Posts tagged ‘Washington Post’

Apocalypse 36: Status Report

By , 4 September, 2010, 2 Comments

For over two years, I have been writing a series of posts on the media industry called the Apocalypse. I am often asked whether that’s overly pessimistic. My answer: ‘apocalypse’ is a term we use for the end of the world, sure, but it’s also, to those who take the term seriously, supposed to herald the revelation of something new and extraordinary. That is what I believe is coming to media, whenever the chaotic collapse of the model we know is over.

Occasionally, the Apocalypse Series has attempted to read the tea leaves and make predictions about the new model. I don’t believe–as other media prophets seem to–that there will be no more Big Media. Human history suggests that power tends to consolidate, break down and then consolidate again. I believe that the new consolidators of power will be organizations who can mix and match. It will be the people who can take the nichification that the web brings and use it to deepen rather than to flatten what we know.

Apocalypse 34: Privacy and Publicness

By , 28 June, 2010, 1 Comment

This weekend, I spent some time pondering the recent departure of Dave Weigel from the Washington Post. Weigel made a name for himself at the Washington Independent, where he covered the conservative movement for a liberal audience. This spring, he was hired to blog about American conservatism for the Post.

Like most of the Washington left-of-center reporting pool, Weigel was a member of the controversial JournoList, an off-the-record email listserv managed by the Post’s Ezra Klein. Last week, a number of Weigel’s emails on the list surfaced, showcasing harsh, offensive views about the movement he covers and a desire to influence coverage of that movement at the publications of his peers. On Friday, Weigel resigned.

The political blogosphere, especially the left-o-sphere, has been quick to turn Weigel into a hero, a poster child for the principles of new media, where having an opinion and voicing it is an asset, not a liability, and where the line between news reporter and newsmaker is blurry if it exists at all.

Apocalypse 32: Keeping News Alive?

By , 17 December, 2009, No Comment

I’ve been exploring the Google-NYTimes–WaPo venture Living Stories, a site that aggregates coverage of particular events in real-time. As one reader put it, this seems like something news organizations should have done long ago.
As a consumer of news, I consider this a potential tool, but it needs to have a much wider array of news sources to be truly useful: my challenge as a reader today isn’t keeping up with the New York Times’ coverage of Pakistan; it’s keeping up simultaneously with the Times and the Post and the Journal and the BBC and the Guardian and about as many local outfits.

There are already ways to aggregate news from all those places, and to sort news from each organization by subject, and even to sort news by topic once aggregated. All we need is a way for news organizations to monetize this process. A better idea might be for the news industry to adopt a uniform standard for tagging their stories that would be compatible with all RSS readers and reading devices. If they simultaneously adopted my suggestion on embeddable ads, they’d be able to own monetization of their content wherever it went, without reference to third-parties like Google.

Because even though ad revenue from Living Stories is to go to the news organizations, Google is still powering the site and organizing the ads—they still have access to all the user data involved and that benefits them elsewhere. The more that all news organizations’ content merges on sites like these, the more centralized and more powerful Google’s data cache can become.

Moreover, Living Stories, or indeed any subject-based aggregation strategy, doesn’t solve the critical problem facing journalism today: if given a choice to consume content by subject, it’s likely that readers will choose to keep up with regular developments in national politics, hyperlocal affairs, sports and culture. Foreign affairs, state-level politics, and economics are less likely to receive sustained attention—everyone is interested when there’s a major intelligence breakthrough, a corrupt governor or a case of corporate fraud, but no one wants to the read the months of daily stories that lead to big scoops in these areas. And there’s no way to know, in advance, which companies or which states or which countries will produce that scoop—you have to pay, blindly, for daily reporting on all of it. Who is going to do that now?

I don’t think Living Stories does much to help us there. Like many Google products—Gmail, Reader—I like this one, but it’s unclear to me if its good or bad for the news organizations involved.

Is there life after the Apocalypse?

By , 9 June, 2009, No Comment

For almost a year, I’ve been writing about the transformation of the news industry in a running series called the Apocalypse. But for several recent posts, that series has been more about the good than the bad–is it possible that we’ve now turned the corner from the death of the old to the birth of the new?

To recap, my vision of the new is of the melding of establishment and startup media into vertically integrated but streamlined wholes. And there are ever-increasing signs that this model is emerging. BusinessWeek’s new project to get its blogs into more serious journalistic shape is one good move. But the big news is this: Ezra Klein, perhaps the poster boy for citizen-media and partisan blogging, has joined the establishment, migrating from the American Prospect to the Washington Post. This supports another of my hunches that the WaPo company would be the first to arrive at the new content structure.

Here’s the killer punch: Klein rejects the knee jerk “citizens are better” ideology of many of his old confreres and admits that he’s doing better service to the public as a WaPo reporter than he ever could have done in TAP. Working at the Post, he says, “adds on a different level of responsibility.”

All of this, however, doesn’t take away the core problem, which is funding this mess. For that, all we have to rely on is humor:

Apocalypse 24: It’s Nice to Be Right

By , 18 May, 2009, No Comment

With Newsweek’s website re-launch, I’m more certain than ever that the WaPo company has the future content model down even if they are no further along than the rest of us in figuring out how to fix the ad model. On the content side, the WaPo group is moving to a single vertically-integrated newsroom with one expert reporter on each subject who is capable of covering that subject in all forms–newspaper article, blog post, magazine opinion essay, magazine narrative.

Once upon a time, EACH of the group’s properties did all of these things in different proportions, but now each of them will stick to its turf. The Post itself will give us news reports and opinion blogs but not narrative or long essays. The new Newsweek will give us opinion essays and narratives and even blogs, but not, for the most part, hard news. Foreign Policy will give us mostly blogged opinion that expands, occasionally, into longer articles. And Slate (and its children The Big Money and Double X) will give us magazine essays and news articles. There’s some overlap, but that is intentional: some of the content will run in multiple places in tweaked forms. A great blog post on one of the sites can grow into a longer article or essay for another, depending (and this is the key) on what format best fits the story’s content. Sound familiar?

The Newsweek redesign itself fits the magazine’s role within the group as a journal of lay opinion: the new page reminds me most of other opinion mags, especially The New Republic, which is superficially fitting since Newsweek plans to stay left-of-center too. Note also that the font on the new page is more or less the same as that on its academic opinion sister site Foreign Policy, perhaps a subtle way to reinforce brand.

Note finally that it is possible to get this kind of vertical structure without buying one of each kind of outlet: the NYT has managed to grow a newspaper, a blog network, a magazine and a collection of opinion essays in-house; the BBC has done the broadcast equivalent with its marriage of short- and long- form TV and radio.

If the ad model can be fixed to take the lead in revenue generation, while synching staff across platforms increases content expertise and reduces the costs of each story, then I think the media equation-at least at the national and international level-might be solved.

Apocalypse 22: Fiddling while Rome burns

By , 22 April, 2009, No Comment

The Pulitzer Prizes were announced earlier this week, to little fanfare, as perhaps befits a set of awards for such a troubled industry. I’m really pleased with the choice of WaPo’s Gene Robinson for Commentary; his columns on the presidential campaign were insightful but respectful, something rare in political opinion. I’m also happy to see the NYT (esp Jane Perlez and Carlotta Gall) get the nod for their AfPak coverage.

I’m less pleased with the lack of ANY awards for reporting on the financial crisis. Gretchen Morgenson and Vikas Bajaj both probably deserved to be recognized, as the did the WaPo’s series on AIG (nominated) and the WSJ’s series on the End of Wall Street (nominated).

But the real killer was this: In the category of breaking news, the NYT won a prize for its coverage of the Spitzer scandal. The NYT wins my prize for breaking news this year, but I’d have given it for the superior coverage the paper did of the election eclipsing, IMHO, both the WaPo and CNN (the usual dominators in horse race coverage) with its impressive use of multimedia features like live blogs of campaign events, district-by-district maps and polling data, and all manner of unique ways of calibrating and comparing the candidates. Breaking news in the digital age is not just about getting information out there–anybody with a cell phone can do that; it’s about providing depth and insight in real time. That’s where the journalism happens.

Nominating the Times for the Spitzer story (which was just info-dissemination) was shortsighted and backward-looking. Coupled with the lack of acknowledgement for financial reporting in a year dominated by financial news, the choice reflects, to my mind, the problem with groups like the Pulitzer board. Instead of using their considerable brand power and influence to lead reporters to a brave new digital future, they are rewarding increasingly irrelevant forms of content and ceding the public discourse to amateurs.

The amateurs will have no problem disseminating information, and may beat the journalists at this function, but there are no amateurs so far replicating the analytical depth of the big papers’ reporting on credit defaults. By trying to compete at a disadvantage in the info-breaking space, the professional media will only put itself out of business and we will all be the worse off for it. If organizations like the Pulitzer don’t incentivize a change of direction, it won’t happen.

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 6: Supply and Demand

By , 10 August, 2008, No Comment

This is the 6th in a series of posts about the struggles of print journalism, the many experts who are convinced its days are numbered, and the (attempted ) innovations of news organizations trying to stay alive.

One of the common refrains among print journos these days is that since information breaks online instantly, no daily or weekly publication can be in the business of hard news gathering. Instead, they should offer analysis, perspective, a “take” on the headlines or broad trend stories that have no links to the headlines at all. That’s what an editor at a major news mag told me on Friday. Looking at sales and ad figures for American magazines, he says that the ones doing best offer a lot of opinion, a clear political stance and very little in the way of timely information. He suggests that that’s what the internet age readers want: print content that supplements but doesn’t compete with what they get online. Print publications that try too hard to be newsy will get left behind.

But just last week, one of the most active internet readers I know, tells me he wants more. not less, news from print organs like the NYTimes. Jon doesn’t read the Times opinions pages (although they are often the site’s most emailed links) because “there’s too much opinion” out there on the web already from bloggers galore. What he wants is some cold hard reporting to help ground him after a day reading diatribes from the internet’s self-made pundits.

In principle, these two arguments are the same: print organizations should fill in the gaps left behind by the internet. But given the magazine sales figures and Jon’s reading habits, it seems like neither news nor opinion represents such a supply gap.

Both information and perspective abound online, but rarely on all subjects and on the same websites. So what print organizations can do is become aggregators, partnering with and bringing together the expertise of various blogs with small additions of their own. That’s the path the Washington Post, the Guardian and Conde Nast have taken already, and it’s my prediction for the way forward.

It’s Officially a Trend

By , 11 July, 2008, No Comment

I’ve been saying for sometime that the media business model of tomorrow involves the big print organizations (which have brand caché) buying up collections of blogs (which have insider niche information and a savvy grasp of technology). First, the WashPost cut a deal with TechCrunch. Then CondeNast bought ArsTechnica. And now the UK’s Guardian is buying paidContent. Add that to the super-big organizations (like the NYTimes) who can augment their coverage with their own blogs, and you’ve got the beginnings of a new order.

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?