CJR: Investing in steam, coal, and paper

Columbia J-school Dean Nick Lemann cut the staff of the CJRDaily.org to invest more in selling subscriptions to the stale print magazine. How’s that for two steps backward with none forward? I’d have killed the magazine; converted to online with no cost for printing, distribution, and subscription sales; taken advertising online; invited free content from the public; invited contributions; and rolled the dice on the future, not the past. CJR online’s ME, Steve Lovelady, and AME, Bryan Keefer, both quit rather than oversee the shrinkage of the online property, and Lovelady said:

It’s a fundamental policy dispute about the allocation of resources. Nick has decided to spend the money on a direct-mail campaign for the magazine, in hopes of raising subscription revenue. To me, that sounds like something out of the 19th century. He’s taking the one, fresh, smart thing he has and gutting it.

By the way, I remain eager for Lemann to join in the conversation his New Yorker piece sparked. I’ve received emails promising to respond soon. When I hear, I’ll pass it on.

  • Hi Jeff:

    After I read about Lemann’s cuts I remembered a piece in Phil Meyer’s book The Vanishing Newspaper. He tells how smart the Poynter Institute was to pick up Romenesko online. He writes thanks to the audience built by Romenesko:

    “By 2002, PoynterOnline was the trade publication most read by journalists, beating both the slick-paper publications, American Journalism Review and Columbia Journalism Review. ”

    There’s more at the PJNet.org. But the thrust is: Nick Lemann get smart , double the online budget, and maybe catch up to the forward thinking folks at Poynter.

  • Jeff,

    It was a business decision. FYI: business doesn’t “roll the dice.”

    Have you seen his balance sheet or financial projections? No. But that never stopped the demagogue from using a news items to further his agenda.

    So what kind of money do you make here Jeff? If you’re going to hold yourself out as a standard, tell us. How many people do you have on staff there?

    – Amanda

  • The direct mail campaign is a disatrous idea but so is yours. You’d have killed the magazine? Well that would just be a repetition of the New Coke fiasco – a case of spiting the majority of existing users on an ideological belief.

  • penny

    Amanda, it’s rather difficult to take a person seriously when this is part of their bio on their site:

    Bottom line professionally speaking, I am 5’ 4” tall, athletic, Pantene shoulder-length black hair, perfect perky boobs. I present well and am most accomodating. I’ve slept with clients. I sleep with my boss. I am the consummate PR strumpette. When I was 7 my mother told me I’d “never get anywhere with that mouth.” I’ve apparently dedicated my life in proving her wrong.

    What’s Jeff’s income and employee number got to do with his critique of Nick Lemann’s decision?

  • carsonfire

    Sounds like a struck nerve.

  • Penny,

    I am not on the stand here. I did not take a stand against Lemann’s decision. As such my fun with my credentials are non sequitur.

    The point you apparently miss is to compare apples to apples, business to business. The point you miss is Jeff is comparing vocation to avocation… for the purposes of promoting his own agenda I might add.

    – Amanda

  • Oh no, someone’s promoting their own agenda on their own blog! Horrors!

    By the way, speaking of self-promotion, you really ought to delete that auto insurance spam, Jeff.

  • Dale Peskin

    Nick Lehman chases ghosts.

    CJR (the magazine) is a shadow of ghosts. Lehman never noticed that the conversation about journalism and news media moved from the shadows to the light of the web. So he spreads his cluelessness in The New Yorker then turns down the light at CJR’s website.

    Not exactly an inspired vision for the dean of a prestigous journalism school.

    Dale Peskin

  • This Amanda may have perky boobs but I have a bluebird over each tit, and they have been there for morethan fifty years and Isuppose they are not perky, nor are my tits, but the bluebirds and the breats have stood the test of time, though the bluebirds are fading in the stretch they still can be differentiated from prison tats. al macleese, hopeless in hallowell.

  • Methinks I’d prefer Amanda’s perkies over Alan’s blues. But that’s just me.

  • Jonathan, to each his own and, of course, there’s no accounting for taste. To be honest? Can’t say as I blame you. hallowellal

  • Speaking of the NYT and types like Mr. Lemann, I mind the time I was working for the Daily News in N.Y. and they, the copy editors, would tell the story of the guy that got hired by the NYT and was told that he should check out with the city editor after his shfit ending, if they have such things as shifts at the Times, before he went home to Westchester, of course, and he did that faithfully for a week or so and one afternoon no city editor was present to check out with,so he just got on the effing train to Westchester or Scarsdale or wherever, and when he got home he had a message saying he should report back posthaste to the Times, and he did, and the city editor just told him that now that he was back he could check out like he’d been told to do, and they hoped he wouldn’t pull that kind of shit again. This, Mr. Jarvis, is the problem with the MSM, and all the rest is just footnotes. almacleese, retiredanonymousnewspapercopydeskwretch. THis is what youare trying to coorect, Mr. Jarvis, and say hell to Amanda, that perky person.

  • EverKarl

    That might be the first intelligent thing I’ve ever seen Lovelady write, but by then it was too late, wasn’t it?

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  • selfrighteouspontificator

    My take:

    1) CJR Daily just isn’t very good. Eight full-time salaries — and what do they come up with? Mostly snarky tidbits with a pronounced leftish tilt. The content is indistinguisable from stuff available elsewhere from unpaid volunteers. CJR daily gets the occasional link from Romonesko…but that’s about it. The site is just not part of the conversation.

    2) I have read CJR for more than 30 years. I have also been a TV news director and helped run web operations for a large publisher. So you don’t have to sell me on the Web. I agree the print edition of CJR is fading. For one thing, six issues a year isn’t enough. (Reminds me of the old joke about the the Catskills resort: “The food here is terrible. And, besides, there’s not enough of it!”)

    3) My plan? Expand the print edition to 8 issues a year. Re-allocate resources to create a website that has mostly “in between” articles of around 1,000 words: longer than bloggish blurbs, shorter than magazine pieces.

    4) Hey, my plan sounds more or less like what Lemann is doing. In that context, spending money on a direct mail campaign is not ridiculous. Remember: he’s also merging the websites and setting a new direction.
    Along the way, he lost a couple of staff members. Spinning the story as “clueless boss doesn’t get Web” is unfair.

  • For what reason should they kill the print version? Is it losing massive amounts of money? Does it have a following…customers who have a ‘voice’?

  • kim

    I once told a thread baron defending the CJR’s hopelessly fraudulent article about the Rather TAG forgeries that sitting on the floor of the local Borders I had the sheets of that journal turn into cockroach wings because I’d been reading about typography on the web. He replied that he’d read it with pals in an Upper West Side watering hole. And there it is.

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  • This is exactly what I expected to find out after reading the title CJR: Investing in steam, coal, and paper. Thanks for informative article