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.
Esquire magazine has created a wiki version of an article about wikis to test whether wiki-fying something actually makes it better. (And -- the sometiems editor writes fearful/jokingly -- put line editors out of a job.)
Ben Compaine of this blog and much erudition elsewhere as well and I have been having a conversation this month about what deserves to be part Rebuilding Media. Certainly not just news sites, and especially not just news sites linked to bigger traditional media. Our discussion centered largely around limiting ourselves to what's "serious," a word he proposed. I'm a joker by nature, but I also believe in the need to not get off track, so I asked Ben what we should consider "serious." Vogue magazine? Movies done purely for entertainment but on which some serious money is spent?
This is not a trivial point, I think. Ben wrote:
There are no bright lines -- I fall back on what pretension the individual properties hold for themselves. By that standard Vogue is certainly a serious purveyor of news and information on fashion and culture; NBC News should be a no brainer, though watching the Today Show sometimes makes Vogue seem like a heavyweight. Video games are often lumped in with media expenditures, but I wouldn't call them part of the news and information media, though there might be some games out there-- like some of the Sims-- that have serious content and one could argue is serious. So, I take my cue from the players. If they think they have a news and information rationale, good enough for me.
I might go even farther, in a world where Jon Stewart imparts a lot of news to a large number of people, when I see some really serious discussion on that show from real opinion leaders and politicians. On a more personal note, I asked my wife today – who works at Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine – if the U.S. was really going to try to get back to the moon by 2018, something I first read in the joke rag The Onion. (Yes, NASA does plan a way station to Mars on the moon by then, she said.) I'm sure I saw a Yahoo! News headline on that, or heard it on NPR or the nightly news, but who can remember all the info we're barraged with? And I certainly could have, instead of asking my beautiful companion, looked online and perhaps avoided making myself look silly here by admitting something I didn't know. But the point I'm making is that even "serious" people seriously considering the media, if we're intellectually honest, have to acknowledge that the media we're providing – whatever they are – exist in a very large and varied ecosystem that has multiple and varied tentacles competing for attention across boundaries that might once have been valid.
That's all serious to me. And fun. Now I think I'll check some headlines, and maybe the recording I made of the Daily Show from a couple days ago.
How did the media get into its dire predicament? Who's been running this show?
We often trip over interviews with the people in charge excerpts from which we'd occasionally like to share with you.
For instance, here's some excerpts from Giving Them What They Want, the September 4th The New York Times Magazine cover story [unfortunately, paid online archives access only] about CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves
What strikes you most about Moonves, [The New York Times Magazine Editor-at-Large Lynn] Hirschberg says, is his enormous self-confidence and his focus. "Most people have a hard time trying to decide what they want for breakfast," she says. Moonves, on the other hands, "has a vision for what's going to be on the air every day and every night on a network with millions of viewers." It's easy to be cynaical about televison, she adds, but industry leaders like Moonves have a very differenct mind-set: "They're not jaded about what they are going. They're passionate about it. They have a kind of belief in what they're doing as important, and they do not quesiton that."
“CBS is back because Les has done a great job. But the broadcast audience will continue to erode. Networks like CBS cast a wide net that attracts a vast number of viewers, but eventually that audience will want something more specific, and they’ll turn to cable of the Internet.” Home Box Office Chairman and C.E.O. Chris Albrecht.
“There’s a way to fix news, “ Moonves says confidently. “Just as there was a way to fix prime time. I never saw TV as an ailing medium. There’s no place else to get that kind of audience."
Now that [Dan] Rather is no longer the network eminence at CBS Evening News, “Moonves says he intends to completely revamp the program. In January, he even suggested that he might e willing to have Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s mock-news program The Daily Show play some part on the evening news a sign of how drastically Moonves feels the news needs to change.
“We have to break the mold in news,” Moonves had told me. “We don’t have a choice.” Moonves has expressed his frustration about the news division to friends and colleagues sometimes with intentional hyperbole. Moonves genuinely likes and respects [CBS News President Andrew] Hayward, but has said to colleagues that Heyward may not be able to “lead a revolution.”
It might seem surprising that Moonves, given his approach to the genre of TV drama, is so taken with reinventing the news. But then he is, as usual, following his sense of what the viewers want. The audience, he imagines, would like its news to be more like his entertainments shows: better stories told by attractive personalities in exciting ways. To this end, Moonves requested in June that Heyward shoot some prototypes of nightly news shows using alternative formats. There were more than 10 meetings that followed in which Moonves pushed Heyward to be less conservative in his thing. “The News anchor Andrew wants to use is not surprising,” Moonves told me, referent to John Roberts, the chief White House correspondent for CBS and one of Heyward’s leading choices. “That’s bothering me. On the one hand, we could have a newscast like The Big Breakfast in England, where women give the news in lingerie. Or there’s Naked News, ‘ which is on cable in England. I saw a clip of it. It’s a woman giving the news as she’s getting undressed. And then, on the other hand, you could have two boring people behind a desk. Our newscast has to be somewhere in between.”
The finished news prototype will probably have some nontraditional features humorous segments, conversations between reporters and than anchor, interactive elements involving viewers. Throughout the summer, the news division solicited ideas froma variety fo sources: products of entertainment shows, MTV News, and even a group of college-age interns who were working at CBS. IN the end, though, Moonves will be the judge. “It’s like pornography I’ll know it when I see it,” he would tell me later.
“News is commerce, too. The news people are all being paid lost of money. So it’s a little hypocritical to claim that I was turning news a sacred institution into commerce by putting ’60 Minutes II’ on the air. Well, you know what, guys? When you agent calls, he’s not being shy about asking form money. He views this as commerce.”
Why in this blog do we frequently write about newspapers? Mainly because newspapers have had the longest experience with the new medium.
The New York Times launched the world's first online edition in 1974 with LexisNexis, followed by many magazines and other newspapers on that professional online service or competitors such as Dialog. Though I forget which printed periodical launched the first online edition aimed at consumers , but it probably was on an dial-up bulletin board service around 1980. Many newspapers and magazines launched online editions on CompuServe and Prodigy later that decade. And in 1995, The San Jose Mercury News became the world's first newspaper to launch an edition on the World Wide Web. Broadcasters followed years behind.
So what have newspapers learned during all that time? What can anyone learn from newspapers' experiences with the new medium?
One facet can be glimpse in the cover story of the October edition of Editor and Publisher magazine, the trade journal of the American newspaper industry. Entitled 2020: A Press Odyssey, it asked print newspaper executives what they think their products will look like in 15 years. [Unfortunately, the cover story is available online only to the magazine's print edition subscribers or to paying subscribers of its online edition.] Here are some excerpts:
Industry veterans across the country imagine neither the disappearance of printed editions nor the likely appearance of all- digitally printed newspapers by 2020. Almost all, however, point to improved targeting of advertising and customer-selectable content. "I don't think that in 15 years our economic model is going to allow us to mass-market everything to everybody," says Richard Rinehart, operations VP at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.
"The idea that we call ourselves a newspaper is a problem," says St. Petersburg Times Tampa [sic] Publisher Joe DeLuca, because it identifies the business by its distribution channel -- something like "Coke calling itself a can." The former Times operations director now responsible for the paper's business operations in Tampa says advertisers are focused more on niche markets, and want to target them in ways that mass distribution now cannot.
"I believe the whole paper will have to be targeted," with only requested sections delivered, says LA Weekly Production Director Robin Shank, adding that subscribers shouldn't have to toss out half their papers. What's more, she and others think revenues should rise from charging subscribers by the section and raising ad rates to correspond with subscriber-section targeting. Advertisers know not everyone reads every section. "They're not stupid," says Shank. "If I'm buying that section, I'm a heck of a lot more valuable to that advertiser because I'm going to read it." Rather than selling an ad on the strength of total circulation, she urges charging advertisers a premium rate to reach those they know will see their ads.
"We just need to become more of a niche product," says Rinehart, even if it means doing some custom assembly. "It's not all about savings."
Shank says [this] unbundling is hard to sell, nowhere more than in the newsroom. At Gannett, Production Vice President J. Austin Ryan isn't buying either. Besides waste and time-consuming replates and restarts of many small zoned runs, he worries that if publishers tell advertisers that few read the section in which their ads appear, many will just ask to move their ads to the A section, which cannot hold every ad.
On the other hand, Ryan thinks distribution needs only to be better utilized. "We have a distribution system that works very well -- at 4 o'clock in the morning," he says, calling it the envy of the U.S. Postal Service and wondering if it couldn't deliver whatever customers are willing to pay for.
Future post-press automation, therefore, will need to shrink the workforce and "allow mass customization," says consultant and former Gannett production executive Chuck Blevins The good news, he adds, is that systems at the front end of publishing are up to the task.
I've been writing elsewhere since 2000 (example) about how printing press technologists are moving towards the idea of the individually customizable newspaper, yet most newspapers' online executive dismiss the concept of offering equally customizable editions online. Why is that?
Of course, this E&P cover story begs the question of whether or not a print newspaper industry will exist in America by 2020. A few years ago, when the industry's perrenial circulation declines were only in the 0.5 to 1 percent range, Journalism Professor and former Knight Ridder newspapers executive Philip Meyer, the author of the recent book The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age, noted that "the last daily reader will disappear in September 2043."
During the past few years, despite a rising economy, those annual circulation declines have accelerated into the mid to high single percentages. If all these trends continue, that predicted last reader might arrive 23 years earlier and read an individually customized edition.
In New Orleans, where there is also lots of talk about rebuilding, there are seven broadcast stations. As of a few days ago only three were back on the air. No one at the Federal Communications Commission seems to know how many of their radio stations are broadcasting. But this is a case of the dog that didn’t bark: There has been no pressure from—or on – the FCC to get emergency generators to the broadcasters or to pressure the license holders to get back in business. No one seems to give a….
On the other hand, in interview and account after interview of interview and account we hear about the concerns of the citizens of New Orleans: When will cell service be restored? Where can I get online to find the Web sites that can help me connect with dispersed family members or to learn about what services are being offered by whom?
Meanwhile, the local daily, the Times-Picayune whose plant was out of commission, was reduced to publishing totally online for several days. Putting aside the revenue model, this turned out to be not much of an issue either given the circumstances, as there was—and is still -- no one left in New Orleans. The internet, on the other hand, was perfect for the newspaper to be available to the New Orleans Diaspora from Baton Rouge to Boston.
So what’s the point? As an information medium, people wanted the Internet more than they wanted the old time television channels. Online publishing was more robust than a waning manufacturing process.
While efforts to rebuild New Orleans are on the front burner, how consumers in the area affected by Katrina prioritized their media needs should provide some fresh insights into rebuilding media.
When you get an e-mail from Susan Mernit, you simply must pay attention. She's a dynamo and one of the True Good Folks of the fresh wave of media.
This message, about the live blogging of a conference sponsored by Yoga Journal magazine, intrigued the hell out of me. It was an e-mail blast -- not a bit of personalization -- in which Susan alerted everyone on her contact list about her live blogging effort for the conference.
Apparently, the Colorado conference is a big deal because one of the sainted figures of western yoga, B.K.S.Iyengar, will be honored. The blogging plans include all manner of multimedia streaming geegaws, text of course, and you know, the usual. So far, so good.
I imagine the streaming geegaws will be essential because, unless you stream something, a yoga conference blog threatens to consist of one blissed-out text confessional after another. A pure text blog likely winds up packed with entries about how "I felt I was in the presence of the greater grandness of the harmonious metauniverse..."
That's fine for the participants, but generally speaking satori is between the individual and the universe. I'm not clear on how blogging helps in that regard.
Worst case: you're experiencing bliss and you immediately fire up a web browser? How messed up is that? Next thing you know Google will market instant satori as a web service. Exploits just around the corner from the script kiddies... Dude, there's a buffer overrun exploit for Google Satori (tm).
Of course, Google being Google, the Satori product would be in permanent beta. And I kind of like that idea of satori always being in beta. Sweet. But I digress (in beta).
While there will certainly be a little shared text bliss, it looks like the main point of the Yoga Journal blogs will be to allow remote visitors to experience bits of the conference for themselves. And that's a wonderful thing. Here you find a magazine that is trying to stay in direct touch with its readers. Yoga Journal deserves applause for the inspiration.
Susan's point in her e-mail -- and it's a good one -- is that live blogging is a staple of the tech conference so why not make it a staple of other kinds of conferences?
That said, too often the official tech conference blogs (as opposed to independent, unsanctioned, live blogging) wind up as little more than PR devices for the conference organizers and tend to get filled with unvarnished promotion of product launches, etc.
The irony of it is that legitimate publications -- like Yoga Journal or computer magazines -- are often the sponsors of the events. If they let live blogs become wholesale PR machines, they toss media ethical issues out the window. However it's a young field and, as such, mistakes are made. Mistakes that can be righted.
At the moment, the notion of "official" live blogging nearly ensures that we're going to get PR. Unless, that is, we get something that looks like community service. That could be the case here. From the perspective of a Yoga Journal reader, even a PR laden "official blog" is likely going to be of interest and welcome. It's a self-identified community, so a little pro-yoga spin isn't going to hurt anyone, right?
Yet, there this: Yoga Journal organized this conference to make money, so what's the likelihood of someone posting an entry that says they felt ripped off? Zilch.
You need the balance of a yogi to determine whether this is a good, honest exercise or callous marketing disguised as frank discussion. Because Mernit is involved you can simply assume the best and I'll place my bet on it being an honest exercise any day. But the overall issue remains.
As live blogging of events develops, it would be nice to see a high premium set on "official" event blogs including disparate independent voices. At the last Democratic and Republican conventions live bloggers from all political stripes worked their trade. But that was a result of an open press-credential process. Private conferences are not obliged to play by those rules. But private conferences run by media companies should gladly hold themselves to these requirements.
Going forward, transparency from private events run by media companies will be important. I'm not sure the Yoga Journal blog could find a detractor. I mean, how can anyone be against yoga per se? However, one might be against the business of yoga today. I don't know.
Ultimately, only the social pressure from readers will ensure that live event blogging remains honest, open and adhers to the same ethical demands of regular journalism.
The ironically named 'BEHOLD THE POWER OF US' is a single-day online news industry digerati calvacade, organized by the American Press Institute and held at the headquarters of the Associated Press. It should appeal to the FEW OF THEM in the media WITH THE POWER to afford an event that's way too expensive to be much good for majority of the American news industry.
The nine-hour symposium in New York City on Wednesday, October 5th, costs $695 to attend.
Its speakers include Current TV Chairman and former Vice President of the United States Al Gore, Criagslist Customer Service Representative & Founder Craig Newmark, Associated Press President & CEO Tom Curley, BBC Global News Division Director Richard Sambrook, CBS News President Andrew Heyward, CBS Digital Media President Larry Kramer, Netform President Karen Stephenson, Wonkette Editor Ana Marie Cox, Bayosphere Founder Dan Gillmor, futurist Watts Wacker, Yahoo! Vice President & General Manager Craig Forman, New York Times Columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, Pop and Politics Editor & Founder Farai Chideya, Gawker.com Editor Jessica Coen, NewsGator Technologies President & CEO J.B. Holston, I Want Media Founder & Editor Patrick Phillips, Union Square Ventures Partner Brad Burnham, Young and Rubicam Brands Chief Insights Officer(yes, that's actually his job title) John Gerzema, and Micro Persuasion blogger Steve Rubel.
Plus, Edelman PR President & CEO Richard Edelman, Voy Chairman & CEO Fernando Espuelas, MMB Media LLC Principal Merrill Brown, Ogilvy PR Senior Vice President & Creative Director John Bell, Global Voices Co-Founder Rebecca MacKinnon, Backfence.com President & CEO Susan DeFife, PRESSthink Founder Prof. Jay Rosen, Glamor Editor Ellen Kampinsky, Senior Editor, Weblogs Co-Founder & Chairman Jason McCabe Calacanis, BlogAds Founder Henry Copeland, Mobius Venture Capital Managing Director Brad Feld, Wireless Ink Chairman Scott Rafer, 5ive Senior Vice President Susan Mernit, PDX.CN CEO Marcus Xiang, Deutsche Bank Media Analyst Paul Ginocchio, Americans for Informed Democracy Executive Director Seth Green, Majestic Research Co-Founder & Chairman Seth Goldstein, NextNextBigThing Director Dominik von Jan, BIA Financial Executive Vice President Rick Ducey, Greensboro News-Record Lex Citizen Journalism Coordinator Lex Alexander, Mindshare Interactive Campaigns Director Brian Reich, and American Press Institute Media Center Co-Directors Andrew Nachison and Dale Peskin.
That's a wonderful roster of speakers, probably the best I've ever seen for any new media conference! The symposium's program is aimed at helping American news media thrive in the 21st Century, and will focus on "participatory media."
So, what a pity that the cost of attending it is more than perhaps 93 percent of America's daily newspapers, 96 percent of America's television stations, 99 percent of America's radio stations, and 99.999 percent of American citizen journalists can afford!
The event is a nice idea. But to whom is the American Press Institute marketing it? It can't be to the average American daily newspaper, a publicatoin with weekday circulation of approximately 40,000. More than 1,200 of the nation's daily newspapers have weekday circulations of less than 50,000 and roughly 1,375 have less than 100,000. This event's registration fee of $695 is far too expensive for those newspapers particularly when combined with the costs of travel to New York City and an overnight hotel stay in that most expensive of American cities. The total cost of attending will probably run to more than $1,500 per person, not counting taxis and meals. Fat chance of getting the publisher of small or medium-sized newspaper to approve those expenses.
Likewise, an even smaller number of the nation's 6,000 television and radio stations could afford to send someone to it. And surely few 'citizen journalists' will be willing to foot the costs of attending.
I have to ask: How can the organizers of this event hold a participatory media symposium that's too expensive to attend for the vast majority of citizen journalism participants and for the vast majority of American media interested in participatory journalism?
What's the effective purpose of this symposium? Is it just a prestige event for the American Press Institute? ('Hey, we got Al Gore and several CEOs to speak at our event!') I don't understand.
If the organizers, hosts, and speakers at this event want it to be effective, they should hold it somewhere less expensive and easier to travel, and make its attendance fee inexpensive enough for most media organizations to afford. The point shouldn't be to hold a prestige event, but to hold an event that vast majority of its market can attend. Otherwise, it's just an example of the FEW atop media purportedly helping themselves, while congratulating themselves for purportedly helping the MANY below who work in media but who can't attend.
Unfortunately, BEHOLD THE POWER OF US will be attended by the few of them in the media who have expense accounts that can easily digest $695 to $1,500 to attend a single-day event about participatory media. That's not many participants!
So, no thanks! I'll skip this soireé and thereby miss seeing the princes of 'citizen media'.
UPDATE: Two American Press Institute executives reply in Comments.
I never thought I'd call a daily newspaper beautiful.
I've always considered daily news periodicals to be grubby Industrial Era products cheap paper products fabricate by clanking contraptions that melted lead into hardened cylinders faced with typeset characters and that inked newsprint streaming through rotary presses. Although those hot lead technologies were replaced by cold photolithographic typesetting late last century, most newspapers are still crudely designed commodity products like paperback books or paper cups, not something anyone would call beautiful.
Sure, I've seen some nicely designed parts or sections of newspapers during the past few decades. Some nicely designed front page formats by Mario Garcia or Edmund C. Arnold. Some strikingly designed section fronts in color. Some Sunday magazines designed by people who had all week to figure that out. But most newspaper design examples looked like attempts to put a designer bib on a cow. No matter what most designers added, underneath was still a banal and profane beast : the daily newspaper.
Most of the besl-designed newspapers that I’ve seen have been European. That’s probably because Europeans perhaps value good design in most products more than North Americans do and because of a fundamental difference between the newspaper business models in Europe and North America:
What difference? North American newspapers earn most of their revenues from selling advertising to other companies, but European newspapers earn most of their revenues from selling newspaper editions to people.
Indeed, the ratio reverses across the Atlantic. The average American newspaper earns approximately two-thirds of its gross revenues from selling display advertising to other companies or classified advertising to other companies or individuals, while the average European newspaper earns approximately two-thirds of its revenues from selling newspapers editions at kiosks and news agents (newsstands) or via subscriptions.
European newspaper's primary customers are readers. But American newspapers' primary customers are advertisers, not readers. Readers haven't been American newspapers' primary customers since the 1930s, when advertising sales eclipsed circulation sales as their primary source of revenues. Contrary to whatever they say, American publishers are in the business of designing and selling newspapers to advertisers; European publishers are in the business of designing and selling newspapers to readers.
Compare and see the obvious differences: More than 60 percent of the total page space in the average American newspapers is given to advertisements; while more than 60 percent of the total page space in the average European newspaper is given to news and information the ostensible purpose of a newspaper.
Or try another measurement. Compare the percentages of ‘canned’ content (stories the newspaper purchases from wire service and features syndicates) and ‘fresh’ content (stories written by the newspaper’s own staff or uniquely for that newspapers by freelance journalists). You’ll find inverse ratios on either side of the Atlantic. More than 80 percent of the average American newspaper’s content is canned content, but no more than 20 percent of the average European newspaper is.
Unlike their American bretheran, European publishers design their newspapers for readers. They design to appeal to readers more than advertisers. Nevertheless, I’d never seen even a European newspaper that was beautifully and comprehensively designed. Until now.
Seeing the first Berliner-format edition of The Guardian of London was a revelation – one that yields another clue to the rebuilding of media in the 21st Century.
Speaking of The Guardian, it's online wing is beta-testing a new service called Been There. Lloyd Shepherd. the deputy director of digital publishing, blogs that, " Essentially, it’s a platform for people to recommend things they like to do in places they love, and for other people to say if they agree with them. The main trick we’ve tried to pull off is the combination of 'travel journalism' with massive user input. It works like this: someone writes a profile of a 'place' and then people start adding tips for things to do in that place. And, for the first time anywhere on [Guardian Unlimited] adding tags to the tips. You can add tips with any tags you want. Finally, the feedback loop: every tip has a “do you agree” button next to it. But here’s the real Big Media exciting thing (bloggers look away now) - once a week, we’ll be running a section in the Travel section of the newspaper about a particular city, with users’ tips a big part of it. So, citizen media storms the Big Media gates once more."
This blog post, about three users of Treo phones bringing a class-action suit in California over how poorly the phone functions in their eyes is intriguing for two reasons I see:
One, the word Treo, itself, is linked to ads that sell the Treo. Forbes.com notably tried, then dropped the internal linking technique and others have written about the editorial vs. commercial problems with doing so. It could become the equivalent of product placement within journalism and serve to, over time, influence the product in nefarious ways. ("Say, John, could you throw the word Porsche into your story a few more times?") This one is sort of sadly amusing as its whole theme is about how lousy the Treo is, yet you can click to buy one for only $179.
Secondly, I wonder, if this lawsuit gets any traction, what it might mean for technology, in general. If people can legitimately sue technology creators for making overarching promises -- then, r'uh r'oh.
They call it Black Tuesday at the New York Times and Boston Globe where the layoffs come because the margins are squeezed.
The don't even have a name for the buy-outs at the defiantly anti-margin San Francisco Chronicle, where leadership can neither grow revenue nor circulation and thus always loses money.
Staff reductions are also taking place in Philadelphia, and more soon at a newspapers near you.
It's only September. For real fun, wait until October hits. You see, September and March are when the audit periods take place for the all-important "Publishers Circulation Statement" at newspapers across America. The September statement is published in October and those results are what support ad rates.
Just so there's no October Surprise for Corante readers, here's next month's headlines today: In October metro newspapers across the country will post astonishing year-over-year declines.
The circulation fall-off at large metro papers will be between 9% and 15%. Smaller market and mid-sized market newspapers will fair slightly better. But across America, the average decline will be somewhere between 3% and 5% year-over-year.
Those bleak numbers will be a best-case scenario. Why? Katrina. Newspapers are the accidental beneficiary of the the Gulf Coast's torment -- readers eager for Katrina news in September will provide an offset to even the darker baseline circulation in the month. Katrina won't help much, though, because it's mostly a television and web story.
When the circulation numbers hit, general industry panic will ensue because they come at a time when advertisers finalize budgets for 2006. National advertisers, in particular will recoil from metro newspapers' inability to sustain readership, much less grow it. Advertisers bet the winner. Newspapers are not acting like winners right now.
As advertisers chill, the pundits will get worked into a lather. It has already started in one quarter. And financial analysts, formerly sanguine because even weak newspapers deliver a decent margin, are sharpening their knives too. Warren Buffet himself looks to be cooling on the sector, despite his massive holding in the Washington Post.
Faced with admitting that readers duck and cover as newspapers get thrown at them, the industry will provide spin and false comfort. It will talk about "high quality readership" and suggest the fall-off is really because newspapers are dumping low-quality (i.e. free or sponsored) fake circulation.
Ummm, does that mean advertisers will get a refund from an industry that sold ads based on what it now admits was hallucinogenic circulation? No? Didn't think so.
The "high-quality readership" blather gets scary when you ponder it at length. But we'll leave that for another day.
The pro-industry spin will talk about combining web-site and print readers, which is disingenuous in exactly 1,465 ways. For example, does someone from Islamabad dipping in for one story on your web site have equal value to a seven-day-a- week local print subscriber? No? I'm shocked!
Nationally, the average time people spend on newspaper web sites is under four minutes. Clearly, people are reading a story or two and leaving. That's not to say that online readership doesn't matter -- hell, online readership is my religion -- but let's be honest about how people use newspaper web sites. You can't transform the media by lying to yourself about it.
To put the cherry on top of the "bad news is really good news" sundae, the industry will talk about "platform shift."
Good old platform shift. It's a popular idea among editors who, in reality, couldn't attract a new reader with a free back massage.
The notion of platform shift -- people moving from print to web just, you know, because -- is a comfort to the media establishment as it suggests people still really, really, really love their product, they're just selecting a different distribution mechanism.
Nonsense. The platform shift doctrine is a dangerous -- and for some media companies, ultimately fatal -- illusion that blinds the industry to necessary changes in the core product. Platform shift is the argument for the status quo: We don't have to do anything different. We don't have to change. We just take our super-wonderful content and shove it down a different pipe and everyone can retire happy.
Hey, platform shift is a no-brainer! Problem is, you need brains now to save newspapers. Active brains. Big ones. With fresh ideas and no fear.
Why? Because as readers flee and advertisers follow and confused newspaper executives fiddle with their Blackberries the one thing that almost certainly won't be discussed as the cause for readership decline will be the product itself.
Of course, there is statistical support for the platform shift argument. Study after study demonstrates that readers are replacing print media with online readership of essentially the same content. The results are irrefutable. And these results are damned comforting if you're after business-as-usual.
Unless, of course, one steps back and challenges the context in which the studies take place.
All of these studies -- sincere as they are -- have a pre-defined outcome. Of course people replace print with the same content online because they have no other option today. Nearly all online efforts of print companies are little more than shovelware. Media companies have not provided meaningful product differentiation between print and the web, leaving aside the odd multimedia package here and there.
Newspapers, in particular, position their online offerings as perfect substitutions for their print products and then they knit their brow at the results. Platform shift? Try platform monotony instead.
The spin of the traditional media continues: "It's really all about brand anyway. We're a trusted brand and we'll blast that brand at you through any hose you want. Brand, brand, brand...."
Business thinking tends to run in generational cycles. For the last 15 years or so, the fashion in business thinking has focused on the ascendency of The Brand. Instead of being product oriented, modern companies tend to be brand driven. There are precious few companies left that fuse the two orientations -- think Apple, which defines itself entirely by its products and thus gets a brilliant brand in the process.
Brand logic is the bulwark of defending the status quo. Product logic is where the revolution comes.
When it comes to a war between products and brands, products almost always win in the end.
A few examples:
Ford and Chevrolet had the great brands in the 1960s. In the 1970s, the Japanese ate Detroit's well-branded lunch by focusing on products
Sun Microsystems assured us it was the "dot in dot.com" and could rightfully claim to be at the core of the early internet. But the company collapsed becaue its products didn't meet the needs of the marketplace. We all used Sun. And then we all stopped using Sun. And now, some us are returning to Sun again because -- amazingly -- it is becoming a product-oriented company once more.
Sony was exciting when it was all about products. It became passe and complacent when it started to think too much about what the Sony brand meant. Now Sony is in a panic because while it's still "the lifestyle company" it has discovered that innovation is thwared by brand logic. Sony tosses in its sleep mumbling: "Apple. Ipod. Samsung. Apple. Ipod. Apple. Apple. Apple."
Microsoft has one of the best-known brands in the world and yet finds itself flailing against the open source movement, which is all about product.
And indeed, the internet itself is all about products. The notion of brand in this space is much more fluid than it is in other places. Brands don't confer protection on the net, products do.
More or less, you start talking about brands when you don't want do anything new. New ideas chase their own outcomes and sometimes those outcomes are corrosive to the brand. Tough.
Traditional media in general, and newspapers in particular, shall pay a grievous price for excessive brand consciousness. In a worldview filtered by brand, it's logical to take what you do in print and plaster it unaltered online. In a brand-driven universe, constistency matters above all. Don't want to violate that brand promise, do we?
And if print readers migrate to the web because you've given them nothing else to do, at least the brand is intact.
Or it will be until barbarian products arrive to sack your neat little branded cities.
So what if....
...newspapers were to become product focused rather than brand focused? The old modes of thinking will crumble. The print problem and the digital opportunity will be viewed as separate, but entwined, issues.
Digital media will be recognized for exactly what it is: a full medium in its own right, with its own internal logic, unique advantages, specific shortcomings and opportunities. Newspaper companies will begin to ask the proper questions about digital media, instead of simply mumbling about cannibalization and print.
What are the right questions? Just a few starters: what form should storytelling take online, what is the natural and robust role the community plays, what does geo-focused and just-in-time news delivery look like, does data presentaion itself become a story, what does true interactivity looks like, how can the social conversation be distributed now, what level of personalization is valuable and what level is numbing to the intellect, how can digital media provide real value to local advertisers?
A product-driven newpspaper would look at digital media and say, what can we do differently here and how does the digital product differentiate itself from a print product?
A product-driven newspaper would look hard at its print results and come to the only sane conclusion possible: readers leave print because the print product is broken. It's not a product people want, so they walk away from it. They happen to walk to the web because, well, to date the industry has offered nothing more than a straight-up replacement.
Rather than shrugging and saying "it's just the web's fault" serious questions need to be asked about the print product. Print still works when editors and publishers -- who need to start accepting real accountability -- deliver the right product.
Across the world, people return to revived print products. You see it when formats change to compact, you see it when newspapers return to locally focused news (like the "20 Minutes" newspapers in Europe), you see it when upstart free newspaper products arrive and topple the 100-year-old brands of the incumbent newspaper.
A clever newspaper makes its online product do one thing and its print product do something else. Some players are finally moving in that direction. Example: the Denver Post and its smart effort at hyper-local online news.
Proper differentiation between print and online products encourages people to use both. The industry's current direction of creating undifferentiated products simply ensure readers will switch media.
If newspapers fix their print products circulation will grow -- change format, revive local coverage, alter the hierarchical approach to the news, open the ears of the newsrooms and get reporters back on the street where they belong. If you want to get really daring, re-imagine print newspapers as a three-day a week product rather than as a seven-day a week product.
As a practical matter, print newspapers only make money three days a week anyway. Imagine the interplay between a seven day a week digital product and a densely focused (and wildly profitable) three-day a week print product . Each doing different things. Each serving readers and advertisers in different ways.
Unfortunately, it appears the brand fetish/platform shift paradigm is the dominant one right now. No less than the New York Times itself is promoting this view of the world. And of course, Tuesday's layoffs demonstrated the inevitable payoff of this old-world thinking.
Free tabloid AM-NY today fronts the news about pornography coming to cellphones, and flicks at how that could lead to more adoption of the technology: “Adult entertainment is widely regarded as the first media segment to drive growth of the World Wide Web, and industry experts expect the same for third and fourth-generation mobile phones.”
Exactly. The piece, like most mainstream news pieces about pornography, focuses on the “oh my” aspects. (This story goes into parents’ worries that kids will access porn via phone.) But, creepy as it may feel, it doesn’t hurt to look at how purveyors of sleaze use the technologies, both the innovations and the abuses. (Abuses would include using technologies that lock up computers or put spyware or cause multiple popup windows.)
These folks are nothing if not bottom-line oriented, and they always want to make it easy for someone to find, access and, if necessary pay for and download their material. (It would be a reasonable study to see how many times people give up on porn site video vs. news site video.) They understand how to make people keep clicking through for more, using design that shows off what users presumably want. I would bet they’re avid viewers of Web logs and other analytics to see what is causing the most clickthroughs, and funnel analysis to check on abandonment points and ratio of click-in to purchase.
So if the smut purveyors are hitting hard on cellphones, this may mean good news for handheld devices. Just as erotica is said to have driven sales of everything from paperback books to cable TV to VCRs (and probably DVD players), it could drive adoption of cellphone technology and help solidify standards.
I am not making any moralistic judgments. I am purely talking about technology and commerce. And when as mainstream a newspaper as a local free tabloid puts a topic on their cover, that's probably a harbinger of acceptance to come.
Meanwhile, who is doing any real research or experimentation in the best ways to convey news via cellphone or other handheld device?
Jeff Mignon of 5W-Mignon media makes an interesting case that the success of Wikipedia shows that newspapers' strength is in context, not just information. "I had, on several occasions during focus groups, listened to readers saying that they feel more idiotic at the end of reading their newspaper than at the beginning. Why? Because they are confronted with articles filled with concepts, events, names... that they have forgotten or that they do not know."
Amid circ scandals (see Vin's earlier) and other questions over ads and reporting, we now have the second filing in two years with Interpublic saying its books may have been cooked. Is this indicative of a few bad apples, or an industry on the make?
Can the media survive on advertising? Lots of folks are counting on it. Broadcasters have always had this single revenue stream. Daily newspapers get about 80% of revenue from advertising and the hot print properties, such as the give-away Metro dailies, depend about 100% on advertising. Now much of the Web is counting on advertising: Google, Yahoo! and increasingly AOL to name just a few of the biggies. News Corp. just shelled out $600 million for MySpace.com, which has no real revenue except advertising.
Now, in a long, sometimes disjointed but useful piece at the Hollywood Reporter.com, Diane Mermigas trumpets “Convergence fulfilled: A fleet new class of corporate entrepreneurs invents the future.” The article covers a broad territory but essentially paints a positive future for the established media players, with the caveat: their “ business models, revenue streams, creative dynamics and key relations with global advertisers, consumers and competitors will be dramatically different…” That’s for sure, and here’s why.
Mermigas quotes many of the usual suspects: Forrester Research, the investment banking analysts (who were so wise in their analysis in the late nineties—not), and consultant prognosticators. For years I’ve been threatening to do a study of the old “predictions” made by all these folks and match them up with actual results. My hypothesis is that the rate of accuracy will be no better than a coin toss.
But one thing jumped out at me in this piece—and others I have seen. Mermigas cites these sources for her contention that “Ad revenue will grow impressively as advertising takes on new forms.” She says that Internet-based advertising will grow most dramatically, but even traditional media will see growth of 4.3% annually.
Can’t happen. The reality is that over time advertising cannot grow—or at least has not grown—faster than the economy. Over the past 70 years—that’s a long trend -- advertising expenditures have varied within a rather narrow range of 2.00% to 2.50% of GDP. And for most of that time it has been closer to 2.20%-2.30%. This has held true through recession and boom times. It had held true even as new media forms joined the fray—television, cable, now the Internet. In 1990, advertising expenditures were 2.28% of GDP. In 2003 they were 2.27%.
Of course, there have been winners and losers. Newspaper publishers had 45% of the pie until radio came along, which quickly stole share as newspapers fell into the 30% range. In the 1950s and 1960s television’s impact on newspapers was far less than it was on radio. One of the most robust segments of advertising has been direct mail, which has actually increased slightly in recent years and never really dipped as did newspapers, radio and magazines. It now accounts for about 20% of advertising, considerably more than do newspapers.
In good times the U.S. economy can grow about 4% annually. This constancy in advertising as a proportion of the economy means that if any media segment grows faster than 4%-- such as Internet advertising has been—then other sectors must grow slower—like newspapers. So when Forrester Research predicts that Internet advertising will be 8% of the total by 2010,-- an average of almost 50% annually, then it is hard to buy in to Morgan Stanley’s prediction that traditional media will still grow an average of 4.3% unless the economy is on a real rip.
Although I’m not a betting man, my money says that Forrester’s guess aout the Internet will be more accurate than Morgan Stanley’s about traditional media. If that’s the case, the outlook for traditional media players is at best one of treading water. That’s why companies like News Corp. need MySpace.com-like investments.
Google's entering blog search. Great. Technorati's CEO David Sifry -- whom I heard through a reliable source is looking into how to do more with original content, or at least understand journalistic thinking (Sifry has not returned my emails) -- says it's good for all if there's competition. Granted. More blog search is better. So-called natural search is getting better. News search is good, too. So is image search.
But I don't want to have to think of whether Im searching "news' or blogs or images, or "Web sites," or academic documents. I want the search engine to understand what I want and give it to me regardless the source. I'd really like to have -- and I admit I'm greedy -- what I'd call true intelligence. (No sarcastic jokes, please.) To be able, like I do to a human being, to say to someone in any number of ways what I'm looking for, and have them get it. "Find me intelligent commentary on today's John Roberts hearing." "Get me the latest on Paris Hilton in ads." Or if they don't get it, to ask me to clarify. I don't need 25,000 gazillion results. That's not useful. Call it the hardware store analogy: You go into a hardware store, and say, "Have you got one of those rubber things that can plug up a bathtub drain and overlaps into the tub?" They find it for you. You don't know what it's called, but everyone knows what you're talking about. Or even if don't know the word for "lightbulb" but say "a thing that screws into a fixture in the ceiling and gives off light" someone would understand (I know -- did it in France, and it worked. Though they probably thought I was an idiot. No intelligence jokes, please.)
Can anyone remind me what is or was that search engine that had circles of different colors that would expand or contract, and showed links schematically in tree fashion among different related subjects, and rotated arond when you tried to find things? That one had a certain kind of visual intuitiveness to it that borders on intelligence, I think. It's a little like Kartoo, but I don't think that's the one.
OJR's profile of three citizen journalism projects -- Bluffton Today (of course), New West, and NowPublic -- is a nice profile of all three. Intriguing that on NowPublic, "Changes to the site's front page and inside pages are determined by registered members' votes." What I'd like to know more of is the economic model for these guys. (from Dorian)
A while back I created a mini-firestorm by challenging the establishment media wisdom that major publishers and broadcasters can honestly blog.
My basic point -- to the howls of some in the media who have a direct stake in staff-written "blogs" -- was that mainstream media blogging is just publishing as it has always been conducted. Tarting up short-form staff content to look like something different doesn't make it truly new. And no, reader comments alone aren't enough. Those are just letters-to-the-editor version 2.0. Besides, look how few comments most staff blogs evoke.
In point of fact, I should probably amend the original remarks a bit -- some of the media's Katrina blogs where vibrant, compelling and fresh. However, outside of a disaster, staff blogs are just business as usual for the media.
Worse, by assuming that "now we're interactive, we've done our job, check that off the list" the staff-blogging media misses vitally important new ways of telling stories online. And they will lose an opportunity to reconnect with their traditional audience while there is still enough of an audience left to matter.
I'm happy to report that the Austin American-Statesman and its Austin360.com portal site get gets it right with a new blogging effort. (update: I posted an incorrect link previously: here is the link to the community blogs The link above points to the American-Statesman's -- sigh, more of the same -- staff blogs. Go to the community space instead, that's where the action is.)
The American-Statesman's community blogs are not just a little right, they're enormously right.
Instead of throwing up ever more ways of reading the same old voices, the newspaper invites anyone in the community to post their very own blogs to the site -- words, pictures, viewpoints untainted by any interest other than those of the writer.
This is proper. This is smart. This is what must be done if newspapers intend to refresh their relationship with readers.
Remember, the underlying electricity of this moment in time involves involves distributing the conversation about our world, not dominating it as traditional media models dictate.
Unfortunately, the American-Statesman buries the content on a too-busy site. A pity, that.
A better move would be to place it front and center and make a very big deal out of it. This is an important moment for the newspaper and the community and the site design should reflect that importance.
The newspaper made an interesting decision by using a company named Pluck.com to power the blogs. I'm not sure why they went that route when there are so many great open-source blogging tools out there. However, it could be that Pluck brings enough management value to the table to make paying them worthwhile. Not my problem, in any event. I'm just happy to see a newspaper doing this right.
Good on them. By taking this step, the city of Austin has been put on notice that its newspaper intends to be part of the life of the community -- in an open and passionate way -- for a long time to come. All it took was the simple, generous and brave act of inviting others to speak...
Congratulations to online journalist and software engineer Adrian Holovaty, whose chicagocrime.org today won the $10,000 Grand Prize in the Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism.
Created as a public service by Chicago resident Holovaty, with design input from Wilson Miner, chicagocrime.org lets users map where crimes have been reported, by type of crime, neighborhood, and date. The site utilizes Google's satellite mapping service to show where crimes happened. Users can even draw routes and find what crimes have occured along route. The technologies that Holovaty developed for the site can be used in any city or town.
Four other new media services won Batten Awards.
The $2,000 first prize was awarded to The View, Interactive Magazine Online (IMOL), a quarterly netcast in which 'backpack journalists' from England, South Africa, and the U.S. tell stories from particular points-of-view.
And $1,000 Awards of Distinction were given to 'Town Square', a citizen journalism initiative by The News & Record of Greensboro, South Carolina; to Minnesota Public Radio's Public Insight Journalism projective, whose Idea Generator helpspeople suggest stories; and to Newsday's 'The Cost of War' series.
This won’t get the kind of coverage of an AOL buying Time-Warner, or Yahoo looking to gobble Disney, but I think it’s a small modern example of online buying out meat-space media. Zinio, an expert in, basically, transferring magazines to the Web, has “purchased” online subscription company BlueDolphin . (They call it a merger, but PaidContent, where I contribute and which usually gets it right, says Zinio bought its new partner.)
The magazine industry has moved online in fits and starts, and there are myriad models, from fully free, like Forbes, to nearly fully paid, like many of the Time-Warner titles, to the formerly paid but now mostly free, like Business Week, to the barely online, like Vogue or Vitals , which I used to handle on the Web.
Meanwhile, print magazine companies feel they’re in trouble as they grapple with the new technologies. I find it instructive that the Web technology company would be able to buy the print circulation sales company.
For the record, Texterity and qmags are others who convert magazines to Web distributed formulae.
On NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday," the weekly quiz is one of the most beloved and listened-to segments. Last week, because of hurricane Katrina coverage, the program took the 40-minutes-after-the-hour spot off the air, telling listeners they could go to the NPR Web site to hear the week's Sunday Puzzle and submit their answers for a chance to be on the air. I had wondered whether they'd get anything like a usual level of response. (It seems to range from 400 to 2,000 correct answers each week, depending on the time of year (is it a holiday weekend ...) and difficulty of the problem given.)
Today, host Liane Hansen repoted that they had received "OVER 600 ENTRIES," meaning that a lot of people went to the Web site and submitted their answers even though the quiz was never on air. I think this points to rather strong evidence that certain channels on the Internet are mass media and, done right, there are excellent ways of building cross-pollination between Web and broadcast that benefit both.
Speaking of circulation problems, there is at least one sign of actual dissention within the usually complacent U.S. Audit Bureau of Circulation's board of directors.
The website of Folio, the magazine industry trade journal, reports that David Rock, director of online/partnerships at Ziff Davis Media, is running for the seat currently held by Peter Armour, senior vice president of consumer marketing at Advance Magazine Group and vice chairman of the ABC board, and that Rock says he’s running out of frustration for a variety of reaons, notably ABC’s unresponsiveness to publishers:
“Too often, publishers feel like they can’t pick up the phone and call their representative—and really, that’s what they’re there for,” Rock says. “We need a true publisher advocate on the board, someone who can articulate the challenges that publishers face.”
“There are a lot of holes in the rule book,” he says. “When you abide by the rules, you should know the score. Subjective and arbitrary interpretations shouldn’t be coming through. It’s frustrating to follow the rules—but then get an answer that can’t be found in the rulebook. We need to be clear and concise about what publishers can and can’t do.”
Folio also quotes a 'high profile circulation-indiustry observer':
“It just goes to show how pissed off everyone is at what’s going on at ABC.... We need everyone to turn out for the vote.”
The vote for some seats on the 36-member ABC board is be held on November 4. Of those, nine seats in the 17-seat publisher division will come up for a vote (two of the five magazine seats). Members serve two-year terms, and typically aren't challenged. Peter Armour has been on the board for 14 years and has never been challenged.
I'm not sure what Rock means by "the challenges that publishers face," but given the circulation problems (declines, falsely reported rate bases, etc.) that many major magazines have been admitting, you might think that the ABC magazine division's board members might be using their chairs to hit each other or the organization's hired executive staff.
But the board has largely been a prestigious, ornamental panel, at best a rubber stamp for whatever the ABC's executive staff has wanted to do. Yes, it may be time for that much of rubber to hit the road, but rubber isn't the most fluid of substances, so it might be time to rub a few out, so to speak.
Moreover, there's an interesting contrast here that mustn't be overlooked -- there's not any signs of contention or dissension over the newspaper division's chairs on the ABC board. Odd!
Whatever the woe of magazines, newspapers have suffered far worse circulation declines and scandals during the past few years than at any time during the past half century. A few major newspapers have had to refund millions of dollars to advertiser after being caught falsifying large percentages of circulation. Many circulation executive at those newspapers have been indicted on felony charges.
Yet, despite vows by ABC to audit harder, there seems to have been no significant changes in personal on the ABC newspaper division's board seats or among the ABC hired executives who were supposed to have prevented or discovered those falsifications. Are the ABC newspaper division's board members or their hired staff doing their jobs? The facts don't show it. Nevertheless, they appear to be keeping their seats and jobs.
By contrast, at least there's a wee bit of change going on inside the ABC's less scandalized magazine division.
Sharon Anstey of Click and Buy, a micropayment company, points me to this paper on how the technology -- allowing for small amounts of money to be transmitted over the Web cost-effectively and securely – has improved and is more likely to succeed in what it defines as Round 2.
Most media models, though, either let someone have the content for free and go completely ad-supported (often to a point that annoys users with the amount of interruption), or requires a subscription. (Sure there are “free” trials, but they require credit card info that converts to paid when you inevitably forget two weeks later to call the 800 number and tell them to cancel.)
This model is convenient for the companies and puts their needs first. Why not, though, more single-use fees? I subscribe to WSJ.com online. Or, I can buy one copy for $1.00 on the newsstand. Ditto any number of other publications. Why, online, am I forced to pay for a subscription, rather than be allowed to buy a single copy, or even a week’s worth, or some other finite amount?
Then there’s registration. Many users don’t like to give up personal info – again something that’s mainly for the convenience of the media company, not the user. Here’s a thought: How about allowing someone to register, and get material for free, or pay for the issue without having to register (and that payment would give useful info in the meantime, with, of course, close adherence to privacy laws)?
Now, let me also thank Vin Crosbie for his generous introduction, say I’m thrilled, and a little intimidated, to be in such good company here on Rebuilding Media and will try to hold forth when I can here, and on my blog, MediaFlect.com.
The interview citing Bob Cauthorn that Vin Crosby posted Sept. 6 puts the focus once again on the declining popularity of newspapers in the American media mix. Bob places the blame on the newspaper owners. David LaFontaine, the author of the article, associates the declining circulation to “corporate demands for 20-30 percent profits.”
The fact is, newspapers have been declining in use not only since the Internet gave us new alternatives. The slide started with radio in the 1930s.
The heyday of newspapers was in the late 19th century, as expanding literacy combined with the development of the steam-driven rotary press, a market economy and wood pulp-based newsprint to make the mass circulation penny press possible. From the mid-1800s to the 1920s, newspapers were the only mass circulation daily news and information medium in the media barnyard. That changed with radio. It accelerated with television. The Internet is just the latest information technology that has added to the choices that consumers and advertisers have for obtaining and creating information.
Some numbers: In 1930, there were 1.3 newspapers sold per household. In other words, on average households subscribed to more than one paper, perhaps a morning and evening paper. By 1940 – by the time radio was ubiquitous—it had fallen to under 1.2 per household. There was a slight up tick in 1950, but then the downward spiral continued: by 1980 it was .77, in 1990 .67 and in 2003 under .50— on average only half of households bought a daily paper. The number of newspapers sold per 100 adults follows a similar slope. In absolute numbers, daily newspaper circulation peaked about 20 years ago at 63 million and has fallen about 13% since then.
What this indicates is that we can debate whether it is greedy publishers who have ruined modern journalism, or blame big cities, or lay it on the convenience of the telephone or..or..or…Many variables are at work: the sprawl of cities and changing work patterns took the steam out of evening newspapers. But a great force has been the effect of radio, broadcast TV, now cable networks and Web sites that compete for a constant pool (as percent of GDP) of advertising expenditures and consumer expenditures.
I could further contend that newspapers today are as high quality as they have ever been. After all, in what by-gone era were more than a handful of dailies considered “quality?” Was the Kansas City Star higher quality in 1955 than today? The Huntington (WVA) Herald-Dispatch? On the other hand, we do know that several major papers have raised the bar. Knight-Ridder’s Philadelphia Inquirer is generally regarded as being far superior today (though perhaps a rung below its Knight-run peak in the 1980s) than under independent owner Walter Annenberg. The Chicago Tribune is far more respected than when it was the plaything of Col. McCormick. Win some, lose some.
But the real lesson here is that the decline of print newspapers—at least as measured by circulation—is not new and not traceable to any single or pair of deteriorating elements. Rather it is part of the organic life of the media. There is far more competition for everyone’s money and attention. Publishers, journalists and the rest of us must learn to live with it. The trends may be slowed by tweaking with the newspaper’s format or content, but the overall direction is not.
OK, you can burn $50 million to $100 million on building a modern printing press/distribution center for a medium-sized publishing outfit. But, like, why?
Ubiquitous Wi-Fi (or Wi-Max or whatever, pick one) will spread cheap connectivity far and wide. And your new best friend will look something like this, from Philips and E-Ink.
For years, many of us have been awaiting the deployment of inexpensive electronic ink to transform modern publishing. And after lots of fits and starts, it looks like the time is pretty damned nigh.
The scrolling format of the Phillips device -- harkening to Chinese printing from 2,000 years ago, cool! -- is a particularly interesting approach. Now, imagine this device in your pocket silently downloading restaurant reviews of places within walking distance....
I hope my fellow Rebuilding Media contributor Bob Cauthorn won't mind my pointing readers to Online Journalism Review's interview with him a dozen days ago.
Journalist David LaFontaine wrote that a Cauthorn speech inspired him to write an article — -- Old-school community journalism shows: It's a wonderful 'Light' — about the long-term success of the Point Reyes Light newspaper in Marin County, California, and then to interview Cauthorn about what newspapers can learn from that example. Some excerpts:
"People need to make a distinction between newspapers and journalism and the newspaper companies that currently run newspapers and make the decisions. The companies that run newspapers and make the decisions, they're the ones that are in error. It's not the concept of journalism. It's not the concept of newspapers. It's the companies who are producing a product that is failing. That people don't want. This is basic – if Detroit makes a car that people don't want to buy, their business future fails, correct?"
"If I were Tony Ridder, I'd be looking hard at my operation, saying, "Now wait a minute. Maybe we need to stop defending the idea of newspapers, because the idea of newspapers is different from the companies that own newspapers. And maybe we need to look at our company and say – let's say I'm Bob the Generic Newspaper Mogul – maybe we need to look at my company and say, "Why do people walk away from my product? Why?'"
"Modern journalism as it's practiced, the companies that conduct modern journalism right now – they're the problem. It is incredibly removed from the life of the community around it. It is insular, it takes place over the phone. It does not pay attention to reader habits. The fear – I always laugh at this – you talk to newsroom people about the news that people want to read and they say, "Well, we will just be pandering then." As if being aligned with your reader is wrong. Not only that, but newspapers in their glory days – at the height of the power of modern journalism, in the 60s and 70s, when newspapers really made a goddamn difference – their circulation was exploding. And trust me, people who were reading about civil rights stories and Vietnam and women's rights – these people were not reading fluff stories, you know?
The assumption that if you align yourself with your readers – somehow or another you're dumbing down – means that you think your readers are dumb. That's the inescapable result of that logic. And it's wrong! Our readers aren't dumb. Our readers are great."
"The mistake people are making is that they say that the reason people are leaving newspapers is because they just want a different distribution mechanism. Well, that's nonsense. They were leaving newspapers for 15 years before the Internet arrived. They're leaving newspapers because newspapers don't matter to them. And if you look at any market where innovative new news products have been introduced, particularly in Europe, you'll find that people flock back to print. This isn't a media choice.
Certainly people love digital media. They love it for different reasons, though. The simple fact is that they're walking away from papers because it doesn't work from an editorial standpoint.
The argument that someone is leaving newspapers because of lifestyle choices and the Internet is like somebody making steam engines in the 1940s saying, that 'Hey, we're making the right product, it's just that lifestyles have changed.'"
The dissident journalist, Shi Tao, apparently used Yahoo! mail to send the e-mail and Yahoo! is accused of handing over his name to authorities. Why? Because Yahoo! has significant interests in building business in China.
If the charges are true, it's a telling failure on Yahoo's part. Media Companies know what it means to exert cultural weight and know that sometimes you have to make decisions that are bad for business simply because they are the right thing to do ethically. Or at least, we hope media companies understand that -- sometimes the modern media landscape does shake that faith a trifle.
On a fundamental level, tech companies still don't realize that as they semi-kinda-really-sorta-maybe-yep-it's-true morph into media companies they must assume certain profound social responsibilities. These responsibilities include not outing dissident voices to the authorities, no matter how good it is for business.
Despite recent appearances, being a media company is not a game for the cowardly or people with flexible ethics.
Tech companies' lack of awareness here raises scary prospects in other realms, which we'll visit later this week in a post about social networks.
Media economist Daniel English joins Adam Thierer in evaluating the market performance of five large media stocks (Time Warner, News Corp., Clear Channel, Comcast, and Viacom) over the past five years. Individually they have all declined in value. As a group they have lost 52% of their market value (in terms of market capitalization). Almost as surprising, the performance of the entire Dow Jones U.S. Broadcasting & Entertainment Index is nearly 45% below where it stood in 2000. Considered in conjunction with the results of other recent studies, they view this as another indication of the media industry's intense competitive rivalry. Indeed, in 2004 Google and Yahoo generated $4 billion in new revenue—the same amount as the 10 largest newspaper companies combined. The paper is "Testing 'Media Monopoly' Claims: A Look at What Markets Say."
Joining Rebuilding Media is Dorian Benkoil, a senior consultant in digital publishing for Teeming Media, a New York-based media group.
An award-winning journalist and editor, Dorian was a foreign correspondent for The Associated Press and Newsweek, and international and managing editor for ABCNews.com. At ABC News, Dorian moved to the business side of media, handling sales integration and business development. He later joined Fairchild Publications as general manager of its Internet Division, responsible for its profit and loss, as well as its editorial output. He launched a redesigned website for Women's Wear Daily and oversaw numerous other high-profile Web properties for both consumers and the business community.
According to The Wall Street Journal Microsoft reports that its Xbox Live online gaming service for the console that helped pioneer the online-gaming boom has more than two million members who pay an annual subscription fee of $69.99. That's the tidy sum of $140 million. This is money that comes right out of discretionary budgets of families-- the same "pot" from which they spend for newspapers, magazines, movie admissions, DVDs and the like. $140 million here, $140 million there-- and it's no wonder why there's less left for the old media.