Posts about norg

Gannett explodes the newsroom

Well, good on Gannett. They’re exploding their newsrooms, changing how they are organized, how they operate, and tearing down the walls to the world formerly known as the outside. Jeff Howe at Wired tells the story and posts memos from Gannett on his Crowdsourcing blog.

Starting Friday, Gannett newsrooms were rechristened “information centers,” and instead of being organized into separate metro, state or sports departments, staff will now work within one of seven desks with names like “data,” “digital” and “community conversation.”

The initiative emphasizes four goals: Prioritize local news over national news; publish more user-generated content; become 24-7 news operations, in which the newspapers do less and the websites do much more; and finally, use crowdsourcing methods to put readers to work as watchdogs, whistle-blowers and researchers in large, investigative features.

Now I’ve seen plenty of newsroom reorganizations in my day and they haven’t changed the biorhythms of news yet. But at the Online News Association, I was impressed hearing an editor at a Gannett paper in Delaware tell how he had turned his newsroom into a 24-hour omnimedia operation. Add to that the inside-out use of crowdsourcing and you have the Gannett plan.

I fear that the culture of the newsroom will do everything it can to stop this. Here this foot-dragging in Howe’s story:

Naturally, the newsrooms are wary of the changes, despite the results achieved in Fort Myers. “We’ve broken into task forces to figure out how to implement this, but some of this stuff, I’ll be honest, gives us great pause,” said one midlevel editor at a Gannett newspaper, speaking on condition of anonymity.

This is precisely why I left my job. That is what stood in the way of change and, I argue, survival for newspapers.

Except Gannett could be different. Gannett newsrooms are smaller and younger (though don’t count on young staffers to be any more forward thinking and brave than their elders). And it’s hard for anyone in newsrooms today to deny that they’re in trouble (though many will try!). And top management is making a strong push for these changes. Said CEO Craig Dubow in his memo to the staff:

The changes impact all media, and the public has approved. Results include stronger newspapers, more popular Web sites and more opportunities to attract the customers advertisers want.

So perhaps this has a chance. I hope so.

It will work if success stories pile up. Journalists love to brag and if this structure gives them bragging rights, it will help. Howe reports on such a success story:

“We’ve already had some really amazing results with the crowdsourcing element of this,” said Jennifer Carroll, Gannett’s VP for new media content. “Most of us got into this business because we were passionate about watchdog journalism and public service, and we’ve just watched those erode. We’ve learned that no one wants to read a 400-column-inch investigative feature online. But when you make them a part of the process they get incredibly engaged.”

The most prominent example, Carroll said, occurred this summer with The News-Press in Fort Myers, Florida. In May, readers from the nearby community of Cape Coral began calling the paper, complaining about the high prices — as much as $28,000 in some cases — being charged to connect newly constructed homes to water and sewer lines. . . .

Readers spontaneously organized their own investigations: Retired engineers analyzed blueprints, accountants pored over balance sheets, and an inside whistle-blower leaked documents showing evidence of bid-rigging.

“We had people from all over the world helping us,” said Marymont. For six weeks the News-Press generated more traffic to its website than “ever before, excepting hurricanes.” In the end, the city cut the utility fees by more than 30 percent, one official resigned, and the fees have become the driving issue in an upcoming city council special election.

Now there is networked journalism in action.

I hope to hang out at a Gannett paper or two to see how it goes.

The dark cloud inside the silver lining of the dark cloud

The New York Times tries to find some good news in the newspaper industry’s dreadful circulation report but moments later, I see a Poynter analyst at Journalism.org blowing the foam off that latte.

Says The Times:

For starters, those circulation figures may not be as dire as they sound. A “significant portion” of the drop “results directly from the industry’s long-term, and arguably long-overdue, initiative to eliminate inefficient vanity and promotional circulation,” writes Allen Mutter on his blog, Confessions of a Newsosaur.

That means newspaper companies are cutting out discounted subscriptions, free papers at hotels and delivery to far-flung locales, none of them particularly appealing to advertisers and increasingly seen as not worth the cost.

Counters Poynter’s Rick Edmonds (my emphasis):

Yet there’s more to the story. [The Audit Bureau of Circulations] further breaks down paid circulation into categories of “over 50 percent” and “25 to 50 percent” of the paper’s cover price. [That is, highly discounted sales – jj] Merrill Lynch analyst Lauren Rich Fine plugged in those figures for a sample of the mid-sized and large papers of public companies and the results were clear: even these losses reported to ABC were achieved with a lot of deep discounting.

In other words fully paid circulation is typically falling even faster than the overall totals reported this week. Apparently, newspaper companies trying to bolster the numbers either pushed deeply discounted introductory offers at readers or extended discounts they were already offering many subscribers rather than trying to convert them to fully paid.

Suzy Sunshine Times:

Just as the lackluster circulation numbers were being dissected, the Newspaper Association of America released the results of a study it commissioned showing that when Internet readership is counted, the newspaper audience is actually way up — nearly 8 percent over all from February 2005 to March 2006.

Chicken Little Poynter:

A closer look at those numbers, however, underscores the difficulty of the industry’s current business dilemma. If you divide that monthly total into a daily one, there were roughly 1.9 million people visiting newspaper web sites each day in September. By the same calculation, the average time spent online would be about 1.4 minutes per day. (A recent NAA/Scarborough study estimated that the typical reader spends a little less than 30 minutes with the daily edition of the printed newspaper and more than 45 minutes on Sunday.) Those numbers may not be big enough to really make up for the loss in circulation.

Also, note the irony of The Times complaining:

Cluttered, hard-to-navigate newspaper sites proliferate. And many sites force readers to register, which Internet types say is counterproductive, when those readers can so easily go elsewhere for their news.

If you’d like to read the rest of that story, you will, of course, have to register.

: Newsosaur now punctures a hole in the aforementioned latte cup, pointing out that time spent on newspaper sites compares badly with other sites:

But the 41 minutes spent at newspaper websites in a month is fully 40% lower than the average 1 hour and 40 minutes that visitors linger at the 10 busiest web sites in a month, according to traffic statistics compiled by Nielsen/NetRatings in April.

: And while we’re on the subject of gravity and newspaper circulation, NewsDesigner does a great job of charting circulation against the timing of redesigns. I believe this project was partly inspired by a good post Jay Small wrote arguing that papers are overinvesting in design. As one of the commenters there says, it would also be useful to chart papers that have not had redesigns. But in any case, this demonstrates that redesigns are no cure for what ails papers. As another commenter there said, “We need a new boat.” Or to mix that metaphor: The lipstick ain’t doing it.

The outsourced newspaper

The Daily Express decides to outsource its business section to the Press Association, the UK wire service (its Associated Press), cutting a tenth of the paper’s 350-strong staff.

It makes sense, as far as it goes. When I was Sunday editor of the New York Daily News, I worked to outsource our TV grids and book. Papers have long since done this with financial tables. Why not whole sections? If I ran a chain like Gannett or McClatchy (no thanks), I’d consolidate or outsource all kinds of editing. Yes, it makes sense on paper.

But what about off paper and online? There, if you don’t want to go to the expense of having a business section, if it’s not core to what you do, then you can link to one. And that forces you to decide what is core. What is it that just you can do and that can’t be outsourced?

When you’ve answered that question, then, finally, you’ve decided what your news organization is really all about.

Trimming newspaper fat v. meat

After Howard Kurtz issued what I characterized as the common, kneejerk newsroom response to threats of cutbacks — oh, woe is journalism; ah, what will become of investigative reporting? — many of us piled on to say that newsrooms are bloated and need cutting — or more to the point, need to cut the crap so they can focus on what matters. Kurtz responds , quoting Jack Shafer and me and saying:

Not to spoil a good food fight, but I don’t disagree with any of that. Some newspapers are overstaffed. Not all budget cuts are bad. Not every newspaper in America needs to have a reporter covering the White House, or London, or attending political conventions and writing the same pap as everyone else. What’s more, lest they suffer the fate of General Motors by churning out gas-guzzlers, they need to move more boldly into the digital age, which probably requires smaller newsrooms than in the past as print circulations decline.

Here comes the ‘but’ . . .

But many of the corporate executives ordering these cuts don’t care about finding innovative ways to cover the news; they just want to please Wall Street by getting the payroll down.

But shouldn’t it be up to the editors of these newspapers to find those innovative ways to cover the news and to help the institution and its value survive the transition to the new world? Instead, we see editors stomping their feet, refusing to cut back as if there is no need to, as if it’s just some big, bad, greedy biz guys — instead of a post-monopoly market reality — forcing them to fire. Kurtz continues:

Investigative reporting doesn’t just mean maintaining separate SWAT teams. Beat reporters do important digging all the time, but that requires having a few extra days or weeks to pursue leads and pore over records. If, in depleted newsrooms, they have to churn out copy every other hour, the chances that they’ll look into the mayor’s land deal or the congressman’s favors for big contributors are greatly diminished.

But who says that kind of reporting is what should be depleted? If editors have the good sense and foresight to get rid of what’s not needed, they can put their resources where they matter: into reporting. And they can also find new ways to report. Kurtz:

Newspapers — good ones, at least — do two things that, if their staffs shrivel, no TV station, Web site or blogger will be able to match. One is to provide detailed local coverage of schools, hospitals, zoning battles and town councils. The other is holding public officials and business executives accountable with aggressive investigative work.

No one is saying that bloggers will replace journalists; let’s eliminate that red herring from the playbook. But bloggers can help. And the truth is that most metro papers and many local papers do a terrible job covering local schools and town councils; bloggers and other cooperative efforts in networked journalism could, indeed, increase a paper’s coverage as never before possible. And as for investigative efforts: Yes, we need more. Yes, we need reporters doing more. But here, again, when you open up to help, you may be able to report in new ways. Witness the Porkbusters, et al outing of Senators Byrd’s and Stevens’ secret hold on Congressional accountability legislation. I’m not saying that will replace investigative staffs but it can help, if you let it. Kurtz concludes:

They are also tradition-encrusted places that need to become less cautious, less stuffy and less arrogant. But if the critics think that a starvation diet will somehow produce healthier reporting, they are fantasizing.

The fantasizing we see in in newsrooms that believe newspapers can and should continue with business-as-usual, that newsrooms need to be as big as they are to get their real job done, and that they are doing a good job now.

I continue to believe that cutbacks will force newspapers to decide what they really are. The brave, wise, and strategic editors will get rid of the crap and invest more in the kind of reporting Kurtz properly celebrates. The wussy, job-protecting editors will do just what we see them doing: whining.

: At the end of Kurtz’ response, a bold headline said, “End of discussion.” That took me aback. Cheeky, I thought until I saw that it was the subhead over the next item. This discussion is far from over.

: See also the response of Jeff Crigler of Voxant.

Your customers are ahead of you

The Newspaper Association of America reports a surge in online traffic and audience to newspaper online sites.

On average, over 56.9 million people visited newspaper sites each month in Q3 2006, up almost 24 percent since Q3 2005. . . . The group earlier this month reported unique visitors to newspaper sites rose 31 percent during the first half of 2006 over the same period in ’05. Unique visitors to paper sites averaged more than 55.5 million per month during the first six months of ’06, up almost a third from the 42.4 million during the first half of last year. Newspaper sites generated 2.7 billion pageviews in the third quarter, and visitors spent more than 41.5 minutes each month on the sites, according to the report. During that period last year, visitors viewed around 1.9 billion paper pages, spending 40.4 minutes on the sites on average monthly.

I think this further feeds the idea that newspapers are in “free fall,” as The Times said last week: The rush online is getting faster and faster and if media execs and ad execs don’t catch up, they will be left behind… sooner than they think.

: I call out ad execs for a reason: They are holding back the progress in media. Oh, it’s the fault of media execs as well. But get a load of these stats from today’s Times:

Indeed, the Internet draws only a sliver of the total spent on advertisements. Last year, Internet ads accounted for just 4.7 percent, or $12.5 billion, of the $267 billion spent on advertising, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade association of online publishers. And the top 50 advertisers spent just 3.8 percent of their budgets in the first half of this year on online ads, excluding search, TNS Media Intelligence data shows. For all other advertisers, the average spent online was 6.8 percent of the budget.

Procter & Gamble, the nation’s biggest advertiser last year, spent $33.5 million — less than 1 percent of its $4.6 billion ad budget — on online ads in 2005. General Motors, the second-biggest advertiser, spent $110.5 million online, or 2.5 percent of its $4.35 billion total, according to TNS, which does not include search ads in its figures.

The essential change in media is that we, the people, won’t go to where you are anymore. You have to come to us. And you’re not.

: LATER: The latest circulation stats for newspapers continue to back up the notion of free fall. Romenesko’s summary:

* Los Angeles Times daily circulation dropped 8%; down 6% on Sunday.
* San Francisco Chronicle dropped 5.3% daily; down 7.3% on Sunday.
* New York Times dropped 3.5% daily; down 3.5% on Sunday.
* Boston Globe dropped 6.7% daily; down 9.9% on Sunday.
* Washington Post dropped 3.3% daily; down 2.6% on Sunday.
* Wall Street Journal dropped 1.9% daily; WSJ Weekend Edition down 6.7%.
* Chicago Tribune dropped 1.7% daily; down 1.3% on Sunday.
* USA Today dropped 1.3%.