Posts about newspapers

Next for media

Here’s video of my talk to the Nordic Media Festival on what I think comes next in media:

: Oops. Sorry. The video was embedded here but the player had damned auto-play and no way to turn it off. Why the hell do they do that? o here’s a link.

: Now here’s video of a very similar talk I gave this week in Ottawa to the Public Policy Forum.

Future of news

I taped this show months ago and didn’t even know when it aired on PBS. It’s a not-bad discussion of the future of news with me, Steve Coll of the New America Foundation (ex of the Washington Post) and John Sturm of the Newspaper Association of America:

BTW, When I taped the show, I was not told that it was backed by the George W. Bush Institute. Didn’t affect the show, so far as I can see, but it would have been nice to know.

Finally, good news for Google

James Fallows writes an important cover story for The Atlantic on how Google wants to help save the news. It doesn’t break a single new nugget of news. It’s the piece’s attitude that makes it must reading for everyone in the news business, in the U.S. and even moreso in Europe.

Google is not the enemy. But don’t take my word for it if you don’t want to. Take Fallows’.

Fallows, who has been admirably forward-thinking and curious in his coverage of technology and media (see his test of Bing v. Google, for example), comes at the question of Google’s relationship to news as neither enemy nor fanboy. He simply wants to understand what Google’s attitude is toward the news and then what the company is doing to back up its expressed sentiments about helping save (or I’d prefer to say, advance) news. He writes:

Everyone knows that Google is killing the news business. Few people know how hard Google is trying to bring it back to life, or why the company now considers journalism’s survival crucial to its own prospects…. But after talking during the past year with engineers and strategists at Google and recently interviewing some of their counterparts inside the news industry, I am convinced that there is a larger vision for news coming out of Google; that it is not simply a charity effort to buy off critics; and that it has been pushed hard enough by people at the top of the company, especially Schmidt, to become an internalized part of the culture in what is arguably the world’s most important media organization. Google’s initiatives do not constitute a complete or easy plan for the next phase of serious journalism. But they are more promising than what I’m used to seeing elsewhere, notably in the steady stream of “Crisis of the Press”–style reports.

Fallows says that the three pillars of a new online business model for news, in Google’s view, are “distribution, engagement, and monetization.” My equivalents are the conveniently alliterative engagement (for the public), effectiveness (for advertisers), and efficiency (in the operation). That is to say, Google doesn’t touch — nor should it want or need to — the fourth and vital leg to sustainable business models for news: cost. That’s what will make it easier to get Politico’s local product, TBD.com, to profitability more easily than the competitive Washington Post can stay there. That’s why I am looking more at the entrepreneurial than institutional future of news. That’s why I think this quest Google and others are on is about more than saving newspapers and more than saving news; it’s about finding new opportunities. But nevermind that.

What Fallows finds inside Google is people who care about news, who are working to try to create new forms for news and structures for the companies that produce it, who are indeed making it a priority. He finds people who want to work together. I say news companies are fools not to at least listen.

Two dinosaurs fighting over a dodo bird

David Carr has a characteristically wry-on-rye view of the Wall Street Journal’s launch of a New York edition today and the newspaper war that supposedly ensues.

We’re supposed to celebrate newspaper wars. Good ol’ days, remember? But I think this one could be deadly.

These two former giants are fighting over a shrinking pie with no filling. The Times is third in the New York area — much of that in the tri-state suburbs — with 406k daily circulation. The Journal has 294k in the same region. The New York Daily News leads with 570k and the Post with 530k — and they each get most of that in New York City.

The Times has a large reporting staff devoted to New York — it’s big and expensive and hard to cover — and limited local advertising (especially, of course, in classified). Two years ago, I suggested that The Times drop or spin off metro and make itself a truly national newspaper. Maybe if they’d done that — not there was a chance in hell they would have — Murdoch wouldn’t have chosen New York as his battleground with them. But now he has and so now they have to fight. And they’ll carry that fight, they say, to more metro areas (though in Chicago, The Times is working with a not-for-profit partner, reducing costs).

This is not a fair fight since Murdoch doesn’t so much care about making a sustainable business as he does about

News(paper) in the cloud

I think it’s possible today to run a news organization — up to the point of publishing — from the cloud, changing not only the production process of news but also its culture. John Paton, CEO of Journal Register, is about to prove it with his Ben Franklin Project.

John and I were sitting in my CUNY office as he told me about the technology he’s saddled with at this orphaned newspaper company where he just took the helm. He used a term I swear I hadn’t heard in well more than a decade: “VDT.” That stand for “video display terminal,” the old, dumb box that was wired into newspaper mainframes. I was talking with a bunch of young journalists shortly afterwards and they’d never heard of VDTs (though they thought it could be cured with a shot). Well, Paton still has VDTs.

And so, as he was talking about having to buy new computers, I took to the whiteboard and drew out how I think a news(paper) can be produced from WordPress, Google Docs, and Flickr (or their equivalents). We’ll get to the other functions shortly.

This up-in-the-air production is made possible by Paton’s edict at JRC (as he dictated at ImpreMedia before) that digital comes first, print last. If print comes first, newspaper people will worry about H&J (hyphenation & justification — that is, fitting text to finite holes in print designs). That dictated their process.

But not JRC. By putting print at the end of the line, production for paper won’t dictate the rest of the line. So now a reporter can start blogging at the beginning of a story. And that makes a profound shift in the culture of news: it opens up the process to the public. “Here’s what I think I’ll work on,” the reporter says to the community she covers. “Good idea? Is there something else you think I should do instead? What’s the best use of my time? What do you want me to find out for you? If I do this story, what questions do you have? What do you know? Whom should I call?” As the process continues, the reporter can share what she learns — and doesn’t learn — and the community can help fill in blanks and make the reporting better.

At some point in this process, the reporter likely will write what we’d still recognize as an article. Indeed, writing it before publication opens the possibility of the community still helping by correcting and enhancing.

Then a print editor can grab the story and fit it for print. No longer a big deal.

At the same time, the reporter and editor can ask the community for photos to illustrate the story. They can be shared via Flickr. When it’s time to print, an editor can copy the high-resolution version of an image. If the photographer chooses, he can make the photo available under Creative Commons. If the paper chooses to (as Bild does in Germany), it can pay. That’s up to them. The taking of photos can become competitive: a reader says “I can beat that.”

There are still bureaucratic details that must be handled: schedules of stories, who’s working on what, and so on. Google Docs is perfect for that. My CUNY colleague Jeremy Caplan showed our faculty how much more Docs can do: enabling reporters to, for example, graph data and create their own illustrations. Docs can be used to publish documents to the web.

From these three streams, content can come to a print editor — who is now, remember, at the end of the line — to fill the paper (which my friend and fellow JRC advisor Jay Rosen points out, is the most expensive space). The readers can even help the editor decide what deserves ink.

Note the profound cultural shift this new process brings to a news organization. Rather than doing everything we do and then sharing it with the public — and allowing them to comment on (or snark at) our work — we become transparent, we view news as a process instead of a product, and we open up our process to constructive collaboration with the community we serve. Hallelujah.

The rest of the process of publishing a newspaper is more complicated — at least to me, as I don’t know the tools. I’m not sure all that can be done with free tools but I’ll bet it can all be done in the cloud. At a Salesforce.com event last week, I talked with an exec who said that his service can be used to handle ad order entry. Other systems can handle business tracking, payroll, H&R, and such. I don’t think JRC needs to be dogmatic about living in the cloud but I do think it can avoid huge expense of buying and integrating new systems and hardware.

All this is why I’m delighting in advising JRC and Paton. They are going to try to do the things I’ve been wanting to see news(papers) do — I’ve been writing about this since at least 2005 — the things that tradition and fear prevented other papers from doing. They’re not alone. AnnArbor.com (which I also advised) is entirely on Movable Type. Online news organizations, of course, operate on blogs. But here’s the chance to jump a newspaper company from the past — from the age of VDTs and discs — to the future. I can’t wait to watch and help.