Harmful If Swallowed

Yeah, the Kool-Aid does taste funny. Molly Ivins tears into the assumption that the newspaper business is dying because it isn’t delivering profits. Sure, there’s a steady decline in the industry over the long term. But profits are still happening. What’s killing newspapers is a mania for profits at any cost. Cut reporters and the space devoted to news. Profits will certainly go up. But then newspapers will certainly die. Which wouldn’t matter if newspapers weren’t fundamental to the creation of a well-informed citizenry.

Yeah, but – isn’t the growth of the blogosphere making up for this? And acting as an offshore balance to the power of the mainstream media? Please, don’t pass the Kool-Aid. Ivins is dismissive of bloggers – they don’t have the size, interest and skills needed to go out and gather news; they remain “opinion-mongers”:

No one should be allowed to write opinion without spending years as a reporter — nothing like interviewing all four eyewitnesses to an automobile accident and then trying to write an accurate account of what happened.

Molly Ivins, Alternet

Give some of them time, Molly. Otherwise, good stuff. Particularly if you think that Rupert Murdoch assigning you a friend when you sign up for MySpace is mildly creepy, indicative of what lies ahead.

Multitasking and the Journalist

A profile of Jon Snow, Channel 4’s chief news anchor, in which he does some “thinking from the mouth” (and nothing about his taste in ties, thank the gimmick editor):

As a journalist I think technology where it advances communication is plus, plus. Technology that merely inflects whizzbangs of information I think merely tends to get in the way of it. I’m against virtual reality, for example, because I think there’s nothing virtual about the reality of the news. But I’m absolutely in favour of blogging, vlogging and podcasting. My only anxiety is that there genuinely is a limit to what the individual journalist can do without beginning to degrade the quality of what they do.

Jon Snow, the Independent

Iraq – ‘Party’s Over’

I didn’t see any Westerners at all until my second day, when I contacted the acting bureau chief for an American paper who was staying in my hotel. As we were discussing the state of reporting in Baghdad and Iraq in general, he told me that I was a little late to the game. These days, more American reporters are leaving Iraq than arriving. In large part, for the U.S. press, “The party’s pretty much over.”

Paul McLeary, embedded reporter, Iraq

A Reporter in Iraq

We’re supposed to be the voice of the people, the truth-tellers and the ruler of accountability. But the blast walls between journalists in Iraq and the rest of the country grow higher as fear outweighs responsibility. I’m always told that no story is worth your life.

Leila Fadel reported for the Knight Ridder Baghdad bureau

Journalists Under Fire

Governments around the world are failing to prevent the murder and assassination of journalists, says the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ):

The truth is that even democratic governments turn a blind eye to the crisis of violence against media… In Iraq, where media people hardly dare walk the streets, there are 18 cases of unexplained killings of journalists and media staff by United States soldiers. Justice demands that these deaths are properly investigated. If not, speculation about military targeting of journalists will persist.

Aiden White, General Secretary, IFJ

Solid Air

“All that is newspaper melts…” – Scott Rosenberg on the end of print newspapers:

… the same process that ate their classified income is going to affect [newspaper owners’] other revenue streams. Just as classifieds went from costly to free, the display advertising will begin to dry up, as youth-seeking national advertisers follow their targets to the online world. And the very core of the newspaper product, the professional news report, is under siege, thanks to a myriad of missteps in the newsrooms and the rise of amateur (in the best sense), free alternatives.

… the only kinds of reporting and writing that will survive are those that individual entrepreneurs can find sponsors for, or those done by people who are financially independent or who work for nothing in their spare time.

Scott Rosenberg

Publish and Be Financially Independent

It sounds like a mission impossible: set up a progressive publication, one which doesn’t shirk from flicking the comfortable and comforting the afflicted, and don’t worry if the money doesn’t immediately roll in.

Robert Scheer, former columnist at the LA Times, sacked, he says, because of his opposition to the Iraq War, is trying to do exactly this. Truthdig is “an attempt to put out a good solid magazine of substance that has a progressive point of view.” Rather than competing with old media, he aims to produce “evergreen” copy giving readers in-depth analyses on current news stories. How to keep the “webzine” financially afloat? No get rich scheme, Truthdig will eventually depend on ad revenue as well as sponsorship for specific projects.
Online Journalism Review

Two further suggestions from Joe Mathewson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, banker and corporate lawyer. Newspapers benefit our civic health in ways which far outstrip the profits they bring to their investors. Simple tax legislation could make it easier for newspaper owners to convert ailing businesses into not-for-profit companies, into tax deductible gifts. Or newspapers could follow the US real estate investment trust model: distribute all profits to shareholders and get an exemption from federal taxes.
Editor and Publisher

Print Loses To Pixels

Spurred on by Google’s “clever new products”, Washington Post chairman Don Graham sees an electronic future ahead for news:

This year for the first time I have come to believe that we will be able to tell you about certain subjects better on the Internet than we will be able to in print.

Don Graham, Washingtonian

Journalism Blues

It’s a real dark night of the soul for journalists. Feel their pain. The open season on media professionals shows no sign of stopping. Three o’clock in the morning and what’s up with journalists?

Take these three takes:

First, their business values make little sense, according to Huntley Paton, publisher of the Dallas Business Journal. When daily newspapers obsess over celebs and junk TV, they may as well be shining a light on their competition. And their liberal bias does them little good: by mocking “community standards”, they may as well be waving goodbye to their small-town readers. The solution? Get back to providing local information and original reporting.
Dallas Business Journal

Second, their skills set is full of holes, according to Dale Dougherty, editor and publisher of MAKE. He tracks the journalism mash-up, the positive feedback loop of modern journalism: how PR missives form the headlines which go on to form the common sense for reporters. There’s no conspiracy here. It’s just that too many journalists are sloppy and lazy and suffer from a herd mentality. They need a story to be either up or down; they can never just say that “nobody knows.” They swallow numbers in the hope of spraying their works with a crud of credibility.
Boing Boing

Third, they tend to get blinded by disruptive technology, according to Terry Heaton, media consultant. Audiences are moving to an unbundled world – they want total control over their media items. Old-style media companies should stop thinking of themselves as “one-dimensional deliverers of bundled media.”
Digital Journalist

While Paton is way off on the liberal charge, he’s right about dumbing down. It’s a race to the gutter. Newspapers can’t win that race against TV or magazines. There’s a certain threshold below which they can’t descend without becoming something other than newspapers, without losing sight of their role in the functioning of a healthy democracy.

Dougherty gets the process, the social construction of the way the media sees things, exactly right. But pity the poor shop-floor hack. Journalists work within wider structures. Perhaps it’s a case of take the corporate shilling, assume a corporate sense of social (ir)responsibility. Still, pity the poor shop-floor hack.

Similarly, Heaton, at least here, leaves out the wider context. His prescription may sort out the bottom line. Extract social relationships from already existing eyeballs and add value to them in the form of new media services to which advertisers are likely to flock. Paton’s point then becomes even more important for new media. Sure, if your values are out of kilter with your readers, you’ve got a potential advertising revenue hemorrhage ahead. But if your business model rests absolutely on a community of common interests, get out of kilter with that community and watch your business immediately crash and burn.

Looming over all these takes? The colossus holding his notebook and pen in the fist of his power salute. Here come the bloggers, left and right, on cue, tapping out their tales about the inadequacies of the mainstream media (MSM), over the barricades, the barriers to entry, scrambling up the giant. And look at that giant fall. Crash.

All his past glories won’t stop Woodward from looking like one of the President’s men.

Press Exchange

At an in-house pow-wow last month looking at what’s next for the Guardian following its shrink from broadsheet to Berliner, editor Alan Rusbridger, chatting to blogger and Guardian Unlimited columnist Jeff Jarvis, downplayed the newspaper’s gleaming new printing presses.

They may be the last presses we ever own.
Alan Rusbridger, Buzzmachine

Way to go, says Jarvis. While US newspapers fret about their problems – staff layoffs, increased competition, less revenue, lower stocks, general fear and loathing, European papers are reaching out to zeros and ones.

Like their European counterparts, US newspaper folk should seize the digital day. Newspapers need to become places rather than things. The trick is to create online communities which can then be tapped for oodles of advertising revenue.