Posts about norg

How to make a newspaper talk

At Online News, Chet Rhodes of WashingtonPost.com gives an inspirational talk about how he is turning the paper into video, training print reporters to take video (it takes 55 minutes, he says) and how it is working. Why do this? he asks. Because you have to. When we looked at video from a number of news sites in my CUNY class, the students liked WashingtonPost.com’s video best because it was still somewhat raw, not overproduced. And that makes it easier for print people to learn how to shoot good video, I say, as the definition of good shifts away from the priests of the tools.

: Pankaj Paul of DelawareOnline tells about utterly reorganizing his paper’s newsroom to be platform agnostic. He said that a few years ago, only four people could post on the web but now 50 can and the number of web updates skyrocketed. They are a small paper and so they are not throwing staff at this; they are throwing simplicity at it: They are using iMovie and GarageBand to produce multimedia. He said that they have had four people leave because multimedia is not for them. I see that as a very good thing. Welcome to the future, newsroom. Says Paul: “There is no online department. It has ceased to exist. We are the online department. The newsroom is the online department.”

Doc’s prescription for newspapers

Doc has a wonderful list of suggestions for newspapers. As a preface, he asks and answers why Wall Street hates the LA Times: “Simple: Because newspapers are a rusty industry. They have tail fins. They print lists of readers every day on the obituary page. Worse, as a class they are resolutely clueless about how to adapt to a world that is increasingly networked and self-informing. And Wall Street knows that.” I’ve been working on my own list. Bonus link: Doc’s prescription for his beloved radio.

Missing the forest for the dead trees

The American newspaper industry has only itself to blame for the fate it faces.

I wrote that line above this weekend as the start of a post that turned out to be rather pissy, and so I’ve tried to tone it down. But when newspapers most need brave strategic action, bold reinvention, and new blood, I saw too much evidence in the last few days of the business still whining for sympathy, praying for unrealistic rescue, hopelessly grasping to hold onto old ways, and trying to blame others — mainly, stockholders — for their problems. Instead, I believe, they should be digging deep to rediscover their true value, reinvent their relationship with the public they still want to serve, and rethink the business around the new opportunities more than the challenges of the new media world.

I see the evidence of this Eeyore thinking from the industry Sunday in Richard Siklos’ York Times story about newspaper companies and Wall Street; in Jon Fine’s Business Week column about the complete pickle the Los Angeles Times is in; in a survey of newspaper executives who realize — about a decade too late — that they should have been cooperating; and mostly in a $2 million American Press Institute consultant-and-task-force industry extravaganza just released.

It’s sadly fitting that the API report, called Newspaper Next, landed as a 91-page PDF, requiring me to print it out on paper and run out of ink just to read it, with no opportunity to interact with it. I won’t say that there aren’t some good ideas in the report or in newspapers today. But as Susan Mernit says, the industry’s $2 million might have been better spent on real development instead of just blather.

Yet the real problem the report exposes is cultural inertia, the inability to think in radically new ways and to blow up old assumptions. I feared when the project was announced that they saw their job as fending off threats to newspapers rather than exploiting new opportunities for journalism. When I heard an early version of their recommendations, I warned that they were taking false comfort from making tiny steps when what is needed is an atomic bomb.

But I fear it’s worse than that. From the evidence of the report, the industry’s elders still have not broken out of their old worldview. They still look at us as an “audience” and “consumers” (or, more often now, “nonconsumers”). They believe that we want them to — this is their alliterative festival — enlighten, educate, enrich, entertain, engage, or empower us. Past a few references to the ability of the public to create content now, the greatest value they see in this trend is that we can provide them with free content to save money. They still think their core product is papers and news web sites and believe their salvation is in developing portfolios of products. For that matter, they think they are in the business of producing a product, still.

But isn’t journalism a service more than a product? And doesn’t this new world enable us to expand journalism through collaboration? What’s lost in this is the essential value that I believe news organizations provide: connecting people with information and each other. And I think what’s moved off centerstage, ironically, is journalism and the value it brings. Yes, of course, they are trying to preserve journalism by preserving the business. But they’re so busy trying to protect the “core product” and the old businesses that I don’t see them ask the real core questions: How can we expand journalism? I’ll spare you my screeds on networks and relationships.

One bit of good news is that they see the bad news; they are willing to criticize themselves: “The public is migrating away from us, happily discovering new freedoms, opportunities and choices in a new world of infinite information. . . . For newspaper companies, the very newspaper itself — its form, function, history, role in society and demanding production processes — creates blinders that make it hard to comprehend the fundamental changes happening around them.”

But the task force that made this report and many of the projects that come out of it are still insular, with very little effort to get new voices, fresh blood. One company did not seem to involve its online people in new products. Another focused on changing the paper’s own internal structure for innovations. Another redesigned its existing web site.

By contrast, WickedLocal.com in Plymouth, Mass., is a promising attempt to build through collaboration in hyperlocal. Nearby, the Boston Globe serves small advertisers by placing ads for them in Google and Yahoo; the fact that the ads aren’t in the paper or its site should give one pause but this is an attempt to serve new advertisers in new ways in an open world and so I’ll applaud the attempt. As I said above, there are some good ideas here.

And it’s good to hear the industry talking, at long last, about trying to cooperate with each other. I lived through too many hellish task force meetings in the ill-fated New Century Network industry consortium, which proved nothing but that newspapers cannot get along; they all think they’re special and they’re all quite addicted to the independence of operating as local monopolies. Now they realize that they’ve made it too difficult for advertisers to give the industry money. I fear this realization comes too late. Google has long since brilliantly exploited that weakness — to the point that Google is becoming a sales agent for newspapers and newspapers a sales agent for Google.

: Now let’s get real and go to Los Angeles, where the Times is battling for its body and soul. This is being painted too often as a fight among shareholders — in Tribune Tower, in the Chandler family, and in Wall Street — but as Siklos’ New York Times story says: “It’s tempting to paint Wall Street as the bad guy in this, but the relatively brief history of the Street and the press is more complicated.” Jon Fine’s column makes it clear that private ownership for the paper is neither likely nor a panacea.

But I say that the rescue of the LA Times has nothing whatsoever to do with ownership or share prices or EBITDAs or newsroom staff sizes. No, the only thing that will rescue this news organization formerly known as a newspaper is innovation. Make that revolution. Instead of standing up to Chicago to save heads in the old newsroom, the editor and publisher should be looking out into their communities and figuring out how to reinvent what the LA Times can be with new (and often more efficient) ways to gather and share news. They should be trying to find new ways make connections among people and enable them to do what they want to do, whether that involves information or commerce.

But it’s hard to manage and even harder to innovate in a crisis. But that’s where the American newspaper finds itself today: in the 9th inning of a game of crisis. Their Newspaper Next PDF might have been an acceptable step in a process of change in, oh, 1995. But now, I fear, it’s just a beach towel on the Titanic.

: So what the hell would I do? What would you do? In subsequent posts, I’ll suggest we explore that.

Q & A & A

The Project for Excellence in Journalism created a roundtable-via-email about online and the future of news. That’s here. My answers were cut short, which is fine, except what was excised was my complaint about the questions; I argued that they were bringing the old-media worldview to the new-media world. So they linked to my full answers and so will I. A few examples from the cutting-room floor:

Question: Blog readership seems to have stalled in 2005. Content analysis also shows there is little of what we most would think of as original reporting in blogs. Yet they often write about events outside the purview of the mainstream press. How ultimately do you think blogs and other citizen media will affect news reporting in America? Will we ever see them as a more significant, or even equally important part of the mainstream American news diet as traditional journalism?

Reply: Your questions are fairly dripping with agenda. You seem to be trying to push a worldview that says that blogs and online video are on the decline – so pay no mind to them – and that what journalism needs is more staff. Sorry, but that attitude is what is putting American journalism in peril. Head, meet sand. . . .

You – like so many journalism conferences these days – make the mistake of trying to turn this discussion into a cable news shoutfest: blogs vs. mainstream media! Enough! The right question to ask is how blogs and mainstream media can work together to improve journalism and an informed society. You should be asking how any mainstream journalist could possibly imagine not doing his or her job without the help of the public through blogs. . . .

Question: Do you think the economic model of the Internet has to shift from an advertising based model to something else for traditional journalism to survive at a level that we have become accustomed to? If so, do you have any thoughts on what that new model might be?

Reply: And why is the standard the “level that we have become accustomed to”? I’m sorry to be such a curmudgeon about the curmudgeonly art of journalism, but that is precisely the attitude that, I believe, could be the death of our beloved craft. Your words presume an agenda of trying to preserve a past rather than trying to imagine a future. . . .

Much more and less pissy comment from Media Bloggers’ Bob Cox, Dan Gillmore, Jay Hamilton of Duke University, and Lee Rainie of Pew.

Guardian column: An online news success story

My Guardian column this week tells the success story of Netzeitung. Since I haven’t written about that here, I’m copying the full column below (it’s also here).

A grand experiment in the future of news is succeeding. Pity most of you can’t read it, since it’s in German. But thanks to an accident of school scheduling that plopped me into a German class, I’ve been able to follow Netzeitung.de since it was founded in Berlin in 2000 as a net-only newspaper. It’s not a blog, a search engine or an aggregator. It is a newspaper without the paper, but with 60 journalists reporting the news. Netzeitung has not only survived the internet bubble and a ping-pong game of corporate sales, it has acquired other media properties; it is starting an ambitious effort in networked journalism with citizen reporters; and it is set to be profitable this year. Ausgezeichnet!

Dr Michael Maier, Netzeitung’s editor-in-chief and business head, is an experienced and respected journalist: former editor-in-chief of the Berliner Zeitung, Stern and Vienna’s Presse. No blogger, he. When I met him after he and his partners brought the concept of a netpaper from Norway – where its big sister, Nettavisen.no, is still in business – Maier was adamant that he would have his own staff producing news. I tried to push my populist agenda of interactivity and citizens’ media, but he would have none of it. He was starting a newspaper, dammit, and newspapers have reporters.

In the years since, Netzeitung was bought by Lycos, then by Bertelsmann, then by Maier and a partner, who sold it to Scandinavia’s Orkla, which itself is being acquired by the press baron David Montgomery. Maier says he is glad none of his many masters was a traditional German newspaper, for he doubts he could have developed Netzeitung under its roof. I agree. I got nowhere trying to convince American publishers to try a paperless paper. They are addicted to ink.

Netzeitung remains impressive in the breadth, depth and the timeliness of its reporting. It is among the internet’s most cleanly designed news sites. Maier says the service now serves 1.2 million readers per month. It reportedly will earn €8m this year. It has acquired other large German sites for technology, health and cars. It recently took over a Berlin radio station, and so the online site produces both radio shows and podcasts (what’s the difference?). And it produces online and videotext news for German TV. This experiment in online news has become a budding media empire.

But what brought me back to revisit Netzeitung is its latest effort: Readers-Edition.de, an online paper by and for das volk. True to form, Maier insists that the people must report: “We don’t publish commentary.” So citizen reporters submit news and photos on politics, sports, technology and business. Netzeitung, the parent, puts the best on its home page and then pays the contributors.

Maier says his online journalists were at first afraid of these interlopers. But he also says his reader/writers are better at working with links than ordinary reporters, are fast (helping him scoop competitors), and are smart (they gave him an exclusive on a revival of the 60s radical group the SDS).

One reason we bloggers like blogging is that we have no editors. But the Readers-Edition contributors do: a team of fellow reader/writers act as volunteer moderators with the help of one Netzeitung journalist. They get together in meetings across Germany to share tricks of the trade. They even share rejected stories so contributors can learn what it takes to make the grade. Now that’s transparency.

I wonder whether this model could work elsewhere. The other citizen-written online newspaper of note, South Korea’s OhmyNews, has had difficulty replicating itself in other countries; its political and media landscape may be unique. And when I ran online sites in the early days, I tried to copy what I saw on German sites by having volunteer moderators keep peace in chatrooms. It worked in Germany, where users respected rank, but not in the US, where moderators got power-mad and users revolted.

I would love to see both Netzeitung and Readers-Edition spread, for we need more answers to questions asked at nearly every journalism conference I attend, namely how will we support journalism in the future? What are the business models for news? How does journalism survive post-press? I hope the answers lie in creating vibrant and successful newspapers that do not depend on paper. I hope the answers lie in creating networks that allow professional and amateur journalists to work together. And I hope the answers are also in English, since I didn’t pay much attention in that German class.