Content Ninja's Weblog

An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

iJournalism? October 14, 2008

Filed under: journalism,newspapers — contentninja @ 7:00 am
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Into the woods

Image by ~jjjohn~ via Flickr

What if newspapers could adopt the iTunes business model?

Leonard Witt, lead blogger at the Public Journalism Network, wonders about that.

“What if  — and this is really a big ‘what if’ — what if news organizations put together divisions that worked at producing blockbuster productions that people might actually want to download via iTunes or something similar. What if you had produced a video or audio production that was so popular that 100,000 people downloaded it at 99 cents. Getting 100,000 sales would pay for one journalist.”

Witt speculates that such content would not be hard news and not made by the newsroom. His “pop culture division” would live separate from the news operation, like today’s advertising department. And like advertising, the division’s revenues would support hard news journalism.

This former features editor finds it heartwarming to think that features content could be the salvation of newspapers. It’s good work if you can get it. :)

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A view into the future July 2, 2008

Filed under: innovation,newspapers — contentninja @ 4:46 pm
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Photo of knitted hat, yarn, and k...

Image via Wikipedia

Tim McGuire of the Arizona State J-school gave a speech June 23 that gives quite possibly the most concrete vision of newspaper journalism’s future to date.

Yes, content is moving to the Web, he says, but “a lot of readers covet the prioritization offered by a newspaper.” In McGuire’s opinion, newspapers have another 20-25 years left in them, and he suggests that they do it really well for the audience that wants a print product.

He says: “I am convinced newspaper companies need to protect their newspaper franchises while they become digital entrepreneurs. I think there is money to be made in the next twenty years, but more importantly, I believe time is essential if our society is going to figure out how we are going to deal with the blow to democracy the loss of newspaper journalism would inflict.”

He goes on to suggest that we accept that the print product has a different mission than the electronic product. He says newspapers should stop chasing the elusive non-reader because it’s costing them core readers. Provide a great electronic product for a younger audience and those who prefer it, and provide a great print product for boomers and those who prefer it, he says. Yes, the latter audience will dwindle as members die, hence the 20-25-year lifespan.

He suggests reinvigorating the Sunday paper as THE mass product of the week (delivering inserts as well as news en masse) and downsizing papers for other days to meet news and advertising demands. He sees daily print products coming in different shapes and sizes, with a mix of niche products, too, and maybe even different business models for each day of the week.

“What I have just described represents a new delivery and sales reality …” he says. “Consistency of process has been crucial to your success. Yet, what I am describing will make every day’s delivery hugely different from the other. Each day’s product might be priced differently too. And, even more frightening, mix and match options might have to be offered to consumers.”

And what about connecting with the community? “Newspapers must convene all sorts of audiences in all sorts of imaginative ways. In a fractured media world it is incumbent on the democratic responsibilities of newspapers that newspapers lead, guide and direct everything from democracy to knitting clubs.”

While I generally find McGuire’s vision of the future fascinating, I quibble with that point. It still puts the journalist at the center of the universe, and I just don’t believe that’s going to work for connecting with our communities around content, especially online.

Our communities don’t want us to lead their knitting groups. They want us to acknowledge that the local knitters know more than we do about knitting, thank you very much,  and let them be the experts on it and share their expertise with and through us.

As for delivering a great newspaper to the audience that wants it and a great electronic product to the audience that wants it, he’s right. Know your audience and give them what they want.

He concludes with some pretty blunt advice for all of us: “… if you can’t be a source of positive energy in your media workplace get out. I said there is no shame in ceding the future to the young and engaged.  But, if you stay you must commit to being part of the solution and not a part of the problem.

“… If you are genuinely ready for the future, you cannot become one of the whiners Dean Singleton complains about. You must become an innovative doer ready to forget about the past and ready to build a new way for publishers to meet the needs of reader and advertiser customers.”

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Blunt instrument June 3, 2008

Filed under: newspapers — contentninja @ 10:30 am
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Quote of the day (with thanks to Vickey Williams, Media Management Center, Northwestern):

“Culture in newsrooms is still to be resolved. We are a content and service machine, not a divine right.” — Jim Chisholm of iMedia Advisory Services, on newspapers’ future

 

Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death May 9, 2008

Filed under: journalism,newspapers — contentninja @ 4:35 pm
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I came across a reference to this site in Paul Gillin’s post today at Social Media Today: Praying for Papers urges that folks do just that.

It’s like saying your football team won because God was on the quarterback’s side. Hmm. Seems highly unlikely to me that a higher power would be overly concerned with such trivialities as which team wins and how many newspapers close this year.

Life is what we make of it, folks. If newspapers will have a savior, it will be of the human, not divine, persuasion (and I doubt there will be any one savior). Look in the mirror, not to the heavens. What can we do to save a job, the newspaper, the Fourth Estate?

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Lost at sea? April 18, 2008

Filed under: innovation,journalism,newspapers,Uncategorized — contentninja @ 4:54 pm
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Brookgreen Gardens in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, United States.Image via Wikipedia

Here’s another one to watch.

Lisa Williams is founder of Placeblogger, a 2007 winner of the Knight 21st Century News Challenge, and of H20town. Williams is one smart cookie and a no-nonsense voice in the cacophony of voices surrounding social media, new media and the evolution of journalism. (Yes, I freely admit that I’m adding to the din.) She blogs at the MediaShift Idea Lab.

In “Journalism will Survive the Death of its Institutions,” she makes a solid comparison between what’s happening to the news industry and the volatility of the high-tech world. Difference is, she argues, that high-tech employees are kind of used to it.

She concludes that the savviest among us journalists will make it by branching out in “kayaks” as “Titanic” companies go down:

“You’ll discover what thousands upon thousands of tech workers discovered: you can do great work outside of an institutional, big-company context, and you can make a living doing so. High tech companies didn’t own innovation; the innovators did. News organizations don’t own journalism: journalists do.”

What’s the lesson for employees at a family-owned, independent company like Gazette Communications, which is fighting hard to avoid sinking? That innovation can start with you, the individual employee. That individual journalists can build communities around their beats and add value to our content.

And in “10 Things Journalists Should Know About Surviving in a High-Tech World,” her basic premise is that jobs are temporary, so build your skills. My favorite tip, however, is No. 6: “Breaking things is a privilege. Progress is about alternating breaking and fixing. Anything 100% working is 100% dead.”

Our industry definitely has some things that need fixing. Let’s make progress.

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What’s in a name? April 14, 2008

A ball of navel lintImage via Wikipedia

A lot of meaning and baggage and history, not to mention self-worth, that’s what.

Photo guy Paul Jensen was reading my blog and stopped me today to ask just what I meant by the word “reporter.” You can see where he is going with this, and it raises a good point.

Lots of terms have been bandied about — reporter, content gatherer, subject matter expert and its acronym SME. They demonstrate how words can be inadequate to fully express what is meant.

Take reporter, for example. Nearly 250 years of newspaper history suggest that means a person who writes words, but what about photos, video, blogs, etc.? OK, content gatherer suggests content is not just words, but it and subject matter expert are broad, undefined, even vague terms. (After all, you could be a subject matter expert of belly-button lint, but does the community really need that expertise? Then again, a great many bloggers are accused of navel gazing, so maybe we do need that.)

The latter terms smack of new-media-speak. Sometimes we just try too hard. (Consider “waste disposal engineer.” No matter how you dress that up, the job is still about garbage.)

So let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? We should unapologetically use “reporter” and mean a reporter of content in myriad forms. When we engage our community and ask members to contribute content, we’re not going to set limits. “Just the words, ma’am” is not part of the vocabulary. Perhaps we should consider doing away with content specialization inside the newsroom, too.

In the end, though, a label is just that. Does it matter what we call ourselves? What counts is how we get the job done, and that’s where the greatest potential for change and innovation are.

 

Let go of the past April 8, 2008

Some people don’t get it yet.

Journalism is going to survive this age of transition. Newspapers, however, are not going to survive as is, and there’s no magically going back to a Golden Age of profit margins after this economic thing vaguely resembling a recession (or not).

John Morton spends a fair amount of time gnashing teeth over the situation in his column, “Enough is enough,” over at American Journalism Review (http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=4509).

His theme is that the wave of layoffs picking up momentum in the industry is lamentable and shortsighted. I don’t advocate wholesale slashing of newsroom staff, either. And, in fairness, he also concludes that newspapers will not enjoy the same profit margins in the future. 

The problem, though, is how he supports his argument. It seems so head-in-sand-ish. 

Morton argues that newpapers do things better than the Web and that time spent on the Web could be spent reading a newspaper. He even cites TV listings as an example. “Web television listings are a particular pain, requiring multiple manipulations to learn what a glance at a printed page provides.”

SNORT. Newspapers haven’t done printed TV listings well since the advent of cable. Can you say, “Hundreds of channels”? And have you seen TV Guide? Can you say, “People magazine wanna-be”?

Truth is, print products don’t do things better. Neither does the Web. They do them differently and have their own strengths, and that’s OK. As a business, a media company must decide what audience(s) it wants to reach and which distribution channel (print, online, broadcast, TBD) meets the audience’s needs.

Morton goes on: “Can newspapers really expect to recapture what they have lost with less circulation, a thinner newspaper offering fewer services to readers, with editorial products undermined in breadth and depth by layoffs and space constrictions? I think not.”

He’s right. We can’t do more with less. We can, however, do better at meeting audience/consumer needs, and maybe we can do that with less. We can stop acting like journalism demigods and start listening to what our communities want from us. Then give the community the best damn product we can to meet their needs.

If that means we stop doing some things, so be it. (Morton bemoans the loss of “customary features” in newspapers. Ask readers; if they don’t care, should we?)

Tip of the hat to Community Editor Jamie Kelly who forwarded Morton’s piece. If you come across something germane to this conversation, give me a heads-up at Twitter (http://twitter.com). You can find me there as annetteschulte.