Posts about norg

Newspapers: Find your essence

Moments after posting the news about the the Daily Mail doing without a TV critic (below), I read Lucas Grindley on another paper getting rid of its movie critic and NFL writer, among others, . . . because they are not local and newspapers, at their essence, must be local. Amen to that.

The managing editor for the Winston-Salem Journal was faced with the need to cut his budget. And when looking around the newsroom, he saw the same thing all of us do. Duplication of efforts. So the Journal’s film critic and NFL writer were laid off.

Local film critics for national movies are a vestige of different times. For most markets, there’s no local angle to Mission Impossible 3.

Reassign your reporter now, before it’s too late, to something that might attract new readers. I wonder what the Journal’s managing editor would have covered if he had reassigned that film critic a year ago.

Maybe you’re the film critic. Don’t wait around for this same fate. Convince your editor to use wire copy so you can cover something else. Because when it comes time for the editor to look around the room for cost savings, your beat needs to be local and indispensable.

Sports writers, listen up. If you’re not writing something more than the game story, then you’re next. An editor can get that same gamer from the wire.

Features writers, if what you’re covering is on the wire regularly, then your beat isn’t local enough. Food is a national topic. Travel is a national topic.

Business writers, you’re not immune either. Prominent media types are already advising newspapers to “outsource” all types of coverage.

Death by a thousand cuts. A slow death is happening as newspapers lose writers. Don’t let positions get cut because you didn’t have enough foresight to realize they were being wasted. Maybe circulation declines wouldn’t be so steep today if we’d ensured every beat in the room was local, and couldn’t be replaced by wire copy.

Now read the managing editor of the paper, Ken Otterbourg, writing on his blog about the cutbacks:

We were one of the smallest newspapers to have a full-time film critic, and we enjoyed that distinction. But there’s plenty of excellent film criticism out there that we can use for nationally released movies. We’ll still occasionally review movies with a local tie-in. By contrast, nobody else is covering the local board of education or the city council. It’s unique content. So in making our decisions, we were guided by our belief that what we can do best is cover Winston-Salem, Forsyth County and Northwest North Carolina. That’s where we think our future lies, being a metro paper with a strong community focus.

Here are a few posts where I’ve been pushing newspapers to boil themselves to their essence. But Lucas Grindley is right: This is about making shifts and investments now, before it’s too late.

Dos and Dont’s of newspapering

The Independent asked a bunch of media machers about the future of newspapers and not much came out of it but these rather opposing viewpoints:

Gets it: Piers Morgan, former editor of the Daily Mirror and reality-TV star:

Every newspaper has a great future online. End of story. Within five years every newspaper will be free and they’ll all be online. And if they’re not, they should be. There will still be a presence in print but that will be for older readers and you will find that anybody under the age of 35 will only read newspapers online. It will be the newspapers who are the most dynamic online who win. Any newspaper editor or proprietor who believes they will escape this inevitable translation from newsprint to online will get buried. They are under a massive misapprehension. If newspapers do it right and invest now they will be successful and make lots of money. It’s not the death of the paper. It’s the morphing of the paper from a print version to online.

Doesn’t: John Humphrys, anchor of the Today show:

And sooner or later we will explode the blog myth. The idea that you can click on to a few dozen blogs and find out what’s going on in the world is nonsense. It’s fun but that’s all it is. …

But we’ve already exploded the myth of radio presenters’ wisdom.

Abandoning ship

Newspapers — and their readers — should be scared reading Jay Rosen’s interview with John McQuaid, an accomplished reporter — he predicted everything that would happen in Katrina years before — who has given up on working for papers. He is exactly where papers should be putting their investment: in unique reporting, real value for the community. But his investigative role was killed, before Katrina, and he chose not to become a paper-pusher on a desk.

So McQuaid becomes a poster child for newspaper cutbacks done wrong. I have been arguing that cutbacks are a good thing if they are used to boil a paper to its essence, to get rid of the useless stuff and decide what a paper’s real value is: reporting. Cutbacks are bad if they maintain the commodity stuff at the expense of reporting. But all is not lost. McQuaid remains a reporter, only now an independent one. He’s going to contribute to NewAssignment.net. He says:

Newspapers remain key venues for probing, public service-oriented journalism. While the format has its problems–too many dull, interminable series see print mainly as Pulitzer bait–at their best, newspaper series can not only reveal terrible problems and injustices, but also be lively and engaging reading.

Big papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post retain the staff and resources to do these kinds of things. But no matter how important or interesting they are, investigations don’t pay the bills, and in a lot of other places there’s neither the capacity nor the will to delve deeply into both local and national issues. That’s a serious problem, in keeping politicians and other officials honest and in the functioning of democracy itself. So I’d like to help new, Internet-based forums, emerge locally and nationally to do investigative or explanatory journalism. And of course we need readers, advertisers and financial backers to go with them.

This is a great era for news– government accountability has all but disappeared. Doubtless, there are dozens of government meltdowns — on top of the ones that we already know about — already underway or about to happen.

That said, I’m not sure how what this new form will look like. The newspaper investigation is basically a static form: journalists work for weeks or months on a story. For the most part, nobody in the wider world even knows what they’re doing. Then they publish it. It makes a splash (or not). Maybe it has a broad impact. After the publication date, on some basic level, it’s over.

But the web is so dynamic — an ever-unfolding conversation. So I was intrigued by NewAssignment.Net, which offers an opportunity to figure out how to harness that dynamism in the service of journalism.

: LATER: Part two up now.

Edit me

I’m on a panel for the American Academy of Arts & Sciences next month with Jill Abramson, John Carroll, Geneva Overholser, and Jon Klein, with Norm Pearlstine presiding. They’re having us write our spiels beforehand so continued on the jump is my attempt to boil this blog down to five minutes. Take a look and comment, please:

News is not shrinking, even if newspapers are.

We are faced with no end of new opportunities in journalism as our definitions of news explode and as interest in news expands. We have new ways to gather, share, and judge news from new sources across new media.

So it is time to end the editorial Eeyoreing and newsroom protectionism that has dominated this discussion to date and instead to focus on the many opportunities we have to update, upgrade, and expand the scope and reach of journalism in society.

(more…)

The stewardship of journalism’s future

Now how’s that for a haughty headline? But it’s what I’ve been asking myself lately: Does journalism have the right protectors, builders, supporters, stewards? One has to wonder based on the news about news just in the last 48 hours:

The LA Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer get rid of their editors but bring in more editors like them. No offense to any of these editors, fine journalists, all, I’m sure. But if you want to change, don’t you want to bring in new people to do new things? That’s what Mark Potts wonders. That’s what I shrieked about here.

And then we have rich egotists trying to buy the LA Times or Tribune Company (not to mention the Boston Globe) and that’s all about rich boys’ toys and nothing about bringing in new ways to reinvent the news business. It merely staves off the inevitable… for a few weeks (witness Philadelphia and its layoffs). And then there’s Morgan Stanley pressuring the NY Times Company to change its management and stock structure.

I spent some of the last 24 hours at the FourSquare conference, which is filled with CEOs and moneymen in suits. Last year, there were lots of newspaper execs there. This year, fewer. It’s an off-the-record schoozefest so I won’t quote the moguls by name, but a couple of guys who run very big, very new companies, each barely a decade old, agreed that their organizations can’t invent from within. That’s why they’re buying companies from outside.

And so I thought about the newspaper business. If these new, successful, innovative, smart, large media companies can’t invent, how can we expect for a second that the existing newspaper industry can invent its future? It can’t. Full stop.

So the future of news gathering and sharing and vetting and investigating needs to be built on the outside. But is it? Not much is. (And I’m not referring to the ventures I’m involved with: Daylife and NewAssignment.net; consider them present companies excepted and see my disclosures here.) I don’t see enough development going on in new news efforts — enough to save journalism from the sinking news business. And that’s what’s troubling me. The old players are proving to be quite ineffective stewards — we knew that — but there aren’t enough new stewards joining the church.

I’m obnoxiously optimistic about the future of news: the definitions of it are exploding along with the new means to gather, share, judge it. I am confident that the public wants news; the society demands to be informed. I know there are no end of great opportunities. I’m just surprised that so few of them are being grasped. The old players can’t do it. We need more new players to take hold of the future of news — not just journalists but entrepreneurs and managers and investors and inventors. It’s there for the taking.