Thursday, April 23, 2009

New York Times Co. posts $74.5m loss

THE New York Times Co. reported a quarterly net loss of $74.5 million on Tuesday, a day after its flagship newspaper scooped up five Pulitzer prizes, the highest awards in US journalism.
Times Co. shares plunged 15.56 percent to $4.94 on Wall Street as the company, which also owns The Boston Globe, International Herald Tribune and other papers, reported a drop in advertising revenue of nearly 30 percent.
Revenue for the Times Co. declined 18.6 percent to $609 million in the first quarter from $747.9 million in the same quarter last year.
The Times Co., which posted a net loss of $335,000 in the first quarter of 2008, said advertising revenue at its publishing segment dropped 28.4 percent in the first three months of 2009, including an eight percent decline in online advertising revenue at its News Media Group.
The New England Media Group, which includes the Boston Globe and, saw a 31.4 percent decline in advertising revenue.
Times Co. president and chief executive Janet Robinson said advertising revenue fell across the board in the first quarter and the outlook for the current quarter was equally poor.
"Like many companies across America and in our industry, the challenges we face intensified in the first quarter," Robinson said in a statement. "The effect of the global economic downturn, coupled with the secular changes affecting newspapers, resulted in significant declines in revenues.
"Advertisers pulled back on print placements in all categories -- national, retail and especially classified," she said. "Digital revenues also declined, although modestly, as a result of the weakening economy. Circulation revenue increased slightly as we benefited from price increases at our newspapers."
Robinson said cost-cutting moves should improve the balance sheet for the remainder of the year.
"This quarter our operating costs declined 9.5 percent," she said. "This year we plan to save more than $330 million in operating expenses."
On prospects for the current quarter, Robinson said: "At this time, and it is early in the quarter, we believe the rate of decline in ad revenues in the second quarter will be similar to that of the first. In time, however, we believe that the economy will grow and the advertising market will improve."
Earlier this month, the Times threatened to shut down the Boston Globe, which was purchased by the Times Co. for $1.1 billion in 1993, unless unions at the daily agreed to pay cuts and other cost-saving measures.
The Times Co. also recently completed a sale-leaseback deal for part of its Manhattan headquarters in a move aimed at raising cash to pay down its debt and received a $250-million loan from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.
The Times is also seeking a buyer for its 17.75 percent stake in New England Sports Ventures, which includes the Boston Red Sox baseball team and their iconic stadium, Fenway Park.
Like other US newspapers, the Times has been grappling with a steep drop in print advertising revenue, steadily declining circulation and the migration of readers to free news online.


80 percent of newspapers gone in 18 months? Not likely.

THE soundbite that will circulate in the journoblogosphere for the next 24 hours, from columnist and Newser founder Michael Wolff on a panel discussion with Craig Newmark and Bennett Zier:
"About 18 months from now, 80 percent of newspapers will be gone. The Washington Post is supported by Kaplan’s testing business. The testing business will still be around in 18 months, and they will probably continue to support the newspaper. But that’ll be an exception.
Now, I have a bunch of predictions hanging out there myself — some have come true already, some have already turned out to be off the mark, the rest are wait-and-see — but this one is a real doozy. There are still about 1,430 daily papers in the U.S., so what Wolff’s prediction means that we can expect the extinction of 1,144 of them. Which works out to, let’s see, a little over two per day, every day, for 18 months. Sorry, that’s not happening."
To be sure, the industry is in deep, deep trouble. Most of the top 10 or 15 newspaper owners are bankrupt or close to it, and are in or near penny-stock territory. They don’t have two cents worth of credit left, and couldn’t raise the money for the most lucrative acquisition imaginable. Which (aside to Matt Ingram) is why there’s not much creativity coming from them. (Amazingly, most newspaper firms are slogging on under the leadership of the same CEOs, which is part of the problem.)
And, to be sure, ad revenue has been heading downward not just for a few years, but in truth, when measured in relation to all other media, for more than 60 years (that dark blue line):

Data from Universal-McCann via the Television Bureau of Advertising; also from Internet Advertising Bureau, National Cable and Telecommunications Association.)
Yes, 60 years ago, newspapers took in 37 percent of all ad dollars in the U.S., and it’s been steadily downhill ever since. (A century ago, it was probably 75 percent or more, but nobody was measuring.) In 2008, preliminarily (some figures are still estimated), they’re looking at 13 percent, down from 18 percent five years ago. In a year or two, internet advertising (that’s the upwardly mobile line of light blue diamonds) will have a bigger slice than newspapers. We know the reasons: loss of national advertising to TV, loss of monopolistic ad pricing power, loss of classifieds to Craigslist, etc.
Moreover, circulation is dropping like a stone (down 4.8 percent for the six months ending last September 30, and we’ll get a similar stat for the October-March period any day now). As the print audience is lost, it disperses online and is not retained on newspaper web sites.
This doesn’t look like a formula for survival, so why is Michael Wolff wrong in predicting an 80 percent shutdown rate? Because 73 percent of America’s newspapers have a circulation of 25,000 or less. Another 13 percent were in the 25,000-50,000 bracket. So 86 percent of the daily newspapers in America are in small towns and cities. And yes, some of them lose money, because things are not good in those towns right now. But the vast majority of those papers are profitable. Not as profitable as they once were, but they were profitable during the Depression (I’ve seen some of the old P&Ls), they’re profitable now, and they’ll be profitable 18 months from now.
The problem is that newspaper owners have leveraged their cash flow to the hilt to make risky, ill-considered acquisitions that have now put many of them at, or over, the brink of bankruptcy. Their larger assets — most of the top 100 or so papers (those over 90,000 or so in circulation) — are probably in the red on an operating revenue basis, because they lack the grass-roots small-business advertising support the small dailies have, and are saddled with expensive real estate, distribution arrangements and union contracts. Hence threats to close papers like the Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle. But even if all the chains go bankrupt, operationally profitable assets like small-town dailies will be sold off intact, not shut down.
Even those metro-sized papers will, for the most part, survive the next 18 months, although most of them will cut further their distribution, their contents, and if they’re smart, their publishing frequency down to 1, 2 or 2 days a week. In fact, I would agree with Wolff to this extent: 80 percent of the top 100 papers will not be seven-day papers 18 months from now (make that my first 2010 prediction).
In the hinterlands, 18 months from now, we’ll still find most of those 1200 or so small-town, small-city dailies — many with cuts in publishing schedules (to five or six days a week), paging, features, staffing or format, but carrying on as the voices of their communities. Those small dailies have the biggest opportunity, capacity and flexibility to innovate and find new models that can survive beyond the next year or two. What they need is some leeway from headquarters to experiment so that some of them can discover the models that others can emulate. They need to be digital enterprises 18 months from now. If they don’t make that transition, plenty of new enterprises, including many with print components, will arise to show the way.
I just acquired a wood stove to cut down on my heating bills next winter. I expect to be starting the fires, for quite a few years, with newsprint delivered by my local small-town daily newspaper.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The 2009 Pulitzer Prize winners

PUBLIC SERVICE: Alexandra Berzon & staff (The Las Vegas Sun)

Berzon was cited for "courageous reporting" that exposed a high death rate among construction workers on the Las Vegas strip and how lax safety rules and the rush to build quickly contributed to the injury and death rate.
The newspaper reported that 12 workers had died within 18 months on the Strip in the middle of a $32 billion building boom, including the largest private commercial development in U.S. history.
Ten weeks after the first stories appeared in March 2008, the newspaper wrote in its entry letter, workers walked out at MGM Mirage's $9.2 billion CityCenter project. The paper said that no workers died after the industry made safety improvements three months after the stories were published.
"To see things change as a result, that is really a satisfying thing as a reporter," said Berzon, a 29-year-old writer who joined the paper 18 months ago.


The New York Times was honored for "swift and sweeping coverage" of the sex scandal that ruined Gov. Eliot Spitzer's political career.
The newspaper's metropolitan staff broke the story on its Web site that Spitzer had been snared in a federal investigation as a customer of a high-priced prostitution ring. Just over an hour later, Spitzer issued a public apology. He resigned two days later.
The newspaper was also first to identify the prostitute that Spitzer met with in a Washington, D.C., hotel in February, recounted in an indictment listing the governor as "Client 9."
The newspaper wrote in its entry letter that it began pursuing a tip three days before its first story that a public official had been implicated in the indictment.
Over the weekend, the newspaper wrote in its entry letter, reporters began visiting Washington hotels, went to the homes of people charged with leading the prostitution ring and tracked down Spitzer's regular driver in Washington.

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING: David Barstow (The New York Times)

Barstow won his second Pulitzer for reporting on military analysts who acted as television war commentators and their conflicts with the Pentagon and their own businesses, which benefited form U.S. military policy.
Barstow's piece, "Message Machine," showed how the Pentagon recruited the analysts to make the case for the war in Iraq, sometimes rewarding favorable commentary with access to U.S. contracting officials. The Pentagon suspended its program, which offered trips and briefing for favored analysts after Barstow's piece appeared in April 2008.
"David Barstow's work is inspired by a keen sense of impropriety among the highest and mightiest, and by the courage and persistence to expose it," the newspaper wrote in its entry letter.

EXPLANATORY REPORTING: Bettina Boxall and Julie Cart (The Los Angeles Times)

Boxall and Cart were honored for a four-part series exploring that wildfire seasons last longer and are three times as expensive to fight in the U.S. West than elsewhere. The reporters pored through cartons of U.S. Forest Service records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and traveled to Australia to compare firefighting efforts there.
The Pulitzer board called the series a "fresh and painstaking exploration into the cost and effectiveness of attempts to combat the growing menace of wildfires."

LOCAL REPORTING: Jim Schaefer, M.L. Elrick and the staff of the Detroit Free Press, and Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Giblin of the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz.

The Detroit newspaper helped expose a steamy extramarital affair between Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his chief of staff by obtaining a trove of sexually explicit text messages sent by the mayor. Kilpatrick pleaded guilty, lost his office and served 99 days in jail for lying under oath about the affair during a whistle-blower lawsuit.
Gabrielson and Giblin were honored for "their adroit use of limited resources" for a five-part series on a county sheriff's efforts to arrest and deport illegal immigrants, and how the focus affected the cash-strapped county's crimefighting efforts. The suburban Phoenix newspaper has a circulation of 100,000 but publishes in print only four days a week, and will go to three days next month.

NATIONAL REPORTING: St. Petersburg Times staff

The staff won in national reporting and was also named a finalist in the public service category for "PolitiFact," an online database that fact-checked political claims of the 2008 presidential candidates.
The Pulitzer board praised the initiative for "using probing reporters and the power of the World Wide Web to examine more than 750 political claims, separating rhetoric from truth to enlighten voters."
The newspaper used a "Truth-O-Meter" graphic that was carried by other national newspapers and on cable networks CNN and MSNBC.


The newspaper won for its "masterful, groundbreaking coverage" of America's military presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, citing work often done under dangerous conditions. It was the fourth win by the Times in the international reporting category over the past decade.
The entries included disclosures from Pakistani officials that the nation had lost control of some militant groups they had nurtured since Sept. 11, 2001, and that the Bush administration had been late to realize the growing influence of al-Qaeda in both countries.
The newspaper praised reporters Carlotta Gall, David Rohde and C.J. Chivers for working "at great risk" to cover a story in regions where many newspapers had closed bureaus years before.

FEATURE WRITING: Lane DeGregory (St. Petersburg Times)

DeGregory was honored for what the Pulitzer board called her "moving, richly detailed story" about a neglected young girl, discovered in a roach-infested room, unable to talk or feed herself, who was adopted by a new family.
DeGregory spent six months watching the girl and her new family. She tracked down the girl's birth mother, the officer who rescued the girl, the doctors who examined her, the foster care worked who found her a home. Additional information came from hundreds of pages of police reports, medical records and court documents.
The St. Petersburg Times said more than 1 million people read "The Girl in the Window" online. It generated e-mails from 1,200 people worldwide.
"The story touched people," Executive Editor Neil Brown wrote in the newspaper's nominating letter. "It made them angry and hopeful, grateful and more aware."

COMMENTARY: Eugene Robinson (The Washington Post)

Robinson won for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign focusing on the election of the first black president, which the judges said displayed "graceful writing and grasp of the larger historic picture."
The Post, in its nominating letter, noted that Robinson chronicled, analyzed and at times anticipated the story of the election like no one else. It cited his trip to Iowa, where Sen. Barack Obama stunned the political world by winning the Iowa caucuses, and Robinson's column that predicted Obama might just win.
Later columns placed Obama's campaign in the larger context of the black struggle for freedom, just and equal opportunity. And on the morning after Obama's win, Robinson tried to explain how a man who grew up in the segregated South felt at seeing a black man elected president.
"In retrospect, it seems as though Gene Robinson the columnist was made for this moment," Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt wrote in his nominating letter. "He is at the top of his game: a vivid, funny, moving writer with an understanding of the big picture and a knack for the telling detail. He was an amazing chronicler of an amazing year."

CRITICISM: Holland Cotter (The New York Times)

Cotter was honored for his art reviews spanning from Manhattan to China, marked by "acute observation, luminous writing and dramatic storytelling," the Pulitzer board said.
He traveled to China in summer 2008 to explore art museums, galleries and archaeological sites. His criticisms also explored the bust of the art-market boom.
"As memorable as it was, Holland Cotter's fresh take on China was simply the pinnacle of another year of acute observation and instructive writing. The entire body of work, extraordinary in its range, affirmed his place among the finest art critics working in America today," The Times said in its entry form. "He can be funny, ethereal or brisk — he mixes it up, which is part of the fun — but the journey is always a trip."
Cotter has been a staff art critic at The Times since 1998. Between 1992 and 1997, he was a regular freelance writer for the paper.

EDITORIAL WRITING: Mark Mahoney of The Post-Star, Glens Falls, N.Y.

Mahoney won for what the judges said were his "relentless, down-to-earth editorials on the perils of local government secrecy, effectively admonishing citizens to uphold their right to know."
Mahoney's editorials urge residents of this largely rural area on the southern edge of the Adirondack Mountains to demand accountability from government. One editorial ran beside a sample Freedom of Information Law request, while another compared a closed-door meeting of representatives of a local town board and the state comptroller's office to a "clandestine affair at a sleazy roadside motel."
Mahoney said he was especially happy to win for his writing about open government.
"If I'm going to win, I'm glad it's for that," he said. "I think this indicates that we really are making a difference."

EDITORIAL CARTOONING: Steve Breen (The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Breen was awarded the Pulitzer for his "agile use of a classic style to produce wide-ranging cartoons that engage readers with power, clarity and humor," the Pulitzer board said.
Breen's editorial cartoons are nationally syndicated by Copley News Service and regularly appear in The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek and US News & World Report. His comic strip "Grand Avenue" appears in more than 150 newspapers nationwide.
Breen was about to become a high school history teacher when the Asbury Park Press offered him a job in the art department in July 1994. He became the full-time editorial cartoonist there in 1996. In April 1998, Breen won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning.
In July 2001, he returned to his home state to join the staff of the Union-Tribune.

BREAKING NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY: Patrick Farrell (The Miami Herald)

Farrell was honored for what the judges called "provocative, impeccably composed images of despair" after Hurricane Ike and other storms caused a humanitarian disaster in Haiti.
His entries included powerful images of a father cradling the body of his 5-year-old son killed by floodwaters.
Farrell said he was "humbled" by the award. Of Haiti, he said, "That's a country that everywhere you turn there's just an image that needs to be seen."
Farrell was part of the Miami Herald staff that won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for the coverage of Hurricane Andrew's devastation in South Florida.

FEATURE PHOTOGRAPHY: Damon Winter (The New York Times)

Winter won for his "memorable array of pictures deftly capturing multiple facets" of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, according to the Pulitzer board.
Winter also has worked for the Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News, Newsweek, Magnum Photos, The Ventura County Star and The Indianapolis Star.
His photo essay on sexual abuse victims in western Alaska was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography and was part of a portfolio that earned the National Journalism Award for Photojournalism that year.

The 2007 Pulitzer Prizes for Letters, Drama and Music:

FICTION: "Olive Kitteridge," by Elizabeth Strout.

Strout won for her collection of 13 short stories set in small-town Maine. The Pulitzer judges commended her for work that "packs a cumulative emotional wallop" held together by the "blunt, flawed and fascinating" character of title character Olive.
Strout's book was a finalist for this year's National Book Critics Circle award for fiction.

DRAMA: "Ruined," by Lynn Nottage.

The setting for "Ruined" is a bar and brothel in war-torn Congo run by a shrewd businesswoman whose stable of prostitutes include many already "ruined" by rape and torture.
Inspired by interviews she conducted in Africa with Congo refugees, Nottage crafted a drama that confronts audiences with the horrors of war but manages, according to the judges, to find "affirmation of life and hope amid hopelessness."

HISTORY: "The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family," by Annette Gordon-Reed.

Gordon-Reed, a professor of law at New York Law School, published her first book, "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy," in 1997. That book focused on how Jefferson's numerous biographers dealt with the issue of Jefferson's relationship with Hemings and whether she bore him children.
Her latest book explores several generations of the Hemings clan and, according to the judges, "casts provocative new light" on the relationship between the nation's third president and his slave.
The Pulitzer board said she was the first African-American to win the history prize.

BIOGRAPHY: "American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House," by Jon Meacham.

Meacham, the editor of Newsweek, is the best-selling author of "Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship" and "American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation."
His latest work looks at how Jackson's pivotal years in the White House as the nation's seventh chief executive helped shape the modern presidency. The book was described by the judges as an "unflinching portrait" of Jackson, written in "agile" prose that brings Jackson's story to life.

POETRY: "The Shadow of Sirius," by W. S. Merwin.

This is the second Pulitzer for Merwin, whose writing career can be traced to the hymns he wrote as a child and who won in 1971 for "The Carrier of Ladders." The Princeton-educated son of a Presbyterian minister, Merwin has published more than 20 books of poetry and nearly as many works in translation from Latin, Spanish and French.
In 1976 he moved to Hawaii to study with a Zen Buddhist master. Since then, his work has been marked by his passionate commitment to Buddhism and environmentalism. The judges described the book as "a collection of luminous, often tender poems that focus on the profound power of memory."

GENERAL NONFICTION: "Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II," by Douglas A. Blackmon.

Blackmon, the Atlanta bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, has written extensively about the use of African-Americans as forced laborers in the nation's coal mines, lumber camps, railroads and plantations in the early 20th century.
"Slavery by Another Name," his first book, grew out of an article in the Journal about U.S. Steel Corp.'s use of forced black labor in the Alabama coal mines. The judges called the book a "precise and elegant" work that "rescues a multitude of atrocities from virtual obscurity."

MUSIC: "Double Sextet," by Steve Reich.

Reich's work received its premiere on a U.S. tour that kicked off in March 2008 in Richmond, Va., with concerts in San Francisco, New York's Carnegie Hall, Washington and Chicago.
The 22-minute work can be performed as a live sextet of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, vibraphone and piano playing against a pre-recorded sextet on tape, or as an ensemble of 12 instrumentalists. The Pulitzer board called it a "major" work "consistently intriguing to the ear."

Source: AP

In 18 Months, 80 Percent Of Newspapers Will Be Gone—Give Or Take….

Media columnist Michael Wolff certainly knows an attention-getting quote. Appearing with Air America CEO Bennett Zier and CraigsList’s Craig Newmark in a panel discussion sponsored by Gotham Media Ventures, the head of aggregation site Newser, predicted that big media, whether it’s newspapers or conglomerates, are just months away from the dustbin of history. “About 18 months from now, 80 percent of newspapers will be gone. The Washington Post is supported by Kaplan’s testing business. The testing business will still be around in 18 months, and they will probably continue to support the newspaper. But that’ll be an exception.”
Later on, Wolff was challenged by a devoted, if vehement, NYT reader over some criticisms he didn’t make, he was pressed on whether the NYT would survive. He conceded that he was being a bit hyperbolic, but was dead serious when he said, “The NYT will not be owned by the same company 18 months from now. I stand by that.”
As many before him have done, Wolff pinned the cause of newspapers’ impending death on CraigsList, which took away newspapers’ auto, jobs and real estate ads. Newmark shook his head at that, saying that newspapers did not fulfill the public’s trust. “They failed on that weapons of mass destruction thing. And they failed on that financial collapse thing,” Newmark protested. Wolff: “CraigsList did it by taking away the ads. And they did it for good or bad, I would say for the better. They distribute ads more efficiently. But that’s what supported newspapers for 100 years. People don’t want to pay for content. And you could argue newspapers haven’t done their jobs. But that’s separate from the real story. They were supported by those three legs and they have gone to Craig’s List. 18 months from now, 80 percent of newspapers will be gone. “
The panel, which took place at the back of the Samsung Experience store in the Time Warner Center, Wolff also forecast that in another 18 months, the media and entertainment company’s home—which houses a mall filled with luxury retailers—would also fade from the scene.


Looking More Deeply At The Impact On Websites Of Newspapers Going Web Only

When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer went online only last month, traffic to its website dropped 20%. Some described this as a sign that the concept was a failure, but we found that hard to believe. The company had laid off 80% of its staff, massively cut its costs... and still retained 80% of its traffic? That's fantastic. Yet, people still seem to miss that point. The Wall Street Journal recently looked at a similar story, involving a newspaper in Finland that had gone online only a while back, and saw its traffic decline between 11 and 22% (depending on how you measure traffic) over a period of about five months. But, the WSJ article buries some of the important details: such as the fact that the paper also significantly cut its newsroom when it made the switch and publishes fewer articles. It also brushes over the fact that when the news became more relevant (focusing on the financial crisis) traffic came right back up to old levels.
Yet, the article still frames this as a "surprising" failure?
It's as if people were pulling just the bad news out of incredibly positive news. Both of these stories show that you can massively cut costs without a corresponding drop in readership. And, on top of that, if you actually provide real value to people, then you can grow the traffic as well. That all seems like good news -- except for folks who seemed to think that you could magically keep all the same traffic while doing a tiny percentage of the work.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Stop press: The tale of a fallen 'Star'

Awards and great investigations could not keep presses rolling at the 'Salford Star', reports Ian Herbert

Plain English. That's what they write at The Salford Star and you don't just have to take their word for it. The paper won Best Regional Newspaper category at last year's Plain English Campaign awards, and its editor Stephen Kingston becoming perhaps the first individual to take such a prize with not so much as one ad sales rep to have helped finance his getting there.
The award was recognition for what has, by anyone's standards, been a journalistic tour de force – a publication which has cut through the uncritical gloss which is so often put on the regeneration industry that has made a fortune out of deprived, post-industrial cities like Salford.
The Star's first issue, three years ago, included a powerful critique of the property company Urban Splash, around whose gleaming new developments the local MP Hazel Blears led a coach party during the 2007 Labour Party conference in neighbouring Manchester.
Kingston powerfully argued that such homes were, and still, are unaffordable to Salford people. The average price of the first 108 Urban Splash homes built and converted in rundown Seedley and Langworthy was £120,000, the Star told its readers. The cheapest was £99,500, far beyond the means of most people living in this deprived city. The piece got the paper shortlisted for another gong, a Paul Foot award for investigative journalism.
The Star has also been relating to Salfordians what the BBC's big names have been saying about their move to Salford's mediacity:UK (Radio 5 Live's Nicky Campbell and the corporation's in-house magazine Ariel don't seem to get the significant difference between Salford and Manchester).
On the face of things, a publication which has continued to mix more of this scrutinising work – it was the Star that pointed out that Bryan Gray, the chairman of the North-West Development Agency, also works for Peel Media, the developer of mediacity:UK, which is receiving £31.8m of NWDA money – should be flourishing at a time when local newspaper owners are retrenching.
Greater Manchester is a war zone in this respect, Guardian Media Group having closed a raft of suburban offices and brought journalists back to Deansgate in the city centre. But the title with all the money in Salford is the council's own monthly publication Life In Salford, fuelled by £175,000 of taxpayers' money. The Star, despite repeatedly selling out its 15,000 print run, can no longer afford the costs of its operation and, for an as yet unspecified period, has gone solely online from this month.
It is a not a decision Kingston feels comfortable with, because it goes against the grain of the inclusive publication the Star has become. "Only one in five people have internet access in Salford so most people can't actually see we are online," he says. "I'm printing posters and putting them in shop windows to encourage people to go online, but many can't."
Some editors will doubtless heave sighs at the thought of the kind of investigations Kingston goes in for. Regeneration stories just don't tend to "make" these days. Urban Splash hits the national press when it's glitzing up Morecambe's art deco Midland Hotel, with its Eric Gill murals, not when someone's questioning Bryan Gray's role as chairman of Urban Splash Hotels (which, coincidentally, has also received NWDA money).
But Salfordian culture fills two-thirds of the Star and few editors would baulk at the first online issue's behind-the-scenes images from the set of Channel 4's Shameless, which are well worth viewing online. Tina Malone, who plays big bad Mimi, pictured left, might live in Salford Quays but she hails from a council estate not too far in spirit from Chatsworth Estate, the Star reveals.
The economics of publishing meant Kingston spent three months earlier this year working as a teaching assistant in nearby Bolton to give himself an income. The Star launched with social funding (Awards for All, UnLtd and the East Salford Community Committee all chipped in, with the offer of money for training from New Deal for Communities) but that has stopped. "I have had 100 volunteers, including photographers, five graphic designers, distributors," says Kingston. "But only half of the print costs are covered by advertising. The problem is that if you are going to produce a proper community magazine you might have to bite the hand that feeds you. Because we are scrutinising and taking figures apart, advertisers don't want to go near you."
Other publishers are also struggling. The Salford Advertiser, has lost £100,000 of council advertising. The North-WestEnquirer folded in less than a year and spawned the website How-Do, a lively place for local media industry news and jobs but, unlike Kingston's paper, is obviously aimed at readers with plentiful online access.
Salford is the place whose working class people were studied by Marx and Engels and discussed by them in The Crescent pub on the A6. The Star seems like a classic example of those publications which, as the Culture Secretary Andy Burnham suggested two weeks ago, would benefit from becoming part of a different business model funded by media trusts or mutuals. "At the end of the day we are not party political and we are not in this to make a profit," says Kingston. In the meantime, hits to the website have risen by 2000 per cent. Beat that for triumph through adversity.


As the web cripples papers, an internet licence fee could help deliver the news

TWO great anxieties are running Britain's media ragged as Gordon Brown's visions of Digital Britain take shape. One, stretching back over anxious decades, is the BBC's fear of losing its licence fee (or watching it sliced away by competitors short of advertising). The other, transfixing both national and regional press, sees internet websites taking over print's role without providing anything approaching traditional newspaper revenue streams: no cover price, few subscriptions, only fatally cheap ads. These are the ways that worlds end - unless somebody comes up with a bright idea. So tie these two ends together.
The BBC fights to keep its fee by offering something for everybody, even at the peripheries of a broadcasting brief. Thus, this year, it is raising its website spending to £145m, surging on with iPlayer promotion, beginning to stream full-length programmes on demand to your laptop or mobile phone. The television set in the front room and the PC in the office are no longer separate tools; they are merging, becoming the same. Fantastic value for £142.50 a year, perhaps, but gradually, inexorably, turning into a net loss. For there, just beside the 45-inch flat screen in your living room, is an elephant that can't be ignored.
The further Auntie strays from a traditional brief, the more vulnerable its licensing policies become. Are students sitting in an internet cafe supposed to fork out £140-plus to watch the Six O'Clock News on their Mac? Where's the synergy between detector vans, absurdly threatening letters, and a population on the move, poised to watch anything anytime as easily as they reach for a netbook?
It's a future that doesn't work. It needs fixing. And so, of course, does any sort of future for the printed press and the trained reporters it is still able to employ: the folk who publish pictures of baton-wielding cops, dig out stories of politicians on the take, and push and push again for a cleaner democracy. You might not like or respect journalists; yet try imagining a free country without them and their damned questions - a land where Jacqui Smith rules OK and Damian McBride sets whatever agenda he pleases.
That one two-edged word, indeed, sums up the whole dilemma - "free", as in a country where nobody seems ready to pay for news. Some of that is the press's own fault: it invented free newspapers. But the intractable bit of the problem comes right back to Broadcasting House. If newspapers made a mistake by giving most of their content away for nothing on the web and hoping that advertising would pay them back, the natural next step is a correction: start charging. But how do you do that if your stock-in trade is comprehensive general news coverage and the BBC, spending £145m, intends to deliver it on the web without extra charge?
Then putting a price on what you offer merely diminishes your audience, your ad prospects and your hopes for survival. Then - see it happening all around - the shedding of staff, the sacking of journalists, the hacking-back of reporting resources are just ratchets on a long roll to extinction. It is a particular British bind because the BBC's overarching influence makes it so. But maybe, too, there is a particular British answer. Maybe we shouldn't be thinking about abolishing the licence fee, but changing it.
Put aside American notions of micro-payments for surfing the news or big dollops of cash from rich foundations to keep investigative reporters in business. We're used to paying a flat annual fee for our entertainment. Plonk the money down up front and everything else comes without charge (unless we volunteer to help Rupert Murdoch's pension plan). The difficulty isn't that the system doesn't work, just that what we pay for is morphing so fast and so bewilderingly,
Use a little logic to shape events, then. Split the licence in two. Lump conventional TV and radio into one package that, until a few years ago, would have been the only package around. Then create a second fee package for cyberspace.
Here's an essentially simple equation. If you have a broadband link - the fundamental enabler - you pay for it with a licence fee. Your internet provider already debits directly away: add a modest extra sum - perhaps £1 a week - to that deduction as the cost of public service information on the net. Much of the BBC's own £145m web budget would then come from this pot. The providers take a share for collection and for investing in super-fast broadband. Then the £500m or more that's left goes to help pay for the most threatened public service: the news.
Because we're used to BBC licences, we'd recognise the broad guidelines that broadband could use, too. Internet cafes, for instance, would operate just like TV in pubs or hotels. Visitors would only need to pay once they bought a broadband subscription in the UK. Payments into the pot would go through automatically, at the press of a button. Such mechanics aren't difficult.
What would be more contentious, of course, are the arguments over sharing and dividing. But compare and contrast current rules about the division of BBC licence cash between independent production companies - or the continuing ruckus about top-slicing to Channels 4 and 5. These debates may never end, in one sense: they are also debates that governments must, and can, decide. Indeed, government has already decided who would rule such a roost in the beginning of such a scheme: it's exactly what Ofcom was put there for.
We can all have our notions of where the cash of first instance would go. I'd target it to established print-plus-digital organisations employing trained reporters to cover defined areas (say parliament, local councils, education, courts and health). No boosts, at this stage, for columnists, bloggers or celebrity chat: just serious, factual stuff. And I'd allow the flow of money to change as the move to the net gathered pace. Five hundred million would not stifle change or freeze attitudes, but it would underpin a properly measured process. I'd see the fee as transitional funding on a road to something more stable.
Would a move on these lines be universally loved? Of course not. Nobody likes paying anything extra for something that's "free". But when Murdoch says (as he did the other day): "Nobody is making money with free content on the web except search, and people are used to reading everything on the net for free - and that's going to have to change", there's no point not facing brute fact. Free may be lovely, but it's also increasingly tatty and second-rate. Free - from the net to TV to print - is a concept that doesn't work.
Internet use across the whole of Europe is soaring: up to 14.2 hours a week against 11.5 hours a week of TV-watching by 2010, according to a major Microsoft survey. For many 18- to-24-year-olds, the survey shows, their PC or laptop is the only TV screen they see, and one in seven from that group already take only video-on-demand, watching no live television at all.
Let's be clear about what this means: that old licence-fee models have finite lifespans nearing their end; that some vital public service jobs will get minced in the maw; that the sheer incoherence of change is kicking away too many of the props of democracy; and that Britain, using solutions it has long since devised and understood, can find a way of restoring a little order. One year into any new system along these lines, web use would be booming away as usual, the search for new revenue streams in full spate, the lust for innovation undiminished.
But there would still be the services we take for granted, the tools we need to benchmark our days: the information sources we can't do without when the best things in life can't be free.


Newspapers' evolutionary print

FEW practitioners of a profession or craft get paid for publicly speculating on the future, even the possible demise, of the trade that sustains their mortgages or rents.

But journalism is a singular craft, and its future, not least of the print variety, has insinuated itself at the forefront of international discussion. Time magazine gave the future of newspapers thousands of words a few editions back. The BBC World Service consistently digs up journalists or media entrepreneurs for interviews on the subject. So does PBS's The News Hour (seen here on SBS at 4.30pm, Tuesdays to Saturdays). And Radio National's Saturday Extra last week brought a well-credentialled panel together to discuss the fate, or future, of Australian newspapers.
To be truthful, journalists have always been willing to discuss their trade. Many (probably most) journalists are obsessed with journalism. It invades their social, as well as working, time. Who can't recall some long and labyrinthine pub tales of tremendous stories that somehow got away, of fantastic yarns that somehow got published not on page one but on page 19, of terrific features some ignorant editor declined to publish? It's endemic to the craft.
But today's torrent of discussion takes on a markedly different hue. At its core is whether there's going to be a front-page spot to argue about. It's about whether anyone gives a fig whether you have a great story or not. It's about if, or for how long, your newspaper will exist. It's a more sober conversation. It doesn't lend itself to beer-fuelled hilarity or casual insults. It calls for realism, even courage. It calls, as do so many dilemmas, for Will Shakespeare: "Raze out the written troubles of the brain/And with some sweet oblivious antidote/Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff which weighs upon the heart."
Some sweet oblivious antidote is proving as elusive for sectors of print journalism as it was for Macbeth. The US newspaper industry is estimated to have shed 22,000 jobs last year.
Such revered mastheads as The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune are financially embarrassed. Lesser-known papers have ceased to publish. Two-newspaper towns are getting rarer. Thus we must deem the current round of journalistic discussion about journalism to be of more practical use than all those pub stories about stories. Maybe it'll trigger, perhaps inadvertently, a sweet oblivious antidote. Or the seeds of one.
The RN discussion mentioned earlier, sensibly presided over by Saturday Extra's experienced presenter Geraldine Doogue, produced a disparate array of observations from such media-wise folk as Campbell Reid, John Hewson, Alan Kohler, Eric Beecher and Wendy Bacon. There isn't, unfortunately, enough space here to sum it all up. Very briefly, it did seem Beecher (a former newspaper editor more latterly associated with the founding of and Reid (once the editor of this journal, now News Limited's group editorial director) found themselves -- more or less -- at opposite ends of the debate.
Beecher believes that what he calls "public trust" journalism is as important to democracy as the judiciary or parliament. He says the diminution in classified advertising revenues puts such journalism at risk, and that what we might call the journalism of scrutiny could end up at the mercy of public funding or philanthropy. On the other hand, this was Reid: "I walked over here to the ABC (headquarters in inner Sydney) from News Limited. On the way I had the opportunity to buy 30 newspapers, from the militant Green Left Weekly to News Limited's (free) MX ... Newspapers in this country remain an extremely vibrant business, and we make a mistake if we think the canary in the tunnel is the US newspaper business."
You wouldn't expect the humble scribe to have the definitive answers, and nor does he. He began pondering the future of newspapers at least a decade ago, at a juncture when you could somehow sense stormy times ahead. It's a strange thing, but he went through a phase when just about every front page he saw would infuriate him. He became convinced newspapers wasted too much space and journalistic endeavour on effectively repeating what had already become public knowledge via the electronic media. If asked to do a comment/analysis piece to accompany some news story he might have written, he probably put more care and energy into the analysis. You began with the premise that readers already knew the bald facts about what had happened. But they probably didn't know why it had happened, and what the likely consequences would be. The scribe came to believe the entire newspaper should adopt that format: a brief news item as a reminder of what had occurred, accompanied by longer analysis and comment.
It was just a phase, obviously not destined to be that sweet oblivious antidote. And in truth, most of the proposed models seem flawed. Some suggest newspapers should simply skip the paper product and publish online. But it's a more complicated decision than it sounds. Would advertisers approve? Would traditional readers follow you on to the net? Should there be a subscription fee? Should the content be freely available to search engines such as Google? If so, why? What about a paper version at, say, the weekend? Hard questions.
There's this US idea, outlined on RN's Future Tense (8.30am, Thursdays) last week, where citizens club together to commission and pay a journalist to do a specific story. Perhaps they should simply hire a private detective? These things can, in any case, lead to nothing. Newspaper proprietors pay the salaries of numerous journalists who daily hit brick walls as they try to snare particular stories. The list of stories the scribe would love to have got, but couldn't, is formidable. The thing is that someone was prepared to pay him to try. Which is precisely what Beecher was talking about: journalism costs money. Less money could enfeeble journalism.
Contrarily, Reid could yet be right. This is one of those times when you can actually watch evolution evolving.


Online Only Edition: 10 Tips To Start Thinking About It

THE Christian Science Monitor and The Seattle-Post Intelligencer both publish online only editions. The Monitor prints a weekend edition as well.

It is Friday, end of an intensely busy week. Don’t know why, but on Fridays thoughts turn to the weekend (for some), and the week that was (for others), and for a few of us to the months ahead.
It has been a week of work with L’Equipe Magazine in Paris, as we worked feverishly with the team, under the leadership of editors in chief Jean-Philippe Leclaire and Jean-Denis Walter, and art director Francois Lollichon. The Mag, as everyone calls it, has now gone to press, and we will sample the first printed issues today, and readers will see it as the weekend supplement to L’Equipe newspaper tomorrow Saturday all over France.
We hope the readers like it as much as we have enjoyed producing it. We promise a full report on the new L’Equipe Mag in this blog this weekend. Rodrigo Fino, who has worked with me on the project, will cover the launch in his blog in Spanish.

Online only editions: some thoughts

Back to Friday thoughts: ironically as it may appear, I read a piece this week in the German daily, Die Welt, titled The great extinction of the American newspaper,
which went in-depth into the dangerous state of financial affairs plaguing so many American newspapers. In fact, the author of the piece, Uwe Schmitt, used the term “plague” in his report. I say ironic, because it has taken this German newspaper to mention a couple of things that I think about often: first, newspapers getting some type of “stimulus” package from the government, the local communities, whoever, to help them get over the hump. I say this is unlikely, as I know well that we Americans like to keep government and the press as separate entities. In that sense, the press is like religion.
Of course, many believe that the current difficulties newspapers face is not just a temporary kind of thing.
There is no hump, a colleague told me recently in Florida. It is more like a vast ocean, deep and dark, he said. Fall into it, and you are done. The second thought: is it possible that there will be a sort of readers’ protest. Or, as the Die Welt article puts it: “if the newspaper readers feel a growing sense of emptiness, then there is hope. Hope that more and more Americans will ask themselves if a life without newspaper would be the same, if that would be any good for them, their children or their country.“

Will an online only edition of a newspaper fill the gap?
For the youngest readers, 20-40, I am afraid to say, that may be the case. Older readers will still cling to a printed product, but don’t be so sure. I remember, when working with the 2007 rethinking of The Wall Street Journal, to be totally surprised by focus groups and internal research showing that many older readers of the Journal—-ages 55 to 70—-confessed that they checked news online several times a day. It is a mistaken notion to relate age to print versus online consumption and preference. The universality of online news, of the Internet as a medium, and its time advantage in terms of breaking news, is a reality.
On this Friday, my thoughts turn more towards how we in this business can apply all that we know about storytelling to this new medium, to study it, to dissect it, and to come up with ways in which we can make it better, more efficient,and give it a lot of the journalistic advantages and privileges that we associate to the printed press. Not to mention that all of this will have to be accompanied by a good dose of advertising innovation, to bring in the revenues.

When online edition is the only edition

Nobody is an expert at this, but we can learn from the successful websites and from what we know about the new medium:

1. Nobody should attempt to recreate the disappearing printed newspaper into its online only edition.

2. Remember that newspapers are something you read, but the web is something you do. Make sure that the online edition incorporates tons of interactivity. Allow the readers to get engaged, because they will, in ways they never could or did with their printed newspaper.

3. Emphasize the cult of personality: the Internet is a highly personal medium. Bring in your best columnists. Develop new ones, with varied views and perspectives, but, preferably, who are very much tuned in to what happens with the new media.

4. Learn from social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. and their sense of the “instantaneous” moment.

5. Redefine news, to extend it to the personal: we have never been more interested in the minutiae of life—-that which appears insignificant to some may be highly significant to others.

6. Do the daily garage sale: yes, garage sales are centers of curiosity. Someone else’s trash becomes another person’s new possession. Online editions need to provide samplings in the style of garage sales, news from here and there, the highly personal, the not so significant rising to the top of the heap.

7. Go all out to sell advertising packages in a variety of configurations. Nothing wrong with ads that embrace editorial content, the way it was never allowed in print

8. Pursue highly local people coverage, down to the Little League games. Remember, nobody else will do that.

9. Use the fantastic storytelling capabilities of online to guide users thru events in the city; show me a video clip of that exhibit opening at the museum this weekend, or the local high school musical that opens tonight.

10. Finally, don’t neglect the investigative journalism that has made your newspaper a pillar of the community—-investigate, expose, and continue to fight for the rights of the people in your town. Nothing says that investigative pieces belong ONLY on a printed page. In fact, everything that belongs on the printed page can be enhanced and made better online, if you try. Multi media packages give investigative journalism added value. Readers appreciate it. The message is presented more effectively and completely.

That’s a good menu of ideas to get us thinking this weekend.

And, tip #11 might be just down below: allow users to move blocks around the site to give priority to whatever they wish on the screen!


Monday, April 20, 2009

Big changes at The Washington Post

YOU could read the whole memo about changes at The Washington Post at Romenesko, or you could read the important parts more quickly here.
The bottom line, courtesy of the memo sent to employees on Thursday from Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli and his top deputies, Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Get stories out more quickly. Don’t worry about how you do it — on paper, a Blackberry or whatever. Just get it out there. And don’t slack on the writing and editing, please.

Excerpts from the memo:
Today, we are beginning a reorganization to create new reporting groups, streamline editing desks and anticipate the impending integration of our print and digital news operations. … [W]e want to simplify the handling of words, pages, images and new media, building on the prescient move to “two-touch” editing under Len and Phil. Decisions about space and play must happen faster, both in print and online, and in a way that pulls together our now-separate newsrooms. A single editor ultimately ought to be able to oversee all versions of a story, whether it appears in print, online or on a BlackBerry or iPhone. Space in the newspaper and editing firepower in general should be allocated based on a day’s news priorities, not a predetermined formula.
These changes will alter the way we do things, but they will not affect the commitment to journalistic depth, authority and excellence that has defined The Post. Just the reverse: We think these steps will help us to adapt more easily to the economic and technological challenges that face us, while preserving the best of our traditions and values. …
The Post also will:
* Group most reporters under a national editor and a local editor
* Start a “universal news desk” to edit copy, regardless of format. (It will handle online and print roles, which likely won’t make all the online people so happy as they worry about where their jobs will go.)
* Group other reporters into different teams to pursue stories in a more organized way than now.
* Rethink aspects of the paper’s design (Sounds like a big project, but it’s hazy for now.)
* “Meld” the digital newsroom (now in Arlington, Va.) with the print newsroom later this year.

The changes (which include a bunch of promotions and lateral moves of people whose names I know, but likely don’t matter to you) look like they accomplish two purposes:
* Reimagine how a newspaper newsroom ought to be run as the staff starts to think about how life will be after the printed paper goes away
* Cut costs. Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth, as we’ve reported before, owes her uncle, Washington Post Chairman Donald Graham, a plan to put the paper back in the black.
It will be interesting to see how they tackle these challenges while buying out employees. Maybe the transplants from’s newsroom will be more necessary than they realize. Now the question is whether they will want to unionize like their print colleagues. It’s always about the money, isn’t it?


Don’t blame Google for newspaper woes

NEWSPAPER people are wasting time and wasting their breath in blaming Google for the failure of their products to thrive in the digital universe.
They need to look to themselves – not Google, Yahoo or some other third-party savior – to begin strengthening their franchises and building up their businesses on the Internet.
The airwaves have been clogged in the last couple of weeks with newspaper people alternatively blaming Google for the industry’s problems or begging Google to come to their aid.
Google isn’t responsible for saving the newspaper industry or journalism. Publishers and editors are.
As a rationally managed corporation, Google will do only the things that advance its best interests. The company isn’t going to start paying for newspaper content or sharing its revenues with publishers unless it is required to do so to grow its business, defend its franchise or comply with some as-yet-unenacted law.
For the record, newspapers actually had a head start over Google. But Google “got” the web. And newspapers didn’t. That’s not Google’s fault.
Before you blame Google, consider:
* Several newspapers launched their first websites by the time Larry Page and Sergey Brin met at Stanford University in 1995 and started noodling on a research project called BackRub.
* Two or three years before the first public peek of the still-nascent Google in 1998, the ill-fated and short-lived New Century Network had a plan to aggregate the content from 140 newspapers in searchable format for the web. The plan, which included the idea of inserting ads in selected markets at the push of a button, died when NCN succumbed to industry infighting.
* It was not until October, 2000 – a good five years after most newspapers were up and running on the web – that Google figured out how to make money off its spectacularly growing traffic by selling keyword advertising.
As Google and many other savvy online publishers learned how to capitalize on the openness and interactivity of the Internet, newspaper publishers stubbornly spent the last 1½ decades trying to sustain their once-enviable print business model in the face of overwhelming evidence that everything was changing: technology, consumer patterns and advertiser behavior.
For an excellent example of the sort of opportunities missed by the industry, look no further than this tale of how the Boston Globe blew the chance in 1995 to buy a significant share of Monster.Com for a comparatively modest $1 million.
Or, ask yourself why Dow Jones, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, never started its own online stock site. Instead, Dow Jones waited until 2004 and spent $520 million to buy MarketWatch, faithfully printing stock listings in the newspaper all the while.
Today, print advertising has fallen off a cliff because consumers find it faster, easier, more timely and more fun to get their news online. Advertisers increasingly are gravitating to online media instead of print, because it is cheaper, highly targetable and the results can be readily measured and analyzed.
None of this is Google’s fault. Blaming Google won’t help.


A prescription for the newspaper industry


IN France, newspapers are in trouble, just as they are in the United States. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, wants to give 18-year-olds a free subscription to the paper of their choice.
In America, the news media don't take financial aid from the government, even when it's indirect. Still, major newspapers are shutting down, and owners are telling others that the end is nigh. As they say, pending death tends to focus the mind. So let's focus on this: How can an industry survive if it allows other companies, like Google News, to use its content without any compensation?
At a conference last year, I was chatting with Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, and Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google. Half joking, Keller asked him, "When are you going to start paying for our content?" Schmidt stiffened a bit and declared: "We will pay when everyone pays" - everyone with an Internet site, that is. There's an impossible standard.
Think back a decade to when the music industry was facing its own pirates, Napster and other Web sites that were sharing music files. What would have happened to that industry if a record-company executive had asked the CEO of Napster a question similar to Keller's - and then simply walked away when he gave a dismissive answer like Schmidt's?
"We would be in a world with thousands of pirates," Johnathan Lamy, a senior vice president for the Recording Industry Association of America, told me. If the RIAA had not sued Napster, "the exciting legal, online marketplace we now have would never have been allowed to get oxygen."
Online sales now provide one-third of his industry's income. At best, the music business would be a hollow shell of what it is today.
I asked Schmidt to comment; he did not respond to my e-mail. But he did speak to the Newspaper Association of America last week, and promised: "We can build a business with you. That is the only solution we can see."
There's another solution. The courthouse. The Associated Press announced last week that it would "seek legal and legislative remedies" to stop Web sites from pirating AP content. The nation's newspapers own the AP. Shouldn't newspapers stand up for themselves? (Google, by the way, does pay the AP for its stories.)
You might ask: Why does it matter? Several studies have shown that more than three-quarters of the news you see, hear or read anywhere is at least derivative of something that originally appeared in a newspaper.
Television news has always been especially dependent on newspapers. Years ago, John Chancellor, who was then the anchor of the "NBC Nightly News," told me of his morning ritual: He would pad to his front door and pick up the New York Times, then urgently look over the front page "to see if we had played our stories correctly." That was a long time ago, but quite recently a reporter for a major network news show told me of her exasperation with her producers' timidity. They wouldn't run her stories unless they had been "validated," by appearing first in the Times or the Washington Post. The point is, without newspaper journalism, the nation would have little original journalism left.
Speaking at Stanford University last week, Keller expressed his own exasperation over Google and other news aggregators.
"I wince as they run long excerpts of our material," he said. "I'll leave it to the lawyers to decide if that is piracy. But it's certainly freeloading."
Lamy had a stronger view. "If you are a consumer, and if there is no disincentive to go to illegitimate Web sites, then that becomes the cultural norm - a world in which people don't understand the difference between what is legitimate and illegitimate."
Newspapers offer aggregators an easy target when they give their Web content away for free. In a previous column, I argued that it's time to start charging. A robust debate has flowered over different strategies for doing that.
Meantime, Keller said he frequently encounters the lofty ethos of the Internet age: Information should be free! Wouldn't that be nice. Wouldn't it be nice if metropolitan newspapers didn't have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for their reporting staffs? Wouldn't it be nice if Keller's paper didn't have to pay $2 million a year to maintain its Baghdad bureau? Newspapers provide an expensive product. They deserve to be paid for it.
Keller said executives at his company are poring over precedents.
"We're looking very closely," he said, "at what the music industry is doing."


Newspapers Can Cope With Social Media

PRINT newspapers are locked in competition with the Internet for the hearts and minds of readers.
But ignoring the demographic shift to online reading is like turning away from the fire because it’s not your house. A disturbing new Pew Research Center study ( shows that since 2006, the percentage of people who say they read a daily newspaper has fallen from 43 percent to 39 percent, and only 25 percent say they read the print-only edition. Meanwhile, online readership has increased from 9 percent in 2006 to 14 percent last year.
For decades, we didn’t have any way to get information about local businesses and their sales, except from local newspaper advertising. Unless you lived in a major city, it wasn’t easy to access newspapers from other parts of the country, let alone other parts of the world.
That gave newspapers and magazines a compelling way to generate lucrative revenue from advertisers, because if an advertiser wanted to reach a particular geographic audience, this was the only way to do it.
Today, if you’re interested in global news, you can read a newspaper from Europe. If there’s breaking news in India, you can watch Indian television over the Internet.
But advertisers remain focused on the traditional model. They think about eyes on ads, only worrying about how unlikely it is they will get business from readers in Mumbai ordering engagement rings from Philadelphia.
The new paradigm is not just about the readers, but about the searchers. A significant component of online advertising results will come from being effectively discovered in searches.
It’s going to be important for newspapers to have an online presence for advertisers, because news organizations will have very robust Web sites changing constantly, with lots of hyperlinks that search engines love. Being a part of these Web sites will give advertisers lots of good visibility in searches people conduct to find products and services that solve their problems.
The way people find solutions to their problems has changed dramatically. When younger audiences have a problem, they usually use one or two basic — and online — solutions, one of which is now used in a verb form. They “Google” it. They don’t go to the Yellow Pages to find the services they need.
The bottom line? You need to show up in the first page or so of a Google search.
One way to do this is to pay for the use of certain key phrases or “Paid Ad-Words.” This is expensive if you have a popular search term like “engagement ring.”
One way advertisers are responding smartly is to create compelling “rich media” content like social networking communities, video and audio podcasts, and online presentations and blogs and to update the content on a regular, frequent basis. Google and other search robots love pages that update frequently (blogs) have rich content (photos, videos, audio, RSS feeds) and lots of hyperlinks (blogs, podcast show notes pages, etc.) to other sites and resources.
The general idea is to be helpful. Give up some of your knowledge content for free, in return for visibility as a “thought leader,” or subject matter expert.
A properly managed social media presence populated with good quality content, can make an advertiser the “go-to” company, the ultimate resource for people who want to know how that particular industry works, or how consumers of that product or service can become more informed about using or comparing products or services in that sector.
It’s all part of an overall marketing effort that focuses on where potential audiences are, not where business owners may want them to be.
Here’s an example of the power of a modest social media marketing strategy.
One of my clients is a retailing company. In addition to traditional media relations, we also produce digital photos and digital video reports about the events we cover for them, such as store openings, events with community groups, and so on.
We post the photos on, a social sharing site for photography (it’s also a very easy way to deliver photos to the people pictured in them and to local news media who use them), and the videos on, a video sharing site.
Because the photo captions had my office phone number instead of the store number, we were getting a lot of phone calls from people thinking they had called the store. People were finding the new stores by Googling the name of the store and the city!
But once we caught on and started adding the store address and phone number into the captions, the calls stopped.
Newspapers can face the future by creating a sophisticated way for their advertisers to reach those searchers by buying effective, searchable presence on the newspaper’sWeb site. I’m fairly convinved that the combined credibility of both brands will lift search results and restore profitability.

By Steve Lubetkin - managing partner of Professional Podcasts LLC, an award-winning producer of multimedia content for the Web.


Print is a powerful tool for mobilizing an audience

THE Dallas Morning News launched a print-only community newspaper called Neighbors in 2005 and, two years later, turned it into neighborsgo and launched a corresponding Web site under the direction of managing editor Oscar Martinez.
The idea behind the project: offer readers a place to publish their news on a separate area of the Morning News Web site with the lure of print publication for the best stuff. In addition to the Web site, 18 different print editions were launched, each targeting a separate geographic area.
The readers responded. Editors were inundated with submissions and emails. And, the way Martinez views it, print provided the motivation for most people.
“The innovation of neighborsgo isn’t the social-media aspect of or the amount of content generated by users,” Martinez says. “It’s the resulting print product, which is a mash-up of user- and staff-generated content. Print still has an incredible power to validate shared experiences and strengthen community connections. In 2009, this is a great story for newspapers to tell.”
Another great story for newspapers is how the editors at neighborsgo have gone about getting to know their audience. As Martinez says, “Before you can mobilize an audience, you need to know who they are. More important, they need to know who you are.
“Neighborsgo editors display their personalities online and interact daily with readers across multiple platforms – including prompt e-mail and phone replies, and outreach via external social-media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Once a month, editors meet with readers face-to-face, informally, over coffee. (A recent event featured nine editors ‘hosting’ more than 120 readers at nine area Starbucks.)”
For the Dallas news company, they have turned the concept of “citizen journalists” on its head. “In our world, editors are ‘journalist citizens,’” Martinez says.
MyCommunityNOW is a similar project launched by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in 25 neighborhood areas. The basic premise is the same: leverage an inexpensive and efficient digital publishing to allow an audience to self-publish, then use the best submissions for localized print editions. The lure of print motivates the audience while the Journal Sentinel recognizes that its reporters and editors can’t be everywhere, nor can it always cover the news and events that readers want. So MyCommunityNOW provides expanded coverage in each community.
“Let’s face it, if there is a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a new grocery store in town, the odds are slim that the newspaper will send out a staff photographer or reporter to cover it,” said Mark Maley, the site’s editor. “But if the chamber of commerce president has a digital camera, we strongly encourage him to take a few shots and post it on the local NOW site. It’s providing a facet of coverage that newspapers — especially in this era of downsizing and staff cuts — often can’t provide.
“But beyond that, we are giving people a chance to actively participate in how their community is being covered and to interact with others in their community through our sites. Just as people like posting videos to YouTube and photos to Flickr, they like to similar tools to interact with other residents in their hometown.”
The lure of print helps motivate NOW contributors, but so does a little friendly competition. So NOW editors frequently send traffic reports to the 130-plus bloggers who voluntarily contribute, with the page views their posts receive and how they rank compared to other NOW bloggers.
“My favorite type of submissions are the kind that surprise the heck out of me in terms of popularity,” Maley said. “Sometimes a small, two- or three-paragraph user-submitted story about a new business in town can get four or five times as many page views as a staff-written story about the city’s budget crunch or a more ‘serious’ issue.
“I’ve found that we can learn something about how we cover a community if we pay attention to what kind of news people are submitting to us – and what people are reading online.”


Digital Print: The Next Frontier for Newspapers?

THERE’S been a lot of discussion on The Digital Nirvana about the ways digital printing is currently being used for newspaper production, as well as some future applications. While there’s no doubt that the ways of which people consume news and information is changing, it’s also clear that some new business model concepts for newspapers are still utilizing print as a main distribution method. Two hybrid models that come to mind include the previously-mentioned Printcasting, as well as a start-up called The Printed Blog. Each relies on reader-generated content, news aggregation, localized/targeted advertising, and (of course) print.
InfoTrends recently conducted an extensive study to understand present and future digital print applications within the newspaper industry. The result of our research can be summed up in The Emerging Digital Printing Opportunity in Newspaper Publishing, which details:
* - An overview of the newspaper industry
* - Current newspaper production workflow
* - The case for moving to digital newspaper production
* - Existing and future applications of digital newspaper production
* - Adoption challenges (hardware, software, and recycling considerations)
* - Recommendations for greater digital print adoption with newspaper
As existing newspaper publishers think about new ways to bring back print advertising dollars, they need to look not only at online models, but also how they can differentiate their print offerings. Digital printing can be utilized not only as a means for short-run production, but also for personalized content and targeted advertising. One of the things that we found when talking with some newspaper publishers is that there’s a lack of awareness about the possibilities that digital printing can offer to newspaper production. Market education is key. Reports like this one, as well as digital printing hardware vendors providing clear proof-of-concept applications and case studies of digital newspaper production successes can give a glimpse to newspaper publishers about new opportunities they can take advantage of.
So what are your thoughts on digital printing for newspaper production? Let us know.


'Free Is Not a Business Model,' Except When It Is

THERE are plenty of dubious clich├ęs in the air as the ongoing debate unfolds about the future, if any, of newspapers. One I find especially irksome is, "Free is not a business model." That's part of the setup for an assertion that newspapers made a big mistake not charging for online content and now need to reverse course.
Actually free content, advertising-supported, has been a pretty good business model for decades. We call it broadcast. McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt made the connection in a recent earnings conference call, as I noted in an earlier Biz Blog post. (Pruitt went on to argue that print, with its traditionally low circulation pricing, is almost totally dependent on advertising for earnings, as newspaper Web sites obviously are.)
I am beginning to think in the last month or two that free is emerging as a business model in a second sense. One sequel to the closing of papers in Denver and Seattle has been quick organization of some of the displaced reporters to new Web sites.
In Seattle's case, Seattle PostGlobe, launched this week, competes with the Post-Intelligencer's own efforts to continue as a scaled-back, online-only news service. In Denver Times has been up and running since mid-March and just issued a press release claiming 70,000 users its first month and 311,000 page views. Both ventures hope to build a sustainable base of revenues and contributions, but they are being started mainly with the sweat equity of contributors.
I don't have an exhaustive list, but there are other serious news Web sites, such as the St. Louis Beacon, that are largely written by the ranks of the bought-out and laid-off. Key to MinnPost's game plan is having most of the content written by former reporters at the two Twin Cities dailies, who work for much-reduced pay compared to what they used to make.
This phenomenon is not brand-new. A first generation of online sites such as the New Haven Independent, The Tyee, Coastsider, Chi-Town Daily News and H2otown had a journalist-entrepreneur or two at the helm and a supporting cast of volunteers or lightly-paid beginners.
Jan Schaffer found in her excellent survey of citizen media sites that few were a significant business success or likely to become one. Yet purposeful founders were relatively content, confident they could keep running and contribute journalistically to their communities.
I do not minimize the loss of professional newsgathering as the newspaper layoff/buyout binge continues, along with closings and threatened closings. But some of those shown the door have an impulse to keep on reporting and writing, even if paid only a little or not at all.
I'm not sure these efforts have a business model beyond nearly free -- freely contributed and free to consume. But nearly free professionalism may emerge alongside blogs, cit-j, hyperlocal and the rest as part of the replacement package in communities that are underserved by legacy media organizations.
If it's a distinct genre, likely to grow, I suppose it merits a name of its own. How about "post-professional journalism?" Definition: news and analysis produced for free or at greatly reduced rates by profesionals who have lost their newspaper jobs.

By Rick Edmonds

Source: Poynter Online

Online News Organizations Compete For Pulitzers

IT used to be that online news organizations were out of the running when it came to the Pulitzer Prizes for journalism. In 2007, Josh Marshall, the editor and publisher of Talking Points Memo, an online news and opinion site, was the first person to identify and reveal the full scope of the politicization of the Justice Department under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez.
Though Marshall won a George Polk Award for his work on the story, some people said he should have won a Pulitzer — perhaps the highest honor in American print journalism. But back then, because of where he works and because of the medium in which he works, Marshall wasn't eligible.
But Sig Gissler, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, says times have changed.
"We expanded the online aspect of the competition and made it open to online-only news organizations, provided they were primarily dedicated to original news reporting and the coverage of ongoing events," explains Gissler.
Those are important stipulations. To be eligible for a Pulitzer Prize, a site must show that original news reporting outweighs aggregated content from other news sites — and Gissler says the onus is on the news organization to make the case that it meets the standard.
Joan Walsh, the editor-in-chief of Salon, applauds the Pulitzer Board for recognizing the contributions of online news organizations, but she adds that she doesn't think the guidelines were clear enough.
"I felt like somebody had a formula some place that they weren't entirely sharing with me, and it just felt like more trouble than it was worth at that point," says Walsh.
Ultimately, Salon didn't apply for a Pulitzer. Neither did Slate — the chairman and editor-in-chief of the Slate Group wasn't sure it qualified. And Marshall says Talking Points Memo didn't submit anything either.
But at least two nonprofit sites — the St. Louis Beacon and MinnPost — did submit stories.
Susan Albright, an editor of the Minnesota-based MinnPost who has served as a Pulitzer juror twice, says that her site covers national and international stories, usually from a Minnesota angle.
"We sent, for example, John Camp to Iraq last January, along with a photographer and videographer, and they spent a good bit of time there, writing news about Minnesotans who are there," says Albright. "So we do news, but we do it in a different way."
Albright submitted that series for a Pulitzer Prize in feature writing. She says the prize would mean a lot to her small staff of reporters and freelancers: "I think it would be terrific. I mean for an online news site to win something like that would be great."
Gissler, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, says that the Pulitzer Board will continue to "monitor the impact of the Internet. ... The Pulitzer Prizes are a living organism, and we take into account what's happening in the world of journalism, in the world of the news media, and we'll, I'm sure, continue to do that."
Walsh says she spoke with Gissler two weeks ago, and he addressed some of her questions. She says Salon will "absolutely" apply next year.


Online-only newspapers 'may lose more than they gain'

NEWSPAPERS that ditch their print editions to go online-only may be jumping the gun unless they are in dire financial straits, according to a study published today.
Researchers from City University in London suggest that many newspaper publishers are likely to lose more than they gain if they cease distributing their printed products in favour of the web.
Their study focused on the fate of Finnish financial newspaper Taloussanomat, which axed its printed version and went online-only in December 2007. The decision was made after the title suffered severe losses – but even going online-only failed to lift it out of the doldrums.
After the move was made, the Finnish title's costs fell by 50% – but its online readership declined by 22% and revenues dropped by more than 75%.
The net result was that the publication's owners were no better off after dropping print than they had been previously.
According to calculations based on the Finnish case, a publication would need its costs to significantly outstrip its income to make online-only an attractive option.
"Only if your income is 31% or more lower than your costs, based on this case at least, would you be better off going online-only," said Neil Thurman, senior lecturer in electronic publishing at City and one of the study's authors.
"I don't think it can be dismissed as an aberration," added Thurman. "What we're saying is that unique users were down and page impressions were down ... You can definitely say they underperformed."
A number of factors were apparent in the Finnish title's failure to capitalise on its move to the web, Thurman said.
"Just having the print product out there on news stands does promote the website. They also cut their newsroom staff, and so the quality of content did suffer.
"But probably the most important factor is that it's a different medium that is used in a different way. You might spend one and a half minutes a day with the brand online, instead of half an hour a day with a printed product."
In recent months, a number of high-profile titles around the world have announced their decision to drop print editions as they struggle.
In America major newspapers including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Christian Science Monitor have gone web-only, while in Britain, Maxim and the Ecologist are among the magazines that have followed the trend.
Evidence about those changes has yet to prove conclusive, but Thurman said he doubted that many titles were doing so badly that going web-only would be a solution.
"If you look across the board, US newspapers are still reaping profits in the mid teens," he said. "Sometimes it's spin because they are in dire straits – it's often dressed up as a strategy when it's actually the only option you've got left."
The study, Taking the Paper Out of News, is being published in Journalism Studies and is also available on the City University website.


Is The Legacy Of 'The New York Times' In Trouble?

THE New York Times is the most important newspaper in the country and, maybe, the world. It is, writes Mark Bowden in this month's Vanity Fair, the flagship of serious journalism.
No newspaper has won so many prizes or produces such consistently outstanding work. No other journalism Web site comes near its excellence — or its readership. And yet, many of its writers, readers and staunchest supporters wonder if it can survive.
Protecting the Times legacy is a legacy himself — Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. — the fifth in his family to preside as publisher, and the man who, Bowden says, has steered his inheritance into a ditch.


Facebook now accounts for one third of all online social networking time

THE latest comScore data is good news for Facebook, ranking the site as the sixth most popular website in the world with 275 million unique users each month. That exceeds the 200 million user mark that Facebook recently made public, but regardless of different metrics the trends are interesting here.
Facebook now accounts for 4.1 minutes of every 100 minutes we spend online, which is a sign that we are using the site more deeply - or just getting lost because of that new design. The site accounts for more than 30% of all time spend on social networking sites, up from just over 12% a year earlier.
Facebook has seen very strong growth in Europe over the past 12 months, ranked as the most popular social networking site in 11 of the 17 countries comScore monitors. The UK is the biggest of those, rising from 12.96 million unique users in February last year to 22.66 million in February 2009.
Italy saw the biggest growth, up 2,721% year on year to 10.77 million users, while Spain grew 999% to 5.66 million. Facebook noticeably lags behind in Russia, where it ranks seventh among the most visited social networking sites and where clone sites including VKontakte, Moikrug and Odnoklassniki are very established.
Facebook Russia launched in June last year but, as has been the experience of western companies trying to break into the Chinese market, the sector is dominated by established domestic firms.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

USA: Newspaper Ad Revenue Could Fall as Much as 30%

NEWSPAPER advertising, already in its worst slump since the Depression, suffered by far the sharpest drop in generations during the first quarter of 2009, down 30 percent for some papers, industry executives and analysts say.
Publishers will start to report first-quarter results this week, but people who follow the industry and have had a glimpse of the 2009 numbers say it is clear that once again, even the most pessimistic predictions were not dark enough. They are expecting declines sharp enough to wipe out profit margins at many papers that, despite two years of battering, had stayed comfortably in the black, and to push already-weak publishers closer to bankruptcy, perhaps even closure. “I think over all we’re going to see a decline somewhere in the mid-20s” compared to the first quarter of last year, said Edward Atorino, a media analyst at the Benchmark Company, a research firm. “There have been a lot of signals that things have gotten much worse in the last couple of months — the furloughs, the pay cuts, the layoffs.”
John Morton, an independent newspaper analyst, agreed with that assessment, adding “from what I’m hearing, I suspect 30 percent won’t be too unusual for the bigger papers.”
One of the few publishers to make a public statement is the Gannett Company, owner of the largest and most profitable newspaper chain in the country. At a conference with analysts last month, Gracia Martore, the company’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, indicated that so far, 2009 newspaper ad revenue was down roughly 30 percent, and more than that at its flagship paper, USA Today.


In filing for bankruptcy recently, Sun-Times Media Group, publisher of The Chicago Sun-Times and several smaller papers, disclosed in court papers that it had drawn up its original 2009 budget based on an expected 18 percent slide in ad revenue for the entire year, but had revised that to 30 percent.
More recently, some publishing executives, insisting on anonymity because they are prohibited from discussing figures that have not been made public yet, say they know of some other large newspapers that had a first-quarter drop in the 30 percent range. Declines above 20 percent, they said, were commonplace.
“This is far worse than anything any of us has seen,” said an executive at a major newspaper company. “We can keep cutting, but we need this to start to bottom out.”
Small papers generally fared better than large ones, though they also saw a sharp loss of revenue, experts say. In markets like Michigan and Florida, even some smaller papers have fared as poorly as the big papers, Mr. Morton said.
Offering at least a glimmer of hope, several executives and analysts said there were signs that the year-over-year decline in March was not as steep as those for January and February, even though the traditional pre-Easter advertising bump fell in March last year. (This year, it fell in April.) That and other factors, they said, could signal that losses for the rest of 2009 would not be as steep as the first quarter’s.
Lauren Rich Fine, research director at ContentNext Media, said that in all media, “as the economy grew much worse in the fall, companies really started to pull back hard on advertising” to save money. In particular, automakers, among the biggest advertisers, cut back as it became clear that their own futures were in jeopardy.
Ms. Fine said it was hard to predict when companies would readjust their ad spending limits, which depended in part on when the recession bottomed out.


Broadcast advertising has dropped, too, but not to the same degree. Gannett said the decline for its television stations was about half as steep as for its newspapers. In a report released Monday, ZenithOptimedia predicted that ad spending this year in all United States media would fall 8.7 percent.
The worsening crisis has prompted many newspapers, including The New York Times and the Hearst newspapers, to begin developing plans for new revenue sources like charging readers online — an idea that most of the industry had rejected until recently — but it is unclear whether they will put those plans into action, or when.
Newspapers count on advertising for the bulk of their revenue, and for a decade they have been losing ads to the Internet, where advertising is much cheaper and there is far more competition for it. But until 2006, papers held their own.
Then in 2007, ad revenue for newspapers and their Web sites dropped 7.9 percent, according to figures compiled by the Newspaper Association of America. That was the first significant decline in a nonrecession year on record, and came as a surprise to most analysts and executives.
In 2008, the downturn in the overall economy magnified the long-term trend in the newspapers, and ad revenue fell 16.6 percent — again, far more than publishers and analysts predicted. The real estate bubble burst, financial firms tottered and fell, recession took hold and unemployment spiked. Some of the biggest categories of advertising, like real estate and help wanted, all but evaporated.
Nearly every large paper has made significant budget cuts in the last year, including laying off staff and reducing the number and size of pages they print. Recently, a number of publishers, including Gannett and The New York Times Company, have asked employees to take a pay cut — sometimes in the form of mandatory furloughs — and have raised the prices they charge readers.
In December, Tribune Company, publisher of The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and other major papers, filed for bankruptcy. Since then, Sun-Times Media, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, and Philadelphia Newspapers, owner of that city’s Inquirer and Daily News, have also filed for bankruptcy.
A handful of papers have folded or stopped publishing, becoming much smaller online operations. And companies have threatened to close other papers without major labor concessions, including The San Francisco Chronicle, owned by Hearst, and The Boston Globe, owned by the Times Company.


The Future of Journalism Is Not in the Past

Reframing the Debate Over how to "Save" Journalism

The question of "How to save Journalism?" is a front-burner issue, as major metropolitan dailies, like the Rocky Mountain News and the Philadelphia Inquirer, implode. Calls for bailouts in the tens of billions of dollars have gone up, even from critics of the industry, and some are calling for further relaxation of limits on media ownership so newspapers and television stations can merge, presumably to improve the financial prospects of both.
After excoriating the commercial mass media for decades, should we spend huge sums of public money to prop it up or abandon our concern about large mass media outlets and chains dominating local markets?
We need to step back and ask some tough questions. What do we mean by "good" journalism and why should we "save" it? What is the problem with the newspaper business? Will saving newspapers save journalism? Will allowing mergers solve the economic problem or improve the quality of content? What alternatives are available?

Why Does Journalism Need to Be Saved?

The premise of the effort to save newspapers is that journalism provides a public function that needs to be preserved. "Good" journalism is a public good because it creates value far beyond the revenue stream it generates. The benefit to society is supposed to be its function as a watchdog on both the public and private sectors -- disciplining waste, fraud and abuse -- and as a source of information for the public about important issues of public policy. Because it is a public good, commercial markets tend to under-produce it, so it needs non-market support. In the United States the mass media has long been subsidized, starting with low postal rates to support print media in the 19th century and running through free exclusive licenses to use the public airwaves to broadcast radio and TV in the 20th century.

What Is the Underlying Problem?

To deal with the crisis of journalism, we have to recognize key characteristics of the future journalism space. The majority of newspaper revenues come from local advertising. Newspaper advertising revenues are driven by readership, which has been declining. However, advertising revenues have been declining more rapidly than readership; classified advertising has been declining more rapidly than general advertising; and local newspaper advertising has been declining more rapidly than national activity. Thus, there is a migration of revenue to other media -- the Internet, local cable TV and direct mail -- that deliver more targeted or more compelling advertising. In 2000, the revenues of these three advertising media were just 12 percent larger than newspaper advertising; by 2007 they were 82 percent larger.
The future is digital: text, not print; viral, not one-to-many; and, in critical ways, more global and less local. For newspapers that means that geography does not matter as much as it once did. Functional specialization replaces geographic specialization.
Much of the journalism we lament losing is statewide, regional, national and international. If an issue is not inherently local, such as a school board election, it will have difficulty commanding resources in the local media because "outsiders" can now use digital distribution to aggregate a larger audience. Local papers will simply not be able to compete in reporting on global, national or statewide issues and they have begun to outsource that function.
Newspapers in medium to large cities that historically covered local, statewide, regional, national and some global news are in the worst shape because the new environment impacts their business model most. In the digital age, they cannot maintain adequate advertising revenue -- losing ground to cable and web-based alternatives to classified ads -- to sustain adequate investment in such broad-based reporting. They lose competitively in the national and global markets to the big national newspapers and wire services.
Small town papers may fare better because they face less competition in small local markets, but those local markets will not support the journalism that covers statewide, regional, and global issues. Large national and international papers and services may fare better, since they can aggregate demand. It is the hole in the middle where the impact is greatest.

Would the Proposals to "Save" Journalism by Saving Newspapers Work?

The assumption that subsidies or mergers will save journalism economically in the face of the powerful underlying economic forces or ensure the delivery of journalism's public good is dubious at best.
The commercial mass media newspaper model was failing to properly fulfill its public function long before its economic model collapsed. Any subsidy might push the economic day of reckoning off, but it will not solve the long-term economic problem. The most successful commercial papers are not necessarily the best. We could get more of the same journalism we have had, maybe even lower quality, as newspapers compete for more scarce advertising dollars.
Concentrating large media voices to shore up commercial media has not been an economic panacea. The large multimedia chains and cross-owned properties are having just as much trouble as stand-alone entities, and mergers have tended to reduce the quality of journalism in the past. The efficiencies that merging parties project will be gained by shrinking the production of news. The amount of news produced declines, but the number of journalists declines even more, squeezing the remaining journalists. If advertising dollars continue to shrink and attention continues to migrate to other media, cutting costs will not replace lost revenue and the burden will be born by shrinking the worst performing line of business, which is likely to be print journalism. One thing is certain, with shrinking markets and overstretched reporters, the quality of journalism (i.e. good reporting), and the types of journalism that best represent the public goods -- investigative journalism -- will decline. Thus, mergers between newspapers and TV are not a solution for the crisis of newspapers or the problems of journalism.
The dilemma from the public good's point of view is the fact that the political importance of the commercial mass media has always exceeded their economic significance and economic resources are shifting more rapidly than political influence. Newspaper and television are still the mass market media and carry substantial political clout. The hundreds of millions of dollars spent on national advertising during the recent presidential election and the role that newspaper endorsements play, especially in early primaries, are reminders of the clout of the commercial mass media. The counterbalance to the commercial mass media has not fully developed, either economically, to sustain "good" journalism," or politically, to blunt the power of traditional commercial outlets.
At this key moment, we should not prop up the incumbent media, or give in to its demands to concentrate, which will extend a model that is irretrievably broken, economically and politically. We should focus public policy and citizen action on building the alternatives.

Are New Models Emerging for a Changed Information Environment?

The commercial newspaper market in the 21st century media environment leaves substantial gaps in coverage that need to be filled. The digital age has witnessed an explosion of alternative media and citizen expression that did not exist in the age of 20th century mass media.
The cacophony of the blogosphere is dizzying and overwhelmingly opinion, but it is a vast improvement over a public sphere dominated by corporate media. Traditional media have begun to utilize this communications mechanism, with reporters blogging and bloggers reporting on traditional media web sites, but it is the independent, citizen and community media that provide the seeds of an alternative journalism.
These alternatives tend to be structured viral communications, in which a light touch of hierarchy can go a long way. The examples are well known, beyond blogging, which tends to be the least organized form of expression. We find things like Wikis, online posts, collaborative production and distribution in peer-to-peer networks, opens source software, crowd sourcing, and new forms of copyright, like the Creative Commons, etc.
The critical challenge for these outlets is to become trusted intermediaries. The critical challenge for society is to figure out how to tap into the immense energy of the public sphere in cyberspace while preserving key journalistic attributes someplace within a much-expanded public sphere. To build trust the new journalism will have to produce a steady stream of output that readers find authoritative, correct and useful. To ensure the quality of output, they will need to routinize the roles of reporter and editor and find ways to ensure that the reporters and editors have resources to do their jobs. If we equate good journalism with careful reporting, editing and opportunity for response, how do we map those basic characteristics of journalism into the new media space?
We can debate whether those attributes are the key to "good" journalism, but even if we take that as a given, it is the journalistic functions that matter, not the form. We must be willing to recognize other ways of performing traditional functions. How can contributed and paid labor, professional and citizen mix? How much editorial control could be applied without destroying the wiki essence? What models of editorial oversight best balance the goal of quality content and democratic input (lieutenants, councils, member rankings, member voting)? What decision-making management structures and group processes can promote progress toward completion of tasks, determine critical tasks and screen acceptable solutions, not unlike the functions of editorial boards and editors.
Some parts of the 20th century landscape can be mobilized in support of the new journalism. Consumer Reports, a well-known nonprofit journalistic enterprise, fearing a declining revenue stream from print publishing, has transformed itself into a hugely successful mass online subscription business. It has a trusted brand to build on, but there is no reason that other nonprofit brands cannot be built in cyberspace to support subscription models. Among the existing one-to-many media distribution models, those that are closest to the emerging citizen-media, like public governmental and educational cable channels on the TV side and low power FM on the radio side, have never been properly funded, but they have grown on the basis of a direct connection to the local community.
In other words, the participatory base of citizen and community media, a tradition that existed in America before the industrialization of the media and journalism in the past century, is a superior starting point for building a new journalism.

Can Public Subsidies Speed the Transition to a Good Journalism Model?

Just as federal Recovery Act stimulus funds will support computer centers and communications networks, a media stimulus package could support new local news centers and news services. Just as IT health and education funds seek to build a new infrastructure for public service in their areas, IT media funding can build infrastructure in the journalism space. Public subsidies can be directed to alternative forms of media and journalism with the objective of establishing financially viable new forms of production and distribution of journalistic content.
No one can predict which models will succeed, but in the rapidly changing environment, solutions that preserve the past are more likely to fail or make matters worse. The outcome will be much better if we confront the right and hard questions from the get-go in order to arrive at a sustainable journalism that serves its function in society. If we intend to build an institution of journalism as the four estate in the 21st century, we need to build it from the fresh clay of alternative media in cyberspace and the moment of the collapse of 20th century journalism is the ideal time to start.