Friday, June 27, 2008

Zell does the love/hate thing yet again

Just when you're convinced that Tribune Corp owner Sam Zell is both (1) nuts and (2) a total douchebag when does things like try to sell Chicago's Tribune Tower, he says something like this:

I think that because newspapers have historically been monopolies, I think they've been insulated from reality.

And then you don't know what to think. Because it's true--the local news monopolies are very much to blame for the situation newspapers now find themselves in.

900 newspaper jobs lost THIS WEEK

Over at Recovering Journalist, Mark Potts breaks down a horrendous week in the newspaper industry, with 900 job cuts announced (and there's still a day and a half left in the week). In addition to documenting exactly where the cuts are coming from, Potts also brings the pain to management. After starting a paragraph with "Newspapers brought these problems on themselves," he continues:

The ways in which newspaper managements have screwed up over the past decade or so to lead to this state of affairs are manifold and simply put:

* Failing to understand the power and impact of the Internet.
* Failing to be creative about business models to fully monetize Internet content.
* Failing to be creative about working with advertisers to find new online ad models.
* Failing to take seriously powerful new competitors like Craigslist, Monster and Google.
* Failing to provide readers with enough relevant, compelling, can't-get-it-anywhere-else content–especially local coverage.
* Failing to understand that 20 percent profit margins aren't a divine right.
* Failing to move quickly enough to rein in costs and find efficiencies throughout the business.
* Failing to move quickly enough, generally.

The whole thing's a smart, angry read.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

a newspaperman argues that the paper needs to be taken out of news

Newspaper columnist Leonard Pitts nails a column to the door of the industry in his column today:

We still tend to regard our websites as ancillary to our primary mission of producing newspapers. But I submit that our primary mission is to report and comment upon the news and that it is the newspaper itself that has become ancillary.

It's well worth a full and complete read.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

someone needs to steal his caps lock button

This little nugget is an all-Tribune memo sent out by the new "innovation chief" of the Tribune corp, Lee Abrams. It's a barely intelligible list of fifteen ways newspapers can save themselves. Some of them are decent ideas, but they're delivered with such shockingly tactless douchebaggery that you want to do the opposite just to spite him.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Monday, June 16, 2008


At the start of the weekend, the Associated Press sent seven takedown notices to the Drudge Retort, a progressive spin on Drudge's link journalism format (as one can guess from the name, it started as a direct response, but has since turned into more of a straight user-submitted link site). The notices covered seven perceived copyright violations. So what were the infractions?

None of the six entries challenged by AP, which include two that I posted myself, contains the full text of an AP story or anything close to it. They reproduce short excerpts of the articles -- ranging in length from 33 to 79 words -- and five of the six have a user-created headline.

As one might expect, blogs have been exploding about this all weekend.

The oddest thing to me is that there are much more egregious examples of copyright violation than those on the Drudge Retort, which links back to the original story after a short headline or couple dozen word excerpt. Why this one? And why now?

Well given the events over the weekend, the AP has begun to retreat from their position, promising to review their policies towards blogs.

“We don’t want to cast a pall over the blogosphere by being heavy-handed, so we have to figure out a better and more positive way to do this,” Mr. Kennedy said.

That said, the takedowns were not taken back--the request still stands.

If the AP gets serious and continues to pursue this tactic, it's going to find itself in a similar situation as the record industry does now--making criminals out of the very people who care most about their product. That's not a good way to go. It may save things in the short term, but it's a death sentence in the long run.

The pushback has already begun, with prominent tech journalism site TechCrunch promoting a boycott:

Here’s our new policy on A.P. stories: they don’t exist. We don’t see them, we don’t quote them, we don’t link to them. They’re banned until they abandon this new strategy, and I encourage others to do the same until they back down from these ridiculous attempts to stop the spread of information around the Internet.

The thing that traditional journalism still doesn't get is that they're no longer the only game in town. A site like TechCrunch only helps the AP, pointing back to stories they wrote and sending eyeballs their way. But a site like TechCrunch doesn't need the AP. There's no longer a news vacuum that can only be filled by wire services--the news can be told without them.

Which isn't to say that the AP doesn't offer critical services--with newspapers shrinking everywhere, the AP stands as one of the few services capable of continuing to run foreign bureaus; with a renewed focus on local news at many newspapers (for better or for worse), the AP is one of the last remaining eyes able to investigate at a national level. These and many other things are important. Of course, the AP's main reason for existing--to be a way for newspapers to share stories--is obviously built on a now-unworkable model. And that's, ultimately, what this whole dustup is about: The AP needs to realize that it's living in a new world, a word where it's still needed, but in a very different way that it's accustomed.

And pissing off the very people that are changing the way news is consumed is probably the worst move they could make right now.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

fallen soldier

Spending 12 years doing anything is hard, but spending 12 years reading magazines and writing about them intelligently is a feat worthly of Sisyphus. Well that's exactly the feat that the Washington Post's Peter Carlson has pulled off in his always-engaging column "The Magazine Reader." Unfortunately, Carlson has penned his last column, choosing to take the Washington Post's buyout offer in order to explore other arenas, "such as sloth and gin" (nobel pursuits both). Carlson's departure is a sad statement on both the state of newspapers and magazines (because, one would imagine, if they still felt vital, he'd have kept the beat going), and one worth noting here.

Monday, June 9, 2008

“It’s a strategy, basically, of gradually closing down"

The New York Times has an article about the changes at Tribune Co., that might be most notable for how adeptly the they're able to cover the implosion of the newspaper industry without actually putting themselves in too. It takes a fair amount of gymnastics, but the result is a story about newspapers in a newspaper that never actually acknowledges that that it too is in trouble. What other industry would present information that way? None I can think of.

Anyway, what's going to be cut? How about an order of the usual?

Mr. Zell and Mr. Michaels did not address what content would be cut, but Mr. Zell has said before that he disagrees with the heavy allocation of resources to national and international news. Many newspapers have concluded that when a mouse click can collect news of Washington or Baghdad or Beijing from a multitude of sources, local news is their only real hold on readers.

Yes, you read that right: Bring the old "hyperlocal" dog back onto the track for one last race. I'm sure it's still a good idea, right? Oh wait...

P.S. Sorry for the absence, I've been transitioning from one thing to the next. I expect regularly-scheduled updates to continue from here on out.