Monday, March 17, 2008

Stop the Presses

I will be offline for the next two weeks, driving around the Southwestern states. Sorry, but My Eyes Glaze Over won't be updating during that time.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

your depressing journalism link of the weekend

The storied Medill School of Journalism--one of the top J-Schools in the country--is considering dropping "journalism" from its name. The worst of the new options?

The Medill School of Audience and Consumer Information


Friday, March 14, 2008

the Washington Post rethinks editing

A memo leaked out of the Washington Post today has them rethinking how their editing process works, and makes some attempts to retool it towards a more immediate web-based workflow:

Currently, stories in the A section are routinely changed by a half-dozen different editors (an audit by Don Podesta for this project found fingerprints of 12 different editors on one single inside piece). Under the new model, many stories will be handled under a "two touch" rule; they will have a first editor and a second editor.

Unbelievable, really, that a story would get looked at by 12 different editors. The levels of inefficiency in the old system are pretty stunning. It's good to see some people are beginning to rethink a system that sounds like a complete headache for everyone involved.

the web reorders news presentation

Scott Karp makes a good argument today that the traditional newspaper editorial presentation--what is most important--breaks down on the web:
Organizing news by importance as the default makes sense when you’re only delivering the news once a day (and the “default” is all you get). But when news publishing is continuous, it’s not the best way to server frequent news consumers.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cuban to newspapers: cut out the blogging

Zilliionare Mark Cuban (he of "The Benefactor" TV show fame... or not so much) has some very good observations about newspapers adopting blogging on their websites--namely, they shouldn't.

Or, more accurately, they shouldn't call it blogging. Which seems like splitting hairs, but he puts it pretty plainly and makes a good point in the process:

Never, ever, ever consider something that any literate human being with Internet access can create in under 5 minutes to be a product or service that can in any way differentiate your business.

There's a world of difference between the New York Times' blog The Caucus and the millionth political blog out there, so why should they be labeled the same thing. Ultimately, with so many different uses for a blog engine, "blogging" is a term that's rapidly losing its meaning--I always saw it as a stopgap term to help people that didn't see it for what it was: publishing.
Cuban again:

Do everything possible to brand the product or service in a manner that segregates it from the masses. Perception is reality. If you can leverage your existing brand to create the perception that yours is different from the masses in some meaningful way, then you must do everything you can to do so.
When readers actually read the [NY TImes] blog, they will see that its of a higher quality than say, It may well be that some do. The marketing reality however is that there is a significant risk that they will not. That rather than assigning the brand equity of the NY Times to the blogs hosted, they will take the alternative path of assigning their perception of what a blog is to the NY Times, there by having a negative impact on the brand equity of the NY Times. That's an enormous risk for any mainstream brand to take.

Yowza is right. He goes on to suggest a simple fix for the problem, rebranding it "real time reporting," and emphasizing the expertise behind the writing.

Not a half-bad plan. Which is why no newspaper will ever implement it, to afraid that people "won't think we're blogging."

YouTube makes a play to become the web's video standard

A good argument could be made that it's already the defacto standard for video on the web, but YouTube's announcement of it's new API (that's application programming interface for those not down with the lingo) opens up the site to a whole new level of interaction that will, eventually, spread free video far and wide over the web.

The big deal is that it's now possible to set up fully-functional video upload capabilities to your own website (currently through getting your geek on, but give plugin developers another week and mere mortals will be able to integrate it as well) instead of having to link people back out to YouTube. The whole thing is driven and hosted by YouTube's computing cloud, so your own servers aren't taxed in the slightest. Once videos are up, you can have them auto-tagged with your site name (or anything else you want), so that they can be grouped easily into your own categories.

For publishers looking to integrate a robust video platform into their site, the options just became quite simple. It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out.

More at ReadWriteWeb.

Super nerdtacular video link GO:

PS. It would appear as if YouTube co-founder Steve Chen has a poster of... well... himself, in his office.

Your depressing newspaper news of the day

Editor and Publisher charts the plummeting circulation over the last four years at major daily newspapers. The numbers are a serious kick in the sack:

USA Today -- 2,293,137 -- 46,141 -- 2.1%
The Wall Street Journal -- 2,011,882 -- (-79,180) -- (-3.8%)
The New York Times -- 1,037,828 -- (-80,737) -- (-7.2%)
Los Angeles Times* -- 794,705 -- (-201,133) -- (-20.2%)
New York Daily News -- 681,415 -- (-47,709) -- (-6.5%)

New York Post -- 667,119 -- 14,693 -- 2.3%
The Washington Post -- 635,087 -- (-97,785) -- (-13.3%)
Chicago Tribune -- 559,404 -- (-54,105) -- (-8.8%)
Houston Chronicle* -- 502,631 -- (-50,387) -- (-9.1%)
Newsday -- 387,503 -- NA

The Arizona Republic*, Phoenix -- 385,214 -- (-47,070) -- (-10.9%)
The Dallas Morning News -- 373,586 -- NA
San Francisco Chronicle -- 365,234 -- (-147,406) -- (-28.8%)
The Boston Globe -- 360,695 -- (-89,843) -- (-19.9%)
The Star-Ledger, Newark, N.J. -- 353,003 -- (-55,669) -- (-13.6%)

The Philadelphia Inquirer -- 338,049 -- (-38,444) -- (-10.2%)
Star Tribune*, Minneapolis -- 341,645 -- (-38,709) -- (-10.2%)
The Plain Dealer*, Cleveland -- 332,894 -- (-32,394) -- (-8.9%)
Detroit Free Press -- 320,125 -- (-32,589) -- (-9.2%)
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- 318,350 -- (-64,071) -- (-16.8%)

Yes, you're seeing that San Francisco Chronicle number correctly: almost 30%. The chaos at the LA Times didn't help the paper either: down just over 20%. Ditto the Boston Globe. Even the venerable New York Times--the very definition of the new "brand" centered newspaper concept--dropped over 7%.

According to the story, the overall decline among all dailies was 1.4 million copies a day. Oof.

On the upside, everyone needs to dissect exactly what it was that USA Today did and the New York Post did to actually grow their circulation over the same period. Unfortunately, my guess is that what they did wasn't probably the kind of journalism that a person feels good about the next morning.

via Romanesko

Monday, March 10, 2008

Good thing it's early...

... because a chart like this will make a person lose some serious sleep.

"The perception is that everything must be free to get scale. I don’t think it’s right and I think it’s a bit of a shame"

The CEO of London's Financial Times, which bucked convention by raising its cover price by 150% last year and still charges for content on its website, has an interesting take on the transition to digital media. One key factor, he says is:

When any industry is facing disruption, the single most important lesson is to differentiate yourself and focus on what makes you different

He goes on to embrace the need to be a niche product--of narrowcasting instead of broadcasting--and of the necessity of creating quality news.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

"the Internet isn't a decoration to contemporary society -- it's a challenge to it"

Once you get past the fairly useless lede (and the completely irrelevant title), Salon's interview with author Clay Shirky gets really good really quickly, as he focuses his talk on the implications that the Internet has in upending many societal conventions that have been "incredibly stable over a period of in some cases hundreds of years."

His canary in a coal mine?

Journalism, of course.

He has an interesting take on it that's worth the full read, but here's a tantalizing taste:

The people who are fighting to preserve newspapers are fighting to preserve the wrong thing. They are fighting to preserve an outmoded business model. They can't see that it will not be a problem for society if they don't get their news on paper anymore, but it will be a problem for society if, however they get their news, it doesn't include investigative journalism.

Friday, March 7, 2008

geography is meaningless

The argument I made earlier in the week, that part of the collapse of newspapers is due to the lack of geography on the Internet, has apparently cost the head of National Public Radio his job, forced out by member stations threatened by his digital strategy:

But that push has aggravated anxiety among local stations about their relationship to the network. NPR member stations rely heavily on popular shows, particularly Morning Edition, to generate donations. But if people can listen to them through NPR's Web site or even their own cell phones, why would they stay loyal to stations still reliant on pledge drives?

It's a damn good question, one that every member station needs to answer by making their content unique, not by forcing out the guy who's having success moving radio forward.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

that's one way to put it

In a statement surrounding the bankruptcy filings of once-powerful electronics magazine publishers Ziff Davis Media, in which they announced they had over $200 million in debts, Ziff Davis CEO Jason Young said, "We feel like we're in a position poised for wonderful growth," adding, "we just needed to solve this issue."

Yes, just that little issue of being $200 million in debt, with no end in sight:

The bursting of the Internet bubble hurt publishers like Ziff Davis, which said its print advertising revenue dropped to $40 million last year from $215 million in 2001. Its total revenue fell to $76 million last year from about $300 million in 2001.

via the ever-vigilant Magazine Death Pool

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

and we wonder why people hate the media so much

This is probably the most self-absorbed piece of "news" reporting I have ever seen. It's shocking that it made the air.

what went wrong with journalism (an alternate view)

This is excerpted from the future of journalism talk I gave this week at Columbia College Chicago

There's been a lot of talk lately about the future of journalism—about whether journalism even has one. But before we begin diving into the future, we first need to understand the past by answering a simple question:

How did we get here?

And to answer that question, we first have to ask another one:

Where is here, anyway?

If you ask the makers of traditional journalism--papers like the New York Times or the Chicago Tribune--they'll tell you that here is a pretty bleak place. It's a place where one in four newspaper jobs have been lost since 1990; a place readership is down and where revenues (more from advertising than circulation) have dropped precipitously over the same timeframe and where, as a result, layoffs are being announced at big papers on a daily basis.

In other words: bleak.

And so it's no surprise then that those very same papers start to write headlines like this one, from the New York Times a few weeks ago. Headlines that warn of an "imperiled industry"; headlines that begin to craft a narrative of the end of days of journalism; of journalism up in flames thanks to the dominance of the content-is-free internet and the abandonment of advertisers for it.

But that narrative ignores some important things. Things that are imperative to understand just how we got here.

Things like the fact that newspaper readership has been in decline for almost 40 years, thanks to the creation of the evening newscasts in the mid-1960s. Before that, newspapers often offered two editions a day, a morning edition and an afternoon one. With the introduction of the evening newscast (and the local newscast that followed), the afternoon edition was gutted and readers started to look elsewhere for breaking coverage. With the introduction of CNN and the 24-hour-news cycle in the 1980s, the desertion accelerated so that by 1990, newspaper circulation had declined by 10% in just 10 years.

So it's clear that the shrinking readership of newspapers is not something new. But what isn't clear is that during that same timeframe it was not bad news. Instead, it triggered a buying wave of weakened newspapers by ever-growing media conglomerates like Hearst, Gannett, NewsCorp, the Tribune Company and handful of others. Those conglomerates saw big profits by creating nearly-identical papers, papers that could share content from edition to edition, reducing news redundancy across the board. This was thought of as a very good thing. So good, in fact, that these same corporations wanted more, helping to push through the Telecommunications act of 1996 so they could acquire more local newscasters and radio stations to ad to their dominance.

And, for a time, it worked. Profits skyrocketed. Operating margins from newspapers became so high--20% and up--that they became expected (for a quick perspective: operating margins at Toyota, the largest car company in the world, are just 9%).

But then something happened: The Internet. And those same conglomerates that thought they were holding cash cows found themselves holding the bag instead.


Not because of the usual argument trotted out, that newspapers couldn't compete on an Internet where content is free. News content has been free for decades, broadcast freely out over the airwaves on radio and TV, and newspapers model used circulation income to cover the printing and distribution of the paper.

Instead, newspapers have collapsed (and local broadcast will soon follow) because the economies of scale that allowed for such huge profits for news conglomerates in the 80s and 90s are no longer viable in a medium where geography is meaningless.

You see, the profits that Gannett, and the New York Times Company, and the Tribune enjoyed were thanks to the local monopolies that each paper held in their hometown. If you wanted to read the day's news and you lived in Scranton, Pennsylvania, what were you going to do but pick up your local paper? Even as readership declined in real numbers, the advertising base held up because they had a captive audience: where else were you going to go?

But with the Internet, audiences were no longer captive. The effort to get to your local paper online was exactly the same as the effort to get to one an ocean away--i.e. no effort at all. And so suddenly, instead of being a local monopoly every paper found themselves competing against every other --and against the rest of the internet itself.

And so we arrive at today.

Today, if you ask the Tribune or the New York Times, is a dark time. It's a time when newspapers are in descent. That's the narrative they offer: The narrative of descension.

But there is a second narrative being written in news today: the narrative of ascent.

It's a narrative being written by those that have moved beyond the playing field of the media giants that dominated the 20th century and instead embrace the possibilities that are uniquely available today.

It's a narrative of breaking down barriers--barriers to entry, barriers of cost, barriers of exclusivity.

It's a narrative of accessibility to a set of tools that have become so simple and whose cost has become so low that they are essentially free.

It's a narrative, ultimately, of the future of journalism.

And it's a narrative that we can all write together.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

we interrupt this broadcast

To let you know that I'll be out of town for the next few days, preparing to give a talk on the future of journalism. Regularly scheduled broadcasting should resume on Tuesday.