Posts about newsbiz

Exploding newspapers: Not just here

Regional newspapers in the UK are suffering sharply declining circulation.

: Roy Greenslade finds the lessons in the numbers:

This is a truly shocking set of circulation results and confirms that the gentle downward sales trend has turned into a cliff-fall. Of course, there is one central mitigating factor. It is clear that readers are becoming viewers, choosing to read on screen rather than in print. . . .

I fully accept that we are in the midst of a communications revolution and print is suffering from its effects. Britain is hardly alone in that respect. In the United States and in Scandinavia, the same kinds of problems are occurring for paid-for newspapers. But I believe Britain is different in one important respect (and I realise that this is a controversial statement): its regional and local journalism is just not good enough to retain readers let alone win new ones.

Master class

It’d ironic, or possibly just odd, that one of the newest papers in Britain, The Independent, is the most stuck in the mud online. They put up pay walls and the editor, Simon Kelner, just decreed that he’d never put stories on the web first, like his competitor, The Guardian, and that he wants to raise the price of the declining print product.

In his Guardian blog, former Daily Mirror editor Roy Greenslade sits Kelner down for a talkin’-to, ink-stained wretch to ink-stained wretch:

News is widely available on the net the instant it happens. Within minutes, comment and analysis of that news is also available. As the minutes pass, the commentaries become yet more sophisticated. At the same time, the conversation between reporters and analysts is already going on. None of us, not even the most dedicated print-lover, not even an admitted flat-earther, can stop this process. It is happening. Newspapers stood aside for a while but many of them – most notably in Britain, The Guardian – have realised that they must take part. They must use their brand’s authority and credibility to build an audience for their websites. If they do not, then they cannot guarantee a future of any kind for any format. It’s not necessarily a case of wanting to say “net first”, it’s a case of having to say it. . . .

Simon, look at your own circulation. Does it not tell you a story? And look also at the very limited use of your paper’s website, due to two obvious factors – a giant pay wall and a continuing belief in maintaining a print-first policy for news. I love print. I love newspapers. But I’m also a realist. It is my firm belief that the way to save newspapers, to ensure that a title lasts into the future, is to embrace the net. That’s a paradox. It is also good sense.

Mapping the future while underway

Dow Jones just set up a task force to figure out their future, with a senior executive, Paul Ingrassia, president of the newswires, and heavyweights from the various content companies, including my online pal, Bill Grueskin, managing editor of Task forces can be hell. When I was there, Time Inc. was ruled by task forces, which were the lowest common denominator of finding reasons why not to do something. But this one sounds different. Every media and news company should have a group assigned to reinvent the company… or else.

I’d like to be a fly on the wall at their offsites. Dow Jones has unique challenges in the financial data business (where the information is a commodity with a shelf-life of seconds); it has unique strengths (no one else has — or, I believe, will — successfully build an online subscription business); it has unique opportunities (imagine what a distributed army of stockwatchers and companywatchers could create).

But it won’t be easy. In today’s report on its rival’s planning, The New York Times had this good bit:

As an example, Mr. Ingrassia pointed to how Dow Jones News- wires now uses breaking-news articles about earnings releases or dividend announcements written by reporters at MarketWatch, an online property. That has freed up wire reporters to write personal-finance articles, like how to use an exchange-traded fund as part of an investment strategy, which Mr. Ingrassia said helped distinguish the company’s offerings.

And this bad bit:

The largest union at Dow Jones last evening expressed concern about the formation of the news strategy project, unsure if this was just another effort to save money, like the smaller format of The Journal that will have its debut next year.

Steve Yount, president of the Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees, Local 1096 of Communications Workers of America and the Newspaper Guild, said in an interview that the union would like a seat on the committee to ensure against this. In a statement, he warned “management must take pains not to mistake attrition for efficiency, or sacrifice quality in the pursuit of cost savings.”

“Too often,” he added, “efforts to improve the quality or scope of Dow Jones publications — including the recent start of The Journal’s weekend edition and, before that, Personal Journal — have instead left new ventures with fewer staff and resources than they need or were promised, and came with short-sighted cost cuts elsewhere in the enterprise.”

Often, announcements to better coordinate journalism across various media come with staff reductions.

Earlier this week, for example, The Financial Times said the integration of its print and online operations could lead to the layoff of 50 people.

But Mr. Ingrassia said cost reductions were not the impetus for the news strategy project.

“This is not French for cutbacks,” he said.

No, but maybe it should be German for out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new.

What do you expect in a crumbling industry? See this lede in another Times story today:

The rising cost of newsprint, flat or falling circulation and sluggish advertising growth added up to discouraging second-quarter earnings results for several newspaper industry companies.

While executives blamed a weak operating environment for low earnings, they also vowed to cut costs and focus on Internet activities in the coming months.

If the journalists truly want to be involved in the reinvention, perhaps their starting point should not be trying to preserve the past but instead ideas for the future or else their union’s best hope is to wait for buyouts a la GM and Delphi… if they’re lucky. These strategic task forces can’t afford to be about resisting change. They have to be about making change happen, and quickly.

Forever thus

Mark Thompson, head of the BBC, has warned his staff: “We are going through a big process of change that will continue probably forever.” Kind of sad, really, that change forever wasn’t what news organizations should have assumed long since.

Amateurs get paid

When people ask me for the most forward-thinking news organization in the U.S. that has actually accomplished things in this new world, I point to WKRN TV in Nashville, run by Mike Sechrist, and Terry Heaton’s work with them. They’ve listened to their community via bloggers (in meetups) and shared knowledge with them (teaching them how to shoot video) and promoted them (in the station’s blog) and supported them (with an ad network).

This week, they announced an important next step: valuing the work of these amateurs. Terry reports:

…WKRN-TV announced tonight that it would begin paying local bloggers for approved video stories they submit and running those stories on its Website and in its newscasts. WKRN president and general manager Mike Sechrist told a “meet-up” of local bloggers that he could envision the day when a daily program would be made up entirely of material submitted by the community. . . .

Sechrist told the group of bloggers that they had already had a significant influence on the news programs the station produces, simply by doing what they do. The station has pursued stories first raised in the blogging community and has used local bloggers as a sounding board at various times. . . .

I’m sure that we’ll hear plenty of bitching about this from the trenches of the TV news business, but the truth is this was inevitable. Stations have always employed “stringers” or “freelancers,” but most of their work was raw video that station reporters used to tell stories. This takes the concept a step further and taps into the knowledge, passion, brainpower and, yes, skill of people in the community. This a fruit of the personal media revolution, and it will be interesting to watch. . . .