In London’s competitive market, newspapers are fighting over columnists with “editors buying up big-name columnists as if they were footballers: in an age when news no longer sells newspapers, columnists are the miracle ingredient that can win you readers.” Meanwhile, here, The Times hides its columnists behind a wall, which may milk their value today but won’t build their value or enable them to create new stars tomorrow.
Posts about newspapers
The Times takes another chance to slap blogs:
In the last few years, newspapers around the country have been testing the waters of the seldom-restrained, often scrappy world of Web-based journalism by setting their reporters loose to write their own blogs.
Last week, the experiment backfired for The Los Angeles Times. The newspaper suspended the blog of one of its columnists after it was revealed that he had posted comments on the paper’s Web site and elsewhere on the Web under false names.
Well, that’s like saying that The New York Times’ experiment in journalism backfired with Jayson Blair. This isn’t about blogging as a form. This is about journalists being afraid to deal with people, eye-to-eye.
It continues trying to make blogs look new, different, and scary:
The incident has underscored the difficulties that can arise when a newspaper gives free rein to staff writers on the Web.
Well, same goes for reporters talking on radio or TV or in speeches or in bars. Maybe they should travel around all the time with an editor.
The Philadelphia Inquirer — which finds itself publishing at Ground Zero for change in the newspaper business — runs an op-ed package today about whether we need newspapers. The conclusion is obvious and I state the obvious (nonregistration copy here):
Do we need newspapers? No. Do we need news and journalism and an informed democracy? Of course we do. But paper? Why? Too often, I hear editors pleading to save newspapers and newsrooms as their status quo is threatened by plummeting circulation, imploding advertising, impatient shareholders, multimedia youth and the Internet. Everyone is to blame for newspapers’ pickle, it seems, but the newspapers themselves.
Yet perhaps the era of newspapers as we now know them is simply over. Especially since broadcast killed competitive newspapers, they have become one-size-fits-all vehicles that cannot possibly be all things to all people; they may be convenient, but they are also inefficient and shallow compared with the depth of the Internet. Newspapers are inevitably stale next to broadcast and online. They are inefficient advertising vehicles for highly targeted sales – classifieds and very local retail. Newspapers are terribly expensive to produce and distribute in a marketplace where your competition is free.
If you are a publishing executive or journalist, your reaction to that harsh reality may be to hold on for dear life to the old ways, which is what I have seen some newspaper people do, until now – until it could be too late for them. Or your reaction can be to see this as an opportunity to gather and share news in entirely new and often better ways thanks to new technologies that reduce the cost of distribution, speed up production, allow relevant targeting of both content and advertising, and, most important, allow the people we used to call the audience – you – to join in and help inform your neighbors.
I go on to tell the story of the norgs meeting in Philadelphia, where journalists and bloggers got together to try to reinvent the news organization of the very near future.
Newspapers are no longer just on paper. They are virtual. The distinction between what people read on paper and what they read on a screen is an increasingly irrelevant one. Newspaper companies must realize that. Does it matter whether you read a great columnist online, or on your BlackBerry, or on paper? It is about the information, the reporting, and the writing – not the medium in which it is delivered.
Hugh Hewitt praises paperless news and blogs and doesn’t do much for the old echo-chamber argument, pushing the notion that liberals are the ones holding onto the old press (huh?) and recommending only his conservative friends. His piece would have been stronger if he hadn’t tried to make paper liberal and online conservative.
Each morning, we awake to new mountains of information. Bloggers are the new Sherpas, leading their readers through those various ranges. Newspaper reporters and editors are the old Sherpas. Lots of folks – especially liberals and elites – still like the old Sherpas. The mainstream media – MSM – are populated overwhelmingly by left- and hard-left-leaning writers and editors, and few people even bother to argue the point anymore. American newspapers are not unlike American car companies: Market dominance made them lazy and uninterested in their customer base, and a lot of that base slowly melted away, even before the new media arrived. When blogs and talk radio and cable arrived and offered a choice to news consumers long disgusted with biased product, remaining center-right readers began to bolt.
I picture Philly-guy Atrios opening up his morning Inquirer and doing a spit-take.
The internet’s big enough for everyone, Hugh.
Nothing new in any of this… expcept that a newspaper is willing to print the first draft of its own obituary.
“Conventional wisdom, it’s an enemy at a time like this,” said Beth Comstock, president for digital media and market development at NBC Universal, part of General Electric. “In media today, I don’t think there is a single rule that can’t — and frankly, probably shouldn’t — be broken.
“This isn’t just about driving growth,” she added. “It’s about staying in business.”
Preach it, sister.
But at this same confab, there was a wake-up call to newspapers, from consultant Gordon Borrell. If they are not careful, they will soon lose not only their monopolies but their top perches in their markets:
Mr. Borrell discussed a new report from his company showing that local television stations more than doubled their Internet ad revenue last year compared with 2004, to $283 million from $119 million. And, he predicted, the figure would climb to $410 million by the end of 2006.
But ad revenue last year for Web sites operated by local newspapers totaled $2 billion, according to the report, or more than nine times what the Web sites of the local TV stations took in….
… “All media are in flux, and flux is a great time to institute change.”
As an example, Mr. Borrell cited the Web site operated by WRAL-TV, the CBS affiliate in Raleigh, N.C., that is owned by the Capitol Broadcasting Company. The ad revenue for the site (www.wral.com) exceeds the ad revenue for www.newsobserver.com, the Web site operated by the leading local newspaper, The News and Observer, published by the McClatchy Company.
CORRECTION: Just got email from Chris Hendricks, head of online for McClatchy, forwarding a note from Borrell, saying he was misquoted by The Times. Borrell said the station has more traffic according to Nielsen data than the paper — not revenue.
Craig Silverman, editor of Regret the Error, adds his answers to the Times disclosure questionnaire. He likes the notion of the questionnaire, as do I, and also adds good points to the discussion, including:
By not requiring its staff members to fill out the questionnaire, the Times is creating a two-tier system of disclosure within the paper. Just because someone is a freelancer, it doesn’t mean that they are more likely to plagiarize, get facts wrong, accept junkets, or allow their personal convictions or interests to cloud their work…. Singling out one group won’t solve the problem. Position does not dictate professionalism. Yet the Times seems to be sending the message that the investments, community activities and personal beliefs of staff members have no effect on their work, and that things are different for freelancers. It’s doubtful that senior editors there would be willing to argue this, yet the questionnaire remains for freelancers only. Staff members come under much more scrutiny from outside interests because of their position, yet they get a free pass? It doesn’t make sense. The Times does have its detailed Ethical Journalism policy for staff members, but having a written policy is not the same as asking for specific information from each person.
I don’t know that they don’t have a questionnaire for staffers. I would know if they made them public, which I think is needed.
I’d like us all to answer a few questions.
The other day, I blogged about The New York Times requiring freelance writers to answer a questionnaire about their other activities and any conflicts of interest. I suggested that every journalist, especially staffers, should fill out the questionnaire and that they should be made public.
Well, a birdie just sent me the questionnaire and so I’ll start the ball rolling. On my disclosures page, I’ve answered each of the questions, which I’ll list below.
I’ll also keep that ball rolling and suggest that bloggers should answer the questions as well and post them online to pressure mainstream journalists into such open disclosure.
And let’s keep it rolling still by suggesting other questions you think that journalists and bloggers should answer for their audiences. First, The Times’ questions:
1. Please list your other current employers, whether full time or part time
2. For what other employers have you worked in the last three years?
3. What sort of volunteer work do you do regularly, if any, and for whom? (Please include any public relations, advocacy or advisory board involvement.)
4. Do you do any work paid or unpaid in politics or government? Have you done any lobbying of governmental bodies?
5. Do you have any financial investments or financial ties that may limit your ability to cover specific topics free of conflict, and if so, what are the topics?
6. Although we don’t regulate the activities of spouses, partners or immediate family members of our contributors, do any of their professional or personal involvements or any of their financial investments or ties make certain topics inappropriate for you, and if so, what are the topics?
7. Have you accepted any free trips, junkets or press trips in the last two years? Have you accepted any substantial free merchandise or discounts from people we might cover?
8. Has anything you’ve written later resulted in a published editor’s note or retraction for deliberate falsehood or plagiarism or become the subject of a lawsuit involving allegations of deliberate falsehood? (If yes, please include details about the publication and your role in the article or story. If a lawsuit, please describe the disposition of the case.)
What else? This isn’t as simple as filling out a one-size-fits-all-beats list once. I believe that if journalists have something to disclose about their views or involvement in a story that a reader should properly know to judge that story, they should be updating on online disclosures page accordingly. We don’t need to litter stories in sparse print and airtime with every such disclosure; it could reach an absurd though amusing extreme (“The lawyer for the accused once bought me a beer”… “I own two shares of Microsoft stock”…). But we should not shy away from such disclosure when it is relevant.
Yesterday, I was on NPR’s Talk of the Nation with Jeffrey Dvorkin, the network’s ombudsman, and Brent Cunningham, managing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, talking about just this. The host, Michelle Martin, wasn’t grasping the nuances of this discussion. For what came out is that Dvorkin, Cunningham, and I agree broadly (I hope I don’t mischaracterize their views) that objectivity, as upheld in j-schools of yore, is a false god; that honest, fair, and complete reporting in spite of any personal perspectives, prejudices, or assumptions is the right standard; and that relevant disclosure is good. Where we disagree about is how far that should go, and I wish we’d explored that more. So explore it here: How much disclosure is necessary and relevant?
Keep in mind that this does not mean that you’re disclosing deep, dark, family secrets about every story or laying your whole life bare. That’s not the point. This isn’t an exercise in Maoist self-criticism or columnist exhibitionism. This is about telling the people you’re talking with what they should know to understand your own perspective and what you bring to the story: “I’m writing about jazz but I prefer rock.” … or, “I’m covering a smoking ban and I used to smoke.” … or, yes, “I’m covering the Democrats and I am a Democrat.” It should not mean either that you should not cover a story because you have a relevant perspective or that you must because you do. This cuts both ways. The example I gave in yesterday’s discussion on NPR is that editors frequently assign African-American reporters to stories in the African-American community. That could be argued two ways: It’s stereotyping the reporters, or it’s assigning people who will understand those stories better. This doesn’t mean that they should or should not be assigned because of their background, but their background is relevant. The same goes for other stories where the background is not so transparent.
So if you join in and answer these disclosure questions, please tag it “disclosures.” And if you have any more questions you’d like to see journalists and bloggers answer, please add them to the comments.
: LATER: Vaughn Ververs answers the questions at Public Eye.
Well, at long last, the Pulitzers have acknowledged the existence of news after paper. The Times-Picayune won two Pulitzers today for coverage of Katrina. Nola.com should have won explicitly as well, but at least there is this:
This year for the first time, the Pulitzer Prize board allowed a newspaper to submit material that appeared originally in online form, in addition to printed stories, as a part of their entries.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, The Times-Picayune’s continuously updated online blog, as well as its online editions of the paper posted each night on its affiliated Web site, NOLA.com, became the source of information for more than a million area residents who had evacuated, and for much of the world.
In his remarks, Amoss acknowledged the contribution of the staff at NOLA.com, “who were integral to everything we published, and made us an around-the-clock vital link to readers scattered across the nation.”
Visits, or “hits,” to Times-Picayune pages on NOLA.com, increased from an average of about 800,000 page views a day before Katrina to more than 30 million page hits a day in the days after the storm. Excerpts from those blogs, as well as stories from the online editions of the paper, made up a portion of both of the newspaper’s winning entries.
: Here are Rex Hammock and me wishing for a Pulitzer for their online efforts. (Full disclosure: Nola.com was of the sites I helped start in my last job, so I’m prejudiced.)
David Carr has a funny yet tragic column today summing up the penny-pinching can’t-see-past-their-noses problem with newspapers today.
About a month ago, The Star Tribune in Minneapolis let it be known that, as a cost-cutting effort, free copies of the newspaper would no longer be broadly available around the newsroom.
Instead, the staff was offered an electronic edition of the paper — “an exact digital reproduction of the printed version,” no less — that they could access online. Those who insisted on seeing the fruits of the their labors in its physical form were told that they could purchase copies for 25 cents, half the retail cost, from boxes around the office….
Last Monday, the going got weirder. Star Tribune reporters who came to work and booted up were greeted by the following message from Steve Alexander, senior vice president for circulation, who had been spending time researching the program’s introduction:
“During the first week that the additional on-site racks were in service, 43 percent of the Star Tribunes removed from those racks were not paid for. For the second week the rate was 41 percent. This is called ‘pilferage’ in our business; but put more plainly, it is theft, pure and simple.”
These are the folks who bought Knight Ridder. Good luck.