More people read newspapers on Sundays than any other day of the week. That's the good news.
The bad news is that each year an increasing smaller percentage of the population thinks the big Sunday bundle is worth the bother.
The Newspaper Association of America reports that about two of every three U.S. adults read a Sunday paper, a drop of about 5 percent in the last five years. (Longer timelines show deeper declines: In raw numbers, since 1977 the number of men reading Sunday papers has fallen 17 percent (to 43.3. million) and the number of women 12 percent (48 million).
These numbers, of course, follow the trendline of daily readership, which now hovers just above 50 percent of adults.
Editor & Publisher reports that in response to the drop-off in Sunday readership "editors are shaking up content, attempting to find the right mix for the modern, time-challenged reader -- eliminating some features, and tweaking or dramatically revising others."
Here are some highlights from the E&P story, an overview that doesn't address why readers are giving up on Sunday and what, if anything, is working to retain them.
Sunday magazines: Fewer than 20 newspapers publish them, down from 50 in 1981. Some make money, most don't. Some publishers don't care. Says Dirk Van Susteren of the tiny (circulation 22,096) Rutland (Vt.) Herald, "Our surveys have indicated it is a popular section. People like the style of writing, the bigger pieces. ... You can't look at it from a profit point of view. Does page A-1 make a profit?"
Book review sections: Only six papers publish them. Most of the national goes, not unexpectedly, to the New York Times. Says Marie Arana, editor of the Washington Post's Book World: "Book reviews garner only about 30% of the readership, which is low compared to the A-section or style section. But the percentage of readers who will actively buy from the book section is greater."
Travel sections: They're doing more "close-to-home" stories and still paying freelancers lousy rates - $100 to $300 a story but also demanding that travel writers pay their own way. Says freelancer Mike Whye, president of the Midwest Travel Writers Association,: "Some papers, and I won't name them, have a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy - which is very kind of them, really, because without (sponsored) travel, the travel-writing market would just flat die."
Comics: E&P writer Dave Astor says "surveys show the comics section remains one of the most-read parts of the Sunday paper," but doesn't cite one. Comics are smaller, tightened up to save newsprint, and less appealing to advertisers. The quote I want to see but is not in the story is the one that supports this statement: "Some theorize that text-oriented editors don't believe the comics are that important or are jealous of their popularity compared to, say, editorials."
Television books: Says Ted Massing of the Kansas City Star, "Traditionally, [TV sections] don't make money. They're circulation-driving pieces." Still, the proliferation of channels is making them harder to produce and many are run by ad departments. Readers love them, says Kyrie O'Connor, AME/features at the Hartford Courant. She says, "The three things in a newspaper that you can never mess with are the TV book, the comics and the puzzles. If you're going to do anything at all with those, you'd better know what you're doing."
Editor & Publisher Sunday Sections Evolve to Lure More Readers
Irony defined: I have been trying to write about "disruptive technology" and newspapers but have been continually disrupted by my anti-virus software, which has for reasons unknown has ceased to work.
"Disruptive technology" - an emergent mechanism that eventually replaces or marginalizes an existing industry: steamboats vs. sailing ships, PCs vs. mainframes, HMOs. vs. traditional health insurance, blogware vs. content management systems (some day) - lies at the heart of a presentation by Borrell Associates analyst Peter Krasilovsky to a group of Knight fellows about the issue of newspapers charging for online content. The Online Journalism Review posted part of the discussion.
Krasilovsky applies the disruptive technology concept to newspapers vs. the Internet and defines three stages of a disrupted business cycle: Innocence on the part of the established business; emergence of competition from the new business; panic by the old business ("When you realize this newfangled thing is stealing your business, and you aren't sure how to get it back.").
The news media, in general, says Krasilovsky, is in stage two, but newspaper classifieds - which the NAA says generated 40.3 percent of the industry's revenue in 2000 - are approaching what he calls the "no return" morbidity of stage three. Specifically, he says:
"It's where you don't want to be, it's where we think the newspaper business is today in areas like recruitment. Monster.com has their fingernails in there and there's such price pressure newspapers may not be able to recover."
Compare the prices. The San Francisco Chronicle charges $310.95 for a four-line, two-day help-wanted ad. Additional lines cost $27.75 each. Monster.com charges $335 for a 60-day ad of unlimited length. Craigslist, located in San Francisco, charges $75 for 30 days.
The newspaper classifieds - as a communications technology - have already been disrupted.
For the most part, Krasilovsky believes a pay-to-read online strategy is not workable for newspapers' general editorial content. "I am against tollgates, but I am for the niche content that you can charge for, he says, referring to moneymakers such as the New York Times crossword or the Belo company's football site, Cowboysplus.com.
Krasilovsky does not ignore paid-content successes such as the Wall Street Journal or non-journalistic entertainment products such as the RealOne Super Pass, but he urges newspaper companies to concentrate on identifying audience instead of seeking short-term revenue opportunities that add little to the bottom line. ("Fewer than 3 percent of the print circulation base pays for Web access when they are not already print subscribers. So if you have this newspaper with a circulation of 300,000, we are talking about being able to attract 9,000 people at the most.")
In the long term, in other words when the disruptive technology (Internet) surpasses the established technology (print) as an information source, the accumulation of audience will result in the bigger payoff. Says Krasilovsky:
"Paid sites are at their infancy right now. It is very important that instead of focusing on charging for the short term, we find out who the users are. Most TV and newspaper stations certainly have no idea who their user base is or the demographics. It is better to register them and form a gateway into the paid content world that we know is emerging as technology improves."
Industry watchers foresee a continuing decline in newspaper use in favor of the Internet.
An annual overview report on the communications industry by media banker Veronis Suhler Stevenson concludes that consumers in coming years will spend less time using advertising supported media and more on "paid" media - cable TV, home video, games, music and Internet. Newspapers and magazines will take the biggest hit in readership. Reports MediaDaily News:
"In 1997, the benchmark year for this year's report, U.S. consumers spent two-thirds of their time (66.1%) with ad-supported media. By 2002, advertising share had eroded to 57.8% and by 2007 the banker predicts it will fall to nearly half (55.4%). In other words, by 2007 consumers will be spending nearly 27 minutes of ever hour spent with media on media that are not supported by advertising."
Audience erosion and advertising loss are self-reinforcing. Lose the first, the latter flees as well. PriceWaterhouseCoopers forecasts that by the year 2007 aging demographics and growth of other media will cost newspapers local advertising share.
All signs point to disruption of newspapers as a mass market industry. What remains unknown is how the industry, i.e., its leadership, will respond.
Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen coined the term disruptive technology in his bestselling book "The Innovator's Dilemma," which should be required reading for every newspaper manager - from the publisher to the overnight ACE.
Christensen advises managers, especially those who work for successful companies, that there at times, such as when the market is being eroded by demographic or competitive forces, "at which is right not to listen to customers, right to invest in developing lower-performance products that promise lower margins, and right to aggressively pursue small, rather than substantial, markets."
When good companies fail, says Christensen - and let's avoid the journalistic argument about whether newspaper companies fit that definition; they do in terms of returning quarter-to-quarter shareholder value - "it often is because managers ignored these principles or chose to fight them."
In the end, innovation equals thinking. And investment, monetary and human.
When the Sunday Times of London decides to publish a new monthly section for youth - on an inserted CD instead of paper - that's innovation. [Read: Newspaper's Newest Section: A CD ]
When the New York Times tiers its content by popularity and date - today's news free, last week's paid, crosswords for a price - that's innovation.
When Louis Border starts selling an all-you-can read smorgasbord of newspaper and magazine articles by the month at KeepMedia - that's innovation.
Krasilovsky talks about ventures such as KeepMedia:
"This is kind of interesting to me, as editorial people we tend to think we have to create new content all the time, but … maybe this is more about technology, maybe it is really a matter of charging people for anytime-anywhere access to the different types of content that you want to provide. If that is what the business is all about, we need to do some new thinking."
The Knight Foundation is spending a lot of money on a big training initiative aimed at changing newsroom culture that contains a component called the Learning Newsroom. [ Read: American Journalism Review's report on newsroom culture ]
I like the idea - anything that moves newsrooms out of their passive/defensive posture is a good thing [ Read: Time for a Leadership Tune-up ] - but I prefer the term "Thinking Newsroom." More thinking and less reacting and newspapers might not find themselves disrupted out of existence.
Online Journalism Review Newspapers Want to Charge for Content, but Will Readers Pay?
Robert Garcia Tagorda, who writes the Priorities & Frivolities blog, dissects a San Francisco Chronicle story about Arnold Schwarzenegger and finds a lead that outran the facts.
The Chronicle reported Tuesday: "GOP gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger told a conservative talk radio host Monday that he would be 'going to Sacramento as an independent,' a statement certain to enrage Republican loyalists who have been reluctant to endorse a moderate." (Emphasis added.)
Tagorda went to the tape of the interview (at the ninth minute) and concluded that the Chronicle took Schwarzenegger's comments out of context. After listening to the tape, I agree. Here's what he said, in part, in response to a statement by radio host Hugh Hewitt about being beholden to special interests:
"… like I said to my wife, I'm more than happy to give up my movies and the monies and the millions of dollars that I could make instead, and all this and that -- the best life anyone can dream of. I want to clean up this mess because I am going up there to Sacramento as an independent. I go up there -- I'm not indebted to anyone."
Later, Dan Weintraub, who writes the California Insider for the Sacramento Bee, dismissed the Chron's version of the interview as "breathing hard here over basically nothing." He writes:
"The Chron kicked up a storm this morning with its report on Arnold's interview with Hugh Hewitt, suggesting that Schwarzenegger's vow to be "independent" was an attempt to distance himself from the Republican Party. The campaign tried to set the paper straight, noting that what he said was that he would be independent of the special interests -- but this was portrayed as damage control. … I found it odd that the story's lead paragraph says Arnold's comments are "certain to enrage Republican loyalists" but then quotes no such animals in its story."
Misrepresentative political writing occurs regularly during horse-race campaign coverage as reporters struggle to put dramatic leads on stories about ordinary events.
The Chronicle's Schwarzenegger story is a case in point. The 27-paragraph story was a wrap-up, encompassing the Schwarzenegger interview (12 graphs, of which the independent charge and rebuttal filled six), a response from the governor's office (two graphs), a budget-balancing plan from ex-candidate Bill Simon (12 graphs), an endorsement of state Sen. Tom McClintock by a conservative caucus (three graphs) and a concluding comment from Schwarzenegger about Simon's withdrawal from the campaign (three graphs).
How would you like to write a lede on that story - especially knowing it's going to run atop the front page? The need to make news from no news (why report the economic plan of someone who has already left the race?) is a recipe for overreaching.
The Chronicle has done well covering the recall (particularly tracking donations), but the traditional daily campaign wrap-up story has outlived whatever usefulness it once had. If the Chronicle and other newspapers feel a need to record every blip on the political radar, then these non-events and self-serving interviews could be published as bulleted lists, freeing up reporters and newsprint for more serious journalism.
Tom Mangan, a copy editor for the San Jose Mercury News, is blogging about all things copy editing. It's cranky and clever, just like a good copy editor.
The name, Prints the Chaff, comes from this Adlai Stevenson quote: "An editor is someone who separates the wheat from the chaff, then prints the chaff."
He links to a few other sites run by rim rats:
To steal directly from the lead of this Guardian story: "At last, a genuine newspaper innovation."
Rupert Murdoch's Sunday Times hopes to add to its 1.3 million circulation with a once-a-month CD insert designed to attract younger readers. According to the Guardian, the entertainment-oriented CD, entitled the Month, will contain "25,000 words of text, movie and music clips, filmed interviews, DVD offers, games previews and listings."
John Witherow, editor of the $10 million project, explains the thinking behind the CD:
"We wanted to achieve a fusion between the two spheres, editorial and commercial, and gradually the CD-rom idea seemed the perfect vehicle. It enhances what we do in the paper but also allows us to take it on to another level."
(I'm granting Witherow a pass on his excitement for fusing the "editorial and commercial" and assuming he was referring to nothing more nefarious than the potentially profitable revenue opportunity the CD provides.)
It is exciting to see a newspaper realize that its greatest asset is its ability to produce content, not the method by which it is distributed. Newspapers must extend their distribution across platforms to reach new audiences and offer potential readers an option of entry points to their products.
Thus far, most newspapers have used the newest medium - the Internet - to do little more than re-publish their print pages and have not developed new products specifically for the Web.
As the Guardian points out: "The Month is very different from the usual paper add-ons, a significant nod towards the electronic age which, if it catches on, will surely be quickly imitated by rivals."
(Thanks to I Want Media.)
Guardian A newspaper revolution?
Tony Marcano, the ombudsman at the Sacramento Bee, writes about a Bee sportswriter who was fired for reporting on a San Francisco Giants game he never attended and using quotes made to other reporters.
Marcano calls the "prolonged fit of prevarication and chicanery" by Jayson Blair at the New York Times " a wake-up call for the newspaper industry" and asks: "But did a couple of reporters here at The Bee decide to stay in bed?" (A second Bee reporter, unnamed, is being investigated by the paper for "lifting information verbatim from a press release.")
The fired sportswriter, Jim Van Vliet, who had put in 34 years at the Bee, told Marcano he was "shocked and dismayed" by his dismissal, a feeling Marcano correctly doesn't share.
"Zero tolerance for ethics transgressions is a harsh but necessary reality, particularly in the post-Blair era," says Marcano.
I agree absolutely. See my post below about the need for newspapers to separate themselves from the media fray in order to regain the respect of the reading (and non-reading public). Zero tolerance for journalistic scammers is a good first step.
(Thanks to J.D. Lasica for the pointer.)
Tony Marcano Zero tolerance at The Bee for ethics transgressions
Reading writer Michael D'Antonio's thoughtful essay on the demise of traditional journalism (print and broadcast) in the L.A. Times reminded me of the Woody Allen line about death: "It's not that I'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens."
Why? Because as surely as D'Antonio meant "Sneer When You Say 'Journalist'" to be a serious, well-researched critique of the changing nature of news and its aftereffects - which it very much is - his loving nostalgia for the ethos and values of journalism ("The professionals in my circle of devoted and veteran (read middle-aged and older) editors and writers are working as diligently as ever."), and his mournful chronology of the dilution of quality journalism in the rising tide of opinion, infotainment and Buzz ("the publicity and chatter that hovers around a hot book, article, film or TV program"), give the piece the funereal air of an obituary. And, as a journalist, I'm not yet ready to read my own obit.
Depending on your own definition of journalism (read "The Elements of Journalism") and, subsequently, what role it should play in a democratic society, you may consider D'Antonio's eulogistic remembrances nothing more than a paean to an elitist past when the power of the press truly belonged only to the very few who owned one, or you may respond with a sense of alarm and urgency that will compel you to do whatever you can to preserve and reinforce the boundary between journalism and entertainment and opinion.
D'Antonio correctly diagnoses journalism's ailments as rooted in the over-pursuit of readership against competitors with fewer scruples but broader distribution, but he prescribes no remedies.
That is unfortunate because I believe newspapers, ironically the most endangered of the journalism species, have the most to gain from the fragmentation not only of media but of journalistic values.
In a day when "fair and accurate" is interpreted - and litigated over - as biased and false, and when pundits (like myself) proliferate faster than IP addresses, the core values of quality journalism - pursuit of truth, civic responsibility, respect for community - become not the deadweight anchors that some say have prevented newspapers from following the currents of change (that is a newsroom and management cultural issue), but rather substantial underpinnings that can support the heavylifting of solid reporting, enlightened editing, informed opinion and technological innovation that, together, equal compelling content.
In other words, when the word "journalist" is devalued because anyone with a microphone, camera or FTP program claims to be one, those who actually practice journalism will become unique - and therefore more valuable.
Don't get me wrong - journalism is many things, including opinion and commentary, and it arrives on many platforms. But I believe in what Seattle Times reporter Eric Nalder, quoted by D'Antonio, calls "real journalism."
"Real journalism doesn't distort the truth for effect, and it isn't hyped to the point where it is no longer a reliable representation of the world around us," Nalder says. "The trouble is, that line is crossed in a lot of mediums all too often."
D'Antonio reports that "a recent Shorenstein Center survey of consumers of journalism found that most-a 5 to 3 ratio-think the quality of the news media has declined," an negative opinion directly related to the growth in the amount of "soft news."
If the public is confused by where news ends and where opinion and entertainment begin - and it is - newspapers must mark their ground more plainly and make a stand for quality journalism. It may not bring them more readers (although I think it will), but at least those who are reading will get more for their quarters.
Michael D'Antonio Sneer When You Say 'Journalist'
Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy Doing Well and Doing Good: How Soft News and Critical Journalism Are Shrinking the News Audience and Weakening Democracy -- And What News Outlets Can Do About it
Two weeks ago I wrote about how some newspapers were shortening Schwarzenegger (say that three times quickly) because it wouldn't fit into tight headline counts and I cited this headline in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Actor has poor voting record."
The Chron caught up with First Draft today in a column by the paper's reader representative, Dick Rogers, who apparently was responding to concerns from "fans of the screen star-turned-candidate (who) sensed a conspiracy unfolding under their noses. By naming Bustamante but calling Schwarzenegger a mere actor, The Chronicle was trying to influence the race, bestowing valuable name recognition on one and downplaying the other, they said."
My point exactly.
Gina Lubrano, the readers rep for the San Diego Union-Tribune, beat the Chron to the issue by a week. She agreed that using first name for some candidates and not for others "might be considered disrespectful or demeaning," but also highlighted a larger issue:
"Even if headline writers wanted to identify Schwarzenegger by his profession, there is a possibility now that readers wouldn't know whether the story was about Schwarzenegger or another actor, Gary Coleman, who is on the ballot as an independent."
She has a point. Never underestimate the gullibility of the voters.
Ed Cone, a newspaper and magazine writer, sees new standards evolving for those who, as he put it nicely, blog "under a corporate banner." He adds:
"As a columnist, I would expect to be expected to conform to some standards, if not every standard pertaining to a print writer, and I would write to those standards as often as I possibly could, not least so that when a time came that I felt it important to breach them I would be on firmer ground. I think I could do this without compromising my weblog."
Ed also believes, as I do, that editing is not a requirement of journalism, citing, for example, live broadcast reporting. He adds:
"And bloggers do edit themselves. Some are sloppy editors, some are very very good. The key is that the blogger makes the editorial decision. Newspaper blogs that get this - even while imposing some degree of brand discipline - will be the ones worth reading."
Others interpreted my comments in favor of constructive editing ("Editors - good editors - question facts, characterizations and language in a reporter's story or column as part of that verification process.") as an either/or statement: With editing it's journalism, without it's not. Wrong. Editing is one part of traditional journalism, as is reporting, commentary and photography. The characteristics of journalism are synergistic with the form of media. The telegraph compressed reporting, radio gave it voice, television add moving pictures, the Internet made it universal and blogs are adding personality and freedom.
As Jeff Jarvis says, "Journalism is first and foremost reporting: getting the facts, getting them right. Editors can help, of course. But without reporters, editors are nothing."
I didn't play well in Peoria. Bill Dennis, a writer there who publishes the Peoria Pundit, also labeled me a troglodytic edit-or-perish proponent. Here is part of my response to Bill:
"Does a journalist have to be edited to be a journalist -- whether it's online or in print? Of course not. But a good editor (and they are rare, as I'm sure you would agree, as are the best reporters) can make a good journalist better and sometimes save a sorry one's butt.
"As far back as here I've said blogging is form journalism. I write mostly about newspapers and their efforts to survive in a changed media environment. I believe participatory journalism, and its dynamic forms of interaction between producer and audience, offer the best current lesson to newspapers on ways to engage audience."
Defensive newspaper managers should not read Bill's self-described rant. He got poisoned by a newspaper somewhere and the venom still runs strong. Still, Bill is correct when he assails a "culture is too calcified to adapt" and his prediction that most newspapers "will begin j-blogging only when they begin to look foolish by not having one" will prove sadly true.
Once again a new communications technology is emerging and, once again, most newspapers are following instead of leading.
If a news story could talk, the L.A. Times' report on the press covering Arnold Schwarzenegger's first big news conference would be meowing - it's that catty.
A few highlights:
"Soon, the media had descended on Barbara Gasser, a reporter for Kleine Zeitung, the newspaper from Schwarzenegger's home province of Styria, Austria. … Some in the press corps disapproved. 'Reporters interviewing other reporters. Give me a break!' hissed one."
The reporter for Ironman magazine "planned to track the 'inside' details on the candidate, right down to his diet on the campaign trail. … she hoped to meet the other candidates to assess their credentials as well. 'I might,' she concluded with a grin, 'want to take a tape measurer to that Cruz Bustamante's stomach.'"
"The candidate responded by pivoting toward a reporter from 'Entertainment Tonight.' What role, she wanted to know, would actor Rob Lowe play in the campaign? As the other reporters moaned and hissed, Schwarzenegger began his response: 'It's interesting,' he said, 'and a very good question.'"
Paul Farhi and Mark Leibovich of the Washington Post lead a story about the lack of slow summer news days with this: “Where have all the shark stories gone?”
They should have read the early edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, whose Page 1 headline read: “Shark kills woman in Central Coast attack -- 50-year-old bitten while swimming among sea lions.”
Bobby Darin couldn’t have written it any better.
Each time a newspaper reporter or columnist jumps platforms and begins blogging, someone asks: Who edits the blog? If it's not edited, then is it journalism? And, if it is, then is it blogging?
"He (Zorn) does not address how/if this blog will be edited. What is the hallmark of journalism? I think there are many credible answers to that question, but my favorite is: a process of editing, i.e. choices made on sound news judgment. This is not a hallmark of blogs."
To answer part of Al's question (even though he did so himself), Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenthal of the Committee of Concerned Journalists and authors of "The Elements of Journalism," say that "the essence of journalism is a discipline of verification. This, they argue, "is what separates journalism from entertainment, propaganda, fiction or art. … Journalism alone is focused first on getting what happened down right."
In short, journalism is about telling the truth and verifying the facts that comprise that truth.
Editors - good editors - question facts, characterizations and language in a reporter's story or column as part of that verification process.
Do journalistic editing and blogging mix? I asked Eric Zorn and Daniel Weintraub, who writes California Insider for the Sacramento Bee, how editing fits into their blogs.
Says Zorn: "I did some homework on this very point myself. We've more or less adopted the SacBee model in which I can and do post directly to the site, but I do so shortly after emailing a short roster of editors, some of whom are on duty at any given time, so they can give it a quick look."
Says Weintraub: I post my items directly to the net and simultaneously to my editor, who backreads them. We decided to do it that way because we think for a blog to really work it has to be fresh, and spontaneous. I have 20 years experience in the field and my standards for what can and cannot go out there are in sync with my editors. If I have anything really racy, I will run it by them before publication."
Both Zorn and Weintraub are columnists and therefore receive a different level of editing in print than a typical reporter, one that allows more voice in their columns than would be found in an everyday news story, presumably making the transition to the freshness of blogging easier. (An argument can be made that newspapers could enliven themselves more with more vibrant "voices," but that's another issue.)
Zorn offers a strong point about how newspapers need to retain the mechanisms (editing, for one) that separate traditional newspapering from infotainment and pure punditry, yet free their best reporters and columnists to explore new forms of journalism.
"I'm not a flawless writer by any means," says Zorn. "Like anyone, I get things wrong and like any sensible writer I value keen-eyed copy editing. At the same time, I think any news organization that trusts its writers to appear 'unedited' on panels, on the radio, in message boards and even in e-mail responses needs to trust them in the blogosphere. Trust but verify. Ah, one of my best lines. I'll never forgive that thief Ronald Reagan."
Editor & Publisher reports on the readership decline of the Sunday newspaper, a worrisome occurrence since Sundays have been the industry’s strongest battlement in its ongoing circulation war.
The piece examines the downward trend (circulation reached a “high point in 1993 when 884 Sunday papers had a circulation volume of 62.5 million;” it has since dropped to 59 million, according to NAA figures), offers dire forecasts (a demographer suggests that only 1-in-4 households will read a paper by 2007) and surveys techniques that some publishers are using to increase circulation (lowering prices and bagging papers).
The most interesting comment, though, addresses of the “no-time-to-read” issue – the common, and I believe inaccurate, assumption that would-be readers eschew newspapers because their hectic lives leave no room for newspaper reading. The story reports:
“A 2000 study by Clark, Martire and Bartolomeo Inc. for the NAA found that while time-poverty was an issue for 34% of people reading less on Sunday, people who are reading more on Sunday seem to have busier lifestyles -- and there was no connection between sense of time pressure and frequency of readership. Similarly, the Readership Institute's 2002 Impact Study found that light readers report 11.7 hours of free time on the weekend, only slightly less than heavy readers' 12.1 hours.”
Says Greg Martire, a partner in the firm cited above: "The no-time-to-read argument was an argument I've heard for 25 years. But the Internet blossomed, and they have time for that. It always seemed to me it was a polite way of explaining why people don't read the newspaper. ... What it comes down to is, 'It's not worth my time.'"
Is this news to us? Certainly, editorial organizations have for years debated ways to make the daily and Sunday content more compelling and I’m not going to pretend I have the solution. I do believe, though, that a more radical overhaul is needed, a transformation that goes beyond story mix and writing style, and one that includes a more intimate partnership between print and electronic, more reader involvement and a restructured newsrooms that attract more innovative journalists.
Editor & Publisher Sunday Will Never Be the Same
California newspapers have pumped up their political coverage in the wake of Arnold Schwarzenegger's entry into the state's gubernatorial race. Today we have:
Voters don't read - Tim Rutten in the L.A. Times, quoting CNN political analyst William Schneider: "Voters don't care what's in the political press. And, in fact, the voters Schwarzenegger needs most, young people and independents, don't read newspapers. He's going to go around the political press and speak directly through them, through the vehicle of his celebrity and the access it gives him to the entertainment media and foreign press." [ Read it ]
Schwarzenegger's dad was a worse Nazi than we thought - L.A. Times: "One document in particular shows that Gustav Schwarzenegger was indeed a member of the Sturmabteilungen, also known as the "storm troopers" or "brown shirts." [ Read it ]
Arianna Huffington's no-tax tax bill - L.A. Times: "TV commentator and author Arianna Huffington, who launched her campaign for governor with criticism of "fat cats" who fail to shoulder a fair share of taxes, paid no individual state income tax and just $771 in federal taxes during the last two years, her tax returns show." [ Read it ]
In the movies, Arnold has said bad things about women - S.F. Chronicle: "In the movie 'Total Recall,' Schwarzenegger puts a bullet through the head of his on-screen wife, who is trying to kill him as well, and says without remorse: 'Consider that a divorce.'" [ Read it ]
Cowboys like Arnold's style - S.F. Chronicle: "A lot of people in Bakersfield say they do not know why they are for him, either. He looks good, like a $300 Stetson of genuine beaver with a fresh "Telescope" crease on top, even if there is no cowboy underneath." [ Read it ]
Schwarzenegger's a Republicrat - S.F. Chronicle: " 'Arnold Schwarzenegger is not a conservative -- period,'" talk show host Rush Limbaugh told his millions of listeners this week. But as Limbaugh later explained in an interview, 'That does not mean that he is not worthy.'" [ Read it ]
Blogger's "open-book" debate idea - Sacramento Bee: "This isn't official, but I have also been told that the debate organizers have adopted my proposal to publish the debate questions in advance." [ Read it ]
Politics makes dirty bedfellows - Sacramento Bee: "He's vowed to "clean up Sacramento," but Arnold Schwarzenegger has hired a handful of campaign consultants who were heavily involved in the scandal that drove disgraced state Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush from office." [ Read it ]
A big Green hug - San Jose Mercury News: "Arianna Huffington and Green Party candidate Peter Miguel Camejo agreed Wednesday to work together to galvanize liberal voters." [ Read it ]
David Shaw, the media columnist for the Los Angeles Times, asks:
"But what journalistic priority can possibly be higher than maintaining - or rebuilding - reader confidence in our credibility and in our commitment to accuracy and fairness? If the news media exist to serve our readers - as we constantly say when waving the First Amendment banner in response to government restriction, obfuscation and censorship - isn't responding to our readers' questions and criticisms a matter of the highest priority?"
Answers: None. Yes.
I've said this many times: When the airwaves are filled with punditry, when the notions of objectivity and fairness are considered quaint, when the technical hurdles of self-publishing are virtually eliminated, when breaking news has the value of nil, in this age of omni-media all newspapers have left to offer is credibility, depth and connection to community. And the first is tarnished, the second is threatened by pinched newsroom budgets and the third remains elusive for newspapers accustomed to walling themselves off from the public and firing their daily editions over the ramparts, as it were, to the masses.
Shaw argues that a newspaper can take one step toward all three goals by hiring an ombudsmen, someone to, as Shaw's old editor Bill Thomas said, "hold us as accountable as we hold the government and big business and the police and all those other institutions."
Headline writers are terminating Schwarzenegger.
The most famous candidate in California's free-for-all recall (no, not Gary Coleman) should change his name from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Arnold Actor because that's what headline writers who can't fit his 14-letter name into one- and two-column heds are calling him.
Here's today's top political story in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Actor has poor voting record." The paper's Web site, SFGate, where presumably formatting is even less generous with words: "Actor Missed Elections."
Here's the Sacramento Bee: "Rivals open fire on actor," which makes up in cliches what is lacks in proper nouns.
Other papers are opting for just "Arnold."
Here's the Los Angeles Daily News: "Arnold's team shows actor's income tax files ."
And when the Daily News need to fit both the leading Democrat, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamente (10 letters) and Schwarzenegger into a hed it went with: "It's Cruz vs. Arnold (plus 132 wannabes) ."
Here's the Orange County Register: "Arnold wears bull's-eye," which not only reduces Schwarzenegger to the familiar but also, like the Sacramento Bee hed above, marks him for termination. You've been erased, Arnold.
I thought that maybe the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, a tiny paper with what could be the longest name in the state - 18 letters and a hyphen, would be more sympathetic to Schwarzenegger's pumped-up surname, but befitting the WR-P's size its recent election coverage is limited to a feature on a local factory owner who's on the recall ballot.
Certainly, any of us who have had to squeeze the essence of a story into a 1-48-4 can empathize with the rimrat who wrote "Actor has poor voting record" in today's S.F. Chronicle (which, to be fair, did have "Schwarzenegger" in the deck), but should some candidates be treated differently in headlines just because their names are longer than others?
Will we see a headline that says "Columnist enters recall race" about Arianna Huffington (10 letters) or "Entrepreneur challenges governor" about Peter Ueberroth (9 letters), who is usually described as "former baseball commissioner," a very unfriendly headline term.
Fair is fair. Despite his celebrity (which does breed familiarity, which, in turn, has its own breeding habit), if Schwarzenegger is going to be "Arnold" then the governor should be "Gray." And Arnold's going to be described by his job, then so should the others be - "Politician fights recall."
But this is a policy issue or a dictate of layout. Until either changes, headline writers must continue to cram a three-column name into one.
George Martin, a copy editor extraordinaire at the old San Francisco Examiner, expressed the plight of the rimrat in "The Copy Editor's Lament." It begins:
I was sitting on the copydesk
just watching o'er the scene
when the dealer sent a juicy
story over to my screen.
It had power, sex and politics and violence - it was great;
and the headline on the dummy said:
- 6 column 48.
Read the rest here.
George Martin The Copy Editor's Lament
Two stories today focus on readership. One offers a lesson for possible better future for newspapers, the other reports numbers foretelling the difficulty of making that future a reality.
Los Angeles Times columnist Tony Dodero tells the story of his minister sermonizing to the gathered flock that they should no judge quickly those who subjected to intense media coverage "whether you get your news from radio, or television, or the Internet."
The minister's list of media woke Dodero from his meditative state. He writes:
"Now wait one darn minute here. Radio, television and the Internet? Who cares about rushing to judgment, I wanted to shout from the pew 'what happened to newspapers?'"
After lamenting current readership numbers, Dodero relates an anecdote about a visit he and other Times staffers made to an L.A. executive who, after airing whatever concerns he had about the Times' coverage, thanked Dodero and the others for coming. Dodero writes:
"Other editors, he said, often won't even give him the time of day. And that's part of our problem. Newspaper editors and reporters historically have been combative or defensive or downright rude when talking to readers with complaints or sources with complaints."
I agree. Newspapers should be as much in the listening business as in the reporting business [ Read: How the New York Times' New Ombudsman Can Succeed ] and while I don't believe the salvation to the readership ailment lies entirely with readers, it is, as Dodero suggests, a good place to start.
Unfortunately, less arrogance and better communication with customers (readers) may not be enough for newspapers.
An Editor & Publisher story today illustrates the industry's misplaced emphasis on revenue over readership (without readership, relevance declines, resulting in fewer readers and, eventually, less revenue).
Under the headline "Sunnier Years Ahead for Newspapers, Forecast Says," the story reports on a projected advertising and circulation spending growth over the next half decade and then offers these conclusions from the forecast:
"The industry's share of ad spending and people's time spent with newspapers will continue their slow decline, however, said Robert J. Broadwater, managing director."
"Circulation remains a huge challenge, though." The rate of circulation decline has slowed, but the forecast attributes the slowdown to the "fact that many of the trailing papers in two-daily markets have already gone under."
"Papers' lack of success to date in expanding successive generations' interest in their product remains a concern, and the emergence of free-circulation commuter papers 'may keep somewhat of a damper on circulation pricing.'"
Smaller revenue share, fewer readers reading less, a generational die-off and competition that's just giving it away. If these are "sunnier years ahead," then the newspaper industry should start praying for rain.
William Babcock, the head of the journalism department at Cal State Long Beach, writes in the L.A. Times, argues that "the vast bulk of coverage now needs to be centered on (Arnold) Schwarzenegger."
We know all about Gov. Gray Davis, the recall target, says Babcock, but precious little about Schwarzenegger that was written in a script.
Babcock says pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura won the gubernatorial race in Minnesota in 1998 because the local press gave him equal treatment to his two competitors, presumably allowing his buffoonish persona to slip unnoticed past voters.
Setting aside Babcock's underestimation of the pop-culture difference between "The Terminator" and "The Body," he does have a point.
The San Francisco Chronicle today, perhaps anticipating the call to pencils from Babcock, takes a run at defining Arnold.
Best quote from the candidate himself: "I will fight for the environment. Nothing to worry about."
Best quote from someone who is not the candidate:
"It's like going through a buffet line where you find all sorts of things, on the left and the right, that you can chose from," said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, who advised Schwarzenegger in 2001 and analyzed his public positions. "Reporters are going to try very hard to put him in a box, but I don't think there is a box that would fit Arnold," said Whalen. "He said something very interesting to me once: 'You have to understand I am internally conflicted. I have an Austrian upbringing, but an adult life in California.' "
The Sacramento Bee, the governor's hometown asks the prosaic question: "Who is this larger-than-life guy, really, and what does he know about running the state of California?"
Unfortunately, the Bee gets distracted by interviews with political consultants arguing over whether Schwarzenegger can win and failed to answer its own question.
Best quote: "It remains to be seen whether this is 'Seabiscuit' or 'Gigli,' " said Ken Khachigian, a Republican campaign consultant.
The L.A. Times, in a story about the entertainment value of the California race and Schwarzenegger's "Q factor," points out that unmasking the "real" Arnold (assuming that what we see isn't it) won't be easy.
" 'What will access to Arnold be?' said Harvey Englander, a Los Angeles political consultant. 'Is it going to be the walk and wave? How many in-depth interviews will he do? How many sit-downs will he have with the media who cover government and politics in California?'
" Philip Trounstine, who heads the Survey and Policy Institute at San Jose State, said it is critical for political writers to pose serious policy questions.
" 'Arnold may try to sidestep the political writers,' he said. "As long as Jay Leno is your only interviewer and you don't have to face a [veteran political reporter], it can be a cakewalk.' "
Best quote: "He's not going to pick up a ray gun the way he does in the movies and splatter it across the Assembly."
This is reporting you have to love. Babcock's right: Everybody in the ring!
William Babcock Put Schwarzenegger Under Media Microscope
San Francisco Chronicle Views of actor-candidate not easy to put in usual categories
Sacramento Bee Now the big question: What does Schwarzenegger know?
Los Angeles Times Campaign Is the Ultimate Reality Show
J.D. Lasica, who normally muses about new media on his own Web site, has written a package of stories for the Online Journalism Review about the emergence and spread of participatory journalism - an umbrella term he uses to cover all forms of thin media, from blogging to one-man digital television stations streamed over the Web.
It's a solid package that pulls together numerous examples of how non-traditional media is capturing audience and redefining, at least for its producers and consumers, the definition of news.
Lasica also cites a few examples of how some newspapers are inviting readers to publish eyewitness accounts or photographs of news events, but I didn't find much ground broken here. See this example from the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Of course, self-publishing and other forms of participatory journalism are both a threat and an opportunity to traditional news media, particularly newspapers.
Newspapers certainly don't need another media type with which to compete for reader attention, especially one that invites readers to sit at the keyboard themselves. They could, however, embrace the change and lead the reader instead of following him. Their track record in this area is lousy, though.
Participatory journalism is another one of those fields that newspapers should be playing in even if they don't fully understand its implications. The future tends to unveil itself only to those who are there. (You must be present to win).
As columnist and blogger Dan Gillmor says at the end of Lasica's story: "It's difficult to figure out where all this is going to wind up. Journalism from the edges is taking us to a new place. The only thing certain is that we'll never return to the days when people are treated as passive vessels for content delivered by big media through one-way pipes -- no matter how disruptive these changes may be for traditional media."
I haven't read the Washington Post's new free tabloid, Express, which debuted Monday, but I have read the sneering from some media critics and traditional journalists (Here's Jack Shafer at Slate: "When the blueprint demands mediocrity, why bother mucking it up with excellence?") and find it predictably reactionary.
In an age when younger people view the daily newspaper as, at best, medicinally informative and, at worst, as irrelevant, attempts to develop new formats like the Express (or the Chicago Tribune's 25-cent tabloid, Red Eye) should be applauded, even for their flaws.
Let's reward innovation. Let's be critical, yes, but constructively so. As a newspaper industry analyst told me the other day for a story I'm working on:
"Newspaper readers tend to come out of families that historically have read newspapers. And that population is declining. Every effort that the industry has made to try to break that cycle has failed. … That's why I am so approving of the Tribune's Red Eye. What they're trying to do is develop a newspaper habit and hoping it will transfer. It's the freshest idea a newspaper company has had to try to combat this endemic circulation decline."
The Express intends to attract readers with a mix of short stories, briefs, sports and features that are more US Weekly than Prevention. It doesn't use original Post content, relying instead on the wires and material heavily digested from other papers.
Express editor Dan Caccavaro explained the difference in an online chat on Washingtonpost.com:
"The Post and Express serve very different purposes. Express is meant to offer a quick recap to get people up to speed in the morning and hopefully entertain them a bit.
"We're not trying to be an abbreviated version of the Post. In fact, trying to boil down the Post's investigative work, editorials and features would undercut what makes the Post so valuable."
Nonetheless, media critics seem intent on comparing the Express to something it isn't - a traditional newspaper.
The Post's own Howard Kurtz calls it "something of a disappointment." He adds:
"I'm all for attracting younger readers, and maybe an easy read will prove popular for straphangers. But I'd rather persuade folks that reading the likes of David Broder, Bob Woodward, Tony Kornheiser and a real sports section and Style section, not to mention Doonesbury, is worth an investment of 35 cents."
Kurtz is missing the point. We'd all like "folks" to invest in quality journalism every day, or even just a few more days a week. But they're not doing it - especially those younger "folks." - and newspaper circulation (by extension relevancy and influence) continues to circle the drain.
So what if, as Shafer snickers, the Express "wants to be paged" instead of read? Readership is not a zero-sum game. Any "folks" who page Express are a plus not a minus. I say get them in the tent, give them a free peek and maybe someday some of them will invest 35 cents in Broder, Woodward, Kornheiser and Kurtz.
And if the Express fails, discarded repeatedly by would-be readers to die ignominiously of content rot on the floor of the D.C. Metro? Again, so what? At least the newspapers industry is learning to fail by initiative rather than by inaction.
There was comment aplenty the other day about the New York Times' decision to name an ombudsman, but precious little advice for the person who's going to inaugurate what Jeff Jarvis called the "worst job in journalism." (I'm not sure about that Jeff. Here's three words for you: Carson City, Nevada.)
So, I emailed 27 members of the Organization of News Ombudsmen's and got 10 responses - not bad for mid-summer. Here's what they had to say.
Listen. Listen. Listen. Nearly every one stressed that a willingness to be a sounding board - for the staff and for readers - is key to an ombudsman's success.
John Miller, Public Editor, Detroit Free Press: "Listen well and listen often, by finding several ways to regularly talk with readers."
David House, Reader Advocate, Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "Remember that people are calling because they care about the paper and want honest information (don't we all?). Listen to them. Ask them questions about why they feel as they do, and share their thoughts with the Times' staff and management."
Dan Hortsch, former Public Editor, The Oregonian: "Getting around to talk with staffers at any larger newspaper is hard, but talking with teams, departments and individuals, on a formal and informal basis, helps the staffers see the public editor as a human being."
Chris Chinlund, Ombudsman, Boston Globe: "Listen very carefully to what readers have to say, and try to discern patterns; everything else will flow from that."
Mike Clark, Reader Advocate, Florida Times-Union: "It's not all that difficult or all that extreme to listen to your customers. Businesses do it every day, and so do newspapers -- in their circulation and advertising and marketing departments."
Be honest. Be fair. Be candid.
Hortsch: "Let staff members know that you are serious and will critique the newspaper honestly, bluntly at times, but that you are not the enemy."
House: "Candor is paramount, but so are good manners."
Don Sellar, Ombudsman, Toronto Star "Be open with readers and newsroom staff alike, and not pursue personal or political agendas that run counter to the paper's core values."
Be professional, not personal.
Sellar: "Ombuds' columns need to be well-researched, fair and balanced, and avoid cheap shots or personal attacks."
Hortsch: "Emphasize an interest in the broader outcome, not in the individual reporters, editors, photographers, artists and others. Citing a story that has problems is intended to provide a subject for thought for everyone, not solely for that reporter, that reporter's editor."
Manning Pynn, Public Editor, Orlando Sentinel: "In critiques, I would advise focusing on performance rather than personality. Everyone makes mistakes; no one intends to. And making mistakes is not indicative of bad intent, usually just carelessness. Excessive carelessness is another matter."
Hortsch: "Know that you have the authority of your executive editor behind you, but don't name-drop. Don't act in the name of Bill Keller. Act on your own authority."
Pam Platt, Public Editor, Louisville Courier-Journal: "Be independent. Find and use your own voice in this no man's land."
Be humble, but be strong.
House: "Defend good decisions. Make no excuses for bad ones. Avoid elitism. Embrace humility."
Hortsch: "Be willing to be proven wrong by a staffer, but not to the point of not acting/deciding, on a correction, say. Think before deciding, but don't make a running discussion out of the matter once you have the wherewithal to make a decision."
Be ready to laugh.
Sellar: "New ombud at The Times needs to be … blessed with a decent sense of humor …"
Hortsch: "Get accustomed to lots of jokes (not all of them meant for laughs) about being "internal affairs," "the gestapo" and so on. And the "Oh, oh: Here comes XXX. Who screwed up?"
(But, says Hortsch, "true insults need not go unchallenged. In bringing a complaint to me, one person began by saying, in all seriousness, 'Look: We all know your job is to make us look bad.' Don't take that stuff without immediate objection. Get such a discussion on point and don't let people knock you off balance with an offensive offensive.")
It's interesting, as Pam Platt of Louisville pointed out, how many of these characteristics "sound a whole lot like being a reporter (and when you think about it, that's what an ombudsman/public editor really is)."
An ombudsman, or public editor or readers representative, certainly cannot cure the aching, arthritic readership trend that afflict newspapers. That requires leadership, commitment to quality and relentless pursuit of innovation. But an ombudsman can be a salving voice amid a cacophony of complaints or confusion.
Manny Pynn of Orlando said the N.Y. Times' one-year experiment with a public editor will succeed or fail to the degree that the Times' staff listens to that voice.
"The position's success will depend on the participation and cooperation of the Times' reporters and editors -- which may require a mandate from Bill Keller. If they look to the public editor to absorb and deflect criticism, it won't work. The public editor can serve as a liaison between readers and the journalists whose work has puzzled or offended them, but the public editor can't hope to answer unilaterally all the questions that will be raised." (Pyle has more in his Sunday column).
Mike Clark of Florida argued that "for the New York Times to call this an 'experiment' implies a lack of commitment."
"The Times should be setting the pace for American journalism by auditing its work in public view and explaining its role to the readers," said Clark. "To do less implies that this news does not fit."
To me, the issue comes down to one word: Responsibility - to the public, to the sources, to fellow journalists, to the quality that is demanded in return for the rights we are granted. The position of ombudsman embraces that idea. It signifies accountability. And I'm all for that.
New York Times Siegal committee report