Posts about newspapers

Editor as star

Kai Diekmann, the head of Bild, the gigantic German newspaper, is a journalistic celebrity of a sort we don’t have here: utterly charming, lustily egotistical, brashly opinionated, infuriating to those he infuriates (a friend of mine calls him Germany’s Roger Ailes), beloved to his fans, witty, quick, clever, innovative, and never afraid of the spotlight.

Now he has a blog. And a store. I’d heard about his blog for sometime but it wasn’t seen outside the walls of his office. Now it has gone public. He says he’ll do it for 100 days. I predict he’ll be addicted.

There’s a 360-degree tour of his office, starring him. Click on his possessions and learn more – about, for example, a piece of the Berlin Wall signed by Helmut Kohl, Mikhail Gorbachev, and George Bush (41). He has a bio and lots of photos. Diekmann interviews himself (Why are you writing a blog, he asks. “I’m just incurably vain,” he answers). He posts video he shoots himself – “ich bin Videoblogger-in-Chief für Bild.de” – including one in Baghdad and another of him getting a shot. He brags about the commercials for Bild made by Bild’s readers, who understand its brand well. He links gleefully to an interview with a competitive publisher and scion of a German publishing family (founders of Der Spiegel) who says the esteemed Süddeutsche Zeitung won’t be around on paper in 20 years – but Bild will. He tweaks the liberal competition, the taz. On his “fan club” page, he shows his critics (and I thought I was brave exposing underendowment). In his store, he sells books (starting with his own) and hoodies, buttons, totebags, and mugs with his own mug (as Che Diekmann) and Bild branding as “the red-hot chili paper.”

kai2

The guy has balls. And he’s getting attention, which surely is the goal.

I can’t imagine Bill Keller or Marcus Brauchlidoing this, can you? Not even Alan Rusbridger or Will Lewis. Not even the editor of the New York Post (who’s he?). Piers Morgan is the closest thing I can imagine to Kai in the anglophone world, but he had to leave editing to become a star. In Germany, Kai is a brand. In the staid world of anglophone journalism, that’ll probably be sniffed at. But on the social web, I see little choice but to be open and human and even – gasp – have a sense of humor.

I have some personal history here to disclose. See my own story about introducing Diekmann to the Flip video camera here. I later went to speak to editors and executives of Bild’s parent company, Axel Springer, at their retreat in Italy. There, Diekmann was constantly recording every event with his own version of the Flip camera, to his colleagues’ grudging acquiescence. Does he do this all the time? I asked. Yes, they moaned. Sorry, I said. At that meeting, I pushed them all to blog and I’m not suggesting that has anything to do with Diekmann’s effort. But I’m glad to see lots of blogs emerging from Axel Springer. On a very different level, see the blog by the editor of Die Welt. The form knows no limits.

Diekmann took the Flip and surprised me by not just equipping his journalists – other editors’ reflex – but instead equipping his readers. He took interactivity and didn’t just allow readers to comment on what his paper does – as other editors do – but instead had them define his brand. He now has taken the blog and surprised me again, making a comment on the form and his paper and his industry and himself. And it’s fun to watch.

: Later: I left a comment on Diekmann’s blog and in no time, I got email from him. He’s reading what his public is writing.

Giving up on the news business

Before reaching their dangerous conclusionrecommending government supported journalism in a report called the Reconstruction of American Journalism – former Washington Post editor Leonard Downie and Columbia journalism prof Michael Schudson make some basic and, I believe, profoundly mistaken assumptions, namely: “That journalism is now at risk, along with the advertising-supported economic foundations of newspapers.”

Just because newspapers put themselves at risk, it does not follow that journalism is at risk. Newspapers no longer own journalism. As too often happens in this discussion, they focus only on the revenue side of the business ledger of news – advertising falling from monopolistic heights – and not on the cost side and the efficiency new technology – and thus collaboration – that technology allows.

As Downie and Schudson themselves point out in their Washington Post op-ed, there is now a flourishing of new outlets and means of gathering and sharing news.

Journalists leaving newspapers have started online local news sites in many cities and towns. Others have started nonprofit local investigative reporting projects and community news services at nearby universities, as well as national and statewide nonprofit investigative reporting organizations. Still others are working with local residents to produce neighborhood news blogs. Newspapers themselves are collaborating with other news media, including some of the startups and bloggers, to supplement their smaller reporting staffs. The ranks of news gatherers now include not only newsroom staffers but also freelancers, university faculty and students, bloggers and citizens armed with smart phones….

That is a basis for a new ecosystem of journalism, one we begin to outline in our Knight Foundation-funded New Business Models for News Project. We believe there is a sustainable and profitable future for news and they only way to confirm that is to try to build it but that will not happen if we declare surrender and defeat in the hope that the market can support the news a community needs.

Downie and Schudson give up on news as a business and, in their consequent desperation, make this drastic proposal:

American society must now take some collective responsibility for supporting news reporting — as society has, at much greater expense, for public education, health care, scientific advancement and cultural preservation, through varying combinations of philanthropy, subsidy and government policy.

Collective responsibility. Socialized journalism. This is the ultimate in broccoli journalism: You are not only forced to read what journalists say is good for you but you are now forced to pay for it through taxation.

They make other suggestions with which I have no complaint: Journalism students should report not just for their professors but for the ecosystem and we see that beginning. If philanthropists want to do more to support news, I’m not going to burn their checks – but they are no white knights riding in to save the day. Public broadcasting can do more local reporting and we see movement in that direction from especially NPR and also public TV – though I would be loath to think that we should have government mandate of that. And we want more transparency; I belong to that religion.

All this comes from that dire assumption that journalism is dying with newspapers. That is not and certainly need not be the case. I disagree with Downie and Schudson’s key assumption: There is no crisis. When you start there, you don’t just reconstruct the past of journalism but see the possibilities to build a new journalism.

: Even The New York Times’ David Carr is somewhat incredulous.

: Mulling over the full report on my train ride in this morning, I realized that my problem with it is this: Downie and Schudson are addressing the business problem of news without doing reporting on the business.

The report is a cogent, comprehensive, well-documented summary of broadly held conventional thinking on the history and current state of journalism in America, but it is all stated from the journalistic perspective – no surprise coming from two distinguished journalists.

If this were handed in to me as a term paper in my class, I’d give it back for more reporting and rethinking. I’d tell the students that they made huge assumptions about the business state of journalism – both on the revenue and cost sides of the P&L – without giving me reporting on that. I’d advise them to look at the true cost of the accountability journalism they cherish, at the inefficiency of the business today as it produces commodity news, at whether there is sufficient advertising revenue to cover the journalism that matters once news organizations rid themselves of their inefficiency, at verifying the public demand for the kind of journalism they think the public needs, and at the issues journalism has had with trust and quality. Then, if they still came to the same conclusions – which I doubt – I’d urge them to get more balanced reporting on the risks behind each of their recommendations, particularly involving government subsidies, direct funding, and mandates on journalism. I think they did half the story, the half we’ve already heard (and which they quite ably summarize again). They should have given us the business story since that is what they really wanted to address. I wish they had.

: Alan Mutter’s good commentary.

News’ Forbidden City

I found this Associated Press story this morning because of a tweet and then I retweeted adding value along the way, a one-word reason to read it: “Fools.” Many retweets ensued leading to many more readers.

Welcome to the future of content distribution, the new newsstand, if you ask me. Welcome to a den of thieves, if you ask the subjects of the story, Associated Press CEO Tom Curley and News Corp. oligarch Rupert Murdoch.

They stood near Tiananmen Square – as Alan Mairson retweeted, “Nice touch: They made announcement in Great Hall of the People, shrine to Central Control” – arguing once again that people who aggregate, curate, link to, talk about their stories are stealing their value.

“Crowd-sourcing Web services such as Wikipedia, YouTube and Facebook have become preferred customer destinations for breaking news, displacing Web sites of traditional news publishers,” Curley said. “We content creators must quickly and decisively act to take back control of our content.”

He said content aggregators, such as search engines and bloggers, were also directing audiences and revenue away from content creators. . . .

Murdoch also told the opening session of the World Media Summit in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People that content providers would be demanding to be paid.

“The aggregators and plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content. But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid content, it will be the content creators — the people in this hall — who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs who triumph,” the News Corp. chief executive said.

I rolled my eyes and hardly for the first time at their dangerous ignorance of the new realities of the next economy – at this suicidal attempt to protect outmoded models and fight the future – and tweeted my comment and thought that was it. But then I got a call from the AP reporter in Beijing who wrote this story, Alexa Olesen, and pulled off the road on my way to work to talk with her. I said exactly what you’d expect me to say, arguing against their arguments.

I presented an alternative future that is being built today, the future we see in the New Business Models for News Project with new efficiencies, specialization, targeting, value that comes with the collaboration that the internet and its links enable, with an ecosystem of many smaller but once-again profitable entities providing news we have reason to hope will be better. I got angry at the irresponsible stewardship over journalism that has been exercised by the Politburo of the Press meeting in Beijing, the people who did but no longer control the press and squandered the last 15 years. I said I was angry because they are the ones killing newspapers, not the internet.

Olesen asked whether I agreed with other talk in Beijing that it’s important for news to be on many platforms. Yes, I said, but that drive is about a decade late. Then I said I was being unfair; there is good work going on and I pointed to three or four things The New York Times is doing by example. But I then said the media world is moving to a next step, after sites and pages to streams.

And then I used this story as an example. I discovered the story through a tweet. I spread the story through a tweet. Others spread the story through their tweets. I’m spreading it again here. We are not kleptomaniacs. We are the new (free) distribution. We are providing value to news. I explained that Google News causes a billion clicks a month and Twitter causes more (Bit.ly alone causes a billion). But the comrades in Beijing can’t see that because they are ignorant of the imperatives of the link economy.

Among the many ironies in this tale is that Curley presages his own defeat. If he and Murdoch and the Central Committee put up walls and guards or unbelievably delays the news (as the AP is considering), we will go to the sites he cites – Wikipedia et al – and create better news with or without them. The way they are talking in Beijing, I fear it will be without them sooner than later.

: Later: Olesen also said that she wasn’t hearing what I was saying in Beijing. And they call us in blogs an echo chamber, I replied.

Except one might have heard these things some years ago … from Messrs. Curley and Murdoch themselves. Kevin Anderson does a wonderful job making them eat their earlier words, a dish of Peking crow.

: The Brisbane Times Sydney Morning Herald says the summit in Beijing really is run by a media politburo.

The summit has a secretariat based at Xinhua’s Beijing headquarters and is chaired by Xinhua’s president, Li Congjun, previously vice-minister for propaganda. Co-chairmen include Mr Murdoch, Mr Curley and leaders from the BBC, the Japanese news service Kyodo, Russia’s official news agency, ITAR-TASS, and Google.

Big issues are decided through ”collective consultation” with the world media organisations that comprise the secretariat.

”This is beginning to look familiar, don’t you think?” wrote David Bandurski, from the University of Hong Kong’s China media project. ”A self-appointed group of elites making decisions through consultation among themselves … The World Media Summit has a politburo.”

The irony is just too obvious. At the summit, Chinese leaders tell media leaders to create just ”’true, correct, comprehensive and objective’ news coverage.” As we say online: Heh.

On All Things Considered

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik came to CUNY to report on the effort to find new business models for news, including our Knight Foundation funded presentation at the Aspen Institute. It turned into a bit of a profile of yours truly.

Journalism as capitalism: Now that’s God’s work

The only way that journalism is going to be sustainable is if it is profitable – and out of that market relationship comes many other benefits: accountability to the public it serves; independence from funders’ agendas; growth; innovation. This is the future for journalism we envisioned in the New Business Models for News Project.

Not-for-profit, publicly and charitably supported journalism has its place in the new ecosystem of news; that’s why we included it in our models at CUNY. I think it should fill in blanks the market doesn’t fill.

But I agree with Jack Shafer at least in part that there are dangers to relying too much on not-for-profit news. He does an admirable job listing those dangers, chief among them influence by funders and their motives. Texas Tribune funder and founder John Thornton responds here. I’ll stand halfway between them: We can use and perhaps need funded journalism but we also need to be aware of the risks and must expect transparency about them.

I see another danger, though: that not-for-profit ventures will delay or even choke off for-profit, sustainable entrepreneurship in news. I would prefer to see various of the many funders who gave funds to not-for-profit endeavors – note $5 million give to a new not-for-profit entity in the Bay area – instead had invested in for-profit companies that can build companies that support and sustain themselves rather than rely on hand-outs. That is God’s work.

Mind you, I’m not coming at this from the perspective – as some might – that journalism has to be produced only by paid professionals. I have argued that we would be wise to account for the value of volunteerism and that we must find ways to reduce the marginal cost of news and new journalism to near-zero.

But in terms of saving the functions reporters perform, I think we should find ways to support them and their work in profitable enterprises. So, in a rare moment, I disagree with Clay Shirky that we must rescue reporters as charities. This call continues the notion that journalism is in a crisis. No, its legacy owners are in a crisis because they could not and would not change; Clay’s right that their models and buildings are burning. But journalism is facing no end of opportunities (as the Knight Commission’s Ted Olson said at today’s Knight Foundation presentation of the group’s recommendations: never before in journalism has there been so much opportunity for innovation in journalism).

So let’s not save those reporters and let’s certainly not save doomed companies that refused to change. Let’s invest in the future, in creating new means of gathering and sharing a community’s news that are better than old methods and that are more efficient and thus more easily sustainable. That’s what we present in the New Business Models for News. When we presented at the Aspen Institute this summer, I pointed to a blog post I wrote (but can’t find now) a year and a half ago arguing that when the Washington Post bought out reporters, it should invest in them, setting them up with blogs and businesses and promoting and selling ads for them. That resonated. And that is one step toward a new model built on networks, profitable networks. There are many more that need building.