Posts about norg

As opposed to a pastist

The New York Times new lab is hiring a futurist. Laugh if you will. But when you think about it, maybe newspapers should have hired futurists, oh, 10 or two years ago. [See my disclosures]

Saving journalism (and killing the press)

I’m in Philly at the Annenberg School of Communication for the Norg unconference: A remarkable, perhaps historic, gathering of newspaper people and bloggers starting a conversation about saving news. Will Bunch, a columnist on the Daily News and blogger wrote a post four or five months ago about newspapers reaching their nadir. Karl Martino, a blogger who started PhillyFuture, a gaggle of local bloggers, responded and together with colleages — Wendy Warren, an editor at the Daily News; Susie Madrak of Suburban Guerilla and with hosting from Annenberg — they put together this day.

I say this is the day that the war ends. This isn’t journalism against bloggers anymore. It never was, really. This is journalists and bloggers together in favor of news.

Will Bunch says that in the time since he wrote his post, newspapers are finally showing visible change: newspapers trying not to think of themselves as newspapers but as news organizations (hence “norg”). He says that “newspaper people had staked their identity on being newspaper people.” The conversations at papers on what to do about shrinkage were all about print circulation. “People as recently as a year ago were living in a dreamworld about how to salvage” what they do. He says that in the first 20 years of his career, it’s amazing how little changed. “It was a very static world for the last 50 years…. It was hard for us to imagine a world where newspapers weren’t the dominant news source…

Karl Martino comes up with the wiser metaphor for media’s world change. We always say that TV didn’t kill radio; ergo, newspapers must be safe. Karl, instead, sees this as LPs moving to CDs to MP3s. One m medium — paper — may, indeed, go away. “The music remains. The music doesn’t go away.”

The goal of the day up on the screen: “All we have to do is create the future of local news in Philadelphia. We are the right people to make this happen. The ideas we develop are the essential ideas.”

This is an unconference — no speakers, the agenda in the hands of everyone — because, Warren says, “Whoever’s in the conversation is the right person to have in the conversation.”

And so it begins, with introductions:

Dan Rubin, the newspapers’ daily blogger here (and a good reporter and nice guy) says that he goes out in the morning to pick up his papers and when he returns home his kids already know the news from one.

Fred Mann, who started and runs Philly.com for the papers (we started working together, lo, 12 years ago when I was at Advance) says he just returned from San Jose, where he saw his Knight Ridder colleagues. If this were a vlog, you’d see eyes roll and hear a sigh.

The folks from Phillyblog — which is really a forum — say that they have 6,000 members who report the news. If there has been a shooting, they say, you’ll learn about it immediately from “the people who heard the bullets.”

Duncan Black, aka Atrios (sans laptop), says he’s here because he loves local news and we need to find the way and the economic model to tell the story of the city better.

I’m not giving you the intros to nearly all the people; I don’t type that fast. But it’s a wonderful assemblage of people who are here because they care about news.

Carl Lavin, deputy ME of the Inquirer, says that he works with more than 100 journalists covering the suburbs but that there are hundreds of thousands of people in those suburbs who know more and the question is how to collaborate. He says that newspapers have been talking about being cross-platform for years but — and I’m paraphrasing — that they didn’t get it or mean it. But Bunch’s coining of “norg” has made a change, he said. Lavin also brings up the other question that always comes up: how to make money to support this.

Madrak, a journalist-turned-blogger, says that newspaper people make a mistake when they think that bloggers hate newspapers. They don’t. Bloggers love newspapes; they just get disappointed when they aren’t everthing they can be. (I corrected this quote later with Madrak’s guidance.)

Two students talk about wanting to do this for a living but they are concerned about whether they will be able to. I’d say it’s not clear whether they can get a job. It’s also not clear whether they can make a living. But I do believe they can be paid.

Jen Musser-Metz, who works at Philly.com (and with whom I used to work way back at the beginnings of NJ.com) says that she works to bring the Inquirer newsroom into this century.

Someone who works with the local Indymedia (can’t see his nametag) says his concern is how to fund investigative journalism. The business question comes up from all sides.

Amy Webb of Dragonfire says that she left newspapers because she couldn’t stand editors. That, I recall, is why Nick Denton and I said in an IM long ago, in my blog infancy, said we liked blogs: “no editors.”

: The question at an unconference is: what’s the agenda? The group contributes agenda proposals, going up on a wiki to be edited. A blob of those, all unfairly summarized:

Webb says that online should be run by the technologists more than the editors. Rubin asks what would happen in Philly if a left-wing power bought one paper and a right-wing power the other (note to myself: I need to post about why I think that could be a good thing; see London). I say that the starting point is to define what local news can and should be: what are we saving and what can we do now we couldn’t do before? It’s not about saving newspaper or — pardon me — saving newsrooms. It’s about growing news. Sandy Shea of the Daily News asks what democracy requires as an agenda item. Another question, Madrak says, is that newspapers can be skewed by serving the wrong public. The shareholder question comes up: Are shareholders the constituency of newspapers? Is that in competition with “our constitutional duty,” Madrak asks. This always comes up. But in this room, to my delight, people immediately say that the issue is how to make money. Duncan Black says that newspapers have squandered the opportunity to make money with audience online. The question comes up: what is the relationship of citizen journalism and professional journalism. This will be the meat of it and the discussion revs up here, too fast to Boswell. Diversity is raised as an issue; this room is mostly white. The digital divide is raised and a student says the web must be treated as a utility that goes out to all people (see Philly’s ubiquitous wi-fi project). Warren brings up the issue of bloggers not having the legal protection; see this. Fred Mann, online newspaper company exec, raises the question of whether newspaper companies should be public. I say that the issue isn’t stockholders; the issue is management. A guy from an upstart website that can’t afford investigative journalism speaks up; I say that perhaps one day his company can go public and raise the money to do that. It’s not the stock market — or the market pressure — that is the problem. It’s what you do about that, I believe. Next debate: Is a la carte news bad for us and for democracy? Should there be editors who says what we ought to know? Are editors the best to do that? Duncan Black says this is also a matter of style: We present news dully. Journalism, he says, is not just conventional print journalism; it is Rush Limbaugh and Don Imus and the New York Post (his examples). There is much discussion about the Domenech affair at WashingtonPost.com and why the Post felt it needed to take him over, why other papers have not covered this story, and more. I raise this to the meta level: What are the ethics of news and journalism?

Wendy Warren starts a lightning round: What do we want a norg to be? Answers from the room: A filter…. credibility… interactivity… tangibility (i.e. print, free, to reach people not online)…. multiplatform…. media literacy (not just consumption but creation)…. it has a voice… it gives voice to the public…. relevant… compelling…. agenda-setting…. empowering…. face-to-face… distributed…. continuous…. 24-hour… smarter at promotion…. ethical… economically viable…. cover government… investigative…. diverse…. raise revenue… share revenue with the edge…. support journalism legally… adaptive…. innovative… risk-taking…. resiliant…. able to try and fail and try again….

A young intern at the Daily News gets the last point and she wonders why the heck reporters don’t have blogs to talk with people directly, to engage, to be transparent. Listen to the future talking.

: LATER: What would a meeting be without breakout sessions? So we broke out and talked in groups about the business and platforms; the content and culture; the responsibility, roughly stated. This will be difficult to summarize; I’ll add a link to the wiki when it’s up.

A few interesting ideas that have come up:

The idea of a “norg” as a coop. I think of that as a coop of news gatherers and sharers (e.g., the coop sells your ads and promotes you but you still own what you do: your reporting and content). Another notion is a coop of the public (which, of course, is a public company… which is where this started).

Another idea is that a “norg” can fulfill some of the functions of a wire service (e.g., covering the obvious stuff so everybody doesn’t have to cover it — as CityNews used to do in Chicago… and also aggregating coverage, as the Associate Press does).

I also think it’s important to get out of the idea that there is one company and one business model. There will be many entities, each with its own different business models and ownership.

I was surprised to hear some people, including the paid journalists, saying that they need to break out of the goal of winning Pulitzers. Win the public.

: Underlying this in this discussion in this city with these people is the tension about the sale of Philadelphia Newspapers. This week, bids are due. Who buys — or doesn’t — have a gigantic impact on the possibilities. If it is Gannett or Singleton, one PNI person said, they will do what those companies do. If others buy, the future is more open – for good or bad, I suppose.

: So what the hell is this thing? Well, it starts as a conversation. That conversation will continue in blog posts here and there and, we hope, everywhere and in a forum at norgs.org. It will start to crystalize in a wiki that expresses the goals, lessons, and possibilities of this. Then it becomes a message to the industry, broadly defined, perhaps with discussion at conferences and such. It could be a think tank that tries to reinvent news. It could be a laboratory in Philadelphia and its incumbent players or with new players or elsewhere. It could be a new future for news.

: LATER: Here’s Dan Rubin’s rendition. Here‘s Sedley Log’s. Here from The West End.
Here‘s Wendy Warren’s compilation of what went up on the white boards and our next steps on a blog; wiki to follow. Karl Martino wakes up and reports (on the day of his baby’s christening, by the way). Photos here: The Fab Four, and ow.

The unconference on the unpaper

I’m off in the morning to Philadelphia for the unconference on what to do about the newspapers or their media successors there. What’s remarkable about this event is that bloggers and journalists are banding together to try to figure out something: not a snarkfest, not another effort to compare and contrast, but an effort to come together. Reports to follow.

: LATER: On thing I want to say there is that finding a buyer for a paper is no solution to its problems. It only delays the inevitable and prolongs the pain. Brave strategic management with a new vision is what is needed. And, no, I have no idea who is capable of that in this industry.

Get me rewrite

In the post below about the Knight Ridder sale, someone calling herself or himself “journalist” left a long comment that perfectly encapsulates the kinds of arguments I hear from some newsroom residents who quake with fear at the new world outside their doors and try desperately to protect their old world inside. Not all are like this. But the vocal ones are. I’ve heard them. So I’m going to respond to the entire comment.

First, it’s a shame that whoever this is hides behind the nom d’interactivity of “journalist” without the conviction to stand behind these words with a name. But that itself is all too emblematic of how old news operates: They have made themselves into institutions; they have forgotten how to have a conversation, person-to-person. Perhaps their bosses make them afraid of speaking out loud and speaking their names. Perhaps they are afraid themselves. In either case, my first message to them is: Don’t fear the people you are sworn to serve. If you want to argue with me, do it eye-to-eye. If you want to serve the public, meet the public.

Though I don’t know, it appears that I may be speaking here with a journalist on a big-city paper. Now onto his or her comment:

1. Moving papers online, as you encourage, leaves behind an enormous number of citizens who are not online in a society that doesn’t support universal computer literacy or universal public access to the Internet.

Well, a daily newspaper is also an expensive thing that not everyone can afford… except, of course, for the free papers that are now cutting into big newspapers’ expensive paid circulation, just the way the internet is.

The New York Times costs $9 a week on the newsstand (and I dare you to find their regular home delivery rate — not their introductory, temporary, discount, special — anywhere on their site.) Netzero, on the other hand, costs $9.95 a month. So for less than a dollar a month more — call now! operators on duty! — you get not just the news from one source but the entire world of information, interactivity, consumerism that is the internet! Call in the next 15 minutes and we’ll throw in naked ladies and free porn!

My library has the internet for free. Soon Philadelphia — whose Knight Ridder papers are among those doomed to resale and uncertain futures — will have inexpensive universal broadband.

So I don’t buy your argument anymore; neither does this fellow commenter. Your argument says we should hold back progress to wait until the last person is on the rocketship: ‘If we can’t all afford to go to the moon, then no one should go.’ That attitude will get you precisely nowhere.

And I’m not moving papers online. The public is online. the question is whether newspapers want to be there with him.

Journalism is not a luxury.

But neither is it a God-given or government-granted entitlement. Journalism needs to be supported by audience and interest and advertising or, in an alternative model, by contributions. I never want to see journalism supported by government, for then government may withdraw that support. And I believe that the market pressure on newspapers is good and healthy; it is the marketplace, the public, the readers telling a newspaper what it should do. If a newspaper fails to serve that market, it should not survive and a better replacement will follow.

Look at Britain, where there is an incredibly robust competitive marketplace of newspapers, each one better than the next. That is what newspapering should be, not the one-size-fits-all monopoly of the dull, big-city local. That is what news can become again when there is more than one press, albeit virtual.

An uninformed society quickly becomes feudal.

You infer that you are all that stands between us and the black plague. What hubris. There are many ways to inform society. Society informs itself if given a chance, if we enable that to happen.

Instead of arguing that the world must stay as it was, instead of being satisfied informing the world the old way, your way, why not imagine the new, better, and bigger ways there are to inform society today? Why not imagine the ways that you can use the internet to connect more people to more information than ever before? Why not? Because, I suspect, you fear it cuts you out of the role of the gatekeeper. But gatekeepers are fixtures of feudal societies. The internet tears down the castle walls. You can’t win with this feudal metaphor trick, not when you’ve been a member of the closed and privileged priesthood for too long.

If you want to make a killing, sell pet rocks. The business of informing society should not be merely a cash cow for the greedy.

So we’re back to that: Evil profit. But you live in a capitalistic world. Even China is capitalistic now. It’s OK, it’s necessary for newspapers to make money. Profit fuels engines and pays reporters. It’s a good thing. Profit is what made your newspaper as big as it is. Well, was.

Corporate demands 30 percent profits from its news operations. When they were private, they thought 25 percent was lavish, and sacrificed down to 23 percent when they needed to make magnanimous investments in their journalism.

Now, we can argue relative profit margins until the cash cows come home. But that is not the point. It’s about growth, my friend. Newspapers don’t have it. That’s why McClatchy is putting a dozen big, old Knight Ridder papers out to pasture. They and their markets are not growing.

Top salaries and bonuses gouge investors more than living wages for journalists.

So you think this is all about saving the newsroom and its jobs. I’ll say again that I’d have more respect for your screed if it started with the conviction that we can and must do a better job of informing society using all these new tools at our disposal. You complain about execs and investors thinking only of their money but you also think first of yours. That’s what this is about, isn’t it: not informing the public but saving jobs.

2. Top union wage at the Philadelphia Inquirer, for experienced reporters and copy editors, is $67,983.24; makeup editors get $50 more a week. Those complaining so bitterly about this make much more, of course. (Source: Guild contract online)

And you have new competition today, citizens and entrepreneurs and upstarts who can publish to the world for the sheer reward of it, for the passion, for the love. Sorry, but that makes you expensive… unless you find ways to maintain and grow your value. A newsroom job is not an entitlement. It’s a job. You can view the others who would cover the meetings you can’t afford to cover as competition. Or you can enable them to do it better and prove your value that way. Your choice.

The person whose job it is to get the paper in on deadline is a nonunion management editor. The drivers are probably Teamsters; do they get overtime because these managers are not able to let go of stories to meet deadlines? Well-run papers have managed to eliminate all overtime.

This is a beaut: Deadlines are a conspiracy of greedy capitalism, eh? In my day, youngun, deadlines were a matter of professionalism.

3. Jeff, your internet evangelism would make more sense if accompanied by efforts to get everyone online. I would expect someone with your history to care more about the digital divide and less about stoking corporate windfalls because paper and presses are no longer such a chunk of the expenses.

Of course, I’d be delighted to get everyone online. It’s good for business. But I’d say that’s not really my job. I own no pipes, and so I can’t plug them in. I am not a politician, and so I can’t throw off the regulatory shackles that would open competition and development. But I do agree that we should make it a national priority to meet and exceed South Korea and Japan and Sweden and even France in broadband service. We’re behind and that is a national tragedy. So please forward me the columns and editorials and investigations you’ve done on this issue. Send me pictures of you wiring your local school. I’ll be eager to see them. If your Guild is having a demonstration in favor of free wi-fi in Philadelphia, let me know and I’ll blog it and make myself a Cafe Press T-shirt to sell the cause.

4. Have you looked at what happens when there’s no budget for newsgathering any more?

Yes, and I’ve also looked at what happens when editors and publishers waste editorial budgets on commodity news, fluff, and egos. Do we need to send 15,000 journalists to the political conventions where nothing happens, which we can all watch on C-SPAN? No. Why do we do it? Ego: to have our people there, our bylines. That is a sinful waste of editorial budgets. Ditto golf columnists going to golf tournaments. Ditto movie critics. Ditto stock tables. I made a few humble suggestions for prioritizing a newspaper budget here. I argue that local newspapers should, indeed, concentrate on what makes them valuable, on what they can do specially: local reporting and investigations. But that takes the strategic courage to get rid of a golf columnist and use the wires and damn the egos and cancel that convention boondoggle so you can have a local reporter truly provide value to your community.

Where big papers are reducing staff and closing bureaus, small dailies in those areas are expanding to fill the void.

Well, listen to that: People want local news. Big, old city papers aren’t great at doing that. They can cede that territory — their terrority, damnit — to these small dailies. Or they can find new ways to work with citizens to gather and share more local news using the tools of the web.

Little more than shoppers, they’ll [the small dailies will] write nice stories about anybody who buys an ad.

I dare you to go into the newsroom of the small daily by you and shout that out loud. You not only believe that you, the big-time journalist, stand between us and the black plague, you not only ignore citizen journalists, you dismiss local-paper journalists as corrupt shills. Guess you won’t be going there looking for jobs when you lose yours. But because you’re anonymous, at least they won’t know who you are.

Meanwhile the big news site still has to struggle to perform the watchdog function with local advertising gone to the Podunk County Daily Times. And the big-paper executives retire to sunny beaches on the multimillion-dollar bonuses they accrued while making one clueless mistake after another, leaving the areas they’ve served so poorly without a reliable source of news and information.

And you and your newsroom take no responsibility whatsoever for failing to see how to keep readers, for the circulation that has fallen as your public has rejected you?

Helluva revolution, Brownie!

I don’t get the punchline, “journalist.” Is everything, even the fall of the big-city paper, now Bush’s fault?

: OK, fellow journalist, let’s both turn down the snarkometers and get down to business. Our goal should not be to save the newspaper or newsroom or jobs in it as they were. Our goal should be to take advantage of all these new tools to gather and share news in new ways because if we don’t do it, someone else will. Rather than ignoring change, figure out how to take advantage of it and get ahead of it. Lead, damnit, lead.

And learn about and deal with the business realities of media today — just as the music, TV, movie, book, video, retail, travel, and telephone industries have had to — to find the ways to support the journalism we both care about. You’ll get your wish: Margins will fall. But if you don’t come up with a sensible business strategy first, so will you. So force your bosses to make the tough strategic decisions, to innovate, and invest, to experiment, to lead, damnit, lead.

: LATER: As I was posting this, Journalist had another comment on the post below that, as I see it, laments technology. Go read it; I won’t quote that one in full. I’ll say that I think she/he continues the rocket analogy: Until everyone has radio, we shouldn’t rely on radio to give people the news. Instead, radio became — before TV — a great way to get people the news. Cue Murrow worship. It does no good to lament that technology has changed and that people are using it and are leaving the old. What you need to do is figure out what to do about that. Do I believe that internet access will become as ubiquitous as cable? Absolutely. I also believe that waiting until something becomes ubiquitous is the definition of being too late.

See sausage being made

The first post at the editors’ blog at the brand new Guardian opinionfest, Comment is Free, is a report on the daily morning editorial conference at the paper, with a promise to give us minutes of the midday meeting next. Don’t expect minutes of news meetings to be scintillating reading — attending them is no thrill ride, either. Doesn’t matter. It’s there for those who want it. CBS put up video of at least one of its story meetings at Public Eye. It appears as if this is going to become a habit at the Guardian. This shows the right attitude: opening the door and leaving it open.

Newspaper stock and the paper it’s printed on

There’s more bad news in store for newspaper-company stockholders following the Knight Ridder sale. McClatchy is bound to find that the multiple it gets for the 12 big-city and no-growth-market papers it plans to sell will be lower than the less-than-steller multiple it paid for KR itself…. if it even manages to sell all of them.

This will raise the effective price McClatchy paid for the papers left, but it lowers the multiple the multiple analysts and stockholders will ascribe to newspapers. McClatchy is all the more committed to a shrinking industry and this will continue to hit its share price. The cutbacks the surviving, adopted KR papers avoided for the moment will come eventually. And the orphans are sure to be doing their imitations of Oliver at dinnertime soon. Bad news and more bad news.

And I’ll argue that the same effect is waiting to haunt other big, one-size-fits-all media companies as they are saddled with big costs while smaller, nimbler, more effective, targeted, and efficient competitors eat at them. Newspapers are the cash cow in the coal mine.

Janet Whitman explains it in the NY Post:

The dearth of bidders for Knight Ridder, which put itself on the block in November amid pressure from large investors unhappy with its weak stock price, reflects the uncertain prospects for the newspaper industry. Newer rivals such as the Internet are snagging readers and advertising dollars.

That could make it tough for McClatchy to fetch attractive multiples for the papers it hopes to sell. McClatchy acquired Knight Ridder for a multiple of less than 10 times expected cash flow, well below historic multiples 12 to 13 times for newspaper deals.

“We think the multiple paid is unlikely to produce much cheer for newspaper investors,” said Lauren Rich Fine, who follows the publishing industry for Merrill Lynch. She added that it “will likely cap multiples in the group for some time unless fundamentals improve.”

What’s the solution? There are no white knights left. What the industry needs now is tough, strategic management that drives the news business away from its dependence on paper to a very different future in any media. You have to shrink to grow.

: I just came across a media stock blog — appropriately shrouded in black — where the analysts are at war over this deal. The oft-quoted John Morton says it’s bad news; another says the big papers will get a higher multiple (can I have what he’s smoking?).

Guardian Column: Newspapers and search

My latest Media Guardian column — this one about the foolish publishers trying to shut themselves off from Google … and thus the public — is up here (and here). A snippet:

The World Association of Newspapers is portraying Google as an enemy of news. I wouldn’t say that. I’d call Google something between a necessary evil and a friend – and if news organisations are smart, they will learn how to befriend the beast. …

At this month‘s Online Publishers Association conference in London, WAN managing director Ali Rahnema asked: “Could this content exist if someone else wasn’t paying to create it?” Well, in the quaint Americanism of my hillbilly roots, I’d say Rahnema got this bassackwards. Instead, we soon will be asking, “Could this content exist if someone else wasn’t linking to it?”

Too big

Big city newspapers are in trouble. Witness:

: McClatchy, buying Knight Ridder — for a price that will not make other newspaper companies jump for joy — announced that it is turning around and selling 12 of them, precisely the ones that used to be crown jewels but now are zirconia:

The McClatchy Co., which today said it will buy Knight Ridder Inc., plans to sell 12 of Knight Ridder’s 32 newspapers, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Daily News and the San Jose Mercury News, saying that those papers don’t fit the company’s longstanding criteria of buying newspapers in growing markets.

Ouch. This says that smaller papers are worth more. I don’t think that will continue to be the case forever; the problems will trickle down. But the problem with big papers is that they’re too big: They try to be all things to all people; they have very high costs; there is no growth in the market and no growth in the business. Not pretty.

: See now the State of the News Media report on big papers:

The species of newspaper that may be most threatened is the big-city metro paper that came to dominate in the latter part of the 20th century. The top three national newspapers in the U.S. suffered no circulation losses in 2005. The losses at smaller newspapers, in turn, appeared to be modest. It was the big-city metros that suffered the biggest circulation drops and imposed the largest cutbacks in staff. Those big papers are trying to cover far-flung suburbs and national and regional news all at the same time — trying to be one-stop news outlets for large audiences. In part, they are being supplanted by niche publications serving smaller communities and targeted audiences. Yet our content studies suggest the big metros are the news organizations most likely to have the resources and aspirations to act as watchdogs over state, regional and urban institutions, to identify trends, and to define the larger community public square. It is unlikely that small suburban dailies or weeklies will take up that challenge. Moreover, while we see growth in alternative weeklies and the ethnic press, many small suburban dailies have shrunk.

: The bottom line is that the bottom line is looking worse and worse. Big newspapers have to get smaller. The first step in that is cutbacks. Reality.

Last week, the Washington Post announced that they’re cutting 80 newsroom jobs. Some lament this as a kick into the kidneys of journalism. I say it depends on what they cut. There is undoubtedly fat in newspaper organizations.

And there is also fat in the product — stuff that is there only to try to be all things to all people, which just isn’t economical anymore. So the LA Times joins its sister Tribune Company papers as well as papers in Atlanta and Denver cutting back on stock tables and Nikke Finke says (and I have no inside info on this) that the NY Times will do likewise on April 1.

About friggin’ time. The Star Ledger did this in June 2001 and, I’m told, suffered a net loss of circulation of about 25. Yes, 25. Think of all the millions these papers could have saved in the meantime if they’d had the balls to make a decisive decision. But they’re too big. They lumber.

How much more of a wakeup call do they need?

: See also Michael Zielenziger’s piece in the UC-Berkeley alum mag about the diminishing role of newspapers in their communities.