Posts about print

Driving readers online: update

An update and correction to the post below: I just heard from Ed Roussel, editorial director of the Telegraph group, who says it’s not true that his paper will delay stories until after publication in print. In fact, he said, they have already shifted people to earlier schedules to get news out sooner. They are not trying to put every story online before print (which is where the Guardian is apparently headed) but they are free to put up anything short of a big scoop they want to save (which will be the same for everyone).

How did this meme start? He said at the World Association of Newspapers session in Moscow, there was discussion about content management systems and the ability to schedule publication to the web and it grew out of that. So they’re playing wack-a-mole on the tale now.

While I had him, I asked Ed whether the Telegraph has plans to invade America, like the Guardian and the Times of London. He said no. “The reality is that we want to do the best possible job of writing for our readers and the core of our readership is British people,” which includes expats. He said they already had a third of their online readership is in the U.S. And he said that the track record of British companies making a go of it in America is limited.

: LATER: More from Shane Richmond at the Telegraph about this.

The sun never sets on the Beeb

The BBC just announced big, strategic initiatives to change its very essence as a broadcaster. Rafat Ali has a characteristically brief and informative summary and there’s Media Guardian coverage here, here, with kvetching by rivals here, a story on the new BBC website here, another summary here, and BBC boss Mark Thompson’s speech here.

But Guardian Unlimited Editor Emily Bell writing at Comment is Free puts this in perspective and says the BBC is doing what many of us have been insisting that media companies must do: break free of their media.

Thompson no longer wants to be a broadcaster, he almost certainly doesn’t want to just be British, and he would clearly rather be a dot com than a corporation. As of today that old linear BBC is dead – long live the BBC.

Thompson’s sweeping vision laid out in the Creative Futures presentation takes the Beeb into a web 2.0 world of “user generated content” and “findability”, of community and metadata. This is undoubtedly the right thing to do to keep a large global audience – a commercial organisation in the position of the BBC would do the same thing (if it had, by chance, £2.8 billion of guaranteed income). He wants more big programmes – Planet Earth is apparently the new Blue Planet – and to take on the competition in a global and aggressive fashion. MySpace, Flickr,, watch out.

This is the vision of some kind of future, but it is not the future of a broadcaster; it is not even the future vision of a content creator. It is the future of an entity which just wants to continue to occupy the same percentage of the media horizon – a horizon which has expanded by a zillion per cent…..

Thompson’s speech is filled with gems about respecting the contributions of the public (formery known as the audience), about killing boundaries between media, about the new ubiquity of media. Just a few:

When I look at Creative Future, I see five big themes. We decided to call the first Martini Media, meaning media that’s available when and where you want it with content moving freely between different devices and platforms…. It means we have to adopt a completely new approach to development, commissioning and production by the BBC:
· from now on wherever possible we need to think cross-platform, across TV, radio and web for audiences at home and on the move;
· we need to shift investment and creative focus towards on-all-the-time, 24/7 services;
· on demand is key – and it’s not just a new way of delivering content, it means a rethink of what we commission, make and how we package and distribute it;
· we have one of the best websites in the world but it’s rooted in the first digital wave – we need to re-invent it, fill it with dynamic audio-visual content, personalise it, open it up to user-generated material – work on this is already underway in a project called BBC Web 2.0;
· and we need a new relationship with our audiences – they won’t simply be audiences anymore, but also participants and partners – we need to know them as individuals and communities, let them configure our services in ways that work for them. An early example is a competition launching tomorrow inviting our audience to reinvent our home page….

So what does all this mean for the different areas of output? First we have an incredible opportunity in news and current affairs. BBC News is an offer that transcends any one channel or medium or device. It already reaches more than 240 million people around the world every week and is the world’s most trusted source of news. If we get this right now, it can grow even stronger:
· we want to shift energy and resources to our continuous news services; …

The BBC’s always felt a bit less confident about its mission to educate than it has about the mission to inform. Even the words we use – learning, educative, specialist factual – can feel a little uninspiring. That’s got to change. This second digital revolution is going to enable the public to explore and investigate their world like never before. Programmes won’t be shown once and then forgotten. They’ll be there forever to be linked, clipped, rediscovered, built into bigger ideas; …

[I]f we don’t coordinate our content, make it easy to find and brand it clearly, it may just disappear. Let’s call the fourth theme findability. And here’s what we’re going to do about it.

· within a year we’ll launch a new, more powerful search tool – with both video and audio search – as part of the overhaul of our website; …
· next Ashley Highfield and his team will lead work to achieve one clear and comprehensive metadata solution for all BBC content. Good metadata gives content legitimacy. People know exactly who it’s coming from and the BBC will get the credit back to our brand and no one else’s….
· we’ll use contact with individual users, data bases and recommendation engines to build a far closer and more personal relationship with audiences. …

The final theme may turn out to be one of the most important. It’s the active audience, the audience who doesn’t want to just sit there but to take part, debate, create, communicate, share. This raises any number of editorial questions for us, but I believe – and I know lots of the other members of the Creative Future team believe – that this is going to be big and it’s going to touch pretty much every area of output:
· we want to build on our early experiments in user-generated content in News – we also want to be the best guide to the blogs on the big stories and debates; · it’ll be a key element in our local TV project and in the way we cover and debate sport, especially in the run-up to 2012;
· we’ll try to engage audiences in adding their content and their ideas across the whole range of knowledge-building from natural history to health;
· and we’ll make sure that our plans for search and metadata enable the public to add their comments and recommendations so that they can help each other find the content they want. Tomorrow we launch a prototype of our programme catalogue – some one million programmes from the last 80 years. It will be the first opportunity to see what our audience does with such a source.
· in journalism, we will develop the best interactive web forum in the world for audience engagement with our editors and correspondents, discussing our decisions, dilemmas and reporting with the aim of being the most open and transparent news organisation in the world.

In a word: Wow. If they can do half that — and convince the company’s culture of half that — the Beeb will lead again.

I’m going to be spending some time with BCC people in London over the next two weeks. I can’t wait to hear (and report) more.

One more thing: Note well that the media-boss speeches that have made waves lately all came from Britain: from Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger, from Reuters head Tom Glocer, and now from the BBC.

Are the days of America’s leadership in media over? You tell me.

Splitting newsrooms and hairs

Deborah Howell (with whom I used to work at Advance) writes an ombudsman column for the Washington Post that illustrates, in its quotes from editors at the paper, the kind of clueless, destructive, and snobbish territoriality between print and online that is killing newspapers.

Political reporters at The Post don’t like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin’s “White House Briefing,” which is highly opinionated and liberal. They’re afraid that some readers think that Froomkin is a Post White House reporter.

John Harris, national political editor at the print Post, said, “The title invites confusion. It dilutes our only asset — our credibility” as objective news reporters.

I have to stop there. What a terrible insult and slap at a colleague who writes a very good, respected, and journalistic column for online. What a slap from a newsroom snot. But that is what newsrooms are like.

Howell continues:

Froomkin writes the kind of column “that we would never allow a White House reporter to write. I wish it could be done with a different title and display.”

Harris is right; some readers do think Froomkin is a White House reporter. But Froomkin works only for the Web site and is very popular — and [web site executive editor Jim] Brady is not going to fool with that, though he is considering changing the column title and supplementing it with a conservative blogger.

So we acknowledge that Froomkin’s column is popular with readers… but not with print editors. What does that tell us?

And the solution this reputed problem is to play the dumb cable “balance” game, journalism as a Chinese menu? No, the solution is for Dan to be very transparent about his views and for readers to judge him and what he says in that context; clearly, that is working with readers. The public we serve is too smart to fall for this balance game. Crossfire’s dead, folks. Howell continues:

Froomkin said he is “happy to consider other ways to telegraph to people that I’m not a Post White House reporter. I do think that what I’m doing, namely scrutinizing the White House’s every move — with an attitude — is in the best traditions of American and Washington Post journalism.”

On the other hand, Chris Cillizza, a political reporter, appears in The Post frequently. When he writes for the paper, he works for Harris, who is happy to have him.

Which is to say: It’s petty and personal. Newsrooms are.

Some Post reporters don’t appreciate that links are put on the Web site to what bloggers are saying about this or that story — especially when the bloggers are highly negative.

And what does that say? Post print reporters don’t like anyone else having a say; they don’t like dialogue; they don’t like listening. And they wonder why readers don’t respect them? Because they don’t respect readers.

Metro reporters think the Web site ignores their good work and doesn’t display it well. “My concern is that we have this rich, deep, robust local coverage which is not fully displayed, but I know the site is working to fix that,” said Robert McCartney, assistant managing editor for metropolitan news. McCartney is a great ally of the Web site and was assistant managing editor of continuous news for two years before he became Metro’s top editor.

Oh, I heard that argument from every paper I worked with in my last job. It is code for: We want online to be just like the paper we produce and we want to be in charge of online. It’s about power and territory. Newsrooms are about power and territory.

Howell concludes that the web is good for what newspaper editors have wished it was good for: supplements to their print prose:

The Web is a wonderful place for The Post to put newsprint-eating texts and documents, such as presidential speeches, and other information, such as congressional votes, that readers want.

That is so 1995. No, friend, it’s just the opposite. The web is the rich medium; the paper is the thinner, less dynamic, staler, one-way, one-size-fits-all supplement.
Howell ends with one more slap at Froomkin:

But I agree with The Post’s political writers here; the Web site should remove the “White House Briefing” label from Froomkin’s column.

The Washington Post and its site are among the best in newspapering, yet we see this kind of trivial and destructive sniping between the two even there even as newspapering struggles to survive.

This is why I left that battleground.

: Froomkin rises above the playground rivalries in a most gracious post on the Post’s blog — and his readers come in to give him amazing support:

There is undeniably a certain irreverence to the column. But I do not advocate policy, liberal or otherwise. My agenda, such as it is, is accountability and transparency. I believe that the president of the United States, no matter what his party, should be subject to the most intense journalistic scrutiny imaginable. And he should be able to easily withstand that scrutiny. I was prepared to take the same approach with John Kerry, had he become president.

This column’s advocacy is in defense of the public’s right to know what its leader is doing and why. To that end, it calls attention to times when reasonable, important questions are ducked; when disingenuous talking points are substituted for honest explanations; and when the president won’t confront his critics — or their criticisms — head on.

The journalists who cover Washington and the White House should be holding the president accountable. When they do, I bear witness to their work. And the answer is for more of them to do so — not for me to be dismissed as highly opinionated and liberal because I do.

Amen, brother.

Some quotes of support for Froomkind, which should be printed on paper and handed out in the newsroom:

I am old enough to have read Woodstein word-for-word during Watergate. I recall the Post in that era with enduring respect and even fondness. Katherine Graham, Bill Bradlee, Woodward and Bernstein – they made the Post the best newspaper this side of the moon; as integral to my day as that first cup of coffee.

I walked away in the early 80’s. It was a tip from a friend about Dan Froomkin’s “White House Briefing” that brought me back to the Post over a year ago. Through him, I have come to admire Walter Pincus, Dana Priest, and even the right-leaning Kurtz.

* * *

The only way to balance Dan Froomkin’s reporting would be to counter him with a complete liar.

* * *

view Dan Froomkin as a true reporter. He connects the dots in a very basic fashion. Rather than imposing a narrative on what is now called the “news”, the column juxtaposes raw source material with reporting, opinion and comment from elsewhere in a fashion that illuminates connections between events, and drives sensible debate. This makes the occasional irreverent observation all the more enjoyable.

I don’t think it makes any sense at all to say Froomkin is overly “liberal”. Modern America is psychotic with its need to divide the world into two groups, however, so whatever.

But even if he was — Why on earth would you lose a strong columnist because he has an ideology?

* * *

The WPs new Ombudsman would do well to use Dan Froomkin’s methods. Simply stating that WP reporters find his reporting highly opinionated and bias and calling him a liberal is not reporting. It is spin. Why not list and investigate specific claims instead of acting like the White House press secretary.

* * *

Froomkin turned me on to looking in all sorts of spots for my info. I’ve read and watched transcripts of press briefings, read articles by journalists with whom I was not familiar, found sources of info that were unknown to me because of links and things I’ve read in Froomkin’s column. Sending people to many different sources for their information and pointing out when the media is unable to get real answers to important questions is the opposite of bias.

* * *

Why would the credibility of the Post be endangered by a column that is largely populated by links to and discussion of stories filed in the print edition of the Post?

* * *

I applaud his approach and wish more reporters, print and media, would follow it. Keep it up Mr. Froomkin.

* * *

Where do I go to file a complaint about the ombudsman herself?

Froomkin is a must-read for me. I can’t imagine there are people who think it’s factual reporting — anyone savvy enough to read his fascinating column is surely savvy enough to differentiate between opinion and fact.

* * *

Too many other reporters–including those at the Post–seem just to repeat what they are told. Froomkin does that openly, with links to his original materials, but in addition he has the guts, and integrity, to check the statements of his sources. If that is liberal bias I’m all for it.

* * *

How can anyone who reads the column equate accountability with liberalism? The quintessential Froomkin column ran a few days ago; it was called “Fact Checking the President”. It was composed almost exclusively of links to news stories in which the reporter noted discrepancies between Bush’s picture of Iraq and more disturbing pictures of Iraq provided by people who are actually there.

* * *

The rest of the Post’s White House team should read the last year of Froomkin’s column to see what real reporting and analysis are. Froomkin has usually been way ahead of the curve of the “establishment” media, pointing out Bush’s increasing unpopularity, for instance, long before it became acceptable in conventional media to talk about Bush’s high rate of disapproval.

* * *

I often rely on Froomkin and Kurtz combined to get a grasp on many of the stories of the day, and the integrity of the reporting involved.

* * *

Froomkin’s “White House Briefing” is essential reading for anyone who hopes to understand 1. what is going on behind the headlines and 2. the greater context in which ongoing news stories play out.

The media guru Neil Postman, in Amusing Ourselves to Death, bemoaned the degradation of American discourse into a world of decontextualized information — thanks largely to the rise of television as our predominant medium for communication.

What the Internet does best is to subvert the packaging of news that television has led to — and Froomkin, by compiling the day’s news — from all sources online — with links to the stories themselves, subverts that decontextualization.

And on and on. To paraphrase my friend Jay Rosen, here’s the message in that to Post print people: The readers are writing. Are you reading?

: The real lesson for Posties should be this: As Howell herself points out, the Post’s site is a helluva lot bigger than the Post’s paper:

Its circulation, as reported in September, is 671,322 daily and 965,920 Sunday. The Web site’s reach is huge — 8 million unique visitors a month, about 1.3 million of them local.

Perhaps that should tell the paper’s editors that they should be learning from online, rather than trying to lecture to it with haughty bravura. That, too, is what newsrooms are about. But the audience has clearly shown its support for the online Post over the printed one; the only reason online is not as successful is because advertisers are even more behind than newspaper editors. And the audience has clearly shown Froomkin their support. Perhaps the paper should be doing more of what he does. Did you ever think of that, o, vaunted newspaper editors?

: And perhaps the Post print people should read what their boss and owner had to say about the future of print. The day of the last presses is approaching. Are you ready, print people?

: LATER: Jay DeFoore at E&P covers the kerfluffle.

: LATER STILL: Jay Rosen interviews the Post’s political editor, online editor, and columnist in a fascinating exchange.

What interests me first are the atmospherics. The online folks are bending over backwards to be deferential to the print people. The print person is spitting lines like “pompous” and “total bullshit.” Not a happy camp, there. Once more: Newsrooms are like that.

Second, what interests me is that I think we are seeing the Japanese monster movie of journalism … or perhaps a more timely allusion would be King Kong: Dinosaurs v. the overgrown ape. The print people (you can guess at my casting; either that or Godzilla would be loaded) are holding onto their beliefs in objectivity for dear life. The online people have moved onto a new world. And Dan holds firm saying that he’s not a liberal columnist or even an opinion columnist, though he has taken on the latter label; he says — and I agree — that these days, tracking media and those who would spin it is reporting. In my book, that is sometimes more like reporting than what some reporters do when they dutifully report what the powerful spin. But it all fits in the big tent of journalism, if those who think they own that tent will allow it. Jay quotes an internal memo from the print editor to the online editor:

It’s not an overstatement to say that our generation of reporters and editors is trying vindicate the entire tradition of ideologically neutral news in a web-driven age in which most information is presented through argument. Certainly the Bush White House would be happy to have this tradition die–it makes it easier for them to dismiss all reporting they don’t like as the work of liberal critics.

A tall order. But the contrary arguments that are made are first that no one is ideologically neutral and that transparency is needed and second that not all information online is presented through argument but argument does not invalidate information.

Newspapers as a right

One thing I forgot to say in all the posts about newspapers and business below:

Newspapers have neither a constitutional nor a God-given right to exist. They exist if they serve their communities well and are supported by those communities in one way or another.

Guardian column: The last presses

Here’s a Guardian column I wrote that’s a version of the Last Presses post from last week. (Here‘s the column without registration.) Note that a lot of the posting today is around this topic: the business of newspapers.