I am all for efforts by newspapers to accumulate mass by going after class - that is, publishing papers like Chicago's Red Eye and New York's Hoy to attract those young or Spanish-speaking readers who aren't buying the core paper.
"The newspapers aren't expected to have much impact on publishers' bottom lines. With their heavy use of wire copy and stories from sister newspapers, they're don't take much investment to get off the ground and therefore are low risk." (Emphasis added.)
Low risks produce low rewards. Repackaging the wires and adding faux sass to tired copy doesn't sound like a formula to, as one media analyst defined the goal, "get young people back to reading the paper."
Look at this: Both the staid Cincinnati Enquirer and the new CiN Weekly have a Halloween package. The Enquirer's package (all wording is taken from the papers' web sites) has this headline: "Lots of Scares." The hipper CiN Weekly has this: "Fright night / Where to get your scare on."
Both headlines go to the same set of stories - a listing of movies with this unenticing, uninspired lead-in: "If you just can't stay home this Halloween, movie theatres throughout the city are showing some pretty scary films. Here are a few:"; and a round-up listed under the label "Your Guideline to Halloween" that leads with pumpkin carving tips: "Here are some basic carving tips that will help you create a jack-o'-lantern that would make Martha Stewart proud."
Martha Stewart? The indicted Ms. Stewart as a hook to draw in 18- to 34-year-olds? This is the problem with trying to trick readers - it's no treat for them and they won't come knocking at your door next year. Why do the editors in Cincinnati believe that if younger people won't read a poorly-written Halloween guide in the Enquirer they will read the same piece of seasonal cliché in CiN Weekly? They are overestimating their own cleverness and underestimating the intelligence of the readers they are seeking.
To attract a new audience requires commitment, which means spending money on staff and original, targeted content like the Tribune Co. did with Red Eye and the Dallas Morning News did with Al Dia or the Miami Herald did with El Nuevo Herald. These are publications with ambition backed by resources and whose goal is to impact the bottom line. As Hoy publisher Louis Sito told me for a story I wrote for American Journalism Review, "In 2001 and 2002 we grew revenues at a 50 percent rate" while "general media was going down the tubes." Hoy posted a profit 18 months after it launched.
Special sections may indeed help revive readership and enhance bottom lines - a year ago the San Francisco Chronicle launched a freestanding, weekly wine section that the paper touts as a success - but readers won't be fooled by tired techniques such as rebundling retreaded stories. In today's world of competitive media, originality, authenticity and effort win. Low risk loses.
Dow Jones Gannett, Others Launch New Papers to Woo Young Readers
The Knight Foundation has given $2.2 million to the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University to increase professional development training for journalists.
This is important.
Journalists receive less professional development training, i.e., ongoing education, than nearly all other professionals. A 2002 survey funded by the Knight Foundation found that seven in 10 journalists receive no regular training. No wonder these reporters and editors often seem ill-equipped to operate in today's fluid media landscape.
"American companies spent an average of 2 percent of payroll on training. News industry figures … may be half that." - "Newsroom Training: Where's the Investment?" (Knight Foundation)
In fact, Richard Somerville of the Readership Institute found that "the average newspaper industry expenditure on formal training (as opposed to informal, on-the-job learning) is 0.7 percent of payroll."
Why is training important?
First, journalists learn skills that make them better reporters, editors, photographers and managers, from investigative techniques to communications skills to management practices.
Second, training challenges the intellect and stimulates innovation. Those who learn something new want to use it.
Third, it aids retention, which means newsrooms have a better chance of keeping the best and brightest journalists.
Fourth, the higher retention rate increases diversity. According to the ASNE's 2002 newsroom employment survey, newspapers hired 447 minorities that year, only four more than the number who left the industry. An earlier ASNE study found that "lack of professional challenge is the key reason cited by" minority journalists for leaving newsrooms. Imagine how the diversity rate would increase if newsrooms could only keep more of the minorities they hire.
Fifth, training saves money. In "Newsroom Training: Where's the Investment?", Joe Grimm, recruiting and development editor for the Detroit Free Press, points out that the replacement cost for a professional is "1-2.5 times annual compensation."
"Look at it this way," says Grimm. "If the cost of replacing a professional journalist is $50,000 apiece and you're losing 10 a year, that costs $500,000. If you can slow down your attrition rate just one percent - 10 percent - you save $50,000 a year. If people say their top gripe is lack of training, spend $25,000 a year to train them and they'll stay longer. You'll still come out ahead."
Sixth, training makes money. A recent report by the American Society of Training and Development found that "575 U.S.-based, publicly traded companies that ranked high in training had much higher total shareholder return (TSR) than those ranking lower.
The culture in most American newsrooms is toxic, dominated by a defensive hierarchy of middle managers who are not rewarded for risk-taking and sustained by systems of reflexive and rote decision-making. The organizational culture of U.S. newsrooms is most often compared in studies to that of the Pentagon or the Postal Service.
Training is a tool with which to attack that culture. Learning produces change. Change is disruptive. Disruption requires adaptation. Adaptation leads to survival and growth.
The Daily Northwester Medill receives $2.2M grant to educate media professionals
Readership Institute Culture and Management Practices
American Society of Training and Development Profiting From Learning: Do Firms’ Investments in Education and Training Pay Off?
No Train, No Gain Training for Newspaper Journalists
I am on the road the next few days to always exciting Los Angeles and Dallas with limited time to post. It's a good opportunity for you to catch up on some of the Best of First Draft:
The Quality Manifesto: What started it all.
Journalists Overpaid? Nonsense: There are many reasons newsrooms have disconnected from the communities they cover, but overly fat paychecks is not one of them.
No More Whining: He's wrong that penurious publishers are to blame for readership woes.
Eliminating the Bimbo Factor: I practiced journalism, but I knew almost nothing about it - although I thought I did.
Would You Pay a Nickel to Read This?: In the world of online newspapers (and other media), the debate over whether to charge for content (more revenue) or not (more readers) draws well-reasoned and emotional commentary from both sides.
Newspapers Disrupted: "When you realize this newfangled thing is stealing your business, and you aren't sure how to get it back."
How Journalism Went Bad: 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."
Time for a Leadership Tuneup: Newspapers are like cars. They are complex machines that require regular maintenance, occasional new parts and a certain amount of high-speed driving to keep the grit and road grime from dulling their engines.
There's Nothing Left but the Journalism: Quality sells. Relevance matters. The real lesson both the newsroom and the boardroom need to learn is that, in the age of the 24-hour scroll, the micro-fragmentation of electronic media, and the constant clamor for a news consumer's attention by everyone from the New York Times to yours truly, all that's left is the journalism.
The natural marriage of reporters and the wireless Internet seems to be catching on.
A station executive says the wi-fi tryout is an experiment, but he sees providing reporters with another mobile tool and possibly saving the station money at big events on the cost of installing landlines.
Newspapers should follow suit.
As I mentioned the other day, the Virginian-Pilot is reporting live to its web site from the trial of Washington, D.C., sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad, something that could be done from major sporting events, registrars' offices on election night and other breaking news situations where a continuous stream of reporting could give newspapers an online advantage or a fresh flow of notes to the office for rewrite.
All reporters should have laptops they could use as a virtual, mobile newsrooms when not docked into the network. (They should also have cheap digital cameras and voice recorders, but that's a union fight in many newsrooms. An editor at a top-ten U.S. paper told me the other day he was thinking of starting a blog for his section, but wasn't sure union rules, which typically define newsroom jobs in narrow, protectionist language and often don't allow editors in management to write, would allow it.)
Much ado is made about convergence at newspaper gatherings and in industry training organizations, but newsroom acceptance has been slow.
Tools work. Money talks. How you budget defines your priorities.
Side note: Wireless proliferation should increase consumer demand for better laptop batteries. You can't stay connected no matter how many nodes your community has if your laptop's battery dies in two hours or less as many do.
Wall Street Journal Wi-Fi's Limits Are Put to Test By Reporters Working On Deadline
The New York Times made a subtle shift in its typefaces in order to "enhance legibility." The old style worked for me, as does the new. The Times says its goal was to appear "traditional but less old-fashioned," an ambition to which I also aspire. Click here, on newsdesigner.com, to see a side-by-side comparison of the change.
There's a story out to day reporting that Arnold Schwarzenegger received more pre-recall press coverage than other contenders, including the leading Democrat, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamamente.
First, that's not surprising, given Arnold's present celebrity and past groping. Second, it's an old story. Third, it didn't matter.
"Schwarzenegger also got more headlines than the other four top replacement candidates combined in other major California newspapers - the Mercury News and the Chronicle among them - although the margin wasn't quite as great in those papers.
"The New York Times put Schwarzenegger's name in headlines 35 times - compared with one mention for the other four top contenders combined."
What the stories, based on a study by UC-Berkeley public policy professor Bruce Fuller, don't say is how many of those stories focused on Nazi denials, groping denials, Hummer denials or Arnold being egged.
All of them, though, probably spelled his name right (if it fit in the headline) and that's all Schwarzenegger needed the press for because he ran his real campaign in the electronic and celebrity media.
As the San Francisco Chronicle reported after the election:
"'We ran away from the established media,' said Sean Walsh, co-director of communications for the campaign. 'We went to the real mass media. We make no apologies for doing lots of radio or TV. It gave us 5, 7, 8 minutes of unfiltered opportunities to get out our message every day.
'We did it,' he added, 'because we could.'
"It worked. In fact, media analysts and campaign consultants say, Schwarzenegger's strategy may be remembered as the first in contemporary times that rendered newspapers in particular, but also the more serious television correspondents, all but irrelevant to the way the campaign was managed, and also to the choices many voters ultimately made. That approach, noted campaign experts, turned the media order on its head, since television had generally followed the agenda set by the print media." (Emphasis added).
That's the media story of the California recall.
(Thanks to I Want Media.)
Stanford Daily UC study says media coverage of recall unfair
Gerald Boyd, who was unseated as managing editor of the New York Times by Jayson Blair and has spent his time since then preaching a penitential sermon of the need for newspaper credibility, told editors at the APME convention that journalists are "losing touch with real people" because they of their better-than-average salaries.
There are many reasons newsrooms have disconnected from the communities they cover, but overly fat paychecks is not one of them.
Talk about out of touch. It's Boyd who needs to find a new salary reality.
I don't know what he made as M.E. at the Times, but it was plenty. According to a Brill's Content survey in 1999, Publisher Arthur Sulzberger was paid more than $1 million and the executive editor (then Joe Lelyveld) about half of that. The M.E., I'm sure, made at least half the exec's salary, putting Boyd's top-line at, estimating on the low side, $250.000 a year, just under $5,000 a week.
Among the better earners are Times reporters and editors, who, under their Newspaper Guild contract are paid a top minimum of $1,445.17 week, about $75,000 a year. Not bad. It's certainly better than the median U.S. household income of $42,409, but only a couple of other papers on the Guild's list even come within $10,000 a year of the Times' salaries.
Most reporters - even those with union contracts - earn much, much less, with some approaching the poverty line. The Utica Observer-Dispatch, just a Hudson River ride upstate from the Times newsroom on 43rd Street, pays its journalists a top minimum of $387.50 a week, $20,150 a year.
That's not even the bottom. When I did a story for the American Journalism Review earlier this year, I found papers in California regularly offering starting salaries of $10 an hour, with more a few paying $9 - what you can make frothing cappucinos at Starbucks in San Francisco and only 50 cents an hour more than what Wal-Mart pays its Superstore employees.
I'm not against Boyd or anybody else making as much as they can in journalism, but to suggest that high salaries are behind the newspapers' credibility or circulation woes is foolish. (That category includes reasons such as arrogance, devotion to routine, adversity to risk, hidebound hierarchical structures, lack of diversity, lack of language skills to speak to the new communities, technical rigidity, among others.)
Journalists are woefully underpaid. Financially, the profession cannot attract or retain the brightest university graduates. The average starting salary for a new J-school grad is $26,000, according to the annual survey done by the University of Georgia's Grady Collegr. Even the true believers, those motivated by the higher principles of journalism, are too often forced out by paychecks that can't be stretched to meet costs of living in our nation's pricier cities.
In small towns, it's worse. Reporters spend half their take home on rent. Editors live with their parents. Some live in San Francisco, 60 miles from where they work, because their paper's family-oriented bedroom community has no affordable apartments.
Orville Schell, the dean of the journalism school at UC-Berkeley, captured the dilemma when I interviewed him for the AJR story.
Journalism is fortunate, said Schell, because "it selects those who cannot but be writers and journalists. It means you get a level of commitment and dedication that is quite unusual in many other professions. But you can only abuse people so much. They have families, children and student loans and lives to lead. We are not monks."
Sit down, Gerald Boyd. How can you talk about credibility when you make such incredible statements?
(Thanks to Tom Mangan for the pointer to Boyd.)
Arizona Republic News editors take notes on fixing credibility
I might have to stop linking to Jay Rosen's PressThink in a favor a banner that says: Read PressThink daily. The man's mind in is high gear.
"The quality of any weblog in journalism depends greatly on its fidelity to age old newsroom commandments (virtues) like check facts, check links, spell things correctly, be accurate, be timely, quote fairly. And as Roy Peter Clark says, if you’re telling a story and there’s a dog, get the name of the dog."
Poor John. I feel for him. He got buried in a blogathon of pilers-on when, after rereading the interview with Adam Clayton Powell, the CB remark comes off more as a Tourette-like quip in an otherwise typical journalistic response -- withholding opinion until the facts are in.
Markoff admits to being confused about the future nature of journalism, one enabled by technology and redefined by readers as they become participating authors, editors, commentators, photographers and critics. He says:
"In that kind of a world, I think one of the things that does for journalism is it sort of changes our role in ways that I find totally baffling at this moment. But I think we're going to be in this period, you know, a long period of instability because technology will keep changing, so I'm not worrying about it."
That's a reasonable answer. Even those of us who champion more technology and more participation admit, if we are honest with ourselves, to bafflement about what forms of journalism will emerge. That's OK. Uncertainty in uncertain times is an acceptable option. (Inaction, though, is not).
I say cut Markoff some slack. Maybe he's just depressed (as he says in the interview: "I'm afraid that I'm so depressed by the world ..."); maybe he's just less articulate in an interview than he is in print, as so many writers are (which is why they write). Maybe he really believes Movable Type templates will some day end up in the Bad Fads Museum with CBs. If that's the case, it's unfortunate and he has become an Internet pioneer who's reached the end of his trail.
Ken Sands, online managing editor of the Spokesman-Review Spokane, home to a fine collection of staff-written blogs, remarks at the APME convention that the trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad is prime territory for a news blog.
"You could have an AP reporter in the courtroom with a PDA and keyboard who would type in dispatches anytime anything interesting happens," Sands told the APME convention newspaper.
Kerry Sipe, an online reporter for the Virginian-Pilot is already doing what Sands suggested the Associated Press should do - a daily blog on the trial - only she's not doing it from the courtroom itself as I said yesterday.
I emailed Sipe and asked how she was filing. Here's her answer:
"I'm filing from a laptop with a wireless connection directly as I view the proceedings. The judge will not permit a laptop (let alone an Internet connection) in the courtroom itself, but I am permitted to watch a closed-circuit television connection in a room nearby. The closed-circuit is only for the press (there are 300+ here and only about 50 seats in the courtroom) and members of the victims' families. I can file without leaving my seat, which is good for the urgency of the post, but not so good on my keister. Heh-heh." (Emphasis added)
Why is a reporter using a pen and a notebook different from one using a keyboard on a laptop? Why should the latter be banned from bringing the tools of the trade into a courtroom?
Of course, he shouldn't. But the issue of the courts, technology and the press is complicated and unresolved. Some courts allows cameras. Others do not. Some judges have banned cell phones, fearing digital recording or photographing (Check that Nokia at the door, son).
The right to use laptops in court, the wiring of courthouses so reporters can file live, these issues will be fought one case at a time, just as the issue of cameras has.
Until then, we have Kerry Sipe's solution, which is more real-time access than the public has had previously in high-profile trials.
The world has turned itself inside out. Aren't pioneering high-tech journalists supposed to envision futures of emerging technologies? Aren't journalism school chairmen supposed to cling defensively to the traditional norms of news?
Not any more.
New York Times technology reporter John Markoff, who was writing about computers, cyberpunks and Silicon Valley before most bloggers were born, tells Adam Clayton Powell at the Online Journalism Review that "it's not clear yet whether blogging is anything more than CB radio."
Says Markoff: "It's possible that in the end there may be some small subset of people who find a livelihood out of it and that the rest of the people will find that, you know, keeping their diaries online is not the most useful thing to with their time."
Then, from the not-so-ivory tower of NYU comes the university's j-school chairman, comes PressThink, author Jay Rosen who outlines "Ten Things Radical about the Weblog Form in Journalism." Here's is No. 2:
"Journalism had become the domain of professionals, and amateurs were sometimes welcomed into it- as with the op ed page. Whereas the weblog is the domain of amateurs and professionals are the ones being welcomed to it, as with this page."
Then, from the unlikely corner of Norfolk, Virginia, outside the arena of the debate but home to the Virginian-Pilot, comes an answer that makes Markoff look likes he's heading to La Brea and solidifies Rosen's point as neatly as if he had planned all this: A daily blog reported live from from the courtroom where sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad is on trial.
Online reporter Kerry Sipe began the journal with this simple entry:
"9:50 AM Oct. 14 Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. convened court his morning at about 9:50 a.m. for the trial of John Allen Muhammad, charged with the Oct. 9, 2002, murder of Dean Harold Meyers at a Manassas filling station."
While I was writing this post, Sipe filed five entries this morning during the voir dire, the latest being this:
"10:29 AM Oct. 16 The next potential juror, No. 306, a registered nurse who does volunteer work for the Virginia Beach Department of Social Services, said she had heard "bits and pieces" of information about the sniper killings last year, mostly from conversations with co-workers. She said she had not paid particular attention to it and would not be influenced by those conversations.
The woman told Defense Attorney Greenspun that she had a discussion about the death penalty with her pastor some time ago and that she had thought about the issue further last night. She said she had decided that she could base her decision about a sentence solely on the evidence and the court's instructions.
With no objections from any of the attorneys, No. 309 was accepted as the 14th member of the jury panel."
What blogging will do for journalism goes beyond its capability as a mechanism, as a publishing tool. Sipe's report could have been done with her, a phone and a rewrite man. But I'm sure it was the ability to blog the report that inspired the idea because of its simplicity - one reporter, one computer, a live feed from journalist to reader. Blogging provides newspapers with a burst of innovation -- just what they need.
Markoff is not completely wrong. We can't predict the future. But Rosen is right. We can help shape it.
Jay Rosen What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism?
Online Journalism Review NY Times Reporter Has Seen It All Before, and He's Still Pessimestic
Virginian-Pilot Journal: Muhammad trial updates
Jay Rosen of PressThink, in response to a comment by the ever inquisitive Tom Mangan the maze of media that's overwhelmed the "non-partisan press," renames the mess a media "amusement park" and finds there's a ride for just about everyone. He writes:
"Through one tunnel, marked Opinion! in fat letters, thousands of people stream, chattering in anticipation of what they will find. Another tunnel just says Talk, and it has equal traffic. Through another, called Fair and Balanced, an even bigger crowd shuffles, shouting "fair and balanced," their happy taunt. We Report, You Decide takes the overflow. Liberal Media with a big thumb pointing downward is also a popular way in. The crowds there seem the edgiest."
The oldest, most grand ride of all, says Rosen, is Fox News, whose ascension has been the "most significant recent event in the political economy of national news." He writes:
"Before Fox entered the game, there was an under-served market for news that departed from the consensus model. That model is still in place, with some variation, across PBS, CBS, the three NBC News properties, ABC, and CNN, as well as NPR in radio. The consensus in broadcast grew out of a similar one in newspapers and the newsweeklies. Mangan calls it nonpartisan reporting. I would call it neutral professionalism, with an asterisk* for everything about it that is not so neutral. Fox and others just call it the liberal media."
As I was reading the rest of Rosen (you should, too), I was reminded of James Fellow's profile of Rupert Murdoch in the Atlantic and then, lo, Rosen links to the same article, quoting Fallows that "sooner or later Murdoch's outlets, especially Fox News, will be more straightforward about their political identity-and they are likely to bring the rest of the press with them."
Read the Murdoch profile. Fallows portrays him as an historical figure, like Luce or Turner, the tipping point of media direction for his time. Here's a snip:
"Rupert Murdoch is this era's influential figure. His holdings have grown surprisingly fast, over a surprisingly long period of time. The cartoon explanation of his success is that he is ruthless or power-mad or even today's Hitler, as his former friend and current antagonist Ted Turner has called him. The real explanation is that he has combined several crucial ingredients-an instinct for mass taste, an appreciation of technology, a concept of strategic business structure, and a knack for exploiting political power-in a new and uniquely effective way. His is not the largest media company, but it is now the model to beat-or to imitate." (Emphasis added)
I'm not sure what to think. Like Rosen says at one point: "I don't have an opinion, I have a maze of them." I like the diversity of voices, the rambunctious clash of opinion (on TV and, increasingly, in print, not to mention the Web), the liveliness of it all. Newspapers have had none of those things for decades, much to their ill effect. Bland doesn't sell. It didn't 50 years ago and it certainly doesn't now.
I also like "Good, Solid, Nonpartisan, Daily Journalism," as Rosen names one of the attractions in the media amusement park, an analogy that appeals to me because I always thought of daily newspapering as a ride, an adventure. Our job, as the ticket-sellers for that ride, is to make it exciting enough to draw a crowd of thrill-seekers.
(Thanks to Jeff Jarvis for the pointer to Rosen).
In response to my disagreement the other day with Tony Ridder's assertion that newspapers still "have enormous influence on public discourse" and my argument that major California newspapers didn't understand the depth of voter frustration with Sacramento, Tom Mangan left this cogent observation in my comments:
"Did you see the chart of the counties in California that supported the recall vs. the ones that didn't? Virtually all the major media centers are in areas that supported Gray Davis and opposed the recall. Vicinity if nothing else isolated us from the will of the majority of Californians who voted last Tuesday. It all seemed like it was happening in another country because nobody in my neighborhood (East Bay) nor anybody from here to the Pacific and fifty miles north or south wanted Davis out. Everybody else did, though." (Emphasis added)
Tom is right. Look at this map of the recall votes. The Bay Area, Silicon Valley and Los Angeles - home to the S.F. Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News and the Los Angeles Times - voted against the recall, with the heaviest "no" votes in the traditionally liberal Bay Area counties. In L.A. county, voters rejected the recall by only 30,000 votes out of 1.85 million cast, more of a resounding "maybe" than a hearty "no."
Given that the Chronicle, Mercury and Times each editorialized against the recall, you might conclude that the papers did have "influence on public discourse." But it's not that easy to map the voice of the news media to the choice of the voter.
Interestingly, the Oakland Tribune initially endorsed Arnold Schwarzenegger but rescinded the endorsement after the L.A. Times groping story. Alameda County, though, the Tribune's home, still voted against the recall by a more than 2-1 margin.
What does this prove, if anything? It certainly suggests that newspaper endorsements don't matter, a contention that is hardly new and one that more and more papers are realizing by writing fewer and fewer endorsements.
Here's Al Neuharth arguing against endorsements:
"As recently as the 1952 election, 82% of daily newspapers endorsed. Dwight Eisenhower got 67%; Adlai Stevenson, 15%. By 1992, only 33% of newspapers endorsed. This year, that number may be below 25%."
And Howard Kurtz disagreeing with him:
"Newspaper endorsements don't matter much, but it's ludicrous for editorial writers to tell people what to think on every issue under the sun and then duck on the election out of a phony sense of decorum."
And Robert Lichter, president, Center for Media and Public Affairs, getting to the heart of the matter: "The real problem isn't editorials telling people how to vote; it's news stories telling them what to think."
I would add that it's also stories purporting to tell people how they think.
Which brings us back to Tom Mangan's observation about that red-and-green map: The state's major newspapers, those whose reporting, analysis and opining is looked to by other media, commentators, and columnists - traditional and newer - as reflective of the pulse of California, view the state through a narrow, distorted geographic lens.
The Sacramento Valley, the Central Valley, the vast Inland Empire east of Los Angeles, and the booming bicultural border area are drive-by country for the journalists who work in the urban newsrooms of L.A., San Francisco and San Jose.
Those are California's most recognizable cities and its traditional population centers, but, as Schwarzenegger proved (see this map of his election results), they are no longer the state's opinion leaders and any newspapers who still believe they are only hasten their own march toward irrelevancy.
Why, despite devoting who knows how many thousands of column inches to the California recall and Arnold Schwarzenegger, didn't newspapers ever print a story like this one, in which Matt Labash describes the governor-elect's skin as "the color of an apricot Fruit Roll-up" and recounts that when he first espied New York Times reporter Charlie Leduff he couldn't "tell if the sinewy, leathered scribe with bandito facial hair is a former outlaw biker or a former pirate?"
Labash's gonzo-esque writing is a vivid, lively and entertaining backstage pass to Arnold's Total Recall Tour of California. Instead of complaining about lack of press access to the candidate, as the mainstream media did, Labash wrote what he saw -- with attitude.
Someone's going to argue that Labash wrote a magazine piece that is too long (6,400 words) for a newspaper. Rubbish. The San Francisco Chronicle has a Sunday magazine. So does the L.A. Times.
The N.Y. Times devoted 9,500 words Sunday to a front-page story on the arrests of al-Qaeda suspect in upstate New York, an admittedly more serious subject than shenanigans on the Schwarzenegger campaign bus, but my point is that space is available for magazine-length journalism if the editorial will is there.
It's more than a column-inch issue, though. It's also about perspective and expectation. Political reporters, for the most part, view themselves as scribblers of Serious Journalism, which doesn't include reporting on the Hollywood-meets-The Candidate-meets-Animal House nature of Arnold's campaign. Labash made the campaign itself the story.
Serious Journalism is good and necessary and I'm all for it. But there's more to politics than that and I'm still waiting for the day when newspapers cover the other stuff -- the funny, the pathetic, the human -- in a way that has the ring of reality to it.
Matt Labash Arnold Uber Alles
Los Angeles Times media critic David Shaw points out that “the Predator-as-groper stories just demonstrated anew the age-old Hollywood adage that any news is good news — that as long as you spell someone's name right, any coverage helps.”
Romenesko has a slough of Arnold vs. The Press stories, most of conclude that he pretty much picked them up and buried their faces in the toilet bowl.
Howard Kurtz echoes a theme I sounded the other day about newspapers and other traditional media: They're out of touch.
"Both California's recall and Dean's surge in the polls tapped into veins of voter anger that most journalists badly underestimated," writes Kurtz in today's Washington Post. "Which makes you wonder what else the press has misjudged."
Kurtz is right. The conventional wisdom was that a recall of Gray Davis was unlikely (to be fair, the newspaper articles Kurtz cites were written before Arnold Schwarzenegger entered the race, making Davis' ouster much more probable) and that Howard Dean was a "a colorful underdog who was not a real threat for the nomination."
Dean, in fact, may prove in the end to be more bark than bite, but the conventional wisdom never saw him being as much of a player because it didn't understand the public's (in this case, the liberal public) need for leadership. In California, the press failed to grasp the depth of the public's frustration with government.
A little conventional wisdom is a dangerous thing. It leads to assumption and we know what that spells.
I clicked on a link on Romenesko that said “‘Clever’ newsman Beer dies at 50” and it turned out to be a story about ex-colleague, and lost friend, Matt Beer, who dropped dead of a heart attack right after he arrived in Phnom Penh, where he was going to edit an English-language newspaper, the Cambodia Daily.
Matt was a true journalistic character blessed with a devilish sense of humor and cursed by an array of personal demons that never got the best of him.
He was the son of a bigamist who helped make a movie about his two-timing father, a gossip columnist, a lawyer, a disbarred lawyer, a dot-com pioneer with Suck, a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner and, after the new media bust, a magazine writer.
That’s a lot of living for 50 years.
The Detroit Free Press quoted Ben Burns, Matt’s former editor at the Detroit News: "Matt Beer was a delightful, engaging rascal. He had an incredible ability to prick the balloons of the pompous and self-important."
The Free Press headline read: “Matt Beer: Journalist was feisty and clever.” As epitaphs go, I think Matt would have liked it.
Jay Rosen, head of the New York University journalism deparment, and Jeff Jarvis, head of Advance.net, continue their conversation about the confluence of journalism, blogging and audience.
At one point Jarvis asks: "Weblogs edit the world for us. And if you also write weblogs, they empower the writer to influence politics and commerce and culture. Is that a revolution?"
And Rosen answers: "If there is something radical afoot, I think it’s best grasped by reference to the last 300 years of communication history. The dawn of public opinion was in the eighteenth century when someone said: the Greeks were wrong, you can have a republic over an extended territory. Government by discussion does not have to be limited to a state so small that all its citizens can gather in one place, like the agora in ancient Athens.
"What made this previously unthinkable thing possible? The existence of the press, which can amplify or extend public conversation, and sustain it through time. By putting citizens of an enlarged democracy at the receiving end of the press, we connected them to the nation and its affairs, but not to each other. Now we have a chance to correct for that, and bring government by discussion forward a full step. Maybe that chance is the weblog."
Tom Mangan, a rim rat for the San Jose Mercury News who says he's been gatekeeping copy "since the middle of the Reagan administration," which I figure makes him uniquely qualified to comment on the coming Arnold years, points to the Copy Editor's Code, a succinct, but well-reasoned list by Copy Massage whose first point is: "The newspaper begins and ends with the people reading it."
After re-reading the above sentence, I was reminded of the Copy Editor's Lament, a delicious piece of doggerel composed by George Martin, once of the night rim at the old San Francisco Examiner. Here's a taste:
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.
So I rearranged the commas
and I tidied up the lede
and I patched up all the typos
and gave it one more read.
I typed in all the coding
and prepared to write the hed
when a voice came from the news desk,
and this is what it said:
"Pass me back that dummy, please,
I have to change the page.
Composing found a missing ad,
the foreman's in a rage.
If they find the guy that lost it,
they'll be skinning him alive.
And that headline that you're working on ...
- make that a five."
It just gets better. Read it all.
As memorable, but much shorter was a song concocted by Eric Newton, now a person of some importance at the Knight Foundation, made up when he was the city editor and I was the editor of the now defunct Richmond (Calif.) Independent. Sing it to the theme song of "Rawhide":
Moving, Moving, Moving / Keep that copy moving, deadline / Cut it down / Head it up / Move it out / Deadline
No time for union wages / No respect for ages / Got to meet the bottom line / Deadline
Apologies to Roddy Yates.
Tony Ridder, CEO of Knight Ridder and current chairman of the Newspaper Association of America, tells the National Press Club that newspapers are "alive and well" and, according to a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "have enormous influence on public discourse."
"No medium is more critical to setting the national agenda as newspapers," says Ridder, citing, among other public events, the California recall election.
Eric Deggans, the media critic for the St. Petersburg Times, disagrees. Newspapers, and the news media in general, says Deggans, were largely irrelevant in the California recall, shut out by Schwarzenegger in favor of softer media outlets like Larry King and Oprah.
Unfortunately, it's not the guy who runs a newspaper company.
The L.A. Times dropped the heaviest news media bomb it had on Schwarzenegger with its groping story and it hardly broke the actor's stride in his march toward Sacramento.
The exit poll story today in the S.F. Chronicle show how out of touch the state's newspapers, influenced by their own polls that predicted a close election, are with the electorate. Latinos and women voted for Schwarzenegger, despite his support of anti-immigrant Proposition 187 and the groping allegations. Younger men, predicted to be overwhelming pro-Arnold, were only moderately so. Poor people, traditionally Democratic, jumped from the party.
I thought the state's big papers covered the election well. But were they "critical to setting the (California) agenda?" Hardly.
Ridder is wrong. The pole position of public discourse, once newspapers' by tradition, is up for grabs.
UPDATE: Orville Schell, dean of UC-Berkeley's journalism school, knows good quote. Here he is in the L.A. Times speaking about Schwarzenegger's use of the "entertainment" media for "serious" purposes:
"Last night, what we saw was the test-tube baby born of the media and entertainment, the final genetically engineered creature where currency in one realm has become irrevocable currency in the other."
UPDATE II: More journalism professors are upset about the collision of news, entertainment and politics. From the Washington Post story about Jay Leno introducing Schwarzenegger at a post-election celebration:
Marty Kaplan, associate dean of the of University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication: "What Leno's presence did is give legitimacy to the notion that it wasn't a partisan event, it wasn't a political event, it was somehow an American cultural event."
Todd Gitlin, a journalism and sociology professor at Columbia University: "This seems another step in the same muddy ruin of politics that we're trekking through. It's the same part played by Oprah in the process of sanitizing and normalizing Schwarzenegger as a legitimate politician."
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Politics and culture have always been intertwined and have become more so as the influence of traditional news providers -- newspapers and the networks -- over public opinion has waned.
A legitimate politician? What is that? Who is that? In a democracy, aren't we all "legitimate" politicians. It is the worst sort of ivory tower, monopolistic arrogance to intimate that political legitimacy must somehow be conveyed upon a candidate by the news media.
The Arnold Revolution in California reflects the global media evolution , which changed the news structure from a top-down hierarchy dominated by a few national newspapers and broadcasters into one that is much flatter and through which "news" flows in all directions.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's election as California governor was, of course, big news across the country. Here's a sampling of how the story played on the front pages of America's newspapers today.
Andrew Cline, a former reporter turned academic who regularly polices the intersection of journalism and politics, says journalists are constantly bamboozled by slick-talking politicos because they fail to see through the rhetoric. He writes:
Journalists could report persuasive tactics as verifiable events if they knew how. Instead, they rely on partisan pundits to tell them what it all means. And the result is their reporting does more to transmit propaganda than to interrupt or challenge it.
Cline is commenting on a piece in the American Journalism Review that questions whether the press could have better informed the citizenry about reasons for and the aftermath of the war in Iraq.
Even though Cline uses the words "pathos and enthymemes," you should read the rest, as well as his excellent backgrounder on the structural biases of journalism.
New York's the place to be for newspaper junkies.
The Daily News has brought back tabloid über-editor Martin Dunn in an effort to regain the subway momentum from the Post, whose circulation is up (to 620,000) 20 percent in the last couple of years.
A kinder, gentler New York Times, led by the King of Calm, Bill Keller, is once again encouraging journalists instead of dramatists.
A revolución is underway in Spanish, with the Newsday spinoff Hoy approaching 100,000 readers and the nation's oldest Spanish-language daily, El Diario-La Prensa, losing its editor in a tiff over a spiked Fidel Castro column.
Now, two more newspapers are coming to Manhattan - amNewYork and New York Metro, a pair free tabloids designed to catch the quick, the young and those with short attention spans (categories that may be overlapping).
amNewYork is partly financed by the Tribune Company, which owns Newsday and Hoy, and New York Metro is part of the Swedish-based chain of commuter papers that publishes in 16 countries. (Here's Toronto's.)
The company claims 12.3 million readers for its 25 editions of the newspaper, which it says "can be read in a 16.7 minute commute."
That's more than three times as long as the "Five-Minute Herald," the condensed version of the Miami Herald designer Mario Garcia crammed together for the "supersonic-speed reader."
Poynter Institute's Roy Peter Clark writes about reading times today, keying on a 1940s magazine, Liberty, that printed each article's estimated reading time under the headline. An example: "'No More Glitter: A Searching Tale of Hollywood and a Woman's Heart,' Reading Time: 18 minutes, 45 seconds."
Clark says the reading rate benchmark is 200 words a minute. So, using this formula (and borrowing a bit from Clark), the Five-Minute Herald should have 1,000 words, the New York Metro should have no more than 3,340 words to meet the company's projected commute time, and you should have finished reading this piece (334 words) in 100 seconds.
New York Daily News Free AM papers gird for NY battle
I'm sorry. I empathize with retired newsman Barry Hartman, who rants in the Denver Post about how the "corporate bean-counters" are bleeding newspapers dry, but he's wrong that penurious publishers are to blame for readership woes.
It's time to drive a stake through this excuse, quit the whining and deal with the real problem - atrophied newsroom cultures that discourage innovation, don't reward risk-taking and drive out many of the best and brightest younger journalists, all of whom entered the profession aware of the paltry pay scale, with rigid hierarchies.
Hartman is right about many things -- newspapers are lousy at service and corporate margins are too high -- but good journalism doesn't depend on on-time delivery or a thinner bottom-line.
Sure, newsroom budgets have been cut - but so have those of most companies in America. More people don't necessarily mean better journalism. The winner of the 2003 Pulitzer for breaking news reporting went to the 52,800-circulation Eagle-Tribune of Lawrence, Mass., for its coverage of four boys who drowned in a local river not to 236,000-circulation the Baltimore Sun or the 230,000-circulation Seattle Times, which were finalists for their reporting on the Washington-Maryland sniper story.
Perhaps the Eagle-Tribune's success derives from the attitude of its staff, whose members pulled the story together on a Saturday afternoon (a time, newspaper veterans know, when newsroom responsiveness can border on the somnolent). Said one editor after the papers was awarded the Pulitzer: "I hope we told the story right, that we told the whole story. That we told what their legacy was."
Perhaps the staff's can-do journalism is passed down by the Eagle-Tribune's editor, Bill Ketter, who as ASNE president in 1996 "urged editors to get off their duffs and delve into the world where their readers live. That, Ketter said, is far more beneficial than simply studying readership surveys. Ketter, vice president and editor of the Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Mass., suggested editors get themselves to coffee shops, malls and day-care centers to better understand their readers."
Perhaps, you're thinking, that the Eagle-Tribune's Pulitzer was just a fluke, a lucky, one-time win of an award typically given to so-called "better-staffed" newsrooms.
Maybe so, but even if the Eagle-Tribune was an exception, I believe we should learn from the exceptions to the rules. Change comes from the edges not from the center. That fact is, though, smaller, second-tier (and lower) paper regularly win Pulitzers:
The Rutland (Vt.) Herald in 2001 for editorial writing.
The Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune in 2000 for explanatory journalism.
The Village Voice in 2000 for international reporting.
The Dayton (Ohio) Daily News in 1998 for national reporting.
The Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald in 1998 for public service.
Dayton? National reporting? Its story "disclosed dangerous flaws and mismanagement in the military health care system and prompted reforms" and beat out the New York Times for the award.
The Grand Forks Herald has a circulation 33,000 and, I'm sure, far fewer resources than those its editors or reporters would like to have. But when their city was inundated by flood waters and scorched by fire, those editors and reporters did good journalism, and they did better than anyone else that year.
It's time to stop whining, to stop finger-pointing, to stop blaming bad, boring journalism on lack of money.
In the story I just did for the American Journalism Review about the rise of Spanish-language publishing in the United States, Louis Sito, publisher of the splashy New York tabloid Hoy said:
"Look at most of the newspapers. They are boring! They are boring! What are we doing to attract new readers to a product that competes with the 24/7 coverage of news on the electronic media? We have to evolve into something that has more analysis, has more relevancy, has more educational punch to it, has more fun.... If you look at our circulation levels across the industry, they go down every year. So we cannot be smug and say that because we have been here forever we are going to continue to be here forever. That is crazy."
At the top of this piece, I mentioned newsroom culture, which is another way of saying a newspaper's internal personality. Why do some papers regularly excel at journalism? Who do others with larger staffs suffer from persistent blandness, unable to change even though they have, as Denver Post ranter Barry Hartman put it, "every trick in the book to win the hearts and minds of readers in hopes of stopping the bleeding of circulation numbers."
I believe because the winners concentrate on doing good journalism and the losers obsess about why they can't do good journalism. And journalism done well offsets a lot of the profession's lesser attractions - the pay, for instance.
An organization's internal culture is reflected in its external product. In this case, a newsroom that is focused on the negative, that is fixated on frustration instead of searching for solutions, that finds its glass always half empty will produce a newspaper that turns off readers, leaves them frustrated and is half read.
Learn more about newsroom culture. Go to the Readership Institute, download the hefty PDFs of its studies, which found that most newspapers have the organizational personality of the Postal Service, and begin working toward change.
And, please, stop whining.
I’m traveling today and Friday on a project for the Institute for Justice and Journalism so First Draft gets second priority.
My latest piece is out in American Journalism Review - about the increasing entry by mainstream newspaper companies into Spanish-language publishing. In the last few months, new Spanish-language dailies have launched in Dallas, Fort Worth and Chicago. Here's how it begins:
"My friend." When Louis Sito, publisher and editor of Hoy, a splashy, Spanish-language tabloid published by Newsday in New York City, has a point to make, which is most of the time, he rarely utters a sentence without those words.
"Let me tell you, my friend." "The fact is, my friend." "The world is changing, my friend."
Sito uses the phrase like a glove to soften the way he punches through a conversation. He speaks rapidly, passionately and, if not interrupted by a question, at length about Hoy, about the Hispanic community, about the need for newspapers to rediscover creativity, about the rising tide of Spanish-language publishing that is spilling across the American newspaper landscape. [ More ]
And here's what I said the other day about newspapers morphing from mass to class.
American Journalism Review Dismantling the Language Barrier
Four American journalists who died while covering the war in Iraq and another who was slain in Pakistan were honored today in a ceremony on a Civil War battlefield in Maryland - Michael Kelly of the Atlantic, Elizabeth Neuffer of the Boston Globe, David Bloom of NBC, Mark Fineman of the Los Angeles Times and Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal.
In their deaths, Baltimore Sun writer David Folkenflik see journalism's larger purpose: "At the heart of the work of those correspondents is the fundamental mission that should be common to all reporters: discerning the truth and then airing it, even when it might offend the sensibilities of the powerful."
Baltimore Sun, David Folkenflik Recalling journalists who died in conflict