Archive for ‘Journalism’

The Future in Tow

By , 24 June, 2008, 1 Comment

Bad pun, I know, but I couldn’t resist.

See, philanthropist and old-time media man Leonard Tow just shelled out $8 million to help the newspaper industry figure out what to do about this pesky web thing. One grant’s going to Columbia, Tow’s alma mater, to fund courses in digital media. The other’s going to City University of New York, to fund research into new business models for newspapers in the digital age. Among the stars of CUNY’s venture is blogger-extraordinaire Jeff Jarvis. It’s unclear who’s gonna teach the new Columbia courses, but apparently Bill Grueskin of WSJ is interested.

It’s early to bet on the relative merits of these two programs, but I’d say CUNY’s is a better strategy. See, most people coming into J-school in the next few years, and certainly in the years after that will already know how to work digital media. It’s figuring out how to make business out of digital news that needs attention.

How the Other Half Thinks

By , 22 June, 2008, 1 Comment

I’ve been blogging a lot lately about the effects of digital news outlets on the print world, trying to identify the best and worst practices for confronting change. This weekend, at a conference of South Asian journalists, I attended a fascinating panel about blogs run by print organizations and written by beat reporters to “augment” their day job.

The speakers, Sewell Chan and Jennifer Lee from the New York Times, and Mark Seibel from McClatchy’s, each began with some general remarks on what makes a good blog and how blog posts might be different in content and style from a news story. Some of it was old news to those of us in the room who were bloggers already, but I’d certainly never seen such a methodical breakdown of what it is blogs do.

Blogs are good places for reporters to
–dump nuggets that didn’t make the final print cut
–keep up with a news story that is moving faster than the daily news cycle
–air opinions/debate contraversies that would be “unjournalistic” in print
–go deep into “color” items like community anecdotes, historical factoids or reader polls that wouldn’t be “news” items on their own
–do “spinach” stories, the social justice-type pieces that aren’t always sexy, but need attention to advance a cause

As at most conferences, the real show was the Q&A session, where I got an inside look into the business side of the print-blog equation. Pressed by the audience, Chan, Lee and Seibel spoke as editors and managers about the effect of blogs on a macro-scale, beyond the content of individual stories.

All the speakers reiterated the old clich√© that Web 2.0 explodes the linear structure of print news (front to back) so that every website has infinite entry points. You might reach a story from a newspaper’s homepage, but you might also link directly to the story from a blog, a Wikipedia entry or an email from a friend. Seibel took this a step further–if readers (87% in fact) don’t come to McClatchy’s blog posts through McClatchy’s, then something has to happen on the blog page to connect them to the brand. McClatchy’s has therefore redesigned not only every blog, but every story page, to include more links back to the home page. Smart call. Also smart is the way McClatchy’s blogs are all centralized on the company’s website, allowing them to build some sort of national/international news brand that complements the local nature of their many print newspapers.

The other major flashpoint was the question of copyright, especially given the recent tension between the AP and the Drudge Retort. Recognizing that most readers come to their blogs and stories through links from other websites, all three speakers were surprisingly lax about copyright regulations. Chan said the NYTimes does not police the internet too aggressively in search of those who copy and reuse its content. Seibel quipped that his company has only gone so far as to trademark its own name. Today’s readers, he added, are less loyal to one news organization brand. rather we might Google-search a subject and link to stories on that, sometimes arriving at an NYTimes or a McClatchy’s on the six or seventh click. Given that indirect path, no one journalist claims complete credit for giving a reader the 600 word article at the end of such a chain–copyright starts to unravel.

Some of the blog coverage of the AP fiasco tends to paint a picture of forward looking new media assaulting an old media establishment that is resentful of and hostile to change. I’ve always questioned that picture, but this panel confirmed that at the top of the print food chain, where the power’s at, blogs are viewed with excitement and admiration. As Seibel said, “I now find blogs more interesting than stories because [bloggers] tell what they know, without feeling compelled to balance all view points and get so many expert opinions that they end up not saying anything definitive.”

Indeed, there’s a lot more bitterness and resentment coming from some bloggers these days than I heard yesterday.

Apocalypse 4: Newspapers fight back

By , 16 June, 2008, No Comment

Grieving has five stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. If the printed word and recorded discs are dying, old media is at strange three in coping with the loss.

First, they practiced denial and promised us that intelligent readers would never forsake them for the blogosphere. In the early 2000s, they fought back angrily with lawsuits against Napster and their college consumers.

Now, they are migrating into bargain mode–looking for ways to make Internet users and producers pay for old media resources. The music industry went down this road a while back with iTunes, and some newspapers have been charging for access to their websites for a while. But the real bargain attack came this week, when the Associated Press decided to bar bloggers from quoting its articles, reserving access to those who contribute to the AP database (ie the reporters of established media).

It’s a desperate attempt to bargain for a role in the emerging news economy, and it’s likely to fail. Techcrunch has issued a ban on AP references for its site, and if others follow suit, AP will have to move on to stage four.

Of course, the five steps of grief don’t make room for reincarnation. While the current model of newspapers, TV and radio might be lame ducks, I’m not so sure they’re doomed for extinction just as yet.

Apocalypse, the spinoff

By , 9 June, 2008, No Comment

In two previous posts, I’ve blogged about the news media in the digital age. Based on parallel movements at CondeNast and at the Washington Post, I predicted that in the future, major “old” brands will aggregate the expertise of various niche bloggers to produce a product that is mostly digital, with occasional print specials. But Sam Zell’s approach to the Tribune Company’s papers suggests a different response to the threat from Google news et. al: a smaller, slimmer, all-print, all-local product that capitalizes on the fact that internet news sources have an edge in fast breaking headlines, but don’t have the time for local color coverage.

In all frankness, I think the future holds a combination of those two models, but if I were trading in media futures (do those exist?) I’d guess that the Washington Post/CondeNast approach is likely to be more lucrative. There are way more places to monetize on that food chain (the daily website, the affiliated blogs, the print specials, advertising in each of the above) than there are in single local dailies. Then again, Sam Zell has done okay for himself so far, so maybe he knows something I don’t?

Vote for Ahsan at FP.com

By , 3 June, 2008, No Comment

Foreign Policy magazine is having a contest for the top 100 public intellectuals, and a personal hero of mine is on their list of candidates. Aitzaz Ahsan, a lawyer and political activist in Pakistan, is responsible for bringing down Musharraf’s party in February and restoring the Chief Justice that Mush tried to sack last year. Now he’s crusading to get all the judges restored and give the judiciary back its full rights. Over the course of his career, he’s suffered house arrest and all forms of physical and mental abuse and the least I can do to express my admiration and my gratitude to him as a fighter for democracy is this little bit of virtual electioneering.

For a truly awesome profile of Ashan, read James Traub’s piece in this weekend’s NYTimes magazine.

For some inspirational political poetry, see Ahsan’s video on YouTube!
To vote for him in the contest, visit ForeignPolicy.com.

Insurgent Media

By , 21 May, 2008, No Comment

There’s a fascinating cycle of media coverage coming out this week after Hillary Clinton’s bloggers-only conference call over the weekend.

In the call, she made her usual arguments about the need to seat Michigan and Florida at the Convention, and her electability in the fall. The tagline that most bloggers took away was “it’s the map, not the math,” meaning that Clinton is winning in states that will be important battlegrounds in the general election. She went on to specifically thank bloggers who have supported her and continued to cover her campaign as the mainstream media has pretty much accepted Obama as the Democratic nominee.

Disclaimer: A Clinton supporter at heart, I’ve recently come to terms with the inevitability of her defeat.

What’s interesting though, is that the mainstream media devoted ample coverage to the call itself. The New York Times ran a piece on it, and then argued that it reflects Ms. Clinton’s fall from frontrunner grace that she is resorting to the “megaphone of insurgents.” If the blogosphere is so counter-cultural, why does the Times–“megaphone” of the liberal establishment–use it as a source? And if Clinton and McCain are supposed to be the old fogies in this race against young, hip Obama, how come he’s the only candidate who hasn’t reached out to the political blogs this way?

I’m hardly making the case that Clinton and McCain are young hipsters, but rather that the line between the blogs and the so-called “mainstream” is a lot fuzzier than the NY Times makes it seem.

“Apocalypse” the sequel

By , 16 May, 2008, 1 Comment

In a post last week, I argued that the Washington Post’s new deal with TechCrunch was the sign of the future of media, where big media companies will acquire and aggregate the expertise of niche bloggers while maintaining the credibility of their brand.

Today brings a sequel: Conde Nast, the magazine giant that already owns tech magazine Wired, has acquired the blog arstechnica.com. In case you’re skeptical of how big this is, they paid about as much for arstechnica as they did for the whole Wired business back in 2006.

I know it takes three examples to make a trend, but these two buys back to back seem pretty striking to me. Thoughts?

The Friendly Face of the Newspaper Apocalypse

By , 8 May, 2008, 3 Comments

Pundits have been predicting the downfall of the newspaper for a long time. And while I agree that the news market is changing rapidly, I’m not convinced that the printed press is a thing of a past. Instead, an announcement by the Washington Post today suggests the direction other news media outlets might take.

The Post has essentially outsourced a chunk of its technology reporting to the bloggers at TechCrunch. All the blog posts from TechCrunch.com will appear on the Post’s technology page and according to TechCrunch, the next step is a comment feature that will allow reader discussion to take place simultaneously on both websites.

Imagine, for a moment, that the Post were to turn over all its breaking tech news to TechCrunch, all its breaking political tidbits to Politico, and all its entertainment research to the folks at PerezHilton. Each section of their website would become a mini-blog, which is effectively what the New York Times has done. Except the Times model requires a full staff of bloggers for every subject; for most print newspapers, the key now is to streamline staff and save cash.

The genius of the Post deal is that it gives readers the insider news of the experts at TechCrunch with the brand credibility of the Washington Post. For the Post, it’s a way to get around the fact that little guys in the blogosphere often know more about their small niches than big news outlet reporters. For TechCrunch, it’s a way to monetize and attract ad dollars, something internet news sites still struggle with.

See, the brand of The Washington Post still means a lot, even if according to some pessimists, the daily paper is a goner. Instead, I predict more deals like this, where blog-style news aggregates under the name of a big media brand. Meanwhile, I think a lot of readers still like getting things in print, but will be more likely to pay for print magazines, feature stories and in-depth pieces than daily breaking news. With more blog deals like this, the Post could devote a small in-house staff to the investigative and longer pieces, and put out a bi-weekly print edition, or a weekend ‘zine.

I’m not alone, in seems, in voicing this theory: Businessweek’s media guru Jon Fine was predicting last year that a big paper like the San Francisco Chronicle would do well to go all-online. This week, he writes that daily papers should downsize to publishing 3 times a week. The New York Times already offers a weekend-only subscription. What do you guys think?