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Newspaper ashes to ashes, dust to dustup

Alan Mutter and I duke it out (well, not really) in an LA Times Dustup over the state and fate of newspapers for the next three days. Alan and I agree about a lot – except the wisdom and reality of charging for paper content. So I’m not sure we’ll be be kicking up a whole lot of dust. Here’s the first installment. The question: Are newspapers dying, or is it just a class of newspapers that isn’t sustainable?

The start of my answer:

Frankly, dear readers, I don’t give a damn whether papers survive. I care whether journalism advances and whether communities can get the information they need, which includes reporting. That is why I teach the craft. That is also why I’ve argued for years that newspapers should have planned for the date when they would turn off their presses so they would reinvent themselves. They didn’t.

I now realize, in my mind’s eye, that I had hoped — and worked, unsuccessfully — for an orderly transition from the old to the new: a Jan. 20 for newspapers when the print president would hand over control to the digital president. I now see that there will be no such smooth shift because, understandably, it’s hard to disrupt and destroy yourself. There will be destruction, voids and vacuums. Good people — not just reporters and editors but pressmen and drivers and classified sales people — will lose their jobs. In too many towns, news will fall silent.

But news will rise from those ashes. I am confident in that because I believe there is a market demand for quality news and information, and where there is a market, someone will meet the demand. . . .

Guardian column: The LA Times’ day arrives

My Guardian column this week is a condensation of some of the discussion here about the LA Times’ online revenue equalling the paper’s total editorial payroll and what that could mean for the digital future of news:

So in the LA Times revelation, I see hope: the possibility that online revenue could support digital journalism for a city. The enterprise will be smaller, but it could well be more profitable than its print forebears today and – here’s the real news – it would grow from there. Imagine that: news as a growth industry again.

LA Times followup

Russ Stanton, editor of the LA Times, sent email following up on questions I had confirming the much-discussed report below that its web revenue is now sufficient to meet its entire editorial payroll. “Given where we were five years ago,” he email, “I don’t think anyone thought that would ever happen. But that day is here.”

Can I hear an amen?

Stanton does some bragging about the Times’ web life and given this milestone, let’s grant him the moment as Neilsen Net Ratings says it passed USA Today and the Washington Post in uniques with, according to internal numbers, 138 million page views in November, up more than 70% in a year, and 24 million uniques, up 125%.

Secret sauce?

There are two primary reasons for these sharp increases: We have added some outstanding web talent over the past two years, including editor Meredith Artley, blogging guru Tony Pierce and database specialist Ben Welsh, who is part of a new 10-person team of interactive and data experts supplementing our print report with terrific online material (more on that in a minute). And our printside reporting and editing staffs have embraced the future like never before.

Nice to see a shoutout for longtime blogging comrade Pierce and for blogging itself:

One of the most visible measures of our success is our blog network. When I became innovation editor in January 2007, only four of our 49 blogs were produced by our staff, and those blogs accounted for only 2% of our site’s total monthly traffic. Today, we have more than 40 blogs, all but six of which are produced by our staff, led by Top of the Ticket, our presidential campaign/politics effort started by Andrew Malcolm and Don Frederick. Technorati now ranks Ticket in the top 60 blogs on the internet. At last count, about half our newsgathering staff — more than 300 professionals — are contributing to our blogs. In several of our traditional print sections (California, Sports, Books, Health, Travel), the entire staff is participating in that section’s main blog. That, in turn, has been acknowledged and valued by our readers. Today, our blogs account for 16% of our total monthly page views.

The paper set up a AM copy desk to start putting content online at 7am (those folks used to waltz in after lunch); many papers have such continuous news desks. Like other papers, the Times is also training lensemen in video.

And here’s my favorite part: education.

With some help from our HR folks, we’ve set up a 40-class curriculum on how to expand the skills our staff needs in these key areas. The most popular classes so far are learning the software program for posting to the web, headline writing to improve SEO, how to shoot and edit video, and 360-degree storytelling, taught by Aaron Curtiss, our innovation editor.