Posts tagged ‘local’

Apocalypse 10: What Tribune Did Wrong

By , 8 December, 2008, 2 Comments

LinkSo in case you haven’t heard, the Tribune is filing for bankruptcy. Now before all the shrill new media evangelists start celebrating, let’s take a moment to realize that this is the failure of bad management not bad journalism. Many of the Tribune papers–the Chicago Trib, the Baltimore Sun–were hallmarks of top notch reporting. And if they’d been properly run, we might have more of that top notch reporting around for longer.

But the Tribune was also the hallmark of managerial failure. As the WSJ explains, long before Sam Zell took the papers over, the Trib was in the financial hole. And while Zell undertook some smart redesigns and tried to cultivate the local focus, the community-curation, of the Web 2.0 age, he was half-hearted about it. The LA Times in particular never came to terms with the fact that it couldn’t really be a national or international news when LA readers can get that news from elsewhere. Not to mention the personality clashes among its top execs.

Meanwhile, at the Chicago Trib, Zell refused to merge an understanding of the new era’s culture with an actual embrace of the new technologies. He told reporters not to post juicy stuff online, and at least to this reader, the Trib’s website and blogs always seemed like a second class citizen to the print edition.
Link
The message isn’t the medium, but you can’t have one without the other. Sam Zell never got all the pieces in place at the same time, but frankly, neither have most of the new media evangelists. So instead of seeing the fall of Tribune as a death sentence for print, let’s spend time trying to find a little common ground.

Apocalypse 9: Glocalism

By , 5 December, 2008, No Comment

Been having some passionate debates at Columbia about the future of media, and particularly investigative journalism. In class the other day, I suggested that the best use of investigative journalism is on a local level–where you can actually get on the streets, gumshoe-style–and that most papers should focus on reporting what happens in their backyard. If local outlets don’t do that, no one else will, and communities will suffer.

I’m persona non grata in class now, because what I said smacks of New Yorker snobbery, as though I were claiming national news as the exclusive prerogative of my city’s papers (the Times, the WSJ) and those in other big media markets (the Washington Post). But I don’t consider the Times and the WSJ to be New York papers. These are international titles, and even when international news happens here (ie at the Stock Exchange or the UN), I don’t look at that as New York news. Real New York papers–the Post and the Daily News–report just on New York, and that’s as it should be.

An example: the Daily News won a Pulitzer last year for its coverage of the medical fallout 9/11 had on the emergency workers who spent time doing rescue work at Ground Zero. They’d have missed that one if they’d been busy with a national or international story. In other words, I’d be just as incensed if the Daily News got themselves a Pentagon reporter as I am when I hear about a Washington bureau for a local paper from the Midwest or the South.

The problem, as one of my classmates pointed out last night, is that very few people consume as much news as I do (most people have lives). So while I can read the WSJ, the WaPo and the Times for national and international information and then get local headlines from the NY1 TV station, many Americans want everything together. Going too local will reinforce the parochialism many foreigners find irksome about Americans.

It’s not that readers in cities outside New York and D.C. don’t deserve to hear about national news; it’s that their papers should not squander resources looking for it at the expense of local beats. That’s what wire services are for.

I’m not alone in looking for a news universe that is geographically segmented. Take a look at these readership figures for the top 5 visited news websites:

New York Times 707 764 000

USATODAY.com — 186,178,000

Washingtonpost.com — 163,844,000
Wall Street Journal Online — 107,333,000

Boston.com — 77,536,000

No local outlet is level with the nationals. But the one that comes closest is Boston.com, the website of the Boston Globe, because the Globe has smartly zeroed in on exclusively local coverage: Massachusetts stories and local sports scores. Today, there’s only one national story on the whole front page; it’s way at the bottom and it’s coming from the AP.

The real crisis, then, is what to do about wire-style reporting as the Associated Press hurdles towards collapse. Someone needs to devise a system for national and international news to be fed to papers for whom it’s not, and should not be, the primary bread and butter. CNN is starting its own wire service, and there’s ProPublica, but there’s no guarantee these business models will work any better than the AP’s. I’d like to see more activity and experimentation in this field–are there projects out there I don’t know about?

Apocalypse 5: Change begins at home

By , 6 July, 2008, No Comment

In a previous post, I flagged Sam Zell’s approach at the Tribune newspapers as a future business model for the industry. What Zell is after is “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,” to quote myself. Of course, I’m not alone in saying this. Jeff Jarvis has similar comments about some bold moves at the Tampa Trib, while Jon Fine has some thoughts on how bloggers could seize the local space too.

If there’s one city where every internet source, ever TV source, and every paper DO compete for local credibility, however, that city is New York. Over the last five years, the New York Times has beefed up the Metro section, added a Metro blog, and a section of local human interest stories, “The City” on weekends. But to rise above neighborhood newsletters and blogs galore, the Times had to do something more.

On Friday, they took a snapshot of New York’s demographic diversity, achieved by sending a whole team of reporters and photographers to ride the Subway across the Brooklyn bridge and interview commuters. Not only did this make for a great 4th of July story, but it was the Times’ way of saying that with the big resources of a major paper, they can do local color better than the smaller fry in this media saturated town. Whether anyone buys that claim, sales figures in the next few years will show, but the attempt is noteworthy none the less.