Monday, March 31, 2008

Nanny, nanny

Here's a post that may make you mad, but ought to make you think. It's short, so I'm pasting it all here below, but there are comments and other good things at the blog:

Nanny-Journalism is the mother of all news business problems

Sometimes outsiders notice problems better than those too close to a situation, as did British journalist Neil McIntosh when he attended the Media Re:Public conference at USC’s Annenberg School. He noticed that “serious journalism was described at the conference, repeatedly, as something like broccoli, or medicine the citizenry needs to spoon down, no matter how unpalatable, if democracy is to survive.” He “[struggled] to think of another industry that views its premium product as something akin to a nasty cough syrup - necessary, good for your health, but irredeemably foul-tasting.” He wondered, shouldn’t at least some of the value and energy journalists now place in investigative and civic journalism be placed toward making their work more “palatable?”

What McIntosh revealed is that news in America has devolved into “Nanny-Journalism,” with journalists force-feeding citizen-infants their own brew of truth and objectivity. That worked fine while the public was still harnessed to their high-chairs, unaware of any news flavors beyond the NYTimes/WaPo/AP-generated “national conversation.” But now, with a more balanced, growth-oriented diet that includes talk radio, cable news, and the Internet, the infant has been spitting-out his medicine, bursting out of his harness, and walking away, seeking better news nutrition elsewhere. Worse yet, many have now been taught by New Media how to read the label, found it has never contained 100% pure truth or objectivity, and suspect journalism malpractice. Rather than whip-up an improved batch of the old elixir, journalists would be better-off coming-up with an entirely new, more appetizing prescription before their former dependents run away from home.

Don't bury me ('cause I'm not dead yet)

What's happening to newspapers? Nearly dead, right?

Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired and father of the Long Tail analysis, sees the numbers a bit differently. As he blogged recently:

If you'd ask me to describe the state of the newspaper industry based on the scary coverage about it alone, I would have guessed that it had fallen by half and that we were back to 1970s levels. Instead, it's a $45 billion business, which is twice as big as Google and Yahoo combined.

Yes, news economics are changing radically. I don't know anybody who's said that more or longer than I. But that's not the whole story.

I know that every time we talk about hopeful possibilities, a chorus will rise up to shout "Denial! Denial!" It can feel a bit lonely these days talking about our capacity to leverage exisiting capabilities into a bright, sustainable future.

This chart is a great illustration of the half-full-half-empty debate. Created to illustrate the death of newspapers, based on the recent revenue numbers the blogosphere cites as our death knell, Anderson notes that what it shows is an industry near its all-time high with a huge reserve of business.

This is a chart of revenues from 1982–2007, with print revenues in dark brown and online in a lighter shade. (The McClatchy numbers, BTW, are somewhat better):

Note to naysayers: please think before you write.

Publish2 gets funding

We've talked here before about Publish2, a system designed to let journalists share bookmarks and recommendations in a variety of sophisticated ways. I've written about it several times – including here and here – and have been an unofficial "advisor" to CEO Scott Karp. Several McClatchy operations have been beta testers and have had discussions about how the service might advance our journalism.

I'm happy to pass along news that Publish2 has received its first round of venture funding, a $2.75 million infusion that ought to accelerate progress greatly.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Best in the business

SABEW, the Society of Business Editors and Writers, has named the winners in its 13th annual "Best in Business" contest, and McClatchy publications have captured 11 awards.

The Charlotte Observer received – get this – five awards, including Overall Excellence for mid-sized newspapers.

They were joined in the Overall Excellence winners' circle by the Miami Herald (large papers) and the News Tribune in Tacoma, winner in the under-125,000 class.

In all, we had winners at Charlotte, Fort Worth, Tacoma, Miami and Kansas City. Business news has never been more important, and we're thrilled to be offering our readers this first-rate coverage.

For details, here's a news story listing winners; SABEW promises judges' comments soon at its website.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Word of mouth 2.0

Must-read article from the NYT today on how younger audiences find, share and assimilate news. There are pointers to about 748 lessons for us here, mainly centered around the notion of making the news we produce widely, quickly, conveniently available for users to do with as they wish.

When you read this, think about rivers of news, Twitter, Qik, social networks, mobile delivery, open archives ... and if you don't ever think about those things, start.

According to interviews and recent surveys, younger voters tend to be not just consumers of news and current events but conduits as well — sending out e-mailed links and videos to friends and their social networks. And in turn, they rely on friends and online connections for news to come to them. In essence, they are replacing the professional filter — reading The Washington Post, clicking on — with a social one.

“There are lots of times where I’ll read an interesting story online and send the U.R.L. to 10 friends,” said Lauren Wolfe, 25, the president of College Democrats of America. “I’d rather read an e-mail from a friend with an attached story than search through a newspaper to find the story.”

In one sense, this social filter is simply a technological version of the oldest tool in politics: word of mouth. Jane Buckingham, the founder of the Intelligence Group, a market research company, said the “social media generation” was comfortable being in constant communication with others, so recommendations from friends or text messages from a campaign — information that is shared, but not sought — were perceived as natural.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Yesterday and tomorrow

I think it was Oscar Wilde who observed that "fashion is something so ugly it has to change every six months." In any case, the truth is that while fashion changes by the season, good design doesn't.

Have a look at this collection of what popular websites looked like ten years ago, five years ago and now. While there are certainly differences and indications of learning, some of the most basic principles are obviously durable.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Must-see TV

Merced Sun-Star Reporter Scott Jason and Local News Editor Mike Tharp took part in a Taser demonstration at the Merced County Sheriff's Department.

Let me restate that: they got shot in the back and writhed on the floor in agony.

The future is text

Comments following this post by ze frank are worth reading:

... an early media company (forgot their name) made t-shirts in the early 90's. "the future is text". Of course they were right: Google. How about now? Still the future? Been reading The User Illusion by Tor Norretranders and thinking about how little info is encoded in text versus speech or video. No intonation, no smirks, unless you count the less than subtle emoticon, or perhaps a font named "Sarcasm Bold" (come on Emigre, why don't you have a series based on emotional states yet?). In any case, maybe the ambiguity is what makes text so powerful: fuzziness = a greater range of possible meanings = myths and quasi-myths that correspond to our own wishes/thoughts.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Speak, boy, speak

A friend in Anchorage alerted me to this video of my remarks at the University of Alaska there last fall. Most of you will have heard all this from me before ...

In praise of brevity (2)

Editor and technologist Kevin Kelly has a post that celebrates the virtues of writing short by offering examples in several formats: four-word film reviews, five-word reviews of musicals, six-word reviews of songs. If you enjoyed our examples of six-word short stories here earlier, you should check out Kevin's examples here.

A taste:

[Here are] seven words of wisdom collected by Tara Parker-Pope on the New York Times Health blog. She was inspired by Michael Pollan's haiku-like message in his book "In Defense of Food." His seven-word nutrition and diet advice is in brief: "East food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Retaining the 2-3-2 word sequence, the Times accumulated 1,000 seven word edicts. Samples:

Get exercise. Frequent and regular. With sweat.
Accept him. Or dump him. Relationship fixed.
Call Mom. Let her talk. Don’t argue.
Thanks kottke for the pointer.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Buy low, sell high

I'm told Bruce Sherman owned about 5.5 million shares of Bear Stearns stock as of the last report at year-end.

Don't know what he paid. It was $170 per share in January 2007, had a 52-week high of $159.36 and was $30 last week.

J.P. Morgan paid $2.

Valley of the Bees

Time Mag is opening its archives. Thanks to Chris Hendricks for the pointer to this one, from the issue of Feb. 16, 1959:

In California's mountain-bordered Central Valley, a green, 450-mile finger veined by rivers and stretching half the length of the state, nothing buzzes quite so persistently as the Bees. Last week the industrious hum of the three Bee papers (combined circulation 284,755), issuing from hives in Sacramento, Fresno and Modesto, rose louder than ever. For the first time in its 102 years of publication, the Sacramento Bee came out with a Sunday edition.

Telling the book by its cover

Design alert:

Freakonomics is a strange book anyhow, but not so strange as you'd suspect from looking at how it's been published around the world. Here are samples from Germany, Indonesia, Norway, Turkey, Denmark and China. Can you guess which is which?

Questioning the economy

Concerns and questions about the economy obviously are growing as Americans watch the system unravel. Editors are running more information to help keep them informed, and the McClatchy DC bureau is offering a special, direct answer line as well.

Bureau staffers Kevin Hall and Tony Pugh are answering economic questions directly from the audience, much the same as foreign affairs staffers did in talking about Iran. You can find those questions and answers here. Individual newspapers and websites can link to the feature as a service to readers.

Neither Iran nor the economy, however, has generated anywhere nearly as much audience response as Dave Barry, whose presidential campaign continues to draw questions here. He's answered more than 2,200 so far.

Spin cycle

From Wired News:

... [T]he McClatchy newspaper group is bringing an experimental kind of online audio C-Span experience to the citizens of the world through the web. The group's Washington DC bureau has started to post MP3s of presidential campaign conference calls online.

McClatchy's online division started recording the calls in the run-up to the March 4 primaries "when these conference calls seemed to be proliferating at a rapid pace," says Mark Seibel, McClatchy's Washington bureau's online managing editor.

"We decided to post the campaign conference calls for our readers to listen to if they choose in the interest of maximizing transparency," says Robert Rankin, McClatchy's government and politics editor.

Information is available at the alt.campaign box on the home page of the DC website; an RSS feed of campaign audio is available here.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

No need to say more

From Eric Burke, Stuff That Happens. Thanks, Daring Fireball.

Ethan's excellent observation

This from Ethan Kaplan, 28, the VP/Technology at Warner Records, after his experiences at SXSW:

Being inspired again - Too often I get bogged down in the politics, tedium and management that i have to do. It was nice to step away from it and become inspired by the very reason I like my livelihood and passions: music and technology. The best thing you can hope for is when they intersect.

Friday, March 14, 2008

100 best last lines from novels

I've collected best first lines from columns, news stories and novels, but never thought to focus on the final sentiments. This collection – 100 Best Last Lines From Novels – from the American Book Review (thanks, kottke) doesn't seem to explain where or how these choices came about, but it's still a damned interesting read.

There are many here, sad to say, that I haven't encountered.

Final thought: they seem to have neglected my all-time favorite; let me offer these closing lines from Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It, though even the last line by itself would deserve a spot on the list:

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

National Journalism winners

Ernie Pyle Award winner Julia O'Malley, left,
and her editor Sheila Toomey in Anchorage.

McClatchy journalists scored impressive wins in the annual National Journalism Awards competition administrated by the Scripps Howard Foundation: there are 12 newspaper awards there, and McClatchy journalists won three of them. No other company had multiple winners. (These winners, by the way, receive prizes of $10,000 each.)

Jason Whitlock, an often controversial but always engaging sports columnist at the Kansas City Star won the Scripps commentary prize, which often goes to a metro columnist or op-ed writer and rarely to a sports staffer. A Star writer since 1994, Jason often captures national attention, as he did in covering the controversy surrounding radio host Don Imus’ comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. While most commentators focused on Imus for his thoughtless racism, Jason aimed elsewhere, with stinging criticism of the misogynist hip-hop music culture he said created the climate in which young female athletes could be characterized as “nappy-headed hos.”

Washington Bureau reporters won our second National Journalism Award, this one for their work on the story of how U.S. Attorney appointments were politicized by the Justice Department under President Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Margaret Talev, Marisa Taylor and Greg Gordon, who were broadly recognized for their work in the blogosphere and elsewhere at the time, were the winners.

And the third of the Scripps prizes, for human interest reporting, is named in honor of war correspondent Ernie Pyle and was awarded to Julia O’Malley, a young writer on the Anchorage Daily News. In keeping with the spirit of Ernie Pyle’s WW2 dispatches about ordinary soldiers, Julia’s winning portfolio included a collection of well-told stories about ordinary Alaskans: a young Army widow, a Lao boy adopted by Anchorage Buddhist monks, the father of a murder victim, and others.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

McClatchy keeping tabs on the debate about nukes in Iran

Most folks know of the splendid work Knight Ridder's Washington bureau did in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, chronicled by Bill Moyers, Kristina Borjesson and many more. It's no stretch to call them the one journalistic organization that got it right.

Fewer people have noticed the second act of that journalistic power play, namely the way many of the same folks performed in the now-McClatchy bureau covering saber-rattling and worse over Iran's proclaimed nuclear intentions. But somebody has noticed. Here's a choice excerpt from a current Columbia Journalism Review report called Lost Over Iran: How the press let the White House craft the narrative about nukes:

One news organization that has been particularly inquisitive on the Iran crisis: McClatchy, née Knight-Ridder, the same outfit celebrated for its skeptical reporting in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Last fall (shortly before the NIE), McClatchy’s Washington bureau did a series of pieces probing the administration’s contentions. “There had been a lot of focus on tactical questions like, Will we bomb?—as opposed to larger questions like, What really is the threat from Iran?” says Warren Strobel, senior correspondent for foreign affairs at McClatchy. “So we sat down last August and had a series of meetings. We very deliberately decided we’d look from the ground up, to look at the most basic questions.”

That approach led to stories that challenged some of the administration’s basic assumptions. The stories didn’t claim that Iran had no nuclear-weapons program or that its intentions were peaceful. Instead, McClatchy’s reporters focused on the lack of evidence and the ambiguities. As one of their headlines put it, NO FIRM EVIDENCE OF IRANIAN NUCLEAR WEAPONS. Another story flagged recent feelers from Iran, suggesting it might be willing to make a deal to suspend uranium enrichment. Yet another piece surveyed Iran experts and found a broad swath of agreement that, despite the rhetoric that a nuclear weapon would represent an “existential threat” to Israel, Tehran appeared to want a nuclear capability for “the same reason other countries do: to protect itself.”

All of which would have been unremarkable, were it not for the overwhelming chatter in the other direction. “There’s no doubt that [Iran is] moving forward with the acquisition of a nuclear weapon,” McCain said last fall, a few minutes after he jokingly sang, “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” to a Beach Boys melody. Such talk wasn’t limited to conservatives. Hillary Clinton tried to outflank the administration, asserting in January 2006, “Iran is seeking nuclear weapons” and arguing that the White House actually “chose to downplay the threats.” In April 2006, Joe Klein, Time’s centrist columnist, argued on ABC’s This Week, “We should not take any option, including the use of tactical nuclear weapons, off the table.” (McClatchy’s reporters have rarely been invited to join the discussion. “No one comes to us,” says national-security reporter Jonathan Landay. “I did CSPAN once.”)

Work you ought to see

I'm preparing a report for our board of directors, and I'm falling in love with my research of great news projects around the company. I highlighted several here earlier, and here are a couple more.

To Catch A Killer (Fort Worth Star Telegram): multimedia in the fullest sense, this powerful story was told as a true-crime serial in the newspaper, presented as a compelling documentary video, and has subsequently captured interest from both local and national television. Compulsively readable, it's also a potent examination of a justice system gone wrong.

60 Seconds (Miami Herald): meet the male escort, the hard-working Haitian shopkeeper, the ever-optimistic real estate agent living in less than 400-square feet. Don't miss my favorite, the rich kid on Fisher Island who tells us how normal he is while the camera pans a closet that looks like Nordstroms.

Don't stay in the bleachers

R.E.M. is introducing a new album on the music/social networking site iLike, bypassing traditional record company PR and marketing. Like the Radiohead "pay-what-you-want" online download, it's a radical and untested new platform.

Sound familiar?

Here's the best quote I've seen about why:

'It was one of those ideas that was presented to us and it seemed like a good one so we ran for it,' R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe told

He also noted that the way people embrace music 'has certainly changed in the last 5 or 10 years. I think you can either go with it or sit back and watch it happen, and I would rather be out on the field than in the bleachers.'

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Great journalism

Congrats to the News Tribune in Tacoma for being named best business section in its circulation category. From the judges' comments on the Society of American Business Editors & Writers:
For their innovations in the section and strong coverage of local issues. From their use of blogs on the front page, to the daily Highlights of the Day, this paper is being recognized for its creativity. The quick hit briefs in Highlights were effectively packaged and the real estate section was terrific. The paper showed it puts a premium on business news, with strong enterprise work on stories like the Dec. 23 piece on Russell Investment Group and the Dec. 16 piece on the Wii. The paper also paid a lot of attention to coverage inside the business pages.

And if you're in the mood for more great journalism, have a look toward North Carolina:

Charlotte: The Cruelest Cuts: The human cost of bring poultry to your table
An exhaustive portrait of the appalling working conditions of "a disturbing subclass of compliant workers with few, if any, rights" – some 28,000 workers who put te chicken on American plates.

Raleigh: Mental Disorder: The Failure of Reform
Traces waste of hundreds of millions of dollars and the abuse of mentally ill citizens who needed real help. Far-ranging results have already followed the series.

Monday, March 10, 2008

APME organizes earmarks project

Editors: Many of you will know of this already, but I'm passing along what looks like an intriguing opportunity for some cooperative journalism with APME colleagues:

The Associated Press Managing Editors group is coordinating a national reporting project on spending earmarks by Congress.

Might you promote the project to editors within McClatchy?

To help newspapers interested in participating in the project, APME is offering free training at 10 locations across the country (including Tacoma) and help with data. Webinars are planned for those not able to attend the training.

The AP will write an overview story that can accompany locally produced stories. The project is scheduled to run the first weekend of June.

More information is available at

- Kate Kennedy

On behalf of APME
Front Pages Editor, Newseum
555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20001 * 202-292-6272

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Value-added local journalism

I don't know much about the blow-up at NPR that cost CEO Ken Stern his job, but what I do know supports this tough analysis of the situation by Jeff Jarvis.

Local affiliates apparently are worried that unless they can remain the exclusive purveyor of national NPR programming, listeners will desert them. They're right. But telling NPR it can't offer streaming audio or podcasts of those programs is surely the wrong approach. As Jarvis says, protection is not a strategy.

His advice to the local stations is characteristically Jarvis: blunt, slightly insulting, and mostly right:

Well guess, what, local yokels, hate to tell you this but… You’re screwed! You bet the internet is going to hurt you. There is no need for you as a distribution arm anymore. Unless you add valuable local content and service to the mix, you might as well tear down the tower now. Or in a year or two. Getting rid of Stern et al won’t get rid of reality.

This is the problem I see in all media: They think that protection is a strategy. It’s not.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

BTFI – rule of thumb for real life

A blogger who writes at inmycopiousfreetime has posted about one of the TED moments that moved her during a recent conference session in Monterey. I saw the same presentation, and agree, so I'll just quote her here:

[Benjamin Zander, condustor of the Boston Philharmonic] told a story about a musician who was practicing a piece for an [audition] to be the associate (2nd chair?) cellist? (sorry, can't remember) in a Barcelona orchestra. Zander thought the guy was holding back - he kept working with him until the guy was giving it all he had and the guy went away to Spain for the [audition]. He came back and said he hadn't gotten the job because he played the first way, holding back. But then he said, "oh, fuck it" and went to Madrid, auditioned for 1st chair in their orchestra and got it. So Zander says that you have to get BTFI - Beyond the "fuck it" point.

I liked her blogger bio, too, where she described herself as "thinking hard and wearing lipgloss."

Is your newsroom naked?

A guy with my job walks through a lot of newsrooms, and being a corporate suit I'm often in there relatively early.

One thing is unmistakably apparent: we're still staffed and organized for a daily deadline sometime in the evening.

Since we produce newspapers, that's both inevitable and appropriate – but it's no longer sufficient.

Anders Gyllenhaal briefed our editors at the San Diego meeting last month about how the Miami Herald is working to become a continuous news operation. Not everybody has all the Herald's resources to apply to this (okay, nobody else in our company) but there's a fundamental lesson here for us all.

You need to be working early to ensure fresh and enticing websites for the audience that shows up looking for news. It's easy to learn readership patterns from Omniture data; perhaps more importantly, we've also learned how easy it is to change and influence those patterns.

If you build it (and it's good), they will come.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Using free online tools

Howard Owens has an illuminating post about using free onine tools to enhance newspaper websites – in this case configuring Yahoo Pipes to produce lists of "related stories" to accompany news articles.

An international prize

Pictures of the Year International is one of photography's most prestigious competitions, and I'm happy to report that Lexington's David Stephenson has won first place for multimedia. He beat out the L.A. Times (second) and Tornoto Globe & Mail (third) in the international competition.

The POYi announcement is here, and you can see his intimate portrait of an addicted young mother at here.

We're proud of David and the entire Herald-Leader team who produced this outstanding work.

Whither Twitter?

We've written about Twitter and possible news implications here before. Some of our newsrooms are using Twitter streams to spread news, and many of us as individuals are trying it out. (Follow me as howardweaver, for instance).

But if you're still unsure what Twitter is or why it matters, this post by UNLV j-prof Charlotte-Anne Lucas is a wonderful primer. Much worth reading, including this taste from her intro:

What is Twitter?

It is like a microblog, a place to say your piece, or Tweet, in 140 characters or less.

And it is a place to listen.

Unlike my soapbox of a blog, my Twitter home page is actually a waterfall of other people’s words, blended in a real time river from streams around the world. They are people I have stumbled upon and collected simply by clicking on the button to “follow” them.

Driving online traffic at the NYT

Here's a short video about what's been driving traffic at, where audience is up about 35% in the last six months. There's no real mystery, either: better photo galleries, more blogs, archive search, eliminating pay-walls. Have a look.
Thanks to sacredfacts for the pointer.