January 31, 2003

Does Quality Matter?

Rewrite! has an informative post about The Quality Project, an effort by Philip Meyer, who holds the Knight Chair in Journalism at the University of North Carolina, to "measure quality and track its benefits to the bottom line."

The project is still underway and as yet offers no conclusions, but the resources section of its website lists several interesting readings. Rewrite cites one on editorial staffing and another entitled "Anatomy of a Death Spiral: Newspapers and Their Credibility."

 The Quality Project

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:05 AM | Comments (5)

January 30, 2003

Newspaper Execs Reveal Their Nightmares

Editor & Publisher's latest story from NAA's Connections conference reports on the sleeping habits of newspaper executives. The story asks: What keeps newspaper.com executives awake at night? And the execs answer:

Hilary A. Schneider, president and CEO of Knight Ridder Digital: Staying relevant in fragmented media world.
Christopher Schroeder, Washingtonpost Newsweek Interactive CEO and publisher: Advertsing inventory.
David Hiller, Tribune Interactive president: Monster.com and paid content.
Martin Nisenholtz, New York Times Digital CEO: Scaliability.

At least none of them admitted to waking up because they were passive/defensive.

Posted by Tim Porter at 04:17 PM | Comments (2)

Unleash the Reporters of War

Jim Moscu writes in Editor and Publisher that he detects a disturbing excitement in some newsrooms about the prospect of covering what now seems to be the inevitable Iraq War.

"Like a journalist seduced by his source, American newsrooms can be easily distracted from a story by their own preparations for it. And, at the moment, newsrooms are bewitched by their efforts to get ready for war.

"…Add to the mix an entire new generation of reporters - most young, all hungry - eager to earn "war reporter" stripes. Exotic combat gear, for the first time, is pouring into newsrooms: flak jackets, satellite phones, helmets, field first-aid kits, generators, piles of cash."

Moscu ends with this anecdote:

"A young reporter for a Denver newspaper said to me that he thought war reporting was "the highest calling" for a journalist. He's preparing for Iraq. He's a nice guy, enthusiastic about his job. But the comment gnawed at me. Weeks later, I realized he was dead wrong. The highest calling in journalism is not war reporting. It's finding the story that would help prevent a war. Along the road to Baghdad, we seem to have lost that idea."

 Newsrooms Bewitched by Iraq War
 War Could Squeeze Newspaper Profits  E&P reports that analysts predict a fall-off in ad revenue

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:26 AM

January 29, 2003

Passive/Defensive Personality

Some newspapers are finally looking inward for the answers to circulation declines -- and finding that self-reflection can produce ugly truths.

The NAA's annual conference on marketing this week offered a session entitled "Winning Strategies: Coaching Towards a New Culture" and keeping with the organization's sophomoric gridiron theme for its convention (see logo for NAA's new media conference) described the panel thusly: "Learn how three publishers from a variety of professional backgrounds have shaped the culture of their winning teams. They will share information from their playbooks about their own career progression as well as steps they have taken to positively influence change within their companies."

Editor and Publisher's report from the conference didn't have much to say about positive influence. Instead, it portrayed these player/publisher coaches as baffled by the ennui and self-loathing in their own organizations.

Marti Buscaglia, of the Duluth News-Tribune, said she wanted an "environment that fostered responsibility and autonomy, rewarded performance and encouraged better interdepartmental communication. An analysis of employee surveys, however, found those qualities wanting.

"When we looked at our results, they were horrible," she said. "Like many newspapers, we found we were passive/defensive."

Even worse, she said, "staffers said in surveys that they wouldn't recommend the paper to prospective employees or customers."

And these are not even the cynics in the newsroom. These are the people being paid to sell the paper.

Let's state something simple: A newspaper is a business. It is an information product that competes in a changing, option-rich marketplace that increasingly awards content innovation, customer interaction and convenience of service.

These characteristics cannot be developed by an organization with a passive/defensive personality -- whatever that is. (Hey, we don't didn't do anything so don't blame us!)

At another NAA convention only two weeks ago, this one on readership, a demographer urged editors and publishers to adopt the mantra of Service, Context and Dialogue as a mechanism of survival.

Heck, even a passive/defensive publisher ought to be able to say that three times a day.

(By the way, the Duluth News Tribune is owned by Knight-Ridder, which just issued a rosy revenue outlook for 2003. Maybe it should use some of that money to send a shrink to Duluth.)

UPDATE, Jan. 30: Thanks to Meg from Rewrite! for the pointer to this definition of Passive/Defensive: Represents an unduly strong orientation toward people as opposed to tasks, fuelled by and reinforcing individual insecurity. These styles characterise people who subordinate themselves to the organisation but, in the process, end up creating stress for themselves and allowing the organisation to stagnate. Passive/Defensive styles can produce a predictable and secure situation, but at the cost of learning, adaptability and ultimately survival.

Posted by Tim Porter at 06:26 PM | Comments (4)

January 28, 2003

Missed Connections

Dan Gillmor reports in from the Newspaper Association of America's new media conference, Connections, where he says the "talk is more about revenue than journalism," which shouldn't be surprising given the convention's logo (left).

Gillmor is at Connections to speak on a panel about blogs. He points out that the cumbersome subtitle and description of the panel -- ("Blogs: Rebuilding Community or Chat Overblown?") and ("How to use Weblogs to drive a younger audience and increase your site dwell time without getting caught up in the 'fad'. (And, is there money in it?)") - indicates that the newspaper industry "needs a bit of educating."

Finally, Gillmor wants to blog live from the convention, but he can't - Connections doesn't have a wireless connection.

 Dan Gillmor Newspapers and New Media

Posted by Tim Porter at 09:50 AM

Is Blogging Journalism?

New media columnist J.D. Lasica points to a package of stories about blogging in the Journal News, a Westchester County, N.Y., newspaper, including a sidebar that asks the very question posed in this above headline.

In his own blog, Lasica answers: "A small percentage of Web loggers are guilty of performing journalism, whether they know it or not. ... They take part in the editorial function of selecting newsworthy and interesting topics, they add analysis, insight and commentary, and occasionally they provide a first-person report about an event, a trend, a subject. And over the long haul, they establish their own credibility with their publishing track record."

The story also quotes SiliconValley.com columnist Dan Gillmor, technology writer Paul Boutin, and author Rebecca Blood.

Posted by Tim Porter at 09:16 AM

January 27, 2003

Newspapers Weed Out Astroturf from Grassroots

Editorial page editors, confronted with an increasing number of preprogrammed letters sent by political organizations, are adding a new "editor" to their staffs: Google.

The New York Times reports that the amount of astroturf, as the cloned letters are cleverly called, in editors' in-boxes is growing as interest groups become more technically sophisticated. To sniff out these imposters, ed page editors are Googling letters whose wording seems suspiciously similar to others.

"We type phrases into Google all the time. We hate to be fooled," said Denver Post letters editor Susan Clotfelter, who said the Post published at least two form letters last year.

The Times cites one letter from the Republican National Committee (distributed via this organizing site) that "has appeared in more than 20 papers since Jan. 8, including The Boston Globe, The Cincinnati Post, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Press-Democrat of Santa Rosa, Calif., and The Star Press of Muncie, Ind."

The letter begins, "When it comes to the economy, President Bush is demonstrating genuine leadership." (Here it is in the Globe. Here is a Google search of that sentence.)

Is astroturf really a bad thing? Should newspapers demand originality from their readers?

Yes and yes. Newspapers already have enough of a credibility gap (see this ASNE study) without giving readers further cause to doubt their veracity. Letters to the editor should reflect the efforts of readers who want to be heard, not the effectiveness of those organizations that share their views.

 New York Times Editors and Lobbyists Wage High-Tech War Over Letters
 ASNE Credibility study

Posted by Tim Porter at 10:18 AM | Comments (1)

January 26, 2003

The Opposite of Objective: Oriana

Oriana Fallaci inspired a generation of journalists with her 1977 book, "Interview with History," a rich collection of provocative conversations with the global political figures of the time. It was ironic, then, that a woman notorious for her flamboyant style of interviewing should have sequestered herself in such Garboesque silence in recent years.

Fallaci raised her voice again, though, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with a rambling essay on the dangers of Islam, Italy and intellectualism. The work was published later that year as a slim book, "The Rage and the Pride," which became a bestseller in Europe but hardly caused a ripple in the United States.

Perhaps to help the book's sales, perhaps because she is still too vigorous at 72 to keep quiet any longer, Fallaci is granting interviews again.

George Gurley of the New York Observer has written an entertaining, and enlightening, account of an afternoon he spent with Fallaci in Manhattan. Among the many quotable sections are Fallaci's thoughts about journalism:

"I asked about the secret of her huge success as a journalist. She said it had to do with the fact that she never tried to be objective. Objectivity, she said, was 'a hypocrisy which has been invented in the West which means nothing. We must take positions. Our weakness in the West is born of the fact of so-called "objectivity." Objectivity does not exist-it cannot exist! … The word is a hypocrisy which is sustained by the lie that the truth stays in the middle. No, sir: Sometimes truth stays on one side only.' "

Whether or not you agree with Fallaci's views of objectivity, you must respect the passion she brings to her profession. Go read the rest.

Here is a sample of Fallaci's own reporting style, taken from "Interview with History" and its 1974 profile of Cypriot President Archbishop Makarios III:

"At a certain point I said to Makarios, 'You remind me of Jane Austin's advice.' Makarios smiled. 'What advice of Jane Austen's?' 'An intelligent woman should never let others know how intelligent she is.' Makarios smiled again. 'But I'm not a woman.' 'No, but you're intelligent, so intelligent that you're doing all you can to keep me from realizing it,' I said. And then his gaze hardened, something in him arched, like the back of a cat preparing itself for combat. I too arched myself, waiting for the blow of his claws, and ready to give it back. The blow didn't come. With the same rapidity with which he had flared up, he regained his composure and went on with his story."

 New York Observer The Rage of Oriana Fallaci
 The Rage and the Pride Amazon

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:26 AM | Comments (1)

January 24, 2003

Nick Denton on Journalistic Mediocrity

Nick Denton, founder of Moreover Technologies and, more lately, a co-conspirator behind the launch of Gawker, the sassy New York City blog, comes down hard on U.S. newspapers in a column he wrote for Management Today, a British business magazine.

"Most newspapers in the US are lazy local monopolies; the television networks underbid each other for the lowest common denominator; and they all commit the cardinal sin of journalism, boring the audience.

"Newspapers design headlines to bury the story. They are so laden with abstract nouns or the passive voice they could be spoofs. Try this: 'Anger Raises Concern About Bush Run in '04'. And that was from the New York Times, widely thought the best of the broadsheets.

"Heaven forbid that any article be interesting enough to offend some readers. Even private correspondence is enough to get a journalist into trouble. Bill Cotterell, a political columnist, was suspended from the Tallahassee Democrat for sending a rude email in response to a reader."

Why, asks Denton, given the high-margin nature of the U.S. newspaper industry, is the journalism so mediocre? (Here are the latest earnings for Scripps, Dow Jones, Knight Ridder.)

His answer: Lack of competition. Britain, for example, has a dozen national newspapers that "compete furiously" for scoops - both high- and low-brow in nature. Over here, in the former Colonies, little competition remains and what does exists under cumbersome joint operating agreements. These newspapers, says Denton, "share the qualities of all monopolies: arrogance, complacency, and disregard for the customers."

These comments echo the message of more service, better context, daily dialogue delivered to publishers at the NAA's recent readership conference.

Denton ends on an optimistic note for American news media, if not American newspapers, by citing the emergence of the new Internet-based and blog-delivered media whose voices are "raucous, sloppy and amateurish" and, above all, "engaging."

UPDATE: Andrew Cline at Rhetorica points out the differences between American and Brit newspapers; MediaMinded keys on the local vs. national geography angle; and Cut on the Bias decries the American newspaper bureaucracy of "32 editors and three lawyers" needed to vet a story.

 Nick Denton America's bloated newspapers

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:43 AM | Comments (3)

RSS II: Leveling the Field

Online Journalism Review columnist J.D. Lasica has an excellent piece about the proliferation of RSS-based news readers. The good news for newspapers, says Lasica, is that "Internet news feeds give news organizations another way to reach that most elusive of creatures: the wired, tech-savvy professional. And you can bet that within a year or so, students will be latching onto RSS subscriptions in a big way."

The bad news for newspapers is summarized by Dave Winer in this quote: "It puts bloggers on the same field as the big news corporations, and that's great."

I posted earlier on a Rusty Coats' column that cited how Big Media is slow to adapt new technology.

 J.D. Lasica News That Comes to You

Posted by Tim Porter at 07:43 AM | Comments (1)

January 23, 2003

More than a Newspaper

MediaSavvy checks in with more from the NAA's conferences on readership and the future of newspapers: New media consultant Peter Zollman reports that the overarching message was that a "newspaper has to be more than a newspaper to survive."

This is not news to those of us who watch newspapers cling to the past as the future races ahead without them, but Zollman says the conferences were refreshingly "thought-provoking and blunt" despite the presence of a "fair amount of boosterism and hucksterism by people who either don't see the threat to newspapers' survival, or don't want to admit it."

MediaSavvy's author, Barry Parr, points out newspapers cannot save themselves by simply embracing new technologies: "The next ten years will be a time of crisis for the newspaper industry, and delivering news to PDA's--or Web browsers for that matter-- isn't going to save them if they don't fix the core product. … If newspapers are going to survive, they're going to have to be better newspapers."

Exactly. See my earlier post on the NAA conference: Service, Context, Dialogue.

Posted by Tim Porter at 11:09 AM

January 22, 2003

Scratch a Competitor, Find an Innovator

In the latest edition of The Cole Papers, David Cole's monthly newsletter devoted to newspaper publishing, technology and journalism (sub. required), Howard Finberg bemoans the convergence of newspaper industry technology venders, saying, "If competition invites innovation, every time you remove a competitor you remove an innovator."

Finberg, a former print-to-online pioneer and now a consultant, blames tight-fisted publishers for discouraging innovation.

"Something has to get old and moldy before they'll replace it," said Finberg. He says that publishing executives shouldn't "look at the depreciation tables" and wait "to avoid technology investments until it's absolutely essential - for example, the systems are falling apart."

Finberg cites the lack of research and development in the newspaper business as a metric that symbolizes the industry's aversion to change - an institutional distaste that infects editorial and business operations alike.

In his 1997 book "The Innovator's Dilemma," Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen argues that established companies, blinded by their own success and addicted to the processes and products that made them successful, inevitably are supplanted by upstart competitors whose products are newer, more advanced and, eventually, because of their technological edge, more cost effective. (See my post below about RSS, news feeds and blogs).

The book was much in favor during the Great Internet Boom. NAA and ASNE should give every member a copy.

Posted by Tim Porter at 04:28 PM

RSS - Be Afraid, Big Media, Be Very Afraid

"Let's face it," writes Rusty Coats in NewsFuture, API's newsletter on the Internet and convergence. "Fear is why most newspapers first went online - afraid Microsoft, AOL or Joe Blow was going to steal market share. Not having your content available in a medium that is growing in popularity rather than waning may not have immediate ROI, but the long-term prognosis for such ignorance is death."

That's the hammer Coats uses to pound home his argument that newspapers - Big Media, as he puts it - should embrace RSS, a form of XML that enables anyone, Big Media or Small, to easily syndicate their content and have it read through a news aggregator.

What that means is that readers can receive updated news feeds from independent journalists, bloggers or just anyone with something to say.

Coats warns, correctly, that newspaper companies are already behind on the innovation curve and technical and cultural impediments such as registration requirements and bottom-line orientation put them at a competitive risk - once again.

Most newspapers still don't realize that in the digital world of omni-media they are simply another source of information, and not necessarily a more authoritative or compelling one. Coats gets updates from more than 20 RSS feeds. "These feeds," he says, "are no less interesting, insightful or engaging than the mainstream media feeds."

Some newspapers have caught on (the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor offer RSS feeds), but most have not, preferig to believe they are winning the online battle for eyeballs. Even trade publications like Editor & Publisher continue to report Nielsen ratings about Web traffic -- Newspapers Run 9 of Top 20 News Sites - as if they were good news (read my earlier post on this), they ignore the real meaning of such data: Online consumers don't see newspapers, the organizations with the nation's largest news-gathering resources, as the category leaders for news, opinion and sports.

I don't think it's a coincidence that MSNBC, the top-ranking online news site, was the first major news organization to incorporate blogs into its content mix. And when Instapundit blogfather Glenn Reynolds made so much noise -- and drew so much traffic -- he couldn't be ignored by Big Media, MSNBC, and not any newspaper company, hired him.

Coats is right. As the web's news and information hierarchy flattens further, newspapers that don't adapt will become even more irrelevant. And that will really hurt the bottom line.

Posted by Tim Porter at 09:12 AM

January 21, 2003

The Numbers Game II

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a follow-up story on the disagreement between organizers and police about the size of last weekend’s anti-war protest. It had a clever lede (“Everyone's estimate is wrong. Probably.”), which was a bit ironic because the Chronicle appeared to be the only major paper that used organizer’s 500,000-person estimate for the Washington, D.C., march without any attribution. Much has been made of the counting by all sides over at Instapundit.

Posted by Tim Porter at 07:55 AM

January 20, 2003

Journalists biased? Yes, in the worst way

Ever since Walter Cronkite's stopped telling America the way it was, public mistrust of journalists, print and broadcast, has grown. Liberals, conservatives, greens, reds and every other political shade or hue has charged the news media with bias. Well, says Los Angeles Times media writer David Shaw, they're right. The news media are biased - just not in the way you think they are.

"We're biased in favor of change, as opposed to the status quo. We're biased in favor of bad news, rather than good news. We're biased in favor of conflict rather than harmony.

"Increasingly, we're biased in favor of sensationalism, scandal, celebrities and violence, as opposed to serious, insightful coverage of the important issues of the day."

These prejudices, Shaw argues, "are far more common, and far more damaging, than any kind of intermittent, inadvertent ideological bias."

This is strong stuff, and it gets stronger. Shaw decries the " 'let's you and him fight' school of journalism" in which minor dispute between public figures are escalated to national crises. He bemoans the "news media's knee-jerk adversarial position toward those in power" and "our sneering assumption that virtually every politician is a liar or a hypocrite," and pronounces the nattering nabobs and their "stench of contempt" (in Jim Lehrer's words) responsible for the public's growing distaste with the electoral process.

"Worst of all," Shaw says, "the growing sensationalism-cum-trivialization of the news … leaves us little time or space to cover the truly important issues of the day."

Shaw has never been a gentle critic. Indeed, he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for his critiques of how the media, including the L.A. Times, sensationalized coverage of the infamous McMartin Preschool child molestation case.

Even in that context, the tone Shaw's condemnation of his colleagues is unforgiving. Is he engaging in some sort of tough love or intervention, hoping the harshness of his words drives those journalists addicted to the highs of celebrity bashing and ambulance chasing into a recovery program where the Twelve Steps begin with a better understanding of the responsibilities that accompany exercise of the First Amendment? Or is Shaw simply so contemptuous of what his profession has become that he can contain the bile no longer?

Shaw's words sadden me. They should alarm newspaper editors and reporters.

In an age of omni-media, where the incessant bleating of broadcast and Internet pundits, and the reduction of reporting into stacks of scroll bars creates a clamorously poisonous atmosphere that chokes out quality journalism, newspapers have an opportunity to foster a healthier, more vibrant news environment whose deep reporting, evocative writing and enticing photographs give the public's interest in knowing what's going on in their communities a chance to thrive.

Shaw's column received some attention in the journalism blogosphere today. Here's MediaMinded's take on it.

 David Shaw The more pernicious bias is less substance, more fluff

Posted by Tim Porter at 05:18 PM | Comments (1)

January 19, 2003

The Numbers Game

A political protest is by nature confrontational, but, aside whatever issue at stake, the most spirited debate typically focuses on one question: How many people were actually there?

Organizers claim official headcounts provided by police are institutionally deflated; authorities say the reverse is true. In the middle are reporters, who by deadline time must add insert a number into a lede similar to this one (AP's): XXXXXXXXXX rallied in the capital Saturday. …"

So, how many anti-war protestors were there in San Francisco and Washington Saturday? Depends on where you get you news from.

 San Francisco Chronicle: "In Washington … as many as 500,000 protesters rallied outside the Capitol, while in San Francisco tens of thousands of peace activists …"

"The protest's organizers … estimated the crowd at 200,000. Police put the number at 55,000."

That second graf is straightforward enough, but where did the Chron get the half-million number for D.C.? It's never attributed in this story.

 San Jose Mercury News: "In a protest that was equal parts politics, theater and whimsy, more than 40,000 people gathered in San Francisco on Saturday. ..."

 Washington Post: "Tens of thousands of antiwar demonstrators converged on Washington yesterday. … This time, they (organizers) said, the turnout was 500,000. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey would not provide an estimate."

 New York Times: "…tens of thousands of protesters representing a diverse coalition for peace converged here today …" No other estimate is given.

 Baltimore Sun: "Standing close together for solidarity - and warmth - tens of thousands of protesters … (organizers) said 500,000 demonstrators turned out, though U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer told the Associated Press that the crowd along the two-mile march route measured "about 30,000 people."

 Actually, what the AP reported is quite different: "Tens of thousands rallied in the capital. … Police said 30,000 marched through the streets, part of a much larger crowd that packed the east end of the National Mall. .... Tens of thousands also demonstrated in San Francisco."

To ask our question again, How many protestors were there? The consensus, taken from the best of America's newspapers: Tens of thousands. Did you get the feeling neither the cops nor the news media really care about the count anymore?

Posted by Tim Porter at 09:03 AM

January 17, 2003

We Can’t Take Any Moore, Says Berkeley

Michael Moore, the "Bowling for Columbine" mockumentarian whose nose for audacity is exceeded only by the one on his face, isn't enough of a journalist to give a commencement address, the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism has decided.

A student's proposal that Moore speak at graduation ceremonies caused faculty sphincters to tighten with the thought, as one instructor put it in an email, that "it would make us the laughingstock of serious Journalism Schools."

The reporters for the East Bay Express (it was not disclosed if any or all of them went to Serious Journalism Schools) looked into Moore's background and found that, indeed, he had worked as a journalist for an alternative paper in Michigan and for Mother Jones magazine as editor-in-chief.

Invoking the basic reporting adage "When in Doubt, Check it Out," the Express looked up "journalist" in the dictionary, and found this definition: "A writer who aims at a mass audience," especially "a writer or editor for a news medium."

Sounds like Moore fits the bill. Even if he doesn't, so what? As the student who originally posed the idea said in an email: "I never said he was a journalist, but I thought he would make a fine candidate. He asks provocative questions that journalists should be asking."

Now that seems like something you should learn in a Serious Journalism School.

[ Via Instapundit ]

 East Bay Express Journalism with attitude? Not in my ivory tower

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:15 AM | Comments (2)

January 16, 2003

Blogging the Times

My eyes are fried and my fingers battered from transcribing tapes all day (imagine having to take time off from blogging to actually write for money) so I'm resorting to a link list devoted to the New York Times' profile of the InstaPundit himself, Glenn Reynolds.

Hedded "With Incessant Postings, a Pundit Stirs the Pot," the Times' story credits Reynolds' "omnivorous curiosity" with satisfying the hunger of 50,000 daily readers.

This has been a good week for Reynolds. On Wednesday, he took one foot out the blogosphere and planted it in the more traditional, yet clearly welcoming world of MSNBC with the launch of GlennReynolds.com.

What lessons can old media learn from Reynolds' success? Is it his medium? His message? In this case, it's both.

Here's a selection of blog comment on the Times' story and other InstaPunditia:

 Rhetorica: "I'm not going to get into my opinion of InstaPundit."
 Mark A. Kleinman: "I'm offering a $5 to the first person who spots anything resembling an apology or retraction from any of the right-bloggers who published warnings about the coming Times "hit job" on Reynolds."
 cut on the bias: "They even found someone - Martin Wisse - who fussed about him."
 The Volokh Conspiracy: "Objective journalists we ain't."
 Talking Points Memo: "The site is universal: it's about anything and everything."
 PBS: "With blogs 'the First Amendment is finally living up to its promise on the Internet.' "
 BuzzMachine: "I was honored to be in the right place at the right time at the genesis of this."
 Reaon magazine: "At the risk of shameless ass-kissing: Reynolds is particularly interesting as a media phenom in an age of cultural proliferation."
 Jeff Wolfe: List of InstaPundit inspired blogs.

Posted by Tim Porter at 05:06 PM

January 15, 2003

Service, Context, Dialogue

Service, Context, Dialogue

Pam Johnson, the former executive editor of the Arizona Republic and now a Poynter faculty member, reports in from the Newspaper Association of America's conference on Readership and the Future of Newspapers with gloomy news - newspaper readership continues to circle the drain and what readers remain are dying off.

The bearer of the bad news was Peter Francese, founder of American Demographics magazine, who shot out these bullet points for the conferees:

* The numbers of households that report buying any newspapers are declining among all age groups.

* By 2007, if trends continue, only one in four young households will be buying a newspaper.

* College grads and married couples, our core readers, show similar declines over time.

* Spending for online access now far exceeds what is spent on newspapers. The only people who spend more money on newspapers than online is the 65 and older age group.

These facts, says Johnson, "underscore(s) the urgency with which newspapers must approach their changing communities." Of course, I agree.


Yes, says Johnson, journalists must "believe in and contribute to the quality of core responsibility of the newspaper -- informing our communities. This is our primary mandate."

Francese offers this action set: "He urges newspapers to be the utmost authority on their communities. He says papers should be developing databases that will be tools for better subscriber service, more service journalism, more context for local news and more dialogue with readers."

More service, more context, more dialogue. Enough said.

Except for this: Johnson moderated a panel at the conference. In the interest of dialogue with readers, disclosure would have been in order.

 Pam Johnson Strategic Leadership

Posted by Tim Porter at 07:13 PM

January 14, 2003

Is Big Media Really Bad News?

Foreign Policy magazine, in an article that challenges the assertion that global media companies are inherently bad for news coverage, regional culture and press independence, calls the notion that "corporate ownership is killing hard-hitting journalism" a "bright red herring."

One of the arguments against big media, one that is heard frequently in the context of the debate over relaxation of rules on cross ownership, is that mega-media companies will lead to the dumbing-down of journalism.

Robert W. McChesney, a communications professor at the University of Illinois and a vociferous critic of media mergers, tells Columbia Journalism Review that "in this debate, the range of possible outcomes runs from bad to terrible. There's no possible argument that this could be good for the quality of journalism. There's no upside. The only question is how bad the downside will be."

Benjamin Compaine, a consultant with the MIT's Technology's Program on Internet and Telecoms Convergence, counters the argument that corporate ownership takes the punch out of hard-hitting journalism with this somewhat cynical, but regretfully accurate question in Foreign Policy:

"When exactly was this golden age of hard-hitting journalism? One might call to mind brief periods: the muckrakers in the early 20th century or Watergate reporting in the 1970s. But across countries and centuries, journalism typically has not been 'hard-hitting.' With more news outlets and competition today, there is a greater range of journalism than was typical in the past. Further, a 2000 comparison of 186 countries by Freedom House, a nonprofit devoted to promoting democracy, suggests that press independence, including journalists' freedom from economic influence, remained high in all but two members (Mexico and Turkey) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, where global media's markets are concentrated.

"Also underlying the complaint that news has been 'dumbed down' is an assumption that the media ought to be providing a big dose of policy-relevant content. Japan's dominant public broadcaster, NHK, does so, yet is Japan a more vibrant democracy as a result? More to the point, with so many media outlets today, readers and viewers can get more and better news from more diverse perspectives, if that is what they want. Or they can avoid it altogether. The alternative is to limit the number of outlets and impose content requirements on those remaining."

Finally, Compaine challenges the validity of connecting ownership with quality.

"The third problem with this notion of corporations killing journalism is that it assumes ownership matters. In the old days of media moguls it may have: William Randolph Hearst, William Loeb, and Robert McCormick were attracted to the media because they each had political agendas, which permeated their newspapers. … Corporate-owned newspapers may actually provide better products than those that are family owned. Research suggests that large, chain-owned newspapers devote more space to editorial material than papers owned by small firms."

Certainly, it is better to have more voices rather than fewer. But does concentrated ownership also reduce the quality of journalism? That's a difficult argument to make. Quality journalism requires commitment from ownership because excellence doesn't come cheap, but it also demands a newsroom culture that discourages mediocrity and encourages a collaborative identification with distinction.

There were plenty of bad newspapers in the "good old days." The question is, Are there fewer good ones now?

 Foreign Policy

Posted by Tim Porter at 04:43 PM

January 13, 2003

Virtual Journalist

A flashy criticism of daily journalism about Virtual Journalist, "a champion of truth." Take offense or take notice. Courtesy of BuzzMachine.

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:52 AM

It’s All About We, We, We

Technology columnist Dan Gilmorr, in an essay in the Columbia Journalism Review, writes about what he calls "we media" and issues this warning to the static world of newspaper publishing:

"In an emerging era of multidirectional, digital communications, the audience can be an integral part of the process. Call it 'We Media.' Journalism is evolving away from its lecture mode - here's the news, and you buy it or you don't - to include a conversation.

"Interactive technology - and the mostly young readers and viewers who use and understand it - are the catalysts. We Media augments traditional methods with new and yet-to-be invented collaboration tools ranging from e-mail to Web logs to digital video to peer-to-peer systems. But it boils down to something simple: our readers collectively know more than we do, and they don't have to settle for half-baked coverage when they can come into the kitchen themselves. This is not a threat. It is an opportunity. And the evolution of We Media will oblige us all to adapt."

As I wrote last week in this entry -- "Blog Flogging and A.J. Liebling" -- Gilmorr's "we media" are "new channels in the flow of information that bypass 'mainstream' media - old and new."

Gilmorr's column is another wake-up call in the incessantly ringing alarm clock that newspapers continue to ignore.

 Dan Gilmorr eJournal on SiliconValley.com
 Gilmorr's CJR essay Here Comes 'We Media'

Posted by Tim Porter at 07:55 AM

January 11, 2003

Five (5) Good Reads

Tired of reading junk. Try these stories:

With Stitches and Concerns, Base Town Prepares for War
HINESVILLE, Ga., Jan. 10 - The needles are flying, the sewing machines are chugging and the uniforms are piling up. In heaps. [ more ]
- Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times

See No Evil
During production of the 1997 movie "Mimic," American Humane Assn. representatives wandered through the Los Angeles set, ensuring that a herd of cockroaches was well taken care of. Licensed animal handlers were to follow state and federal anti-cruelty laws designed to protect the insects, which had been trained to swirl around actress Mira Sorvino's feet. The roaches had to be fed at a certain time. They could only work a few hours each day. They could not be harmed.

At the same time, in studios in the San Fernando Valley, scores of other actors and actresses were working on movies. They put in long hours, commonly without meal breaks. They often worked without clean toilets, toilet paper, soap or water. More importantly, they were exposed to a host of infectious, and sometimes fatal, diseases. [ more, including a good example of using multimedia to enhance the print story ]
- P.J. Huffstutter, Los Angeles Times

To Guests' Chagrin, Hosts Try Stocking-Feet Fetes
Nice to see you -- now give us your shoes. In the latest battle of wills between hosts and guests, some homeowners are confiscating visitors' footwear at the door. [ more ]
- Lauren Lipton, Wall Street Journal

Cops say greedy groom scammed another wife
Convicted of swindling several of his eight wives, exposed as larcenous lothario, Clifford Garrison was jailed in one state and wanted in another. But he just could not stop himself -- he had to go for wife No. 9. [ more ]
- Jaxon Van Derbeken, San Francisco Chronicle

Home theater
NEW YORK - The Rev. Ed Schmidt's voice cracks like incoming thunder as he preaches from his pulpit at the Church of Universal Life. [ more ]
- Ashley Chapman, Christian Science Monitor

Posted by Tim Porter at 01:01 PM

January 10, 2003

Tune in, Turn on, Listen to the News

A new Gallup Poll finds that 22 percent of Americans rely on talk radio as their primary news source, double what it was four years ago.

That means, writes Steve Carney in the Los Angeles Times, that when "Rush Limbaugh lambastes "environmental wackos" and "feminazis" from his "Excellence in Broadcasting Network"; Bill O'Reilly thunders outrage from his "No-Spin Zone"; and one in five Americans call it getting their daily dose of news."

Of course, it's not news that newspapers are no longer the nation's first choice for news - television long ago took that position and continues to be ranked No. 1 by 57 percent of the people, while only 47 percent turn to a newspaper first, according to Gallup

What is surprising, though, is that an increasingly significant proportion of the public no longer distinguishes between Dan Rather and talk show blather.

It could be that so many Americans, particularly younger ones, have lost or never acquired a reading habit - only 54 percent of U.S. adults read a newspaper yesterday, according to the Newspaper Association of America - that they simply can't tell the difference.

Andrew Cline offers another, better documented, theory on Rhetorica: Talk radio is easy. No intellectual sweat is broken taking in its message, especially the political ideology that dominates its airtime. He argues:

"… radio helps reduce the costs of acquiring (political) information. Newspapers and television require certain kinds of attention (different for each) that draws attention away from other tasks. Radio, however, can operate in the background as we drive or work."

Newspapers are fighting for mindshare with Limbaugh, O'Reilly and Martha Zoller. How can they compete for an audience that prefers not even to use its mind?

Posted by Tim Porter at 01:35 PM

January 09, 2003

Pop! Goes the Newspaper

New is not necessarily interesting, nor is old inherently outdated. That's my rationalization for being so far behind on my reading that only today did I discover J.D. Lasica's report from Pop!Tech, the annual north woods digerati jamboree where the cutting edge is sharper than a set of Ginsu steak knives.

Lasica, who columnizes for the Online Journalism Review, asks some of the more prominent PopTechies which news sites they use. Why does it matter, you ask, where Jaron "Virtual Reality" Lanier, Howard "Smart Mobs" Rheingold or Bob "Ethernet" Metcalfe get their news? Because, I answer, they represent the breaking technical and intellectual wave of consumers - and producers - of new forms of media. How much attachment they retain to the printed product, or, in this case, the electronic version of that product, can be viewed as a proxy for the future news consumption habits of the wider public.

So, then, what are they reading? Not newspapers, for the most part. Only Rheingold and former Apple Computer CEO John Sculley have good things to say about newspapers. Rheingold damns the San Francisco Chronicle with faint praise by saying he reads "everything in it" even though it's "not an example of the best journalism in the world." Sculley eschews the websites of the New York Times and Washington Post in favor of their printed parent, but adds, "If I want more information on something I go to Google."

Unfortunately for the Chronicle, Lanier laments that the paper's website, The Gate, is "just an embarrassment that reinforces the media stereotype of the Bay Area as a place of intellectual inferiority." Ouch.

Bloggers and aggregators receive the most positive mentions -- Dan Gilmor, BoingBoing, Slashdot, Jim Romenesko's Media News - as do individual columnists for the New York Times such as Thomas Friedman.

Is there a unified message that newspapers can heed in these choices? Maybe. Certainly these opinion leaders prefer focused content to scattershot story selection; they are drawn to point-of-view and personality; they want their news to be smart, not dumbed down for the lowest common denominator.

These are characteristics even those of us whose lives are more butter knife than cutting edge are likely to adopt in an increasingly wired world that offers us a expanding menu of information choices.

Newspapers need to listen to the voices from the front of the change parade or they will find themselves, yet again, following rather than leading.

 J.D. Lasica Where Net Luminaries Turn For News

Posted by Tim Porter at 07:32 PM

January 07, 2003

Blog Flogging & A. J. Liebling

Today, the Chicago Tribune discovered Glenn Reynolds, the motor-mouthed keyboard wizard who is Instapundit. Most of the story profiles Reynolds - 42 years old, Knoxville law professor, father of 7-year-old girl, T-shirt purveyor - and explores his rise to the leader of the blogosphere's buzz parade. (Instapundit draws 75,000 to 100,000 page views daily).

In the story, USA Today columnist Walter Shapiro quips that Reynolds is "Sleepless in Knoxville," then offers the more sobering comment that Reynolds is a "linchpin" between old media and the Web.

Possibly, but I see any connection between the two as tenuous at best. More aptly, individually produced blogs such as Instapundit and the Talking Points Memo and collective products such as Gawker and The Morning News are new channels in the flow of information that bypass "mainstream" media - old and new. By ignoring the need to use institutional media of any type to broadcast their messages, bloggers have cast into obsolescence the definition of who is a publisher.

A.J. Liebling's oft-quoted remark that "freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one" was never more relevant, nor easier to make a reality.

 Talking Points Memo
 The Morning News

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:21 AM

January 06, 2003

Holiday Chestnut Roasted

Washington Post columnist Paul Farhi, who toiled in the trenches for 11 years as a Post business reporter, reveals the meaning of the annual holiday shopping story: "almost nothing."

The reason "this time-honored media cliché" is meaningless as an economic indicator, argues Farhi, is that retail sales don't necessarily reflect GDP levels and consumer spending is relatively stable even during recessions.

Worse, says Farhi, "holiday shopping stories don't even accurately measure holiday shopping … because they are based on the most scant and superficial evidence, and they rely on experts who can't possibly see the big picture they're purporting to describe."

Scant? Superficial? Experts who are not expert? Sounds like a recipe for a typical daily news budget.

Why then, asks Farhi, do these stories appear year after year? He answers: "The media are creatures of habit, reflexively recycling the same seasonal chestnuts."

These chestnuts should be roasted.

For more, see Jeff Jarvis' list of cliché holiday stories.

Posted by Tim Porter at 09:30 AM

January 03, 2003

How Good Reporting Happens

The Christian Science Monitor occasionally runs a small feature entitled Reporters on the Job in which one of its correspondents describes the experiences he or she encountered while reporting a story.

Today, Arie Farnam, a freelance writer in Eastern Europe, recounts her successful attempt to locate and interview a Romany leader about the maltreatment of his people in Slovakia:

"The kids shoved me into a chair and stood back while the woman interrogated me. Who was I? Why had I come? What did I know about Mr. David? Who had sent me? she wanted to know. Her tone was aggressive, propped up by fear, and I knew that I was on shaky ground but I could do nothing except answer truthfully and calmly. After we had been through the questions about five times in my slightly wobbly Slovak, she finally sent one of the children down to the floor below us, where he produced Mr. David."

Good reporting happens when reporters don't give up.

 Reporters on the Job Arie Farnam
 Slovakian Roma forced to ghettos The story Farnam wrote
 Christian Science Monitor

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:08 AM

January 02, 2003

New Year, Same Old Clichés

For those of you who missed the holiday papers, Jeff Jarvis summarizes their predictable content with a list of year-end media cliches - from the pre-Christmas shopping story to the year-end list.
 BuzzMachine by Jeff Jarvis
 First Draft My roundup of holiday leads

Posted by Tim Porter at 02:53 PM

January 01, 2003

Leading off the New Year

Holiday stories require foresight, innovation - and sometimes a bit of luck -- to rise above the prosaic. Here's a selection of some that succeeded and some that didn't.

Not Super, but Good Clark Kent
Fireworks, confetti, unusually mild weather and Superman himself -Christopher Reeve -combined to make the Times Square New Year's Eve Party a spectacular success, despite some of the tightest security ever.
 New York Post

Not Even Super
New York popped the cork on a new year early today as 750,000 Times Square revelers greeted 2003 amid exultant cheers, intense security and almost balmy weather.
 New York Daily News

Nicely Done
Surrounded by thick fog and concerns about the gathering clouds of war and a sagging economy, about 1 million First Night revelers poured into downtown Boston yesterday to shrug off their worldly concerns and welcome the New Year.
 Boston Globe

The Endless Anecdote
First they begged her. Then they dragged her. Amy Kinder wanted nothing to do with the "Spider Web," the game she came across while strolling through Halsey Field House with her husband and three daughters during First Night Annapolis activities at the U.S. Naval Academy. But they insisted, and there she was, decked out in a baggy Velcro suit, ready to jump against an inflatable Velcro wall with the objective of being splattered, splayed and contorted in as many directions as possible.
 Washington Post

Nattering Nabob of Negativism
Another year rolled off the calendar this morning, right on schedule, accompanied by the requisite collection of high hopes, angst, funny hats, drunks, black balloons and blacker coffee. It's an odd-numbered year, 2003 is. It's neither a new millennium nor a round number. Nobody cared.
 San Francisco Chronicle

Un-notable Quotable
The crowd in Portland's living room for New Year's Eve was eager to party, ready for an improved economy and hoping the nation can avert a war. "My hopes for the new year are for my family and that there will not be any attacks," said Rene Wehrheim of Portland, who brought her 11-year-old son, Jacob, to the free party in Pioneer Courthouse Square.
 The Oregonian

Click Here for Cliché
There was fire in the sky and dancing in the streets along the 16th Street Mall as Denver partied out the old year and blasted in the new.
 Denver Post

Once Again, Don't Read This Story
Fireworks and the 16th Street Mall came together once again Tuesday night.
 Rocky Mountain News

Simple, Effective
The possibility of military action against Iraq was on the minds of many of the more than 1,000 people who walked around Green Lake last night in a quiet, candlelit show of peace.
 Seattle Times

As the stroke of midnight approached, the Space Needle the elevator went up, then BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! -- the fireworks display at the Seattle Center began.
 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

This Story Brought to You by Tostito's
Ohio State football fans escaping the freezing temperatures back home found refuge at Tuesday's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Block Party.
 Arizona Star

The But Lead
The storms that swept through Central Florida on Tuesday night might have dampened a few party dresses, but it didn't drown out the New Year's Eve partying at downtown Orlando's Wall Street Plaza.
 Orlando Sentinel
 But Ugly Leads

Crisp and Clean
The few and defiant arrived early, numbering only a few thousand an hour before midnight. But the crowd grew under threatening skies to listen to glitter-clad Little Richard and ring in the new year at Underground Atlanta's annual Peach Drop.
 Atlanta Journal-Constitution

That About Covers It
Some families got their fun in early, while other party-goers stayed up late to welcome in 2003.
 Indianapolis Star

Alluring Alliteration
Hundreds of thousands of Marylanders welcomed 2003 with revelry and reflection last night, from fireworks-filled festivities in Baltimore and Annapolis to area religious services with prayers for peace and unity.
 Baltimore Sun

Needed: Nouns, Adjective, Verbs
The streets were still quiet as the opening ceremonies for Salt Lake City's First Night celebration concluded around dinnertime in the Rose Wagner Black Box theater. The small crowd watched a children's dance routine and heard local officials offer resolutions for the new year.
 Salt Lake Tribune

Posted by Tim Porter at 12:50 PM