Corante

About your authors
Vin Crosbie Vin Crosbie
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Dorian Benkoil Dorian Benkoil
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Bob Cauthorn Bob Cauthorn
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Ben Compaine Ben Compaine
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Dorian Benkoil senior consultant at Teeming Media. An award-winning journalist and editor, he was a foreign correspondent for AP and Newsweek, and international and managing editor for ABCNews.com. At ABC News he moved to the business side, handling sales integration and business development, before joining Fairchild Publications as General Manager for their Internet division, becoming editorial director for mediabistro.com, then a consultant for Teeming Media in New York. He graduates this year with an MBA from Baruch's Zicklin school of business. Learn more about him at Benkoil.com or his blog - MediaFlect.com.

Robert Cauthorn is a journalist, former vice president of digital media at the San Francisco Chronicle, and was the third recipient of the Newspaper Association of America's prestigious Digital Pioneer Award. He launched one of the first five newspapers web sites in the world and is generally considered to have delivered the first profitable newspaper web site in 1995. Cauthorn has been in the middle of the transition from old media to new and is recognized as frank-talking critic when he believes newspapers stray for their mission. In mid-2004 he became the president of CityTools, LLC a new media startup based in San Francisco.

Ben Compaine has divided his career between the academic world and private business. He was a journalist when manual typewriters were considered state of the art, but also led the conversion of his college newspaper to cold type. He has started and managed weekly newspapers. His dissertation at Temple University in 1977 was about the changing technologies that were going to unsettle the landscape of the staid and low profit newspaper industry. Since then he has focused his research and consulting on examining the forces and trends at work in the information industries. Among his most well-known works (and the name of his blog) is "Who Owns the Media?".

Vin Crosbie has been called "the Practical Futurist" by Folio, the trade journal of the American magazine industry. Editor & Publisher magazine, the trade journal of the American newspaper industry, devoted the Overview chapter of executive research report Digital Delivery of News: A How-to Guide for Publishers to his work. His speech to the National Association of Broadcasters annual conference was one of 24 orations selected by a team of speech professors for publication in the reference book Representative American Speeches 2004-2005. He has keynoted the Seybold Publishing Strategies conference in 2000; co-chaired and co-moderated last year's annual Beyond the Printed Word the digital publishing conference in Vienna; and regularly speaks at most major online news media conferences. He is currently in residence as adjunct professor of visual and interactive communications and senior consultant on executive education in new media at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and meanwhile is managing partner of the media consulting firm of Digital Deliverance LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut.
About this blog
Two forces have shattered the news media. Technology is the first. Although media technology is undergoing its greatest change since the day in 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg first inked type, for more than ten years now the news industry has mistaken new technologies merely as electronic ways to distribute otherwise printed or analog products. Estrangement is the second. The news media has lost touch with people's needs and interests during the past 30 years, as demonstrated by rapidly declining readerships of newspapers and audiences of broadcast news. How we rebuild news media appropriate to the 21st Century from the growing rubble of this industry is the subject of this group weblog.

Rebuilding Media

Monthly Archives

August 31, 2005

Being Part of Big Media Does Not Guarantee Survival

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Posted by Ben Compaine

It's a pleasure to join long time acquiatance Vin Crosbie and new virtual acquaintance Bob Cauthorn in contributing to this Weblog. The news media, and the media industries in general, are businesses. As I tell my students, no newspaper ever went out of business due to lack of content.

I plan to continue posting to my own blog. Sometimes I will cross post here while other entries will be unique either here or there. So read both! Now on to business...

In my latest study on media competition I show that the televison audience is far more segmented than in the days of the reign of three networks through the mid-1980s. That the make-up and competitiveness of television has changed dramatically can be gleaned in the following list of the ten programs with the highest rating since Nielsen began measuring audiences. Only one of the ten is from the time since the start of the fourth network (Fox) in 1986 and that single event was part of the Winter Olympics from early 1994. Four of the 10 were from the 1970s. Since then, not a single Super Bowl, Word Series game or last episode of a popular series could muster an audience to rival the days of limited choice.

Although I haven’t put together the numbers, I would venture that not one network owner would break into the top 10 even if we added together all their corporate-owned programming-- i.e., broadcast and cable networks -- available at any given hour.


Other data I’ve presented shows that the five largest providers of television programming networks (Viacom, Disney, NBC, Time Warner and News Corp) account for a smaller proportion of television viewership than only three owners of three networks regularly aggregated in the 1960s into the 1980s. This undercuts the notion that fewer owners are controlling what more of us choose to watch, certainly if the comparison point is some supposed “Golden Age” of television a decade or more in the past.

Even though they continue to be profitable despite smaller and smaller audiences, the large media companies know that they need to change and adjust to the changing media mix if they are to survive. That could happen if they didn’t morph as they have been. News Corp, for example, recently announced it was buying Myspace.com and some related Web sites for something close to $600 million. I can’t predict whether that is going to be a good investment or not (I would say “not” unless News Corp has some strategy to keep MySpace from being the hot site du jour, only to be replaced by fickle surfers next year).

But it is possible that if today’s media companies simply try to circle the wagons their future is not guaranteed. I recently was leading graduate students in a Strategic Planning class on a case study (by purchase) of Wal*Mart. Here’s a sobering lesson from that case:

“Of the top 10 discounters operating in 1962 – the year Wal*Mart opened for business—not one remained in 1993.”

Korvette’s, W.T. Grant, Woolco, Zayre, Two Guys, among others had been at the top and were gone. More recently, established chains such as Bradlees, Caldor and Ames have closed their doors, usually not voluntarily. Wal*Mart has learned from their mistakes.

We shouldn’t expect to see media companies—no matter how large or seemingly entrenched—stand pat as the technologies change around them, as consumer behavior adjusts to the choices and broader range of technologies available, and as advertisers follow their customers.

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August 30, 2005

MIT Technology Review Goes Less Print, More Online

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

During the Magazine Publishers Association's second annual IMAG Magazine Leadership Conference in Atlanta last month, MIT’s Technology Review Magazine Editor-in-Chief Jason Pontin predicted that the disappearance of print will come sooner than we think, thanks largely to “citizen journalism” and an increasingly fragmented digital media platform. "If there’s a future in print, it’s in decline as an advertising supported medium."

The assembled magazine publishers probably weren't too pleased by what he said. Nevertheless, Pontin may now be moving towards his own prediction. The Boston Globe today reports that he's been named the new publisher of Technology Review, while keeping his editor-in-chief position; is reducing the magazine's print edition's frequency from 11 times a year to six; and will be emphasizing its Internet presence.

''With this change of leadership," said Ann J. Wolpert, who chairs the magazine's board of directors, ''it seemed to us we also had a fine opportunity to rethink the distribution model. ... A redesigned technologyreview.com will be launched in November that will feature news analysis, daily commentary, audio and video feeds, blogs, podcasts, and 'webinars' about the impact of emerging technologies."

Technology Review's print edition will focus on longer articles, and will be published every other month.

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Introducing Ben Compaine

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

On this day in history, Cleopatra committed suicide by snakebite (30 B.C.), Tokugawa Ieyasu entered Edo Castle and became the first Japanese Shogun (1590), Honolulu officially became a city (1850), Confederates defeated Union forces at the Second Battle of Bull Run (1862), Lenin was shot in an assassination attempt (1918), the German siege of Leningrad began (1941), General MacArthur arrived in Japan (1945), the U.S.-Soviet hotline phone was installed (1963), Bob Dylan released his album Highway 61 Revisted (1965), Ho Chi Minh corresponded with Richard Nixon about ending the Vietnam War (1969), Cameron Diaz was born (1972), Madonna declared that “Having money is just the best thing in the world”, (1993) and we've added Ben Compaine as a contributor.

Although not on this day in 2001, Ben's Who Owns the Media: Competition and Concentration in the Mass Media Industry, now in its third edition, won the Robert Picard Award for Best New Book in Media Economics. He is also the author, co-author or editor of six other books, including Information Resources Policy Handbook: Perspectives on the Information Age, and The Internet Upheaval: Raising Questions, Seeking Answers in Communications Policy and The Digital Divide: Facing a Crisis or Creating a Myth?, all published by MIT Press. Ben's articles about the changes media are undergoing have appeared in journals such as Telecommunications Policy, Science Digest, Success, Teleconnect, Daedalus, Reason, and the Journal of Communication.

A graduate of Dickinson College, Ben received his M.B.A from Harvard University and Ph.D from Temple University, and has been research affiliate at Harvard University's Program on Information Resources Policy, senior rsearch professor in communications at Penn State University, and Bell Atlantic Professor of Telecommunications at Temple University. He has also served on the editorial board of the Journal of Media Economics and the Publications Committee of the Broadcast Education Association.

Earlier this month, when I posted an essay about Ben, I hadn't realized that he blogged and might be amenable to contributing to Rebuilding Media. We're increasing the number of contributors here, and had been looking for an expert in communications theory, policy, and practice. Viola!

Months ago, the mid-summer seemed like a ideal time to launch this Rebuilding Media blog. The summer was supposed to be a slow time for business, with plenty of free time for blogging. But as former news anchor Dan Rather once noted, "If you try to read the tea leaves before the cup is done you can get yourself burned." Or something like that. Mixed with vacation time, I'm having my busiest working summer this millennia, so my postings here have been all too infrequent. Mea culpa! Bob Cauthorn, who's about to launch a new company, says he's in a similar situation.

Although Bob and I have posts in the works, adding accomplished contributors here helps our quest how to rebuild media for the 21st Century. I'd like to have ultimately a half dozen or so contributors, each from different aspects (print, broadcast, pure online, academia, etc.) of media, all ideally with multi-disciplinary (reporting or production, theory, business development, etc.) experience. We've got some candidates in mind (and if you know of others, e-mail us).

Ben is a cornerstone of our effort to rebuild the media and we heartily welcome him aboard!

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August 17, 2005

Ben Compaine as Jonathan Swift: Should Media Set the Community's Agenda?

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

My own interest in new media began in 1980 during a seminar about the future of newspapers. Its moderater was Dr. Benjamin Compaine, who was then executive director of Harvard University's Program on Information Resources Policy. The seminar talked about an era towards the end of the 20th Century when households would be wired with instant communications devices which could provide all the world's information instantly in text, audio, and video formats. One of the seminar handouts was entitled The Road to Wired City.

Most of that seminar's predictions proved true (or else you wouldn't be reading this). As for Ben Compaine, he became Bell Atlantic Professor of Telecommunications at Temple University, visiting professor in Communications at Penn State University, and later research and development consultant to the Massachusetts Institute ot Technology's Program on Internet & Telecoms Convergence. Whenever he and I correspond, I tease him that, for better or worse, he is to blame for getting me into this crazy business.

Because Professor Compaine has long been ahead of me, I'm wasn't surprised to discover that, weeks before Bob Cauthorn and I launched this Rebuilding Media blog, that my teach wrote in his own blog, Who Owns the Media?, about The Critical Need for Restructuring the Media Industry Before It’s Too Late.

In the spirit of Jonathan Swift's 'A Modest Proposal', Compaine splays the contention among some media traditionalists that giving consumers more choice in media is bad for society:

An unintended consequence of the information technologies that have become widely available in the last two decades is a dangerous fragmentation of culture and community....
There are so many choices of media—within print, video, audio, online, in the movie theater—that every old channel, every traditional mass audience publication, every network, every frequency has not been able to sustain the kind of unifying, common influence that used to provide a national common thread....
We are losing our homogeneity. Is that progress for American society?

I increasingly hear that question asked by executives of mass media companies and professors of mass media.

The Internet creates new diversions like kudzu: 10 million blogs and counting. Podcasting. Streaming and archived radio. Peercasting is going to undermine the national desire for a very limited number of sources. We will not have a basis for common subjects for discussion over coffee at Starbucks.

So lament many newspaper editors and journalism professors.

However, I believe that the mass media's ability to set a common agenda for the community has been merely a side effect that arose from the technological limitation of mass media. This limitation is that the analog production technologies of mass media required that a common edition (or common program in broadcast) be produced for all readers (or all listeners and viewers).

In other words, because an editor could produce only a single edition at a time for all readers, he had to choose stories according to the greatest common interests of all readers until all the space in that edition (or time in that broadcast program) was filled. A side effect of this production limitation was that his choices set a common reading agenda for the community.

During the past four centuries of the mass media's influence, media executives have grown so used to seeing this side effect that they've come to believe it is the mass media's original purpose, rather than an incidental result of technological limitations.

No wonder they're upset nowadays when the new media technologies are shattering that one-to-many technical limitation of mass media.

I cherish that shattering. I believe it is good because people's interests aren't common or generic. Although it is true that we all share some common interests (such as the weather), and that many people might share some quite individual interests (anyone for bonsai gardening and the films of Patrick McGoohan?), the fact is that each and every one of us is a unique mix of common and individual interests. We each don't have the same mix of interests (as much as the mass media might hope we do).

The new media technologies let each individual acquire whatever mix of content better matches his own individual mix of common and unique interests.

The mass media was excellent at satisfying common interests but lousy at satisfing individual interests. I think that's why more than 600 million people worldwide have gravitated onto the Internet, despite those people already having access to mass media. Fortunately, the new media can do all that the mass media did, satisfying common interests, plus satisfy individual interests.

I believe this to be natural and ineluctible evolution for media technologies. Today, most people have to satisfy their individual mix by visiting a number of websites, TV channels, publications, blogs, podcasts, etc.. Yet, I believe that as more individualized (i.e., 'personalized') media appear in the future, their individual mixes will be delivered to them. The role of media.

Media technologies are naturally evolving to match the common and individual interests of each person (if there is such a thing as naturally in technologies!) A result of this natural evolution is a shift in the ability to set community agenda. It's shifting more out of the media's hands. The media will never again be able to set common that agenda the way that mass media alone used to do.

Is that a good thing? Only time will tell.

For a quarter century, Ben Compaine has been my Jonathan Swift. He's helped form and stimulate my thinking, by sound teaching and, occasionally as with his blog entry on community agenda, sharp satire:

The media industry must be reformed. It needs the restructuring that only the federal government can undertake. Congress is certainly on the right track, having already handed out free digital spectrum to the incumbent broadcasters. Good thing they didn’t have it auctioned off to other players. The shrinking media companies must not be permitted to get any more fragmented. We must write to the FTC and Justice Department urging them not to permit further divestitures, such as the recently announced sale of big multinational Bertelsmann’s magazines to the much smaller publisher, Meredith. The FCC must be convinced to limit the bandwidth available for wireless services such as satellite radio, Wi-Max and the like so newer services cannot be initiated. And certainly we cannot allow any further news services to find room on the multichannel video providers. Even better would be to roll back to the conditions that existed before 1986, thus taking the Fox, WB and UPN networks off the air as well as removing Fox News and MSNBC from the cable line-up.
Only that way can we be sure that we have the base of shared values, shared views and shared culture that we had in the Golden Age of the media from the 1950s until the 1980s.

Perhaps the mass media's traditional ability to form a common community agenda was beneficial?

However, shouldn't each member of that community have the democratic right to use whatever new technologies are legally available to satisfy his mix of interests?

Should the community's agenda be set by media as the community's guiding light?

Or are the community's agenda something that should be formed by the incidental aggregation of all community members' mix of common and individual interests, with the media more and more just the reporters of the agenda?

Let us know what you think? (Do first read Ben's original posting because my excerpts omitted much.)

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August 10, 2005

Evening TV News Might Disappear Like Evening Newspapers

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

Now that news anchors Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and Dan Rather have vanished, The New York Times' advertising columnist Stuart Elliott predicts that much of the $500 million dollars which advertisers spend annually on the news programs from ABC, CBS, and NBC will shift from the evening news programs to alternatives such as morning news and daytime magazine shows.

"It is not unlike a sea change that has remade the newspaper industry as readers of evening editions migrated to papers that publish in the mornings," writes Elliott.

He quotes Bill McOwen, an advertising agency managing director: "There is still a generation served their news nightly with their cocktails, and they like it. And till that generation moves on, there will be clients who want to reach them. But my generation, and anyone younger, is not getting news then. And marketers know that."

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August 8, 2005

Friday's FCC ruling could usher in new internet tariffs

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Posted by Bob Cauthorn

On Friday, the FCC decided to ease regulation on broadband services (DSL and cable modems, in the main) by designating them as "information services." Because media now relies on networking, the effects of this change could touch all media consumers and providers over time,

Smacking of newspeak, the FCC decision was couched in language that made it look like a gesture in favor of internet freedom, when it fact it was really about expanding telco power with respect to DSL and broadband networks.

Effectively, telcos are no longer required to allow competitors (such as Speakeasy) direct access to telco lines at reasonable, regulated rates. In fact, telcos no longer have to grant access to competitors at all. And if the competitors can access the telco lines, they can't serve consumers.

The ruling -- which will certainly be fought -- threatens to reduce the amount of broadband competition considerably.

Aside from the prospect of paying more for broadband access, media consumers will face another creepy threat going forward: providers blocking certain ports and/or charging extra for access to certain ports.

Each internet service (e-mail, web access, internet telephony etc) communicates via a specific "port" and if you block a particular port at the network level, users can't access that particular type of service. Thus, if a telco blocks access to port 80, its users can't access the web.

Port blocking or additional tariffs would be controversial, for sure. Such efforts might invite re-regulation. Yet, some telcos might feel it is worth the risks.

For example, internet telephony certainly is deeply frightening (no long distance charges!) to some telcos. Why not block the ports used by internet telephony pioneers like Skype to render the service worthless? (Meanwhile, Skype is reportedly in talks about being acquired by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. I wonder how that's going today now that the US market has changed...)

Likewise if you're a cable company and you feel that a Netflix download service might cut into your pay-per-view revenue, why not block those ports or charge more for accessing any Netflix port?

The FCC has frowned on such internet rudeness to date. Not long ago, it sanctioned a regional telco for blocking access to internet telephony provider Vonage. But that was under the old rules, though, and as of Friday the FCC has significantly less leverage to repeat such sanctions. In other words, it will be able to do little more than frown going forward.

There are ways around port blocking, Indeed internet telephony is more sophisticated in this respect than most services, But port blocking workarounds are difficult to implement effectively on any large scale for consumers.

Until now, competition prevented network providers from blocking ports. For instance, while file sharing is a huge bandwidth hog any company trying to limit it or charge for it would watch its subscriber base vanish to competitors.

It's generally true that competition and technology are driving bandwidth costs toward zero. In such a climate, network providers could find the notion of a tiered internet rate card extremely appealing. Internet telephony, movie download services, gaming, music and file-sharing could be the first targets for add-in pricing for consumers.

Large web players, such as Amazon, have expressed concerns about the FCC change too. It appears they fear telcos or cable comapnies will decide to charge web service providers for the right to access customers in the telco's service area. Under this scenario, web access over port 80 to, say, Amazon.com or the New York Times would be metered and telcos would charge Amazon and the NYT when customers surf their sites.

As a practical matter, I consider this unlikely. But it's certainly not impossible. In a landscape of fewer competitors, those who remain can dictate terms.

According to Reuters, the FCC made pains to point out that the it really, really, really, really, super-duper, honest-to-god hopes no telco or cable giant takes advantage of the situation....

"The Federal Communications Commission issued a statement of principles that encourages providers of broadband to allow consumers access to any Internet content and applications they want."
....even as it removed the regulatory requirements that ensured healthy competition.

I suppose that in the FCC world view, impeding competition and reviving service monopolies while issuing statements of principles will naturally stimulate selfless corporate behavior. Telcos are traditional models of restraint, right?

For competitors like Skype or Speakeasy, the world just got a whole lot more complicated.

Historically, telcos seldom rush to exploit regulatory changes. That would look too much like opportunistic gloating and besides rushing to make changes invites political backlash. And telcos just don't move fast at anything. Instead, they'll wait until the news dies down and start step-wise changes. We'll learn their real intentions over the next 12-18 months.

For the moment, the competition between cable internet services and telco DSL could help keep any per service tariffs in check. There we go again: relying on that quaint American notion that competition keeps markets lively. The FCC demonstrated on Friday it lacks an appetite for keeping competition lively when massive corporate interests are at stake.

Of course, one can expect this ruling to meet brisk court and legislative challenges from the competitors of telco/cable companies. Consumer groups will likely jump into the fray as well.

In the end, it's hard to believe the ruling won't be significantly amended to ensure competition as matter of policy, not just principle. As this gets sorted out one hopes for quick deployment of other technologies like WIMAX to provide additional broadband alternatives.

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August 3, 2005

Are metro papers outdated? Unofficial Local coverage day continues at Rebuilding media

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Posted by Bob Cauthorn

My fellow Corante denizen Vin Crosbie was on NPR today talking and posting about citizen journalism's impact on local and hyperlocal coverage.

One portion of the terrific discussion grabbed my attention because it leads me once again to the belief that the scale of the metro newspaper has become a central liability of today's press.

Vin and Marc Glaser from the Online Journalism Review both touched on the idea that local coverage has been diminished primarily as result of steady newsroom cutbacks over the last 40 or 50 years.

For my part, I remain unconvinced by the evidence that cutbacks were the main cause for reduction in local (and hyperlocal) coverage.

Certainly, cutbacks contributed to the decline, but newsroom appetites also played a major role. In too many newsrooms, the sex appeal of good local coverage evaporated. Reporters and editors didn't think local coverage was a path to career advancement.

But there this too: urbanization played an enormous part in the decline of local coverage.

American metro areas are now sufficiently complicated for one to ask whether any single news organization can truly cover them. Naturally, that's where citizen journalism shall contribute meaningfully. Nonetheless, the rise of citizen journalism should not, as Vin points out, let traditional media off the hook when it comes to local efforts.

There is an object lesson -- in print no less -- that good things happen if newspapers focus on local coverage. It also reveals much about scale issues.

In San Francisco, the Examiner -- with a reporting staff of six -- beats the Chronicle on SF coverage virtually every weekday. And that's despite the Chronicle's rich resources: it has one of the largest newsrooms for its circulation size in America.

How does the Examiner do it? It focuses its slender resources entirely on San Francisco proper, uses wire stories for national and
international coverage and seldom concerns itself with the larger Bay Area. The Chronicle meanwhile is self-identified as a metro paper for the region -- and as practiced that definition assumes it can't cover any specific area in depth.

With each passing day, readers in San Francisco embrace the new Examiner specifically because it covers local matters more aggressively and more creatively. Plus, the word on the street is that if you approach the Examiner with a local story idea, you actually might see it in print. That's impressive. Just for giggles, try approaching a typical metro with a story idea sometime.

Thus, the metro daily's putative lack of interest in hyperlocal coverage opens up a market segment that a smaller, but still very traditional, rival gleefully exploits.

But is the newspaper actually uninterested in local coverage or is the real problem built into the structure of today's metro newspaper?

I suspect the latter. If the Examiner experiment succeeds, the deeper message is that the metro newspaper concept is futile and outdated.

Like a cartoon character with its legs spinning wildly while it gets exactly nowhere, the metro paper can't find traction these days.

It used to be the metro daily was a regionwide source for national and international news and lots of lifestyle and cultural coverage. It was also the "prestige paper" in the market. Now the net delivers all these types of news better and media prestige just ain't what it used to be, ya know?. Meanwhile, smaller, more nimble players deliver local news better and definitely serve local advertisers more effectively.

True, metro papers have the resources to fund "big journalism" -- sending reporters overseas, devoting staff to investigatve work, etc. But cutbacks are affecting that too and the quality of "big journalism" lately has left much to be desired.

The metros remaining strength stems from this: national advertisers find them convenient. But if they sour on metro newspapers, and signs suggest that is starting, then a reckoning will be at hand.

As our cities have grown, metro newspapers evolved with them. That brought a necessary giantism -- giant presses, giant distribution mechanisms, giant staffs. And because of the size of the enterprise, metros require giant advertising revenues to stay afloat.

Simple biology: giant creatures always require more food from their ecosystems. That also means there is a maximum size that giants can reach before their ecosystems collapse.

Plus, giants tend to begin to miss the small; the small stories certainly, and even the small advertisers. When you are a giant, the national revenues from a General Motors or a Proctor& Gamble make more sense than the local revenues of the dry cleaner.

Yet people live, even in a metro area, on an intimate scale. Their lives are are made up of neighborhoods, and local shops and the fate of schools and all the delicate subtleties arranged around us.

Unfortunately the size of those delicate subtleties fail to move a giant. It's almost a physical problem -- giants just can't see things smaller than a certain size.

And so, for a newspaper like the San Franciso Chronicle or the Los Angeles Times or any metro daily, it becomes easier to send a reporter to cover a giant story like Iraq than it is to send a someone to figure out why one intersection in a city has more traffic accidents than any other.

Of course, citizen journalism lends itself to the small and hence the excitement over what is happening in that space. Communities will have their stories told. That's an eternal truth. If one entity refuses to tell the stories, in time another shall.

Perhaps we should now begin asking whether there is a maximum size that a newspaper can achieve before it outgrows its ecosystem and begins to fail its community.

This concept runs counter to every instinct in a newsroom or publisher's suite where the fundamental logic dictates that bigger is always better. Yet the smartest business move at this juncture might be to break up metro papers into a suite of smaller newspapers serving the same geographic area, but with very different goals -- celebrate local stories, re-discover local advertiers. Keep a tiny super-structure of the old metro in place to support some "big journalism" efforts and facilitate national ad buys across the local titles.

Clearly the lame efforts at zoned editions at metro papers haven't succeeded. Zoning was always more about revenues than coverage anyway.

Let's talk about real structural change instead: partition the giants. Maybe the LA Times should actually be broken into three or four or five distinct papers to better cover the market one giant lumbers across today. If you did it smartly, you could still retain many of the economic benefits of large scale while gaining the focus of smaller organizations.

Of course it won't happen. There are too many embedded interests that will prevent it. What editor or publisher wants to see his or her kingdom divided and part of it given to another? Sure, it might make the best long-term business sense, it might make the most sense for readers or advertisers. But giants don't cede their size without a fight.

Instead, we should keep our eyes open as multiple, small upstarts -- ala the Examiner -- arrive to do the local job the metro daily refuses to complete. Add citizen journalism to that mix and you get a spectrum of media that is downright hopeful.

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August 2, 2005

New York Times to Merge Print and Online Newsrooms

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

Here's a significant signal of the growing importance of publishing news online:

The New York Times today told its staff that it would merge its print and its online (NYTimes.com) newsrooms in 2007.

The online edition's newsroom is currently several city blocks away from the print edition's newsroom. Look for stories in the news trade press about this significant internal merger later today and on Wednesday.

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Prologue to a Radio Interview about 'Citizen Journalism'

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation has asked me to speak on their program today about 'citizen journalism'. They're looking for someone skeptical about it. When their producer ask me to go on the air, I told her that I might not be that person.

If you go to your library and read a local daily newspaper from 50 or more years ago, you'll find it full of the type of hyperlocal coverage that new-media pundits are discovering in 'citizen journalism'. In other words, 'citizen journalism' is a return to what professional journalists used to do.

That is, they used to do before media corporations purchased almost all of the 1,400 daily newspapers in the U.S. and cut those newspapers' reporting staffs to the point where there aren't enough local reporters left to get out on the streets and report really local news the way they used to do.

So, is 'citizen journalism' today the solution for local journalism?

No, I don't think so. Or, at least I hope not, because it's at best a worst case solution.

The best solution would be for local newspapers to hire more reporters, to staff news organizations the way that local newspapers used to be staffed for a hundred years. Staffed so that those newspapers can again do really local reporting.

Am I naive enough to think that's going to happen? No, I expect that staffing levels at local newspapers will continue to implode. The worst case will happen. So, maybe that means these newspapers should use 'citizen journalism' to supplement some of their reportorial staff loses. 'Citizen journalism' thus might be a useful tool.

However, 'citizen journalism' first needs to shed two impediments to its worthwhile use. The first is hype. As Psychologist Abraham Maslow noted, 'When all you own is a hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail.' New-media pundits seem to be claiming that 'citizen journalism' is the solution to all, if not most, of the news media's problems. I instead think that it is just one of many, many tools that might be useful to fix those problems.

The second impediment is naïve faith. Ditch it. I've heard some new-media pundits say that if a newspaper were to enlist 100 'citizen journalists', then that newspaper will have 100 new stories every day. Well, that would be true if the newspaper could find 100 citizens who were reasonably competent as journalists. If it could find 100 local people who not only know how to tell a story but also are objective plus know how to research and double-check facts. But folks like that are incredibly hard to find.

A journalist can use a blog and a blogger can be a journalist. However, the true difference between a blogging and a journalism is that a journalist is trained to find, research, double-check, and objectively report. No matter if that reporting is done in print or in a blog, by a professional or an amateur, the objective craft of journalism is necessary.

I'll put it this way, whether people are going to doctors or healing themselves, whomever does the healing needs to know the art of medicine. So too does whomever does the reporting need to know the craft of journalism.

Sure, it is possible to find a 'citizen journalist' who can do that with no training. But most will need training. Fortunately, there are startup companies (such as iReporter) being formed to do just that. But how to make such training widespread is another problem.

So, am I skeptical about 'citizen journalism'? Well, I'm skeptical that it will, or should, replace professional reporting. However, I'm a realist and think that 'citizen journalism' might be a useful supplement for local newspapers that have hobbled themselves by staff cuts.

I'll probably have more thoughts about this topic by time Talk of the Nation goes on the air later today. I hope so. (I also hope that the producers, who are looking for a more polarized opinion, find someone else to replace me on their show.)

EPILOGUE: The Talk of the Nation show went better than I had worried about . Host Neal Conan provided Online Journalism Review columnist Mark Glaser and I with several good examples of 'citizen journalism' to talk about. And I particularly like YourHub.com, the example given by John Temple, managing editor of the Rocky Mountain News.

To hear the show.

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August 1, 2005

Prudential examines newspapers circulation numbers

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Posted by Bob Cauthorn

Editor and Publisher has two stories on Prudential Securities' efforts to keep a close eye on the way newspapers manage circulation numbers in a climate of overall reader flight from the product.

Behind the upbeat headlines -- "Quality circulation is on the rise!" -- the overall circulation trend is bleak. Indeed, the headline itself is misleading: you can only say "quality circulation" is on the rise as a proportion vs. the number of nearly free (and utterly unrequested) copies newspapers throw at readers to prop up the circ figures. Using less crap circulation might make the percentage of "quality" greater in the overall pie, but it's not the same as growing full-paid circulation, which continues to drop in real terms.

Pay close attention to some of the language in this this one at E&P as well. The LA Times paid home circ is down 18% and single copy sales were off 9% year-over-year according to Prudential. Wow.

Lastly, pay very close attention to any discussion of the "third party sales" numbers -- copies free to readers but paid for by others -- as this practice is a time bomb in the industry.

Prudential has a great interest in this particular means of inflating circulation and so, if rumors are to believed, do federal prosecutors in New York. After the September auditing period -- basically, the "sweeps" season for newspapers -- some very distressing numbers are likely to be revealed.

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Our Infrequency and Length

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Posted by Vin Crosbie

We’ve received sniping from some pundits who are paid to blog, who complain that we blog too infrequently. Well, may we remind them that we write this blog for free, during the sparse spare time we have away from our day jobs. Nevertheless, guys, we're willing to blog more frequently if you'll share some of your blogging paychecks with us.

Likewise, we've caught criticism that our postings are a bit prolix. OK, but as Mark Twain remarked, "If I had more time, I would write a shorter story." Among those criticism, I honestly liked Biz Stone’s suggestion: "It's funny and informative and well written but sheesh. They should break it into parts. Give it to me 600 words at a time throughout the week and build in cliffhangers to get me hooked." Great idea. In fact, one conceived by Charles Dickens in 1848. Pity this isn’t David Copperfield serialized in a weekly magazine. Wouldn't Lachlan Murdoch make a great Uriah Heep?

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