Saturday, February 28, 2009

More mush about paid content

News item: Hearst newspapers will start charging for some content online.

How much content? What price? How will it be collected? What effect will that have on online traffic, and thus revenue?

Hearst Newspapers President Steven Swartz says:

"Exactly how much paid content to hold back from our free sites will be a judgment call made daily by our management, whose mission should be to run the best free Web sites in our markets without compromising our ability to get a fair price from consumers for the expensive, unique reporting and writing that we produce each day."

I believe this is execuspeak for "I have no idea at all what I am talking about. I would like more money, though."

In fairness, there's some good sense elsewhere in the long memo this quote comes from. You can read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

You say you got a real solution, well you know, we'd all love to see the plan

Here's a new business model for news that makes more sense to me than most of what's under discussion these days: community ownership. Their model? The Green Bay Packers.

I saw this on The Stranger's SLOG blog, tipped by a tweet from Jay Rosen (jayrosen_nyu).

Community ownership seems preferable to the "endowed" newspaper folks seem to envision as an alternative to market-based enterprises. It would presumably have more standing in the community than an olympian, insulated non-profit (though what the community owns could itself be a non-profit, of course).

I doubt sufficient community support could be found for a second paper in a two newspaper town, but if San Francisco (for instance) lost its only daily, that might be different.

Here's a taste of The Stranger's suggestion:

One model under consideration is the so-called Packers Model—as in the Green Bay Packers, "the only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team in the United States." (A model that, I just realized, Jonathan Golob first floated here on Slog on January 9th, the same day that Hearst announced it would likely be shuttering the P-I's print edition.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Beer: no longer what's for dinner?

To those of you who continue to profess the economic crisis in the newspaper business is solely the result of stupid executives, I offer the following:

(For text explanation and details, please click on image.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How will smaller news staffs cover the giant stimulus story?

Before long, hundreds of billions of dollars will flow out of Washington and wash across every community in the country. This stimulus spending represents an unprecedented response to an unprecedented crisis, and defines one of the biggest stories of our generation.

How can today's news organizations possibly cover it adequately? Even if news staffs were growing, they'd be hard-pressed to keep up with the dozens, perhaps hundreds of projects that will affect individual communities. Even knowing where to look will be bewildering.

I think the new web service for journalists called Publish2 can improve the coverage – and, in doing so, help journalism and the country.

Publish2 pioneered collaborative link journalism, and it's rapidly being adapted to go a step farther: helping professional journalists enlist the eyes and ears of the audience in covering a huge story like this. The same system that now lets news organizations share links with with readers will soon enable them to ask readers to share tips, opinions and observations about how stimulus spending is working in their area.

Using Publish2's free system, individual websites can easily let users submit information about projects. Some might be whistleblowers – imagine a Citibank secretary who didn't think the company should be buying a new jet – while others will simply have questions they think should be asked. Sites can also solicit success stories, tales of stimulus spending that's working.

Reporters will be able to search a sophisticated database of all the reader submissions – for instance, zeroing in on a particular region, or a certain company, or an individual government department. The system will let them query their readers to solicit feedback and information on specific stimulus topics.

Meanwhile, Publish2 will also provide an aggregated list of links to all the best stimulus journalism around the country, which can be used to augment and extend individual websites.

New features enabling broad collaboration among journalists and citizens will be available to Publish2 users very soon, and every newsroom ought to explore the system and consider participating. To me, the effort looks like a win-win from every angle, helping individual newsrooms cover a big, sprawling story in a time of declining resources, helping enable watchdog journalism on the biggest spending spree ever, and empowering citizens to help.

This could be a breakthrough project in the field of "citizen journalism" – more accurately, a way to let professionals tap into the power of the crowd to help inform and invigorate their reporting.

I've been an informal advisor at Publish2 since the idea emerged, and have watched with interest as it's developed. I believe it's poised to emerge as a powerful, essential tool for journalists, and its business model lets it do so without costing a dime. (By way of disclosure, I have been asked to think about joining Pub2's board of directors and am considering that).

Journalists and technologists on the Publish2 team will stand behind this project to help news organizations participate as robustly as they want. I encourage you to explore the possibilities.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Who knows where babies come from?

People who wish some billionaire would endow newsrooms so they don’t have to change – you know who you are – have the musty smell of the mausoleum all about them. They move through twilight, walking stiffly toward a setting sun. They will find no pot of gold there.

Yet the digitalistas who suggest those newsrooms can be readily duplicated or replaced act like willful children, unmindful that substance, craft and capacity matter in the real world, that no group of 10,000 monkeys has ever written Shakespeare, that 98 of the 100 most important pieces of public service journalism last year flowed from professionals in the newsrooms they recklessly disregard.

This is a fool’s game. It’s time for grown-ups to intervene, to end the debate and move beyond the empty calories of nostalgia and the masturbatory fantasies of a theory-based future. A long-deceased, much missed colleague often referred to people with mature judgment and a steady hand by saying, “She knows where babies come from.” Those are the folks we need on the case now.

Journalists in the main are ready now and, thank god, many are already engaged.

The future of public service journalism today rests with editors who are losing sleep trying to figure how to cover an increasingly complex world with fewer experienced reporters and shrinking budgets. It rests with reporters who found a way to learn new media techniques on their own when nobody in charge would train them. It relies on staffers whose love of the profession and devotion to the mission are more powerful than the lure of a public affairs office or law school.

Few reading this will believe it, but I know first-hand that it also depends on executives able to act with steely resolve married to correct intentions, even in the face of indictment by insinuation.

This is an ugly time that sorely tests all those decisions. Despite both the sloganeering (“Innovate your way out of this!”) and recriminations (“Greedy corporate bastards ruined our business.”) economic reality means there is relatively little to be done in the short term but optimize chances for survival. This chiefly involves the distinctly unglamorous activities of paying down debts, cutting expenses and maximizing revenues.

No matter what the mutterjarvisdoctor chorus chants on the sidelines, the hard work of ensuring tomorrow’s public service journalism is being done today in the bloody trenches of established news companies who have shouldered the burden of building a lasting foundation while sustaining a critical mass of talent and mission-driven performance. Many an important conference beckons in Dusseldorf, Davos and Dubai, no doubt, but the pain and the performance that matter today are found in Wichita, Anchorage and Miami.

And in those places, and dozens more I know directly, the right metamorphosis is underway today as newsrooms keep growing the audience for journalism rooted in tested traditions of honesty, fairness and verification and their colleagues learn to monetize it based on demographics, behavioral targeting and portfolio product mixes.

Illustration from Journalism That Matters.