October 29, 2005

NewsTrain: Blogging for Journalists

Lil Swanson was nice enough to ask me in for a session on blogging for journalists at the NewsTrain workshops in San Jose. Here are the slides. Here are some comments from reporters who blog, including this from Michael Bazeley, who writes Silicon Beat for San Jose Mercury News:

"I think blogging has also sharpened my reporting some. Because Matt and I put original content that comes from original reporting on the blog, we are spending more time mining our beats, talking to sources and reading about issues. We're consuming more information, which can only be good."

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Posted by Tim Porter at 06:19 PM

October 28, 2005

ASNE to APME: What Happened in Six Months?

I spent a couple of hours yesterday at the APME convention. I spoke on a panel about news on the web (here's my presentation) and listened in on an earlier session about reconstructing newsrooms. It was enough to time learn that much as changed since ASNE met with its head in the sand in April (until Rupert Murdoch yanked it out) and at once some things remain stubbornly the same.

Some notes:

 Sponsored by the future: My panel was sponsored by Yahoo News. Need I say any more about the future of the newspaper industry when part of one of its major conventions is underwritten by an entity whose success is greatly responsible for the demise of newspapers? The competitor-collaborator line is gone.

 Change moves to the forefront of the conversation: I tweaked ASNE for not tackling head-on newspapers' structural problems at its convention in April. [Read: Convention: Six Things that Should be on the Agenda.] APME is not guilty of the same oversight. It ran discussions on new competitors, shrinking newsrooms, new products and convergence. Although change is not yet evident in the newsrooms of most of these news managers, it is clear that reinvention and the web are part of the everyday conversation.

Of course, the newspaper industry's last six months are worse than those of George Bush - newsroom cutbacks on a large scale, the Judith Miller fiasco and the booming popularity of the blogs and other digital vehicles for news, conversation and commerce. There's plenty of impetus for change and I suspect these news executives are feeling as much pressure from the boardroom as from the newsroom to make a makeover happen.

(Yet, somehow in the midst of a forward looking program, APME inserted the presence of former football coach Bill Walsh and player Ronnie Lott - ex SF '49ers - to speak about leadership. Huh? Where's Rupert when we need him again?)

 A catchphrase for the future: Robin Henry, a deputy managing editor for online news at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who spoke about the terrific job the AJC did utilizing the web for coverage of a courthouse shooting in March, work for which the paper received an APME reward, gave the audience simple, but powerful advice: "Embrace technology."

 Altered values for journalists: The AJC's commitment to converging its newsroom has changed the paper's value system. Henry gave three main reasons: 1. Online training is part of the paper's core professional development program; 2. Online effort is part of the evaluation process for employees; and 3. The paper has adjusted its internal reward system so the front page is not the only measure of success.

 Altered expectations for readers: Tom Mallory, who runs a breaking news team for the San Diego Union-Tribune's online operation, said readers expect instant news. He gets email from readers saying "I see smoke" and or "where was that accident?" and wanting real-time reporting from the paper.

This is a great example of the permeation of 24-hour news loop into the media mindset of the public. People expect news organizations to supply information on demand. For anyone in the daily reporting business - like newspapers - this is a must-have for success in the future. The expectations of readers have, once again, lapped those of the professionals.

 Old culture, old questions: Newsroom-think persists and is evident in questions editors raise during discussions, such as worrying about the paper "scooping" itself by running breaking news on the web or the continued adherence to incumbent newsroom structures as budget cuts reduce the number of journalists on the job. The result is doing "less of more" instead of restructuring the reporting system, jettisoning old definitions of news and doing "more of less" - that is, focusing on fewer topics that might have a higher degree of engagement with readers.

 The need for a major investment in training: After hearing a panel describe a laundry list of new forms for journalism for the future, Chris Peck, editor of the Commercial Appeal, commented: We need "different brains" and different skills in the newsroom to do those things. Where are we going to get them?

The answer, of course, is we have to grow them - through strategic training, through ongoing learning, through the same sort of professional reinvention other industries have sustained. We must retool the news factory. [Read: Rethinking the News Factory (Again).] The newspaper industry, however, is a training Scrooge, investing on average only 0.7 percent of payroll in professional development, only a third the national average. It has underspent its way into a workforce that is under-prepared for cultural change or professional reinvention. All the good talk and assembled panels about change will amount to naught unless news managers put bodies and dollars into training - about technology, about audience, about communication and collaboration, about leadership.

I have said before that the "future belongs to those who invest in it" and now that the newspaper industry appears to have woken up and is talking with some urgency about reinvention, it is time for newspapers to put their wallets and FTE counts where their mouths are. [Read: Journalism by Every Means Necessary.]

 Commodity news - who needs it? Ann Morris, managing editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C., a newspaper plunging headlong toward the future led by John Robinson, brought to life a somewhat somnolent panel on rebuilding newsrooms by challenging the habit of running "commodity news" in newspapers - stocks, TV listings, even routine wire stories. "I'm questioning why we are using precious newspaper to print outdated news," she said.

Moderator Dale Peskin asked members of the audience (about 200 people) to stand if they agreed with Morris. About 10 people did - including Ken Sands, online publisher of the blog-rich Spokesman-Review in Spokane. His rationale: "We can't control the flow of information and our readers know that," meaning that newspapers must find a unique niche in this fluid universe of ever-flowing news.

Robinson, posting in his blog today about Morris, echoes that sentiment: "When we understand that our first priority is to figure out how to help readers find news and information they need, we'll be much further along."

(I'm returning to conference tomorrow for to talk about blogging for reporters at a NewsTrain session. An earlier version of presentation is already online.)

Posted by Tim Porter at 10:17 AM

October 22, 2005

Dowd to Miller: Good Riddance!

If anyone continues to harbor any illusions about Judy Miller returning to the New York Times newsroom after her current leave, read today's column by Maureen Dowd (non-Times version.) It is an unflinching screed against Miller's arrogance, questionable journalistic ethics and apparent lack of honesty in her uncontrite first-person account about her questioning by special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

So hard does Dowd slam the door on Miller's departing backside that one has to wonder how much of a proxy Dowd's anger and disgust is for the rest of the Times' staff - including editor Bill Keller who released a staff memo via Romenesko on Friday in which he expresses regret over his and the paper's tolerance of Miller's "Ms. Run Amok" behavior, both regarding the Plame leak investigation and her pre-war reporting on weapons of mass destruction.

Dowd's kicker graf says it all (my emphasis):

"Judy told The Times that she plans to write a book and intends to return to the newsroom, hoping to cover "the same thing I've always covered - threats to our country." If that were to happen, the institution most in danger would be the newspaper in your hands."

Rarely, if ever, has there been such a public castigation by one journalist of a colleague.

Jeff Jarvis dissects the Dowd column more thoroughly than I'm going to, and also links to Ariana Huffington's plausible suggestion about the timing of Keller's lengthy expiation -- that "public editor, Barney Calame, is going to write a devastating critique of the Times and he wanted to do some pre-emptive self-flagellation."

The Miller fiasco contains lessons for all journalists:

 We are not those we cover. Miller -characterized cattily by Dowd as given to "tropism toward powerful men" - forgot that axiom. In lunching with Scooter Libby, hobnobbing with Ahmad Chalabi or hiking with Huffington and others in the punditocracy, Miller conflated her identity with theirs, abandoning principle in favor of political parlor games whose elitist rules allowed Libby to suggest and Miller to agree that they hoodwink the public by identifying him misleadingly as a ""former Hill staffer."

 Everyone needs an editor. Miller's hauteur - to use Dowd's description - drove away editors, eventually to her own demise. With no one in authority to call BS on her, she drank her own Kool-Aid once too often.

 Editors get paid to edit. Keller admitted that Miller "kept kind of drifting on her own back into the national security realm" after he told her to stay away from those stories. His primary job is to set direction for the Times. He didn't. Too much daily journalism is haphazard instead of directed - or, better put, intentional. An editor's principal job is to outline goals, create the conditions and provide the resources needed to achieve them, and keep people on track. [Read: Building the Journalism of the Future, Intentionally.]

 We are all fallible. Mistakes happen. Some big, like WMD and Miller. Some small, like these. Correct them quickly, explain what happened when necessary and move on.

 Anonymous sources will eventually burn you. Giving a source anonymity is sometimes necessary and to the public benefit. Most often, though, it's not. Anonymity occludes transparency and motivation, lessens credibility (45 percent of American's believe little or nothing of what's in newspapers), and transfers the balance of power from the reporter to the source, because without overt documentation of an assertion or an opinion the unidentified source holds the power to confirm or deny what's reported. [Read: Newsweek Flushes Credibility Down the Toilet.]

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Posted by Tim Porter at 03:37 PM | Comments (2)

October 19, 2005

Rosen, Heyward and the Gang of Six

When Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News, remarked at a recent meeting of bloggers and media executives that the time has come to rethink traditional news media's "illusion of omniscience," Jay Rosen saw a thread worth pulling.

Jay asked Heyward to elaborate. He did, and Jay posted his response on Pressthink. It centers on three points:

 There is not a "single 'discoverable' truth" to report.
 Journalists must "figure out a way to incorporate point of view."
 Television news must become more "authentic."

Jay invited six people to react to Heyward's statements: Terry Heaton, Andrew Tyndall, Susan Crawford, Mitchell Stephens, Ken Sands and myself.

I'm reprinting my contribution below (with slight changes). Go to Pressthink and read the others.

Movement in the Middle

When people like Andrew Heyward begin playing taps for journalistic omniscience and sounding reveille for incorporating point of view in the news, the sound of change is definitely in the wind - but how strong that wind is blowing and in which direction I can't yet say.

Heyward's comments represent a growing recognition at the highest levels of the traditional news business that reinvention - from the newsroom to the boardroom - is no longer just a panel topic for the annual conventions. It is mandatory for survival.

Last week, during one of those whither the future of news panels, Susan Golberg, editor of the San Jose Mercury News, a newspaper forced to cut 15 percent of its news staff, agreed when I said the notion of journalistic objectivity was outdated.

And the other day, I wrote about an exchange between Jay Rosen, Melanie Sill (editor of the Raleigh News & Observer) and some readers. It happened on her blog and it was an extraordinary display of communication, albeit defensive at times, from within the newsroom that would have been unthinkable even two years ago. [Read: The News and Observer Communicator.]

We're witnessing news executives test-driving new ideas and reaching for language that can define new journalistic ventures that still retain what they see as critical values - fairness, completeness, accuracy. Hence, Heyward's distinction between facts and truth, and his stickiness about "core responsibility."

The journalists don't want to give up their journalism, but they're not yet sure how to remake it with a new set of parameters - questions instead of answers; context instead of competition; the best truth-telling possible instead of just facts. [Read: New Values for a New Age of Journalism.]

Change does not come easily to successful people, especially those in rigid businesses like news, which depends on a fixed hierarchy, identifiable rules and a predetermined set of players. Top executives like Heyward don't suddenly wake up one morning and refute the principles, practices and processes that made them successful. ("Hey, everything I know is wrong!")

If it is true that change begins at the edges, in Heyward's comments, Sill's blogging and Goldberg's questioning of objectivity, I see the middle beginning to move.

I am optimistic - to a point. This year, I tweaked the American Society of Newspaper Editors for not confronting the reinvention dilemma at its annual convention (and Rupert Murdoch reminded them of their oversight). Suddenly, though, the demise of the news industry is all the rage and you can't scratch a news executive without uncovering a would-be change agent. [Read: ASNE Convention: Six Things that Should be on the Agenda.]

They've have gotten religion and the choir is forming. But this has happened before without noticeable impact. A 25-year campaign to diversify newspapers still lags its goals. A concerted effort at renewing credibility failed - 45 percent of American still believe little or nothing they read in newspapers (the number for CBS News is 37 percent).

I can guarantee that change, reinvention and innovation will be at the forefront of next year's ASNE convention. That's a beginning at least. What we need next is follow through.

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Posted by Tim Porter at 09:02 AM

October 17, 2005

Judy Miller: What a Horribly Ordinary Affair

The curtain that hides the wizardry of the New York Times - already well tatterered by the dissection of the newsroom's managerial dysfunction that led to l'affaire Blair - was shredded further Sunday by the paper's nearly-6,000 word piece on Judy Miller and Miller's own 3,500-word first-person accompaniment.

Plenty of people are debating the larger issues revealed in those two full printed pagers (see Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen for good thinking and linking), but what I saw in the recounting of the events that led to Miller's 85 days of imprisonment was a set of conditions that exist in newspapers from Seattle to Savannah and reveal the Times to be just another member - a vaunted one, albeit - of a press club whose misfortunes derive mostly from its own misdeeds.

Put another way: How ordinary, how sadly ordinary the Times is.

The Miller saga is a tale of miscommunication, mismanagement and missed opportunities. It is the story of a reporter who evaded management and of managers who chose not to control her.

It is also a lesson in the craft of journalism, specifically of the fallibility of note-taking and the need to get things out of the notebook as soon as possible or face the fact that memory fades and meaning becomes elusive as notes grow stale. Miller, to her embarrassment, was forced to testify before a federal grand jury and later to Times readers that she couldn't understand her own notes or recall where some of them had come from.

These are all common failings in the newspaper business and point, to say it again, to the ordinariness of the Times. Whatever veneer of uniqueness that clung to the Times after its expiation for Blair (and Seth Mnookin's autopsy of the Raines-Boyd administration), was stripped away by the Miller story.

Some examples (all emphasis mine). From the main story:

"And when the prosecutor in the case asked her to explain how 'Valerie Flame' appeared in the same notebook she used in interviewing Mr. Libby, Ms. Miller said she 'didn't think' she heard it from him. 'I said I believed the information came from another source, whom I could not recall,' she wrote on Friday, recounting her testimony for an article that appears today."

Cannot recall? If this is not the balderdash it seems to be, then Miller is a sad figure indeed. Cannot recall the name of the person who spoke the words to you that resulted in a three-month prison? Didn't bother to write it down anywhere? Never sought confirmation from someone else? Are we to believe that Miller is told so many government secrets from so many anonymous sources that over time they all just morph together?

Cannot recall? Other journalists have been fired for relying on such lame the-dog-ate-my-homework excuses (even though Miller didn't write a story using "Flame's name.) Diana Griego Erwin, a Pulitzer winner like Miller, lost her job at the Sacramento Bee after she couldn't "recall" where she had allegedly interviewed people who appeared in her column.

From Miller's piece:

"I testified in Washington twice - most recently last Wednesday after finding a notebook in my office at The Times that contained my first interview with Mr. Libby."

Is Miller truly so disorganized - so sloppy - that she could not find, or could not remember she had, her notes from an interview with in which later she says she heard for the first time that Joseph Wilson's wife worked for the government? ("I wrote in my notes, inside parentheses, 'Wife works in bureau?' … The prosecutor asked me whether the word 'bureau' might not mean the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Yes, I told him, normally. But Mr. Libby had been discussing the C.I.A., and therefore my impression was that he had been speaking about a particular bureau within the agency that dealt with the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. As to the question mark, I said I wasn't sure what it meant.")

This is not an ethical issue; this is a craft issue: A reporter who can't find her notes, then when she does locate them cannot decipher what they mean. How many times has this happened to Miller before? I suspect her previous editors would see a pattern here. Most reporters have distinct styles of working and organizing information. Miller's appears to be dangerously haphazard.

From the main story:

"Within a few weeks, in one of his first personnel moves, Mr. Keller told Ms. Miller that she could no longer cover Iraq and weapons issues. Even so, Mr. Keller said, 'she kept kind of drifting on her own back into the national security realm.'"

Here the key phrase is "drifting on her own." Bill Keller is executive editor of the Times, arguably the most powerful editor in American journalism. He tells a reporter to stay away from certain stories because her previous stories on weapons of mass destruction, to use Miller's own words, "got it totally wrong." The reporter ignores Keller. Apparently nothing happens. Dog barks. Tail wags. Dog shuts up.

In the main story, Stephen Engelberg, Miller's editor at the Times for six years now a managing editor at The Oregonian in Portland, says:

"Judy is a very intelligent, very pushy reporter. Like a lot of investigative reporters, Judy benefits from having an editor who's very interested and involved with what she's doing."

Translation: Without a strong editor, someone who's dogging Miller, she will do what she pleases.

The Miller story provides an object lesson in the dangers of sloppiness - sloppy management, sloppy note-taking, sloppy follow-through and, given the misplaced notebook, sloppy housekeeping. In short, sloppy journalism.

I am not naïve enough to believe the Times, as an institution devoted to excellence, is completely beyond such ordinary failings. I did think, though, that they wouldn't be so prevalent at such a high level. I was wrong.

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Posted by Tim Porter at 09:27 AM | Comments (4)

October 13, 2005

The News and Observer Communicator

A discussion underway between Melanie Sill, editor of the Raleigh News & Observer, and Jay Rosen, of Pressthink, provides a powerful illustration of the changing dynamic between news provider, news source and news audience - and of the tremendous benefit this new dynamic can engender for each.

Sill took a swipe at Rosen in her blog (launched in July) after his appearance at a media-web-blogging conference in Greensboro, N.C. in which Rosen, in his usual style, lobbed a few live grenades at the barricades of traditional journalism, including this one (as reported by Ed Cone):

"… it was asked if blogs were up to the standards set by the pros, and (Rosen) responded that the pros need to ask as well if they are up to some of the standards set by bloggers (including corrections and transparency)." (Note: I couldn't permalink to this post.)

News and Observer public editor Ted Vaden also reported on Rosen's comments in his own blog. Vaden wrote (my emphasis):

"Jay Rosen … says the public distrusts the "filter" role of the press -- where we condense, summarize and edit information before serving it up to you. Readers' direct access to the Internet - to the sources of information that we use, and to alternative reporting voices -- means they don't have to accept the version of truth in newspaper stories."

Vaden then quotes Rosen (my emphasis):

"Increasingly, I think journalists are going to have to tell us, okay if you filter stories to get us the truth, how did you do that? Journalists aren't used to that. They're used to being the filter from God, but people don't accept that anymore."

And adds (my emphasis):

"Rosen claims higher ethical standards for himself and "the best bloggers," compared to newspapers and the mainstream media. He doesn't, for instance, use anonymous sources, he links to his sources of information, he's quicker to make corrections and he gives readers instant access through the comment function."

Still with me? OK. Based on Vaden's post, Sill wrote in her blog (my emphasis):

"Heavens. Perhaps Rosen has spent too much time peering at journalism through the lens of his computer screen. … I find criticism of the so-called mainstream media often obsesses over the national press and Washington-based journalism. … While of interest I guess to many people, such debates generally overlook journalism's real-life challenges -- the choices and obstacles faced every day in newsrooms like ours and at many, many smaller news organizations where people are more focused on gathering information than on filtering it."

Intentionally or not, Sill's comments started a conversation involving her, Rosen and a dozen-plus of her readers.

In the comments of Sill's post, Rosen responded at one point: "You got it wrong, Melanie." He went on to explain his comment "filter from god" metaphor (my emphasis):

"Let me explain a little more about what a means. First, being an intelligent filter is part of journalism's job. You, Melanie, are acting as a filter when you sit in a afternoon newsroom meeting and decide what makes up the front page. To employ the image of a filter is another way of talking about judgment as an inesapable part of journalism."

Sill characterized her remarks as trying to explain how the exigencies of doing daily journalism rarely leave room for deeper reflection on the nature of the press (my emphasis):

"I think that many journalists have never thought of themselves as being filters from God or anything remotely like that. This is where I see a disconnect between arguably intelligent dialogue in some quarters and the daily work of people gathering news.

"I often find that such debate misses key points. … I do think it's important to stress what it takes to do journalism well, and that was the point of my post."

Interspersed were nearly two dozen trackback links and comments, including some from other media bloggers, including this from reporter Daniel Conover (my emphasis):

"With all due respect, Melanie, I read your post and see myself circa February -- defending our profession against gratuitous criticism by "experts" and academics with no skin in the game. And you're right to have that reaction -- it says you respect the work of your reporters and editors, that you care about the value of that work to society. Good on you. Now please take the next step.

"… The 'god filter' is simply 'news judgment' as we had to practice it in an earlier technological age. It doesn't make sense today, because the technology has changed and it's changing the context in which journalism occurs. It's up to those of us in the MSM to stop being defensive and change with the world around us."

… and this from a reader of the News & Observer, Bob Owens, who blogs at Confederate Yankee (my emphasis):

"Filtering occurs on many levels as well, from choosing which topics are "of interest" to the reader, to determining what the story angle should be on the given topic, to hiring a certain kind of writer who might write just a little more to your liking than someone of otherwise equal merit. …

"After years of filtering from the media and the rise of alternative media sources, people are starting to determine that they will filter the mainstream media out of their personal lives. If you really want evidence of filtering in the media, simply look at the declining bottom line of print journalism."

This is an extraordinary conversation between the editor of a well-respected newspaper, someone quoted by her paper and members of the newspaper's readership. It could not have taken place three years ago. Three things happened to make it possible.

First, the technology changed. Blogging software enabled the conversation to change from a stream - me talking to you - to a loop - me to you to your friend to me.

Second, the public took to blogs - creating them and reading them - like a parched horse to water. Suddenly, media control was theirs. Traditional news media, already weakened by broader social, economic and technical forces, became further devalued as people remixed news, information and opinion to fit their own tastes.

Third, some news organizations - driven to innovation either a desire or the force of hard numbers -- joined the conversation.

I consider the last point to be the most significant from the perspective of journalism because it signals a crack in the culture, a tremble of movement from the closed traditional newsroom, one dominated by defensiveness and rigid attitudes about what is and what is not journalism, to an open newsroom that embraces public engagement, that does not stand above the fray but plunges into it, that is willing to express and debate its values and, more importantly, listen to those of others.

Is the sea changing? Not yet, but there is a noticeable shift in the tide. Innovators at smaller newspapers like John Robinson and Ken Sands, are being joined by news companies like McClatchy, owner of the News & Observer, which seems to have told its editors: Go online and talk to someone. Some examples:

 The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which has made a big commitment to readership driven change [Read: Survival Lessons for the Future from Minneapolis.], is using a blog to guide readers through an ambitious redesign.

 The two top editors of the Modesto Bee, Mark Vasche and Dan Day, are blogging (albeit somewhat tentatively).

 The News & Observer has more than 10 blogs up and running, including Tar Heel Blogwatch, which tracks other bloggers in the region.

As I've said before, a blog is only a tool, one than can be used for anything from political spin to journalism. [Read: Journalism by Every Means Necessary.] A blog's importance for newspapers lies in its ability to enable conversation, to connect the journalists and their readers - the people who were formerly the audience, as Jay Rosen calls them.

In that sense, a blog is a cultural change mechanism. Its interactive nature, its open conversational loop into which anyone can jump, demands participation - as Sill found out - and this is a positive step forward for a news industry accustomed to one-way communication.

I've met Melanie Sill through my work with Tomorrow's Workforce and I can tell you she is a smart, strong-willed, passionate journalist (Pulitzer winner in 1996). In a every good sense of the word, she is as traditional as journalists come. This deep devotion to the practice of good journalism is evident in her defense of how difficult it can be to achieve it. As she wrote in her post about Rosen (my emphasis):

"He ought to be out with a reporter trying to get a reluctant local sheriff to share a report that is public information but that the sheriff controls. Rosen ought to be out driving toward a disaster zone, instead of away from one, trying to find out what happened and why. He ought to be at the tail end of a 12-hour day with an assistant city editor at any newspaper, editing stories on deadline and trying to make them clear and cogent."

All true. Good journalism doesn't happen easily - and we need to keep doing and getting better at all the things Sill cites. But there is more than craft to being a news organization these days, something Sill also knows or she wouldn't be blogging. This is the stuff Rosen has been writing about since Day 1 (and me since the Quality Manifesto.)

Earlier, I wrote: "The audience is talking back. Media that listen to, encourage and participate in that conversation will maintain relevance. Those that don't, will wither." [Read: The Audience is Talking Back.]

I like what I see in Raleigh. Sill and Rosen may not yet agree, but having editor like Sill engage in a public debate about how journalism is done is a good thing. If this keeps up, The News & Observer may have to consider to changing the second part of its name.

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Posted by Tim Porter at 10:42 AM | Comments (2)

October 11, 2005

Yahoo's News-Blog Mix: You Say Tomato, I Say Potato

There's plenty being written about Yahoo adding blogs to its news search capacity and as a blogger - and a journalist - I'm glad to see it happen (now I show up here.)

However, before we pop the champagne corks to toast the marriage of citizens and journalism, I'm invoking Sturgeon's law and declaring the relationship to be still in courtship.

Yes, as Jeff Jarvis points out, some Yahoo news-blog searches will return blogs that are more helpful and more expert than the so-called "news" stories.

But, then again, some won't.

Here are the top 10 returns off a Yahoo search on "San Francisco."

From the News category:

1. Ailing Bjorn awaits further tests in San Francisco hospital Open this result in new window, Reuters via Yahoo! News.
2. How the Next Quake Could Affect San Francisco Open this result in new window, NPR.
3. Chance of big quake hitting San Francisco by 2025 is 25 percent: study Open this result in new window, AFP via Yahoo! News.
4. SAN FRANCISCO BAY / Bay researchers try to mow down enemy / Invasive hybrid weed is suffocating mudflat habitats, San Francisco Chronicle.
5. SAN FRANCISCO / 2 men in taxi killed in crash / Suspected drunken driver ran stop sign, hit cab, police say Open this result in new window, San Francisco Chronicle.
6. SAN FRANCISCO / PUC manager favors shelving a 4th pipeline / Consultants' study shows alternative costing a lot less Open this result in new window, San Francisco Chronicle.
7. San Francisco Bay? Have we met? San Jose Mercury News.
8. 25 percent risk of large quake in San Francisco Open this result in new window, The Charlotte Observer.
9. The San Francisco Examiner.
10. SAN FRANCISCO 2 men in taxi killed in crash Suspected drunken driver ran stop sign, hit cab, police say, San Francisco Chronicle.

From the Blog category:

1. Job: Regional Sales Manager in San Francisco, Computer Jobs Blog.
2. Air New Zealand Fares to L.A San Francisco from $1469 return + tax, Best Flights Latest Specials.
3. San Francisco Police Officers Association (POA) Opposes Propositon H: San Francisco's Gun Ban Initiative, NRA-ILA News.
4. Fire-Safe in San Francisco, CSP Daily News.
5. san Francisco, MAC.
6. Treasure Island: San Francisco's Latest Political Scandal, California Conservative.
7. 9-Year-Old Swam San Francisco Bay to Raise Katrina Funds, ATSNN News Feed All Current News.
8. Geek Dinner in San Francisco, Geekswithblogs.net.
9. Headless Pinata at 1am, 18th St., San Francisco, While Seated Photolog.
10. Homeless folks in San Francisco make $8.62/hour as movie extras, Obscure Store and Reading Room.

As the saying goes, individual results will vary.

In this case, for someone wanting news of San Francisco, "news" wins over "blogs."

The news category suffers from repetition - replaying the same earthquake prediction story from more than one source - verifying the commodity nature of such reporting and its devaluing power of instant distribution of news.

The blog category suffers from Yahoo not distinguishing between RSS feeds from commercial sources (airline ticket-sellers) and bloggers (California Conservative). Perhaps that will be adjusted.

The juxtaposition of blogs and news is a good step toward wider recognition that the gate-keeping role of traditional news media is pretty much defunct and that both news producers and news distributors are looking for new models that can appeal to audiences. Still, as the debate continues over the identification, role and utility of citizen journalism, let's remember that the basic journalism function is reporting and that Mr. Sturgeon's observation applies to that as well.

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Posted by Tim Porter at 09:11 AM

October 10, 2005

Bad News Buffet

Suddenly, reporting on the demise of the newspaper industry is all the rage, especially among newspapers. Here are today's scribblings about the ominous handwriting on the wall (presented without comment):

 Black and White and Read by Fewer, L.A. Times: " 'They say Knight-Ridder doesn't have a plan. Actually they do. ... They are going to jettison the old, shoot the young and … torture the survivors, which, come to think of it, seems to be an industrywide plan.' "

 At Newspapers, Some Clipping, New York Times: " 'The basic newspaper, when you take out the Internet and all the other targeted publications that people are starting, is just not growing,' said P. Anthony Ridder, chairman and chief executive of Knight Ridder, which owns The Inquirer. 'Newsprint costs are up significantly. Wages and health benefits are up. So you have the cost pressure on the one hand and the lack of revenue growth on the other. That's really the problem, and everyone is having essentially the same problem.' "

 Forget Blogs, Print Needs Its Own IPod, N.Y. Times: "The newspaper business is in a horrible state. ... In an attempt to leave the forest of dead trees and reach the high plains of digital media, every paper in the country is struggling mightily to digitize its content with Web sites, blogs, video and podcasts. And they are half right. Putting print on the grid is a necessity, because the grid is where America lives. But what the newspaper industry really needs is an iPod moment.

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Posted by Tim Porter at 08:03 AM | Comments (1)

October 08, 2005

Lessons - and a Legacy - from Murrow

Jeff Jarvis goes into a screening of the Good Night, and Good Luck, the Edward R. Murrow biopic, and emerges with a thoughtful connection between the ascendancy of Murrow and CBS and "decline of mainstream journalism itself."

Here's a sampling (my emphasis):

"(Murrow's) disciples came to believe that the wattage of their broadcast towers entitled them to equivalent power in society. They thought they were no longer hacks looking out for the common man - as common men themselves - but instead the saviors of society (and rich ones at that). … They thought they could do no wrong.

"These founding fathers of TV news could convince themselves of their invincibility because they came into journalism just as television itself destroyed competition in local newspapers and established an age of monopoly news, of one-size-fits-all mass media, of fewer voices and less diversity of views. And so CBS News pulled the rest of TV - and print journalism, too - up on a pedestal, above it all. The age of the oracles began, an age that - thanks to the internet - is just now ending, as declared by no one less than the current president of CBS News, Andrew Heyward.

"Isn't that ironic: The most mass medium in history gave birth to a class of media snobs."

Most journalists, at least most newspaper journalists, especially those working at mid-sized and smaller papers, would cringe defensively at being labeled a "snob." They would point out their desire to illuminate wrongdoing, champion the underdog and generally, as one reporter once told, keep an eye on the scoundrels.

This desire leads to much good work, but it also masks the more commonplace realities of daily journalism - the stories that don't question, don't probe and don't give readers context for the humdrum reporting of official fact and bureaucratic blather as news.

Worse, though, is the snobbery of values held by most journalists, chief among them the belief that they decide what is news, what is important, what is grist for the national, regional or local conversation. This authority is self-conferred and eroding rapidly as the public finds and places trusts in new voices - many of them bloggers, many of them truly experts in their fields and many of them their neighbors.

The journalistic value of authority needs to be replaced. Let's try humility; let's try to accept, as Dan Gillmor says, that our readers know more than we do. The journalistic value of answers - as in, we've got 'em all - needs to be replaced with questions - as in some issues cannot be solved or summarized easily, but we'll keep after it with the goal of providing understanding. [Read: New Values for a New Age of Journalism.]

In fairness to the journalists, their self-image as the gatekeepers of news is so ingrained in the values and the ethics of the profession that they see any challenge to it as also attacking the principles of journalism. This leads to the type of defensive thinking heard when journalists (typically editors) complain about how blogs cannot be trusted because they traffic in rumor and unsubstantiated fact -- as if the mainstream press doesn't (hello, Jayson.) If journalism is going to transition successfully from mass to class, from mainstream to Main Street, it needs new values.

Jeff also notes that the bigger the news media got, the more it removed itself from the marketplace. The result: News that was out of touch with a changing audience. He writes (my emphasis):

"Another thing the monopolization of media did was insulate journalism from the pressures - and wisdom - of the marketplace. That, I think, has proven to be every bit as damaging as the haughtiness. And this may, indeed, be Murrow's fault. For we hear him lecturing CBS founder Bill Paley that news should not be subject to business realities.

"We hear that same refrain today when reporters whine about cuts in the newsroom even as newspapers suffer the loss of audience - who no longer like or need their product - and of classified, retain, and circulation revenue, which have fled to better marketplaces elsewhere. If newsrooms had been more attuned to their marketplaces - not prostituting themselves, just listening and serving - they may have tried to update news and not leave it as it was that half-century ago."

This is a simple concept: In order to preserve the principles of journalism, we must create journalism we can sell. [Read: Journalism by Every Means Necessary and Building the Journalism of the Future, Intentionally.]

I know journalists recoil from the word "market," so I'll use two other words that are more newsroom friendly - "public" and "community." If the public doesn't want our journalism, which it indicates by not buying it, or if the community rejects us as a member in good-standing, which it does by ignoring our presence - both of which are happening - then we need to re-think what we do and how we do it.

More on the movie:

 Jack Shafer, Slate: "If Jesus Christ no longer satisfies your desire to worship a man as god, I suggest you buy a ticket for Good Night, and Good Luck."

 A. O. Scott, New York Times: "The free press may be the oxygen of a democratic society, but it is always clouded by particles and pollutants, from the vanity or cowardice of individual journalists to the impersonal pressures of state power and the profit motive."

 Stephanie Zacharek, Salon: "This is a picture about a turning point in the media that also helped force a turning point in history, and a movie that asserts, by example, that contemporary news media have let us down."

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Posted by Tim Porter at 10:11 AM

October 07, 2005

Where’s the Audience of Tomorrow? Online Today

The new Pew study (PDF) on Internet use and demographics reinforces the disparity between the slice of America that’s online and the slice that readers newspapers.

The study reports that:

 26% of Americans age 65 and older go online, compared with 67% of those age 50- 64, 80% of those age 30-49, and 84% of those age 18-29.

 29% of those who have not graduated from high school have access, compared with
61% of high school graduates and 89% of college graduates.

The Internet age gap is the reverse of the U.S. newspaper gap – the average age of an American newspaper reader is 53, and 20 percent of them now say they read the “newspaper” on the Internet. We know that younger people don’t find much use of newspapers at all – only 23 percent of people aged 18 to 29 say they read a newspaper yesterday (from State of the News Media 2005).

The education gap – the more schooling you have, the more digital you are – also portends poorly for newspapers because they need that audience, and their incomes, to attract advertisers.

These numbers are not surprising, but they add weight to the need for newspapers to digitize their journalism and their distribution. That’s where the audience of tomorrow is – and many of them are already there.

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Posted by Tim Porter at 09:52 AM

October 04, 2005

News Minus 'Paper' Still Equals News

Here's a quote worth thinking about:

"The essence of what makes a great newspaper has nothing to do with paper. It has to do with being a great community voice, reporting a story very well, and gaining the trust of your audience and your marketers."

That's John Battelle, one of the founders of Wired and of the Industry Standard, responding to question by Patrick Phillips during an interview on his site, I Want Media.

Battelle's next observation goes to the heart of the issue about the future of mainstream journalism:

"The real question is: Are we going to have a transport system that's going to allow people to carry news around with them wherever they go the way paper does? That's the one thing about paper that really trumps other media."

In other words, as I and others, like Phil Meyer, have been saying: Even as we concentrate on trying to reinvent newspapers, we need to develop new economic models that will pay for the journalism we want to do. Put another way: How are we going to change the forms and practices of journalism without undermining its core principles? [Read: Building the Journalism of the Future, Intentionally.]

Battelle also echoes the sentiment that print media will survive, but not as a mass vehicle and not without offering readers a uniqueness (local, topical, quality) not available elsewhere. He says:

"No, I wouldn't say that print media is on its way out. … I would say, however, that it better be very well justified if it is going to exist. … I think we've seen the passing of print as the medium of news delivery. There are plenty of examples where print was the best we could do because it's all we had. But the online medium is better."

The future will belong to those who build it.

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Posted by Tim Porter at 10:05 AM | Comments (1)

October 03, 2005

Re-Patrioting the Patriot

Earlier this year I wrote about an experiment by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Penn., to attract new readers by publishing both a traditional broadsheet and a newer tabloid, named The Patriot. [Read: Working at Change: How One Newspaper Created a New ‘Compact’ with Readers.]

The Patriot is no more. Publisher John Kirkpatrick announced the tab's demise last week, saying that "While many people did like the compact format, it didn't catch on the way we had hoped."

Too bad -- because I still like the way Kirkpatrick described how the paper came to launch the Patriot:

“So, how did we do it? It was easy. We came up with an idea. We ignored the common sense which called it impossible. We ran smack into a million operational issues that seemed intractable. We met as a paper and decided to suspend all sense of limitation. We solved every problem. We practiced a few times. Then we produced The Patriot.”

Some experiments succeed, some fail. It's the doing, the working at change, that's important.

(Via EditorsWeblog, from Newsdesigner.)

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Posted by Tim Porter at 09:02 AM