7, and the Record PM afternoon freesheet.
It is understood Trinity Mirror will seek up to 60 voluntary redundancies from across all editorial departments in Glasgow, to join 10 staff who have already left, as it develops a single editorial production operation.
It is not clear how the plans will affect the news and picture desks and other editorial departments of individual titles.
The publisher, which broke the news to 240 editorial staff at lunchtime today, said it has entered a 30-day consultation period with those likely to be affected.
"It was a pretty open secret that restructuring along these lines was in the offing," said a Daily Record source. "Staff are surprised by the scale of the job losses. We knew something was in the offing – that cuts were coming – but we were taken aback."
According to Trinity Mirror, the changes will see a "multimillion-pound investment" in new technology in its Glasgow base to enable production of high-quality content across multiple print and online publications, for which remaining staff will undergo multimedia training.
"These are extraordinary days in our industry. No business, including ours, has escaped the economic downturn," said Mark Hollinshead, managing director of Trinity Mirror's national division.
"This reorganisation plus the investment in technology and retraining of staff will better position us for the future in what will be a dramatically different media economy and commercial environment."
Glasgow will become the second Trinity Mirror publishing centre, after the company's regional operation in Birmingham, to introduce the ContentWatch editorial system.
In August, Trinity Mirror started the process of overhauling its large regional publishing operations when it announced a radical revamp of its Midlands operation.
It created two large new integrated multimedia newsrooms in Birmingham and Coventry, providing editorial for five titles, including the Birmingham Post and the Coventry Telegraph, at a cost of 65 editorial jobs.
Similar restructures at Trinity's regional operations across the North of England in November cost a total of 106 jobs.
Centralisation of production and photographic work of more than 20 Trinity weekly newspapers across London, the south-east and the home counties, led to about 16 editorial jobs being cut last month.
The move follows the pre-Christmas announcement by Newsquest subsidiary the Herald & Times Group, also based in Glasgow, of a similar editorial reorganisation expected to cost up to 40 jobs.
"We are shocked at the scale of the proposals but it looks like the company do appear to be keen to engage with us over the voluntary redundancies," said Paul Holleran, the NUJ's Scottish organiser.
"But it's quite a young workforce. It's not like the Herald, which is a bit older and where they were able to find all necessary redundancies. It might be harder to get them [at the Record]."


Will eReaders save newspapers?

THE vision of paperless newspapers is no longer a pipedream. Electronic paper displays in the form of mobile reading devices called e-readers are finally emerging as a viable “green” alternative to ink printed on pulp paper.
Three companies—, Sony and iRex Technologies—have been pushing paper-like e-readers into the consumer marketplace since 2006. Plastic Logic and Polymer Vision will soon begin selling e-readers with thin flexible displays. Several other companies are expected to join their ranks in 2009.
For newspaper publishers, the e-reader is not just another mobile device; it could be their salvation.
The rapid exodus of subscribers and advertisers from print to online has put enormous pressure on newspaper publishers in this first decade of the twenty-first century. Since 2000, publishers have seen steep declines in their revenues from printed editions combined with hefty increases in production and distribution costs. The market values of media companies have fallen so precipitously in the past few years that some of the world’s leading newspapers are now in jeopardy.
The announcement on Dec. 9, 2008, that the Tribune Company, one of the largest U.S. media companies and the parent of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, was filing for bankruptcy protection punctuated the seriousness of the crisis.
Forty years ago newspaper publishers were under similar pressure. Then as now subscribers and advertisers were rapidly shifting from print to a new medium—television. In the 1960s and 1970s, however, the problems for publishers were compounded by the burden of expensive, labor-intensive production and business systems that had not changed significantly in nearly a century.
Their salvation was digitization. It began with the insertion of computers into newspaper accounting and production departments. By the end of the twentieth century, digital technologies had replaced nearly all of the industrial-age systems in the “front-end” departments—editorial, advertising, composing, prepress and accounting.
For those newspaper publishers who successfully negotiated this difficult transition, digitization resulted in dramatically reduced costs and higher profits throughout the last two decades of the twentieth century.
In recent years, publishers have invested in digital technologies to make their “back-end” departments—pressroom, mailroom and circulation—more efficient and less costly. But rising costs for newsprint, inks, energy, transportation and labor have more than offset the savings.

The Final Step in the Digitization of Newspapers

Today, newspaper publishers are facing a far more difficult and risky transition. Their salvation now depends on how quickly they can take the final step in the digitization of newspapers—a complete shift from pigmented ink printed on pulp paper to digital ink displayed on computer screens and electronic paper.
Nearly all newspaper publishers clearly see their future in an array of Web and mobile services. What is not clear is where the money will come from. So far the revenue gained from online news services and digital media has not come close to replacing the revenue lost by their printed editions.
Even though most newspaper publishers are quickly shifting resources from print to online and mobile services, few are likely to give up on paper immediately. Despite the phenomenal growth of the Internet and reading on computer screens in this decade, reading on paper is still preferred by a majority of people around the globe, even among those who routinely use computers.

A Green Alternative to Ink on Paper

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, pundits were predicting that by the end of the century personal computers would greatly reduce the demand for paper, but that didn’t happen. Per capita consumption of paper actually has grown substantially since the emergence of personal computers.
The reason is that paper has proven to be a difficult display medium for digital technology to replace. Its attributes are so taken for granted that no one thinks of paper as the highly evolved technology that it is. The development of paper began nearly 1,500 years ago. The technologies required for producing electronic paper (also referred to as electronic ink) have been under development for less than two decades.
E-readers with electronic paper displays (EPDs) are intended as “green” alternatives to paper for accessing, storing and reading all types of printed documents —newspapers, magazines, newsletters, books, journals, manuals, reports, memos, etc. They retain most of the characteristics of paper while incorporating many of the hypermedia features of the Web.
Newspaper publishers have long held an affinity for the concept of e-readers. In theory, the development and widespread adoption of e-readers with a capacity to wirelessly access and display digital editions of newspapers would allow publishers to eliminate the production and distribution costs associated with their printed editions, which account for more than half of most newspapers’ operating expenses.
Turning this theory into practice, however, will not be a simple matter. Most newspaper companies have huge investments in printing plants and distribution networks, so established publishers are unlikely to suddenly shut them down and give every subscriber an e-reader. A phased transition spanning at least a decade is much more likely.

Electronic Paper Displays Still Evolving

Electronic paper displays are still evolving, but they now are able to provide a reading experience nearly comparable to ink printed on paper. They are reflective, so they can be read comfortably in the same lighting conditions people use for reading on paper, even under bright overhead lights and sunlight. They also require much less power to operate than the liquid crystal displays used in notebook computers, so e-readers with EPDs typically can be used for several days without recharging their batteries.
These attributes would seem to make the current generation of e-readers with EPDs ideal for delivering and displaying digital editions of newspapers, but the devices have several limitations that still make publishers wary.
Their main concerns are the lack of color (all are black-and-white) and the high cost (their retail prices range between $300 and $800). Another often cited drawback is the slow “flip” rate of the electronic ink that causes a slight delay when pages are flipped. This also prevents the e-readers from displaying videos.
For books and documents that are predominantly text, the lack of color and video is not a serious problem. Thirty years ago this might not have been seen as a serious problem for newspapers either. But now readers and advertisers have come to expect full color photos, graphics and advertisements in printed editions. And they now also expect video as well as color on newspaper Web sites.

Digital Newspapers for E-Readers

Despite these concerns, a number of newspapers around the world are beginning to experiment with digital editions designed for e-readers. The Amazon Kindle, which was introduced in November 2007 in the U.S. market only, is the first e-reader to offer a selection of daily newspapers. As of the end of 2008, Kindle owners could purchase subscriptions to 28 newspapers—20 of which are U.S. newspapers—through’s online store. Subscriptions range from $5.99 to $14.99 per month. All Kindle editions are non-interactive, static snapshots of the newspapers’ editorial content delivered wirelessly without advertising.
While the Kindle finally awakened U.S. publishers and the general public to the potential of e-readers, the first iteration of this device has not been well suited to reading newspapers. Its small low-resolution EPD confines presentations to single columns of plain text with a few black-and-white images interspersed. And its menu-based navigation system, which is adequate for reading books, makes browsing newspapers awkward.
The limitations of the Kindle and other e-readers with 6-inch displays, such as the Sony Reader, are somewhat overcome by iRex Technologies’ pen-based iLiad with its 8-inch high-resolution EPD. A number of European newspapers are now experimenting with this device to wirelessly deliver daily editions that include advertising.
For newspapers and magazines, however, letter-size e-readers with at least 10-inch displays are required to provide a reading experience comparable to printed editions. This size allows for visually compelling presentations with multi-column layouts, distinctive typography, information graphics, photos and advertising.
In September 2008, iRex Technologies introduced the Digital Reader 1000 series, the first e-readers with a 10-inch EPD. More than 800 newspapers from around the world can now be accessed and displayed on these letter-size e-readers using software developed by Newspaper Direct.
Many factors will influence the pace of the transition to paperless newspapers, not the least of which will be the state of the global economy. All major technological hurdles have been overcome (broadband wireless communications, low-cost mass storage, low-power processors and fast image-rendering software) save one—the display.
Development of thin, lightweight, durable, full-color, video-capable, flexible, low-power and low-cost paper-like displays is essential to the widespread adoption of e-readers and digital newspapers by consumers, publishers and advertisers. This is no small order. Displays that meet all these criteria are at least five years away from commercial production and probably 10 years away from being able to displace printing presses and delivery trucks.
The pressing question today is will e-readers with suitable electronic paper displays arrive in time to help save newspapers?

Source: Global Jpurnalist

When ‘Tweeting’ May Become Preference for Breaking News

WHEN Stephen Fry was trapped in a broken elevator in London earlier this month, he pulled out his cellphone and sent a short text to his more than 160,000 “followers” on “OK. This is now mad. I am stuck in a lift on the 26th floor of Center Point. Hell’s teeth. We could be here for hours.”
He even sent a picture of himself to illustrate his predicament. Nearly immediately, many of his “followers” replied to the British actor, author and comedian with return “tweets” — as the brief, 140-character or less texts are called.
Charmed by the responses, Fry “tweeted” back, “Your brilliant comments are keeping us all [hysterically] cheerful.”
In a Twitter-fied world, no one ever needs to feel alone or unconnected.
Fry is now the second-most popular individual on Twitter, trailing only President Obama, who has about 250,000 followers. (The Obama “tweets” have gone silent, however, with only one entry since last November. Conversely, Fry has “tweeted” some 1,400 times in the last 200-plus days.)
Twitter has quickly become the preeminent way to go about “micro-blogging,” sending short real-time comments to the world and especially to anyone who signs up as a follower.
When the service was introduced in 2006, it was ridiculed as the latest narcissistic way to waste time online.
Last year, minds began to change. Twitterers tapped out tweets during the earthquake in China while the ground was still shaking and during the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.
One of the first pictures of the airliner downed in the Hudson River last month, picked up by major newspapers and magazines, was “tweeted” by a 23-year-old tourist with an iPhone who happened to be aboard a ferry sent to the rescue. Suddenly, Twitter has become a venue for “citizen journalism,” a way to learn what’s happening sometimes even before news organizations themselves could find out.
“News no longer breaks, it tweets,” blogged Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley-based technology forecaster, last November during the Mumbai attacks. “If newspapers are the first draft of history, then blogs are the scratch pad. And in front of blogs are tweets,” he said.
Twitter is a classic example of the “law of unintended consequences,” says Matthew Fraser, who tracks the world of online social networking. At first, he says, people shared the “micro-banalities of life,” like “I’m at McDonald’s having a Big Mac.”
But Twitter has now “morphed” into something with real value and utility, says Fraser, co-author of “Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work, and World.”
More and more Twitterers share useful information, in essence giving the “headline” and sometimes sharing a Web link that points to more information, says Fraser, the former editor in chief of Canada’s national daily newspaper, the National Post.
Twitter’s mushrooming growth has observers wondering if it could possibly be the next online phenomenon. The service is starting to grow beyond geeks and early adopters and beginning “to hit the mainstream,” says Louis Gray, a technology blogger in Silicon Valley.
The service has attracted 4 million to 5 million users, 70 percent of whom joined in 2008, calculates a recent report from, which analyzes business activity on the Web. An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 new Twitter accounts are opened each day, and traffic to the site grew by more than 600 percent in the most recent 12-month period, HubSpot measured.
Last month, Twitter passed, a successful, established news aggregation Web site, in market share of visitors, says Heather Dougherty, research director for Hitwise, an Internet measurement and analysis firm. And Twitter is “probably much bigger” than the Hitwise statistics show, she says, because much of Twitter’s traffic flows through mobile devices or other third-party software that isn’t being captured in Hitwise’s data.
But where’s the business plan?
Facebook, the popular social networking site, tried and failed to buy Twitter for a deal some valued at half a billion dollars. Like Facebook, Twitter has yet to make a penny for its founders. It’s living on money from investors. According to the Web site Techcrunch, a recent infusion of more than $20 million in funds means Twitter has, in theory, a value of $250 million.
But that’s only if a way to make it pay for itself can be found. “We plan to build Twitter Inc. into a successful, revenue-generating company,” the company Web site says. “Twitter has many appealing opportunities for generating revenue but we are holding off on implementation for now because we don’t want to distract ourselves from the more important work at hand, which is to create a compelling service and great user experience for millions of people around the world.”
Even if Twitter fails, it’s already proven that micro-blogging is here to stay, Saffo says. Second Life and World of Warcraft weren’t the first to jump into the online role-playing arena, he notes, but they were the ones who figured out how to make it pay. “Someone will figure out the model” for profitable micro-blogging, he says.
Charging a fee to use Twitter isn’t likely. “Anytime you have a service that is free, customers are going to expect it to stay free,” Gray says. Advertising would seem to be a logical next step, but other social networks have found that users find them intrusive. “They see it as a social space,” not a commercial venue, Fraser says.
But businesses might be willing to pay for a Twitter presence. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone says the company plans to discuss revenue sources this year and that paying for “commercial usage” is a possibility.
Another is that a big player, like Google, might buy Twitter and add it as a feature.
Meanwhile, the ways people use Twitter continue to proliferate. For consumers, it’s become “a big complaint box” where Twitters can voice their dissatisfaction, Dougherty says. That, in turn, “is making companies pay attention to Twitter” to see what is being said about them — or even start their own Twitter accounts, she says.
Celebrities beyond Fry are beginning to use Twitter to talk to their fans too. Britney Spears, Lance Armstrong, Stephen Colbert, Shaquille O’Neal and Tina Fey are among those sending tweets, each attracting thousands of followers.
Some might charge that Twitter is still largely a vast wasteland of self-indulgence and irrelevancy. But Twitter’s best days may still be ahead, Saffo says. “It’s already become a new news form, and I think it’s in the process of becoming a new literary form.” He notes how Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, brief and profound, was influenced by his use of the telegraph, which meant he had to get to the point quickly.
Twitter, Saffo says, may become “Haiku in the age of attention deficit disorder.” The 140-character limit “really forces the writers to compress their thoughts into a very short space,” he says.
Twitter is a “disruptive” technology because it is in “real time,” Gray says. With blogging, “there’s still a lag between when they post and [when] you get it … If you want to find out something that is happening immediately, the place to go is Twitter and not Google anymore. And that’s revolutionary. And that’s why Google, in my opinion, should be watching this closely.”

Source: Christian Science Monitor

Rescuing print journalism: Does Cable TV have the right idea?

TOWARD the end of the three-hour Chicago Journalism Town Hall meeting Sunday afternoon at the Hotel Allegro, the battle lines became clear.
On one side were those who believe journalists will do just fine in the future if they continue to give away their work product on the Internet. All they need to do is be more creative when it comes to content, advertising and funding.
These tended to be the younger, more entrepreneurial members of the overflow crowd of nearly 400 and the 14-person panel of current and former reporters.
On the other side were those who believe the free ride has got to end. All the innovation in the world isn't going to keep news organizations—particularly print-based outlets such as the Tribune—in the black as more and more customers migrate to the Web.
These tended to be the older, more established folks—the ones either stuck in the past or blessed with the wisdom of experience, depending on how you see the argument.
Normally, despite my age, I'd be with the young—the visionaries who embrace change, even with its attendant turmoil. They're the ones who refuse to cling to tradition for its own sake. They're the ones who are most comfortable with the inevitability that progress must destroy even as it rebuilds.
And, in fact, I was on the side of the young until a few months ago. Until then, I believed that large news organizations could thrive online by using the TV/radio broadcast model—by making it difficult to enjoy content without being confronted with advertising messages.
But for a variety of reasons, this model doesn't seem to work for online news, particularly in this economy. Newspapers can and do make money with Web advertising, just not enough to make up for the declines in print advertising.
I'm now a believer in the cable TV model. News organizations that generate significant original content should band together for their own survival and sell group subscription packages for unlimited access to their stories, photos, videos, archives and other offerings.
For, say, $10 a month, a subscriber would have a choice of, say, 50 participating local, regional and national newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations. Another $5 might buy an additional 50 outlets, and so on.
Why the bundling? Because the online subscription model doesn't work for most individual media companies. Readers just browse over to similar, free sites to avoid the hassle and the expense, however minor.
Why not try a pay-per-click model instead? Same reason.
I floated an even more vague version of the cable-TV idea from my seat on the panel Sunday, and while no one shouted me down, no one seconded my motion and the chippy conversation continued.
You can join me (free!) online to point out all the likely drawbacks and pitfalls of this model for distribution of online journalism, including the potentially knotty hurdle of antitrust laws.
I've probably thought of all of the objections already. I've certainly read a lot of naysaying about paid content via the links posted at the event's Web site.
There's no going back, skeptics say. News and commentary want to be free.
Maybe so. But unless someone's bold and unlikely experiment works, those on both sides of the battle lines will be losers.


Goodbye to all this?

Subeditors are under attack from cost-cutting newspaper groups - and Roy Greenslade. So do they have a future?

An email has just arrived from my friend Andrea, one of the most reasonable people I know. It is headed: "Fume fume fume!" She has just read Roy Greenslade's blog attempting to explain why there is no need for subeditors in the brave new world.
Greenslade, a former editor of the Daily Mirror, has become journalism's very own Terminator. In last week's blog for, he argued: "The current level of subbing numbers could be drastically reduced. In some cases, a layer of the editorial process can be eliminated altogether." While he accepts that subeditors on tabloids have a future, he appears to think subs on "broadsheets" may as well face the firing squad today.
The blog unleashed anger from subs, but also provoked a debate over the future of subeditors and, of course, journalism.
Andrea has been a subeditor on a broadsheet national for 19 years. She could have gone for other jobs in commissioning and editing, but subbing is her vocation. At times she wonders why she's so wedded to apostrophes and hyphens, literals and price checks, but she is. Occasionally she thinks it's an obsession (her face burns with anger when she tells me of an article by Ian McEwan on which his name was spelt wrong), but she knows why she cares - it's about respecting the reader. If we don't care about what is correct, how can the reader care or trust what we publish?
She's doing herself down when she talks only about apostrophes. She's also a great headline writer - ditto copy editor, cuts seamlessly, tells you when and why things don't make sense, is fantastic at layout, and can spot a libel suit in the making. In other words, she's a brilliant sub.
And she's not happy. As newspaper readership continues to decline, she says quality is more important than ever - those who want a paper want a good one. And she's pretty sure that quality is not best served by the renaissance hacks that Greenslade foresees will commission, write, edit and headline their own work, or subbing factories thousands of miles away staffed by people who have little idea about a newspaper's style or identity.
"Spellchecks may alert you to glaring errors but they won't tell you whether you've repeated a word in a standfirst or spelt a writer's name wrong or when something just doesn't make sense," she says.
"My ambition is to be the best sub I can. I love subbing! I don't see it as a stepping stone to a 'proper' job such as writing or commissioning or editing, I see it as a skill in its own right. And in my - biased - opinion, the very best subs are the people who share that view."
Helen, a freelance subeditor, was surprised by Greenslade's blog. "He was a sub himself, wasn't he? He doesn't seem to know what the role is these days." She doesn't think his argument makes sense. "Rather than streamlining subeditors in the internet age, what we actually need is more experienced subs because the process of getting stuff out is much faster and there is so much of it."
Is she worried about the future? "Not really. No one I know thinks it's realistic to get rid of subs. The whole thing would just fall apart without us."
Not everybody is so confident. John was a subeditor at the Express for decades and recently took redundancy. He saw the number of news subeditors shrink from 40 to about 10. "And we were supposed to be a subs' paper!" By the time he left, reporters were writing straight into the page. "I was reading a page proof and there was a blatant mistake. I said to a senior sub, 'What's that?' He just said, 'It's not my responsibility any more. Reporters write into their slot.' Things go in unchecked."
Little research has been done on the numbers of subs who have left journalism in recent years but David Ayrton, research and information assistant organiser for the NUJ, says: "There is little doubt the subeditor has been a target for cost-cutting."
Why are so many publishers determined to get rid of subeditors? "It's a virility contest among the bosses to see how far they can go. Like a reverse arms race," says John. Many of his friends are now retraining. "Lots of people are talking about flower-arranging, plumbing, anything other than this business because it's dead." Subbing, or newspapers in general? "Subbing. But they feel if this is the attitude of papers, then it won't be long till they are dead, too."
Stuart, a former subeditor who is now in an editing post, used to adore the job. But he decided to get out when layouts were handed to designers and editors started changing the headlines and rewriting the copy. He felt bored and patronised.
One of the fears among subeditors is that the death-of-the-sub blog will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A visit to a subs' desk at this paper reveals the collective outrage about Greenslade's position. "Agent provocateur!" shouts Steve. "Columnist!" sneers another, with a contempt of which Samuel Beckett would have been proud.
Perhaps the most conclusive argument for the sub's indispensability comes in the first response to Greenslade's blog: "Roy: I subbed the column you used to write for MediaGuardian enough times to realise just how much you need subeditors."

The Terminator - subbed and suited. Roy Greenslade responds

It did not seem the least bit controversial when I said it. Subeditors will be eliminated. They are already vanishing from some UK newspapers. London's free business paper, City AM, has dispensed with their services.
Publishers are toying with the outsourcing of subbing to faraway places. I see these as interim measures, however. As the digital revolution moves on, I expect to see more radical changes with a few subeditors "repurposed" to take on new roles.
But let me deal with the substantive objection to this brave new world. Subs see their craft as indispensable because too many writers produce work that is inaccurate, ungrammatical, misspelled and libellous. So their articles could not possibly be published without substantial corrections and, sometimes, wholesale rewriting. Quality would decline without subbing.
The truth is the existence of subs perpetuates the poor standard of copy provided by newspaper writers.
Contrast their performances with those of their opposite numbers in broadcasting. TV and radio correspondents routinely report direct to the public. Off air, they write their own scripts without any intervention from subs. If they can do that, why can't their newspaper equivalents? The answer, sadly, is that the current system encourages them not to bother. I want to see a rise in journalistic skills among writers that will obviate the need for subs.
Not that I expect subs who fear for their futures to agree with me. I understand some of them have issued a fatwa against me. So I guess I'll have to wear armour next time I visit a newspaper office. - Roy Greenslade


FT offers staff three-day working week

THE Financial Times is cutting staffing costs by offering employees the chance to work fewer hours over summer, including a three-day working week option.
The FT has launched the "global voluntary scheme" offering staff flexible working options as part of a plan to help ride out the worst of the media downturn.
Options include working a three- or four-day week between June and August, an option to buy an additional seven days leave and to extend annual leave at 30% pay with a minimum booking period of two weeks.
In a document to staff outlining the options the FT pushed the flexible options with a series of questions.
"Do you fancy spending more time with your family over the summer months? Have you been meaning to book that trip of a lifetime? Would you like to improve you work-life balance in 2009?
"If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, the FT may be able to assist," said the document.
"The options are part of our ongoing efforts to ensure we have the flexibility to respond positively to the changing market," said Aimee Watson, the human resources manager in global human resources at the FT in an email.
"We believe that this is a creative way to help the company reduce costs and retain talent, whilst giving employees the opportunity to take more time off."
The email said applications will only be considered where there is a "clear business rationale", and that taking advantage of any of the flexibility options "will have no negative consequences for your future employment".
Earlier this month FT journalists voted to hold a ballot on strike action in a bid to stave off compulsory redundancies among the 80 positions being cut.
In December John Ridding, the Financial Times chief executive, said plans were being put in place to cut costs which would include offering staff the opportunity to work less.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Newspapers: 25 things to try before turning off the lights

Here are some ideas on how newspapers could become viable media businesses:

1: Focus on original content, do not rewrite wire stories or press releases. If newspapers start charging for content people are more likely pay for content they can’t get anywhere else.
2: Focus on hyper-local coverage, newspapers should “own” their regional beat because they have the best contacts and the best understanding of local companies and issues. For example, SF Chronicle or the San Jose Mercury should be breaking all the top Apple or Google stories.
3: Don’t run foreign bureaus unless you are the New York Times or the like, or are publishing a unique perspective relevant to your community.
4: Be a regular and visible part of your local communities by making sure journalists get out of the office.
5: Become an active teacher of media literacy and also media production in your local communities. Help teach citizen journalists how to be great journalists, editors, photographers, videographers, etc. Teach how to be effective and ethical.
6: Celebrate the best citizen journalists/bloggers in your communities, publish them on your platform.
7: Become involved in local events, organize conferences. There is a lot of money in conferences. The newspaper becomes a vehicle for drawing people to the conferences.
8: Don’t let advertising networks sell your advertising. They take a huge cut for serving ads and you lose the customer connection. I often see newspapers running Google AdSense on their front page and at the bottom of the ads there is the message: “If you’d like to advertise on this site click here.” That click takes prospective customers to Google and not to the newspaper. Newspapers should always own their customer relationship.
9: Develop a hybrid content strategy for search engines and news aggregators that takes advantage of the distribution power of the Internet without giving away all the content.
10: Adopt a culture of a “news organization” rather than a “newspaper.” Paper or electron, it shouldn’t matter how the news is delivered.
11: Offer some way for readers to pay. Every newspaper has a group of fiercely loyal readers, some more than others, but there is no way for them to pay if they want to read their newspaper online. Many people like the positive ecological aspect of reading online and are proud they are saving resources–and many would be willing to pay for this vastly improved product yet the newspapers don’t offer any way to collect this easy revenue. One way might be witha PBS-style volunteer membership package? With discounts among local businesses.
12: Become the host for all important discussions about local issues and politics. Moderate the discussions to ensure civil discourse. Nothing kills discussions faster than offensive comments made by anonymous people.
13: Newspaper journalists need new publishing skills in video, audio, images, and should have some basic knowledge of HTML and CSS. Being able to type is not enough.
14: Help raise money for schools and other essential local services. Show you are part of the community.
15: Create a safe online experience, free from phishing, malware, and adverts for scam services.
16: Create a search site to search local resources and businesses.
17: Create a news aggregation site that provides your readers with access to news and other articles available elsewhere.
18: Each newspaper section should provide a search engine specific to its topic and region: Business: Company information and financial services. Home: Search for builders, furniture, decorators. Food: Search for recipes, local restaurants, etc.
19: Offer free classified adverts online and also have a free section in print. You can charge for a premium listing that offers better visibility.
20: Create informational pages to help people in your communities with common tasks such as how to get a business license. Where to find your car if it has been towed. Information for people that have recently moved into the area. In different languages. Have your web people create pages that are mashups of available online data but presented in a more accessible form, such as mapping police reports onto regional maps. School information, etc.
21: Hire additional salespeople. It is is a different sales environment today and it requires a fresh approach. Salespeople used to selling full page or half-page print ads are not the going to be able to transition easily.
22: Host web sites for important community groups in your region for free. You can run advertising on them and the groups will benefit from having an easy way to publish online.
23: Create a way of allowing readers to share in the ownership of the newspaper, or somehow give them a role in what the newspaper should be doing to become more useful to its community.
24: Create a directory of local businesses with space for user comments. Offer premium listings for a fee that also shows the business is supporting the newspaper, with a sticker. Yellow pages is a huge local business that the newspapers could easily own.
25: What are your ideas for helping newspapers transition into the online world?

Source: ZDNet

Skills training is not enough for the digital journalist

AS an academic, I've been given a front row seat to the unraveling of the news industry without having to worry about my job. But if I were a journalist, the first thing I would be thinking about is what kind of skills I might need in order to retool for the digital age.
However, my 500-foot view from the ivory towers urges caution: it's not the skills that you get that will save your job, or repurpose you for the future, it's whether you can learn how to think like a journalist in the Web 2.0, or what some are even calling the Web 3.0 world.
I make this observation after working with newsrooms who have tried to implement broad training initiatives, as well as after interviews with many journalists who have attempted to gain new skills themselves. Here I get to take some license in that the journalists I've worked with cannot be named, as they are given anonymity for human subjects research protocol by the university.
But I can say that one of my major discoveries has been that training – learning to take a digital photo, the writing for the Web, the digital audio and video editing, the flash, and the social media, to name a few – is not for everyone, nor should it be the answer for everyone.
I don't mean to disparage the excellent training that is occurring. Not to toot our own horn, but the Knight Digital Media Center's Berkeley outfit has become somewhat of a standard bearer in multimedia training for journalists. Poynter's News U offers courses in online and multimedia training. In November 2008, in addition to its News U offerings, Poynter nobly piloted Standing Up for Journalism workshop to retool and reenergize laid off journalists.
The skills, though, aren't the answer. As one news executive said, "We need to take staff to Web 2.0 and beyond – to make learning more nimble and flexible." This executive, after putting staff through training pilots, realized that multimedia literacy and a basic understanding of what it meant to work in a Web environment was what people needed – before they could go about learning the hardware.
What is this multimedia thinking that should be happening in these training sessions? Here are a few suggestions for journalists and their news organizations.

1. Journalists need to understand how the Web and multimedia goals will work within their own organizations. News organizations need to clearly communicate how these Web goals will influence the work production cycle.
2. Journalists at all levels of the news organization should believe that they can contribute to the multimedia vision of their organization. The future of the newsroom is also in your hands, and thinking like this forces journalists to think multi-dimensionally.
3. Journalists are not alone in the newsroom. Even if journalists themselves cannot think about how to make their work relevant to multiplatform content, someone else in the news organization can. Most of your organizations have people on staff that can help you brainstorm, even if you can't. Multimedia training is also about making new connections across your organization.
4. Silos, departmental rivalries, and departments that don't communicate with each other cannot exist if multimedia initiatives are to succeed.
5. Journalists no longer control the distribution of the content they produce. This is a very scary thought for many journalists, but the reality is that once something is published (usually on Web sites), it belongs to the audience of readers and becomes part of a conversation about the news.
6. Journalists need to rethink and reposition themselves the leader of this new conversation, which includes everyone from the traditional water cooler chat to bloggers.

Of all of these ways to think about multimedia in news organizations, perhaps the most important point to emphasize is that Web journalism means a journalism of conversation. London School of Economics professor and former broadcast journalist Charlie Beckett has come up with the term "networked journalist" or "networked journalism," and explains the idea in his new book, Supermedia: Saving Journalism So it Can Save the World.
The idea is to take the best parts of the civic journalism and public journalism movements and sync these up with the possibilities of the Web. Through networked journalism, Beckett urges legacy journalists to think of themselves as participating in somewhat of a pro-am kind of relationship, where mainstream journalists share the process of production with everyday citizens.
Multimedia training doesn't need to incorporate new skills if journalists can find ways to think about including in their work opportunities for conversation through citizen journalism, crowd-sourcing, interactivity, wikis, blogging, and social network, as Beckett points out, "not as ad-ons, but as an essential part of news production and distribution."
Journalists don't have to learn how to take photos, though maybe they should, but they need to think about new ways to connect to an audience that is increasingly connected to them.
The truth is that most skills boot camps don't turn the majority of the journalists who attend them into professional quality video editors or graphic designers; in fact, many of the projects they turn out in training sessions would not be fit for the Web.
But the value of these training sessions is that they do help journalists learn to see the potential of what these new tools can bring to the work they do – so instead of making multimedia experts, journalists can learn how to think like them. But we ought to reconsider the goals of these training sessions and align them to change thinking to change practice, rather than use them to change practice and hope it will change thinking.

Source: Knight Digital Media Center

Focusing on newspaper print, ad revenues in difficult times

HOW to maintain and enhance print and advertising revenues - two of the key issues facing newspapers in the global financial crisis - will be the subject of two back-to-back global press industry conferences to be held in Barcelona, Spain, in May 2009.
According to the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), although digital innovation is a primary area of newspaper industry development, print and advertising continue to fund these new ventures, as well as being the profit centers for the vast majority of newspaper companies, even in these tough times.
The new “Power of Print” Conference and Expo, to be held 27 - 28 May, and the annual World Newspaper Advertising Conference and Expo, to be held on 28 - 29 May in the same venue, will showcase the best examples of revenue generating and cost-saving innovations at newspaper companies today.

Some highlights:

* The art of balancing print and digital, a presentation by Mikael Pentikäinen, president of Sanoma News in Finland, who has introduced a “long tail” strategy at Sanoma House, the publishers of the Helsingin Sanomat.

* According to Pentikäinen, the modern newspaper is like a portfolio of specialised magazines, but with one brand and style of content. Pentikäinen will speak about the factors used to create such portfolios and, perhaps most importantly, how they create commercial value.

* The “Individuated” Newspaper ­ or the personal newspaper ­ may finally be within striking distance as user-content selection evolves, workflow systems improve, digital printing develops and distributors grow accustomed to new practices, says Peter Vandevanter, VP for targeted products for MediaNews Group in the US.

* The individuated newspaper would make possible very targeted advertising and begin to compete with direct mail advertising, a category which has grown tremendously in the last 10 years.

* Profiting from hyper-targeted print publications, a presentation by Martha Stone, director of the WAN Shaping the Future of the Newspaper project, who will explain how three newspaper companies in Asia, the Americas and Europe have successfully launched a variety of highly targeted products. Stone will show how the companies conceived, developed and launched the products and involved editorial, advertising, marketing, circulation, production and printing departments.

The research is a preview of the soon-to-be-published Power of Print report, a part of the SFN annual series of strategic reports for WAN members.

* Printcasting: People-Powered Magazines, which will examine the “printcasting” experiment in print publishing that is fuelled by blogs and self-serve advertising. The project, conceived by Dan Pacheco, founder of, is operated by The Bakersfield Californian, which has five years of experience with niche-focused print and online products.
Printcasting makes it possible for anyone to create a printable PDF publication online, whether or not they have their own content. Local bloggers and news organisations make their content available for printcasts in exchange for a share of advertising revenue that is generated through a self-serve advertising tool.

* Ten lessons from four age-specific youth-targeted newspapers in France from François Dufour, editor and founder of Playbac Presse, which has created four age-specific newspapers that have considerable attention among young people. According to Dufour, young people want news of interest to them and their age range, in colour and in a small format. They want to read for10 minutes a day, almost every day. They like cartoons, humour, photos, headlines, infographics, and opinion. They want to be taken seriously, but not in a serious manner.

* Evaluating and restructuring the sales department, a case study of the Manchester Evening News in the UK, which has reconstructed its commercial team and developed an excellent model for any publishing company that wants to reduce costs and increase efficiency.

The MEN model is based on honest dialogue between managers and staff, a clear flow of information and clear understanding of performance, and rewards and motivation to guarantee success. The presentation will describe both the process and the outcomes.

* Concept to design to market: the road to successful product development, which will examine the new lifestyle publications developed by The Sydney Morning Herald and the Sun-Herald that have brought in close to AUS$5 million (2.54 million Euros) of new revenue in under 12 months.

Far from being standard “advertorials” or special reports, these publications are high quality customised environments for select clients and are charged at a premium, says Kylie Davis, managing editor of the newspapers. She contends that customised editorial products are needed in today's market, and will describe the Fairfax approach, the editorial issues, how they were resolved, and the results.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mobile Internet will grow dramatically despite economic downturn, consumers say

THE first major survey of European and U.S. mobile users conducted during the economic slump gives the telecom industry reasons to be optimistic. Consumers intend to dramatically increase use of mobile data services over the next two years ― with a significant ramp-up in the next 12 months.
The Tellabs-commissioned survey shows that up to 71% of consumers anticipate daily use of services such as mobile Internet. Yet mobile users continue to raise concerns about cost, speed and quality of service.
The research1, conducted in the five larger Western European countries and the United States by The Nielsen Company for Tellabs, analysed 10 mobile data services. It reveals that more than half of the approximately 200 million mobile data users in those countries expect to increase use in the next two years.
“More significantly, according to the research more than a quarter of the millions of consumers who do not use mobile data services today intend to start using them shortly,” said Jesse Goranson, senior vice president of Mobile Media, The Nielsen Company.
”By delving deeper into consumer intent, the Tellabs survey comes just in time as the industry debates demand for services and capital requirements at MWC.”

Current users – For the surveyed ata services, average intended usage increase over the next 24 months was: 58% (US) 55% (Europe)
Non-users – For the surveyed data services, average intended usage over the next 24 months was: 27% (US) 28% (Europe)

In the surveyed countries alone, operators can expect more network traffic from around 175 million consumers for services such as mobile Internet, E-mail, photo uploading and Multimedia Messaging (MMS). Mobile data is clearly here to stay, offering operators a multi-million dollar opportunity.

Mobile data has become a consumer necessity
“Mobile data services are not a luxury, but a necessity that consumers plan to purchase despite economic conditions,” said Pat Dolan, vice president, Europe, Middle East and Africa, Tellabs. “By planning urgent and strategic network upgrades, operators can quickly and cost-efficiently address users’ issues and meet increasing demands on networks.”
The detailed breakdown of the top five services that non-users intend to start using shows that anticipated demand is not evenly split. U.S. consumers will drive more new mobile Internet use than Europeans: Around half of U.S. non-users of the mobile Internet intend to use it in the next two years, compared with a third of non-users in Europe.

Top Five Services U.S Europe
Mobile Internet 49% 34%
MMS 38% 39%
Uploading photos 34% 27%
Software/app download 30% 30%
E-mail 28% 32%

Breakdown of intended use in the next two years amongst non-users
In the European countries close to 40% of non-users also expect to start using MMS. Italy tends to be the leading adopter across all services, while Germany shows comparatively low adoption rates.

Survey points to issues to be addressed
Consumers also highlighted the greatest issues operators need to address: cost (too expensive or unclear), speed, quality and reliability.
Pressure on networks will be compounded as 41% of European and 71% U.S. respondents anticipate daily use of mobile Internet services. Mobile e-mail is on a similar growth trajectory, as it is increasingly available through a range of mobile devices.
The sustained increase in high-bandwidth applications and corresponding data traffic will create significant challenges for mobile operators looking to maintain profitability. Since most of the growth is expected within the next 12 months, this issue demands immediate attention.
“In Tellabs’ experience, timely, strategic changes to mobile operators’ networks will enable them to reduce costs, increase speed of services and improve quality and reliability,” said Dolan.
Operators that address these challenges early will take advantage of the increasing demand, while enhancing margins.

Source: Tellabs

Journalism's White Knight

ADVERTISING alone cannot save great journalism; in fact, it may just be killing it. As Walter Isaacson points out in his piece "How to Save Your Newspaper" in Time magazine, an over-reliance on advertising can have seriously adverse affects on journalism.
I would go a step further and say that the limitless choice and democratization of content provided by the Internet (and even the ever-expanding cable channel list) is having a serious impact on the quality of our news, as news stations must compete for ratings as I outlined in "All The News That's Fit To Monetize." Personally, I would love to see a graph of the number of pop culture stories covered by CNN over the last 5 years. My guess it is up and to the right.
A huge part of me truly believes that Isaacson is right, and that micro-payments for content is the way to go. The problem is, as he points out, we have been conditioned to expect Internet content for free.
This mind-set really began with cable TV. I pay my monthly fee for cable and, other than a limited a la carte and premium channels, I consume as much of as many channels as I want. Breaking this type of mind-set of the Web-savvy public might be nearly impossible, but then in rides a white (literally) knight. Thank you, Kindle.
Last week I read my first issue of The New York Times cover-to-cover. I had, for years, only darted in and out of, reading the articles by my favorite journalist, and those on the "most emailed" list. But with a single push of a button on my Kindle, I was charged 75 cents and got my own copy of the Times. I didn't even think twice about the 75-cent charge, and I would consider myself one of those Web-savvy people who have gotten very used to getting content for free.
But the Kindle is a different medium, with a micropayment system attached to the device/account. It's more like iTunes than paypal. The Kindle, or whichever digital reader becomes the killer device, can do for professional, quality journalism what the iPod did for music. What will make the difference is the way in which people access the content. We are very used to paying to download content.

Source: MediaPost Blogs

Newsprint companies face crisis

The publishers of daily newspapers in the US reduced their use of newsprint by a total of 1m tonnes in 2008, a 16.3% reduction on the previous year. But newsprint remains costly, having reached a high point of $758 in December.
It fell to $720 in the second week of this month but industry experts believe it will rise again as north American manufacturers cut back on production. In Europe, where newsprint consumption dropped by 3% last year, capacity is also being reduced.
North America's largest newsprint company, AbitibiBowater, has seen its share price fall dramatically from its $3.33 high two years ago to 24 cents in December. Now at 60 cents, it faces being delisted by the New York stock exchange. The company is now trying to sell off assets to meet upcoming payments on a debt of $6bn.
This iinformation is culled from a lengthy analysis by Philip Stone, who concludes his piece by remarking on "the ultimate irony" that Google is buying a newsprint mill in Finland, not to produce newsprint of course, but to turn it into a data centre.

Source: Greenslade Blog

Quality newspapers 'not profitable', Guardian boss claims

BUSINESS models for the UK's leading newspapers "do not make any sense", according to the managing director of Guardian News & Media (GNM).
Speaking in this week's PrintWeek, which comes out on Friday, Tim Brooks claimed that due to declining circulations and the advent of online news, the Quality Press is being forced to re-evaluate its operations to make them sustainable.
"The real issue is that the Quality Press, in aggregate, is not profitable," he said.
He went on to say: "The days when you can trade in just words are gone."
GNM, which is part of the Guardian Media Group and operates The Guardian, The Observer and, has not made a profit since 2000 and is supported financially by the Scott Trust.
Brooks has said he will never launch another printed newspaper and has pitched the company's future on multimedia and, which currently attracts 26m unique users per month – the highest of all the UK newspapers, according to ABCe figures from the end of last year.
"All future investments will be digital," he said.


2008 Top 5 Best Newspaper Websites

THE Bivings Group took another look at The Use of the Internet by America’s Largest Newspapers , and compiled a list of 2008’s top five Newspaper sites. Newspapers selected were among the 100 largest in the U.S., and in addition to being judged by their abundance of web features, were graded on design and easy usability. Check out last year’s list to see who’s staying strong Online.

1. The New York Times
The New York Times site manages to combine classic style with managing a frequent onslaught of new web features, and dropping the site’s pricey “Times Select” has helped to expand the Times’ already massive Online readership. Recent additions include “Times Extra,” which aggregates headlines from other news outlets and adds them to each section.

2. The Washington Post
Buried in The Washington Post’s crowded homepage are some of the best efforts at direct user interactivity to be found among newspaper websites. The Post’s rudimentary but innovative Live Online feature allows users to interact in real-time with Post writers and special guests, and users can customize their homepage to feature either Washington-based or national news.

3. The Wall Street Journal
The recent Wall Street Journal website’s redesign has widened the publication’s audience and its content, but its web efforts are still aimed at hard-hitting financial news. Registered-user features allow readers to track their individual investments, personalize their news feeds and sign up for breaking news financial alerts, but some articles still require payment.

4. The Florida Times-Union
This under 150,000-circulation features an unconventional, slick design with a big focus on user participation and social networking. The homepage features viral video and the unusual strategy of featuring staff blogs. Users who register can start their own blogs and are guided by WikiJax, a right-hand navigation that explains the many user features step-by-step.

5. The Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philadelphia Inquirer gets props for experimenting with “e-Inquirer,” a web-based edition of the print paper that will come into your e-mail box each morning with along with links to Online content, top news summaries and the option to hear audio versions of articles. “E-Inquirer” is available for a two-week trial period followed by a $2.25/week subscription rate. It’ll be interesting how this web-print combination fares among readers.