Friday, September 28, 2007

The vision thing

Okay, I'm taking the predictable amount of grief since the University of Alaska press release about my lecture there billed me as "newspaper visionary Howard Weaver." Go ahead, say it.

But in my defense, I will offer the following weekly newspaper article. Think about the current political bribery scandal in Alaska when you look at this – which was published in 1987.

Finding your blogs

I don't think we're guilty of all the sins enumerated in this criticism of how newspapers handle blogs, but some of it rings true. I particularly think she's right in this observation:
Nearly all newspaper websites mistakenly segregate their blogs off with the other blogs. They're organizing by form, not by content. (The Times does a better job, both promoting blog posts on the front page and integrating each blog's content into existing sections.)

And this seems particularly damning:

... most of the blog writers end up screaming into the void. Take internet critic Steve Johnson at the Chicago Tribune; how will his long piece on internet gossip trash ever get seen? It's total traffic-bait—and it has nary a comment. No entity on the internet has even linked to it, as of 4 p.m. EST today.

Winning features

Four of the top 10 features sections in the country are at McClatchy papers, the American Society of Sunday & Features Editors says:

AASFE's Best Section Winners

The winners of the 2006 Best Sections contest for the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors were announced at the conference Thursday afternoon in Savannah. The Top 10 Best Sections are

The Charlotte Observer
The Chicago Tribune
The Houston Chronicle
The Los Angeles Times
The Kansas City Star
The New & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
The State (Columbia, S.C.)
USA Today
The Virginia-Pilot (Norfok, Va.)
The Wilmington Star News (NC)

No matter how cynical you are ... it's never enough

Always wanted a Pulitzer? Get your checkbook.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Full of day-old stuff ..."

There's an interesting post and comment thread at the Visual Editors website here that's worth a read.

Yes, it's a random conversation with a single reader, but I found a lot to think about in the reflections this editor gained by talking with an airplane seatmate about newspapers.

Here's a sample:

After stowing my laptop under my seat, I asked her if she would be interested in reading one of the newspapers during the flight.

Her reaction, which I totally didn’t expect given how she had first inquired about the newspapers I had purchased, was a less-than-measured response:

“Naw, thanks, it’s just full of day-old stuff … ”

Realizing that she might have just insulted me, she quickly began to apologize: “I didn’t mean to say that you are wasting your time” … “It’s just that, in my experience, newspapers are a bit slow ... Whatever important news that I need is either on TV or on the Internet, you know.”
And this:

She seemed irritated, almost as if she felt cheated with her newspaper experience, which led me to inquire whether in fact she USED to be an avid reader.

Guess what: She was.

She had very strong feelings about what a newspaper’s role used to be versus now: “I used to read all the time 10 years ago, because my paper would tell me a lot that I didn’t know. It was full of stuff from around my area and the rest of the state. It made you feel smart to read it. It just isn't that way anymore."

Content wants to be free?

The fall of the Times Select pay-wall has sparked another round of worries about how we'll survive if nobody wants to pay for the news they read. Of all the things you might stay awake at night worrying about, this one should be way, way down the list.

It's all about advertising. As I've noted many times, newspapers don't really charge for content anyhow. Since it (often) costs more to print and distribute the paper than we charge for subscriptions, we're already giving it away in order to build an audience we can charge advertisers for.

Yes, it's helpful to have paid circulation since that demonstrates what the advertisers call "wantedness," differentiating newspapers from free shoppers. The environment in which you see an ad matters. But subscription prices aren't really about charging for content.

Now Scott Karp at Publish2 offers another illuminating way of thinking about this. In this post, he argues that people actually do pay for content online; the wrinkle is that they're paying their internet service provider – Comcast, or SBC for instance – rather than the producer.

In a way, this is analogous to paying for the newspaper: in either case, what you're really paying for is the delivery.

In England, there's a fee attached to television sets that helps pay for the BBC. (I believe it's about $260 per year). I think the same is true of blank VHS tapes, and perhaps other media, where a small part of the purchase price is returned to various copyright holders.

Since it's easy enough to meter what gets used online, why couldn't there be a fee attached to ISP charges that rebates to content providers?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Back from the frontier

Greetings from Alaska, and apologies for the lack of fresh content here. We were beyond net-reach part of the time and too busy otherwise, but now we're back. I figure it will take -- oh -- 10 or 15 seconds for the solitude and splendor to wear off.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Disturbing, compelling photojournalism

A fabulous essay by Robin Lustig provides narration for this slideshow of notable, historic photojournalism from Magnum. It's called "Covering Conflict."
(Thanks, SacredFacts)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mantras, not mission statements

Kathleen McCoy flagged this short video clip and recommends watching. Me, too.


Aim to make meaning, not money. How?

  • Improve the quality of life
  • Right a wrong
  • Prevent the end of something good

Monday, September 10, 2007

Without comment

Front page, SLO Tribune
September 2007

Abbey Road, London
September 1969

Free speech?

Facebook is in the midst of a user revolt over creation of a group called "Fuck Islam." Protesters arose demanding that the group be banned, its creator apparently was booted and then reinstated, and as of now the resolution is unclear.

Spend a few moments searching through the groups spawned in opposition (and support) of the original and you quickly see what a thicket it is. For instance, what about the "fuck the fuck islam groups and fuck the fuck the fuck islam groups" group? How about "Fuck Tibet - Free Palestine"?

The New York Times has a brief story, including this:

The latest concern centers on a group with a crude title denouncing Islam that had more than 750 members at last count. While the group takes pains to say it has nothing against Muslims, who “can be and usually are peaceful and respectful,” it asserts at the start: “The Quran contains many lies and threats. Islam is false, no god exists, and someone should say that loud and clear.”

In the month or so since the group was created, the reaction has been building across Facebook. As of the weekend, more than 58,000 Facebook members had joined a group that said that unless the anti-Islam group was removed, “we r quitting Facebook.”

Facebook declined to comment on Friday on the subject of hate speech or on what steps had been taken.

Friday, September 07, 2007

News coverage boycott

While it's obviously far easier to play tough with rugby than the NFL, it seems to me that this may well be the only genuine resolution to questions about restricted access and restrictive prohibitions from sports franchises.

News Agencies Boycott on Limits

PARIS, Sept. 6 (AP) —The world’s three leading news agencies suspended coverage Thursday of the Rugby World Cup in a dispute with the sport’s governing body over media restrictions.

The Associated Press said its representatives would not attend any World Cup events until the dispute over media credentials was resolved with the International Rugby Board. Reuters and Agence France-Presse also said they were suspending coverage.

The A.P. said it hoped for a resolution so it could return to full coverage of the six-week tournament before the opening match Friday between France and Argentina.

The A.P. said it would not distribute text stories, photographs or TV images from precompetition events Thursday.


Message from the Associated Press

The press freedom dispute with the IRB has just been settled and normal coverage should resume. Other information may follow.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Are you a journalist?

Andria Krewson was interested in my response to the question "Who is a journalist?" which emerged from a conversation on Facebook. Marc Matteo had posed some questions:

What is a "real" journalist? I have a degree in Journalism, does that count?

If one publishes a "journal" -- online or not -- doesn't that by definition make one a journalist?

Or is there a test? A certification? That would indeed make us Journalists as opposed to journalists.

Here's my reply, posted here for wider consideration and comment:
A journalist is a person who does journalism.

A journal? Nope, not enough. A Flickr stream? Not necessarily.

Journalism has a lot in common with science: it's a process of testing, calibrating, disputing, refining and adjusting notions about reality. There's no "whole truth" or final answer to be had, but there *is* a process available that gets us closer. It's neither an accident nor a revelation from on high; it's the product of evolution. (See “The Truth Discipline” in Jack Fuller’s book “News Values,” pp 86-89).

Good information advantages those who have it, and “journalism” is simply the process by which we have sorted and codified one kind of information as being more refined than some others. (Ideally, a doctoral thesis, investment newsletter or CIA briefing might all be even higher grade info than journalism.)

Not everybody with a blog about biology can call herself a scientist, nor is every political blogger a journalist. But some are.

Wall-to-wall crime

Danny Sanchez at Journalistopia has an interesting and useful round-up of crime maps implemented at newspapers around the country. It's available here.

Radical transparency

Columbia EPE Brad Warthen promised years ago to use his blog as a way to let readers know who he and the ed board were meeting with.

Way back when I started this blog, I promised to use it as a medium for reporting on the many meetings, some of them interesting, that we have as an editorial board and never get around to writing about. The idea was not only to disseminate stuff worth knowing, but to lower that ol' drawbridge to the ivory tower I keep talking about. You know, if someone is talking to us and helping shape our world view, readers should know about it.

Well he didn't. But now he is.

Maybe you should?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

No comment

News Release

The Los Angeles Times To Feature
First-Ever Ad With Scented Ink
For Fox Walden’s “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium”

Distinctive and Original Frosted Cake-Scented Ad to Appear in The Times’
Fall Movie “Sneak”s September 9th

LOS ANGELES, September 4, 2007 – The Los Angeles Times and Fox Walden today announced that the paper will feature the first ever ad using scented ink to uniquely tout the 20th Century Fox release of a Walden Media and Mandate Film, “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” opening nationwide on November 16th. Starring Academy Award® winner Dustin Hoffman and Academy Award® nominee Natalie Portman, “Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium” is the story of the strangest, most fantastic, most wonderful toy store in the world and the equally fantastic and wonderfully innovative ad will debut in the paper’s annual Fall Movie Sneaks section on September 9th. The Times becomes the first major newspaper in the country to successfully present and implement the pioneering application which adds a rich, new dimension to the medium.
Fox Walden seized the opportunity to create new levels of involvement and connection with Southern California’s readers and moviegoers and chose the universally beloved frosted cake scent to remind consumers of all ages to be young and have fun.
“The scented ink ad is yet the latest tool The Times is offering its advertisers as they continue to search for new ways to reach, excite and inform L.A.’s market of buzz,” said Dave Murphy, executive vice president and general manager of the Los Angeles Times Media Group. “Fox Walden has been a terrific partner as we roll-out this bold concept and underscores our industry leading ability to create unique marketing solutions.”
Times readers will be able to scratch designated areas of the “Mr. Magorium” ad, which will emit the frosted cake scent made from soy-based ink. Written and directed by Zach Helm, “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” centers around a magical toy store that only asks one thing of its customers; you must believe it to see it.

“‘Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium’ is about a magical toy store that comes to life,” said Jeffrey Godsick, president of marketing at Fox Walden. “So when the Los Angeles Times came to us with the idea to create a magical scratch and sniff ad we felt it was the perfect fit since it brings the ad to life.”

Nancy Sullivan, Los Angeles Times
(213) 237-6160

Stephan Pechdimaldji, Los Angeles Times
(213) 237-4791

Susie Hayasaka, Fox Walden
(424) 202-6623

Monday, September 03, 2007

The force of few words

We spoke in praise of brevity here not long ago, celebrating the "six-word stories" perhaps best exemplified by Hemingway's classic, "For sale: baby shoes. Never worn."

On Sunday the New York Times Book Review introduced me to another gem of the economical genre: fait divers. Apparently a staple of French newspapers, they are short, complete, succinct tidbits that (as the reviewer notes) reach a kind of sublime poetic quality.

This review examines a collection of faits divers by a previously anonymous writer of is entitled "Novels in Three Lines." But I don't know where the lines break, so these are presented entire:

On the bowling lawn a stroke leveled M. André, 75, of Levallois. While his ball was still rolling he was no more.

A dishwasher from Nancy , who had just come back from Lourdes cured forever of tuberculosis, died Sunday by mistake.

They’re leaving, those Laotian dancers who graced the fair at Marseille; they’re leaving today aboard the PolynĂ©sien.

There is no longer a God even for drunkards. Kersilie, of St.-Germain, who had mistaken the window for the door, is dead.”

Lit by her son, 5, a signal flare burst under the skirts of Mme. Roger, of Clichy; damages were considerable.

In Oyonnax, Mlle. Cottet, 18, threw acid in the face of M. Besnard, 25. Love, obviously.

Seventy-year-old beggar Verniot, of Clichy, died of hunger. His pallet disgorged 2,000 francs. But no one should make generalizations.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Tracing shadows, listening for echoes across 50 years

Fifty years ago the image of a Charlotte teenager surrounded by hate as she walked to school was a chronicle of a nation coming to grips with the law, tradition and culture of race. Today, the Charlotte Observer employs all its tools in casting the shadows of that famous photo forward.

From that single striking image flows a stream of multimedia – narrative, photography, video – designed to listen to the stories that echo across those 50 years. Move beyond the famous, regal face of Dorothy Counts: What happened to that boy behind her? To that one, pictured at the right?

What have they – and Charlotte – learned? And what about the rest of the country? Today the Observer guides us on a search for answers.

Google hosting wire stories

You'll see a lot on the wires and in the blogosphere in the next few days about an arrangement that lets Google host AP and some other wire stories on its own pages. That means users at Google News will no longer see a multitude of alternative links to those wire stories as they appear on many different newspaper (and other) websites.

That will cost us a little traffic – but not much, and not very valuable. That kind of random, out-of-market traffic in search of generic wire news isn't at the heart of what we do.

I'm not yet fully informed about this – and I do fault the AP for failure to communicate with us adequately about the deal. There are likely to be some yet-unknown implications, but I will say that most of the commentary I've seen so far seems a bit apocalytic.

AP doesn't sell Google its "state wire" with local news that originates from our papers, so that traffic isn't affected. Neither is organic search at

What changes is that Google News readers won't click on one of the multiple newspaper sources previously listed by Google News for basic AP content. And what's the effect of that? It's better for readers, doesn't affect much traffic for us, and could even clear the way on Google News for better display and availability of the genuinely unique material newspaper websites feature.

Anybody whose business plan revolves around drive-by traffic from incidental links to generic AP stories is in deeper trouble than this issue raises.

I'll report more about the details and implications as I know more.