March 29, 2007

ASNE Notes: Huffington, Diller, Mossberg

Arianna HuffingtonFrom an ASNE panel just ended on the "digital revolution" -- ahem -- with Walter Mossberg, Barry Diller, Arianna Huffington and Don Graham of the Washington Post:

 Huffington is talking about Huffington Post's plan to work with Jay Rosen's new project., in covering the 2006 presidential campaign. We'll have a citizen journalists in every state, she says. What's a citizen journalists, asks Diller. Mossberg, not missing a beat, jumps in: "It's like citizen surgey." Rim shot. Big laugh from the newspaper editors.

 Huffington diagnoses web publishers with obsessive compulsive disorder -- hammering a topic either to death or until it mainstream media notice. By comparison, she says, print suffers from attention deficit disorder: "How many stories die on the front page of the paper?" True. The press often moves on before the public is ready to let go.

 Diller childes newspapers for repurposing content from print to the web. Doesn't work, he says. The future of online news -- and of the web in general, he says -- is original content, "internet created, not replicated." The tools are here now -- audio, video, graphics and, yes, text. "Use the tools of the Internet in every way you can," he says, "for journalism and all the other things that are in the paper" that are headed for the web.

 Mossberg says he's doing low-tech videos to go with his columns. No production values, he says, no editing, but a recent one gets 60,000 plays. He's astonished, but Diller's not. "You are the production value, he tells Mossberg. His point: Name matters, content matters, brand matters. Everything else is frosting.

UPDATE: Good stuff on the panel from Rachel Sklar.

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Posted by Tim Porter at 10:08 AM | Comments (1)

News, Improved on Pressthink

Jay Rosen was kind enough to invite Michele McLellan and I to write about News, Improved on Pressthink. Here's the beginning of the piece:

Back in the day -- that day when the newspaper was as much as part of daily American life as the cell phone now is -- back in that good ol' day, newsrooms were run and staffed mostly by autocratic, tough-talking men, news was what those men said it was, by God, and no one on the editorial side (and not too many on the business side, either) worried about making money because having a newspaper was pretty much a license to print it.

That day, as we know, has gone the way of the green eye shade, but vestiges of its temperament linger in our newsrooms, hampering their ability to envision and implement the one thing they need for survival: strategic change.

The good news, though, is that many newsrooms have moved on. They've shuttered the trophy cases of the past and pointed their focus forward, to a future that while still unknown will surely be shaped only by those who get their hands dirty with its making.

During our work with Tomorrow's Workforce we saw all points in the spectrum.

We saw many journalists clinging to the way things were. They rationalized their resistance to change by invoking the rules of journalistic tradition, complaining about lack of resources or accusing others, such as bloggers or even readers, as the reason for newspapers’ decline in relevancy.

We also saw many journalists embracing change - editors trying to craft new forms of journalism atop its core principles, reporters carrying cameras as well as notebooks, executives launching targeted news products to capture audience.

Mostly, though, we saw many journalists worried about the future of news. They knew change was necessary and they knew they needed new skills for a new age of journalism - both for themselves and for their news organizations - but they weren't sure how to make that change happen or how to acquire those skills.

That’s the group we wrote News, Improved for. We wanted to provide journalists who intend to succeed at transformational change with a set of tools that can help them adopt techniques and ideas more apt for today's digital world.

Read the rest on Pressthink.

Posted by Tim Porter at 07:40 AM | Comments (1)

March 28, 2007

Notes from ASNE: Changes Underway; Six Things to Do

After beating ASNE over the head the last couple of years for not openly confronting the innovation stagnation in the news industry, it's good to report that this year is different.

Yes, the room still looks more like the convention of podiatrists down the hall in the Washington Marriott than a gathering of news media innovators, but the conversation about change had definitely changed.

In addition to our session on News, Improved (get the presentation here), there are panels featuring media savvy people like:

 Jay Small: "We tend to treat the internet as an information and distribution medium. Most consumers treat it as a communication medium."

And …

 Larry (AKA Rusty) Coats of "We’re asking our web organizations to (remake) an egg from a jay of mayonnaise," referring to how many newspapers still produce content for print first that must be re-engineered for online. "We need journalists to start producing eggs."

And … Jonathan Dube and Jan Schaffer.

Even more importantly, The editors are talking about building constructive cultures in their newsrooms, using strategic training as a growth tool and developing new news products -- digital and print -- to offset the revenue and readership decline of the newspaper.

Here’s good advice from Mike Connelly, executive editor of the New York Times Co.-owned Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Fla., on how to make changes happen as quickly and painlessly as possible:

 No funny names -- Don't give a project a buzz-wordy name that skeptics can attack. (I saw an example at one of our project papers that had an initiative called Work Harder for the Reader. Work harder? Just want a staff wants to hear.

 Put new demands in traditional terms -- Blogging, for example is just reporting and developing sources (Read: Blogging the Beat.); writing for the web first is a return to the tradition of breaking news.

 10-minute tasks -- Make new demands things that will take no more than 10 minutes. For example: Having a print reporter available to answer three questions from a broadcasters, or having still photographers recording a minute of video to use as background during a voiceover.

 Print reporters can't do it all -- Gather the news, then let specialists for tailor it for different media if much expertise is required. Let the reporters report as much as possible.

 Put change in context -- Market fragmentation is a fact of life. The mass market is gone, which creates opportunities to develop focused content for engage communities, sports content for sports addicts rather than the general audience, for example.

 Revenue is good -- It-s OK to talk about creating journalism we can sell.

Finally, a good comment from Melanie Sill, editor of the Raleigh News & Observer, about the need for priorities: "New ideas are not the hard part. What wasn’t fun and was just plain hard was figuring out what to stop doing."

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Posted by Tim Porter at 12:55 PM

March 27, 2007

Poynter Blurbs the Book

Poynter online did a nice piece today on News, Improved. The sub-head reads: "A new book explains how news organizations can train their staffers to become innovators. To welcome change. To be nimble."

Well, the book does do that -- but it also says you've got to work at all that pretty hard.

The piece also proves I'm better at quoting than being quoted.

Read it here.

Posted by Tim Porter at 02:46 PM

Staff Investment? Most News Organizations Would Still Rather Not

Knight Foundation training surveyA new Knight Foundation study, commissioned to conclude with the ending of our Tomorrow's Workforce project and the release of our book (News, Improved), finds that only three in 10 news organizations have increased spending on staff development in the last five years.

Worse, 20 percent have decreased spending on training and 10 percent don't spend a nickel. And this at a time when the news industry faces its greatest challenges of learning new skills. (Read a summary and stats of the summary in this PDF.)

The study also found that:

 90 percent of journalists say they need more training. News executives agree.
 90 percent of executives say they need more training themselves. Their staffs agree.
 96 percent of news executives say new journalists need more training when they are hired.

And that:

 Forty percent of journalists say the lack of professional development is their No. 1 gripe -- up 5 percentage points from five years ago.

Keep in mind that news industry training is already pathetic compared to the averages of all U.S. industries -- 0.4 percent of payroll for the news biz to 2.3 percent industry average, so when I see only three in 10 newsrooms spending more on their staffs I can only conclude, to borrow a pointed phrase from Eric Newton of Knight, only 30 percent of newspapers intend to survive.

Professional development -- like product development -- is critical to the future of news. We need to equip today's journalists -- and those of tomorrow -- with the skillset and the mindset to not only survive, but thrive in whatever future comes their way.

Training can do that. It improves skills. It changes thinking. It converts culture from defensive to constructive. And -- most importantly -- professional investment in journalists by their employers signals that their work is worth saving. Too many companies still don't see it that way.

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Posted by Tim Porter at 02:07 PM

March 13, 2007

The Real Heroes of Newspapers

Newsroom budget cuts are routine these days (and will remain so for some time). It's also routine for top editors to resign before, or amid, these reductions, throwing their careers on the swords of journalistic quality.

These martyred journalists - Dean Baquet, late of the L.A. Times and now relocated in the N.Y. Times Washington bureau, is the poster child for them - are hailed as heroes by their colleagues (whom they've left behind in the trenches) and some of their peers (who perhaps see a similar fate in store for them).

What hogwash. Journalists are celebrating the wrong heroes.

The real heroes of newspapers are those journalists who stay. The real heroes are the editors (from large papers like Atlanta or small ones like Bloomington) who are reconfiguring their newsrooms. The real heroes are reporters like those in Bakersfield who are shooting video while reporting. The real heroes are photographers like Fred Larson of the San Francisco Chronicle who using a blog to teach his readers how to make extraordinary photos like his.

Quitting is not heroic. Leaving colleagues during a time of change is not heroic. Declaring that the future of journalism can not be as good as its past is not heroic.

Our book, News, Improved, is for the real heroes of newspapers - those working to reinvent them. Eric Newton, the Knight Foundation vice president who underwrites such journalism projects as J-Lab, the Committee of Concerned Journalists and our project, Tomorrow's Workforce, wrote the introduction. It began with these words (emphasis added):

"News, Improved is for journalists who intend to thrive in the 21st Century. It is an exploration of the new world right in front of us, a manual for those ready to stop pining for the past and start growing with the future. The message: Any journalist can learn to join the booming digital world of targeted, convenient, interactive media."

I was thinking about that statement recently - specifically about the opportunity, and hard work, ahead for journalists "who intend to thrive" in the coming decades of continuing media shift. I was in a hotel conference room in Los Angeles at a gathering of 10 top editors and their new media managers. The event was sponsored by the Knight New Media Center and designed to be a get-dirty-and-get-busy session focused on developing strategies for the digital age.

I spoke briefly about our project and the lessons we learned from newspapers that are succeeding at change, about the need for strong leadership, product development and equipping journalists with new sets of skills. I said little that I or others haven't said before. But for the most part they listened. Their faces showed concentration and, among many of them, weariness. They had been at this hard business of change - changing their newsrooms, changing themselves - for a couple of tough days. A couple of editors who seem disengaged stood out. When their colleagues probed, they smirked. When solutions were offered, they objected, citing tired reasons of staffing or funding or definitions of what is or isn't journalism.

This scene came to mind again today when, while doing some catch-up reading, I found Steve Yelvington's post about the same gathering. He wrote (emphasis added):

"The best news may be what I didn't hear: defensiveness. I didn't hear a bunch of talk about protecting the old core. Or any nonsense about cannibalization.

"It's easy to snipe at newspapers for 'too little, too late,' but I think we're actually in a cycle of irrational negativity about their prospects. There is much unharvested opportunity in local markets, and if newspapers can focus their very substantial resources in the right directions, there's a future to be found."

The State of the News Media 2007 report characterized traditional journalists as moving from defensiveness to fear about the digital future of news. Good. Fear is a great motivator. Nobody moves faster than someone fighting for their life.

All the negatives cited in the report are true, especially the eroding print business model and lack of a viable digital replacement. But, as simplistic as this assertion sounds, there will be a future of news. Some of it will resemble the past, much of it won't. How it is shaped, what influence it has, who will work in it, how credible it is, what its principles are and how much money it can make are all still open questions.

Only one certainty exists: That future will belong to those who build it. Walking away isn't the answer. Staying, working the problem, finding solutions, making hard choices, learning to think differently - those are the answers. And the people who do that are the real heroes of journalism.

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Posted by Tim Porter at 10:40 AM | Comments (7)

March 12, 2007

News, Improved. The State of the News Media, Not.

Depending on how you see it, I ...

A) ... couldn't have picked a worse time to write a book about how newspapers can use focused, strategic learning to reinvent themselves - because according to the State of the News Media 2007 report released today they are withering away at a steadily increasing rate.

Or ...

B) ... couldn't have picked a better time to write a book about how newspapers can use focused, strategic learning to reinvent themselves - because now more than ever they need good guidance in finding their way forward.

I'll leave it to Dickens to state the obvious about those conflicting points of view - and to others to wonder if doing a book these days has much value beyond intellectual exercise - today seemed like a good opportunity to let you, the remnant readers of First Draft, know the book is finished, and in fact due out in a couple of weeks.

Called News, Improved, How America's Newsrooms are Learning to Change, it presents the lessons my partner, former Oregonian editor Michele McLellan, and I learned in working with 17 newsrooms during the four-year Tomorrow's Workforce project.

Here's the short version: Leadership plus Goals plus Training equals Innovation and Change and Constructive Culture. Much work required. (Read the rest here or here.)

We focused, as much as possible, on what newspapers are doing that works, and tried to draw from those successes techniques any news organization could use for reinvention, change or improvement. We shied away, as much as possible, from beating the dead horse of newspaper arrogance and defensiveness that kept the industry at a standstill while the emerging world of digital media marched onward.

Our purview was editorial, not financial. But I believe the concepts of product and professional development we urge newsrooms to adopt at readily adaptable to the business sides of news operations.

News, Improved by itself will not solve any newspaper's problem. It is a fishing pole, not a fish - a tool that provides a proven starting point for organizational change. We watched newspapers such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hamilton Spectator, the Bakersfield Californian and the Bloomington Herald Times remake themselves under bold leadership, focused thinking and investment in teaching their journalists new skills.

Will these papers and progressive news organizations survive what the Project for Excellence Journalism in its report today called the epochal "transformation facing journalism"? I don't know. But I do know that these news organizations, by focusing on strategic organizational change, have the best chance of any of coming up with new news products - and new business models to support them - that embrace the principles of traditional journalism but are packaged and published in ways more appropriate to the digital age.

The warning bell for the news industry has rung loudly for several years. (In fact, part of my absence from First Draft was due to a reluctance to continue ringing that same bell over and over.) State of the News Media 2007 says the industry's now awake, finally on the alert, but afraid and not sure what to do.

Tom Rosenstiel of PEJ says "defensiveness about the Internet has given way to abject fear. And journalists now see the Internet as a possible salvation and not this horrible threat to their standards. They are experimenting wildly, but no formula has emerged and maybe even less of an idea of how to pay for it."

But many news organizations are acting - and doing so boldly. State of the News Media mentions the robust web operations of the Times and the Post. And, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's recent radical newsroom organization is strong bet on a different future. Look for dozens of copycats in the offing.

Back to my original questions - is the best of times to write a book on newspaper change? Or the worst?

The best my friends, the best. Because newspapers are changing, voluntarily or under duress (or both). And good editors are looking to move their newsrooms forward even if the future is uncertain. Leadership. Goals. Training. These things work. They give a news organizations a chance to control its own fate.

And, that's my takeaway from the State of the News Media report - it's time to take control of our own fates.

(See you more often in coming days.)

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Posted by Tim Porter at 04:28 PM | Comments (4)