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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.

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August 14, 2006

Pragmatic Advice from An Editor Who Understands

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Posted by Ben Compaine

We’re often quick to put down the newspaper company executives who “don’t get it,” who are still fighting rear guard actions against the forces and trends eroding the traditional newspaper’s business, or just moving too slowly, looking for “the” strategy or business model, when in fact the digital dynamic calls for experimentation and innovation.

Coloring with such broad brush strokes always leaves out the finer grain. There are many in the industry who do get it and who have been trying to find models of content, delivery and revenue to make up for the revenue being lost by the ink or paper product.

This line of thought came to mind having recently discovered a thoughtful piece in Nieman Reports by Mike Riley, the editor of the 97,000 circulation Roanoke (VA) Times. His starting premise is that we need to stop thinking of the institution of the newspaper. The first step is to think of these operations as news gathering organizations. In that context they are in a position of strength looking at the media landscape:

In most markets, they are the last remaining mass-medium; they are prime creators of original journalism and, in many cases, they are deeply committed to a community’s civic life and welfare. Finally, they are blessed with a profitable business model that can, if allowed, underwrite a range of digital experiments and online forays to move us successfully into the future.

Riley offers 12 observations for his news gathering colleagues. Several that I find most critical and not always obvious are:

  • Don’t force change. So then how do you change if editors and publishers can’t dictate it. He says to start with natural allies in the newsroom and let it spread. He found that the photographers were among the first group most amenable to experimentation, creating multimedia presentations and videos for the Web site. Others caught the enthusiasm – the viral approach. Ultimately, says Riley in another one of his points, “Get everyone to drink the Kool-Aid.”
  • Integrate, don't separate. Riley thinks there is now a clear winner in the debate about whether a disruptive technology has a place in the traditional newsroom of the newspaper. Should the online newsroom be separate or integrated with the traditional newsroom? “My belief is that you shouldn't relegate online players to backrooms or basements, particularly if you want others to learn and grow. The online content operation should be integrated into the newsroom, particularly as the seismic shift of resources from print to online gains momentum.”  He found that moving the online time into the newsroom at his paper made a huge difference for the good. "The online editor hears a metro editor talking with a reporter about a breaking story, and within minutes that nugget of news is posted on our Web site.”
  • Don't be afraid to invent jobs. At a time when the news is usually about downsizing, he says that new positions must be created. One that has been of great success for the Times was a multimedia editor. This approach has paid off with some stellar prize-winning multimedia projects. He launched the TimesCast, an interactive, online video newscast in the somewhat iconoclastic spirit of Rocketboom.com .
  • Work across traditional barriers. This one gets dicey: the modern newspaper was viewed as having a high wall between the newsroom and the business side of the enterprise. Editors were known to resign if publishers tried to infiltrate. But, says Riley, “In this new world, different departments need to communicate and coordinate well…” This includes the information technology folks as well as those in advertising.  
In a traditional newspaper world, such conversations might seem jarring, but in this new environment, it is essential that they take place as we construct a new paradigm. This is not always easy for newsroom folks to understand. The irony, of course, is that newspapers, the world's chroniclers of change, are themselves frightened to death of change, and that fear can often impede vital experimentation.

There are others who understand what needs to be done and are in a position to make it happen. Steve Yelvington, who is the new media guru for the 27 Morris Publishing dailies, has been toiling in this patch for decades. Significantly, Morris and Riley's parent corporation, Landmark Communications, are privately held companies. Though they might not have access to the capital available to their publicly owned cousins, they may be better positioned to experiment and absorb lower margins while making the transition from the ink on paper world.

At any rate, Riley’s article is a helpful take on working toward a blueprint for change in the newspaper business.

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August 11, 2006