The new news business

I've saved up a hoard of items on the dynamic between new media and the print news business; apparently, not for several well-proportioned posts with respective allotments of commentary---but for this monster bash. In the blog world the runnning joke is "Chronicle [read: Fossilised Print Media] Jumps on 'Huge' Story - From Last Month" (CJR); unfortunately, in this post the jokes on me, as I respond to posts two months past (seasons ago in blog years). Perhaps a bit of waiting is good, time to temper ill-formed thougths, to settle into coherent reactions, and to compile disparate sources (and I'm not even just saying that because it's a convenient cover-up, really).

...but I dirgress, because I can digress, because this is a blog. You didn't come here for concise breaking news, did you? You fool dear reader came here to read my rambling original voice and random organic content. Like this site itself, it's not clear what the emerging online media world will evolve into or if it will leave its print forebearers to devolve into thicker forests. From the myriad of concerns involved in that hanging question, here is a collection from/for the conversation--- wander read on.

In April the editor for the Greensborough, North Carolina News Record was missed at the annual American Society of Newspaper Editors convention (pointed out by BuzzMachine). Not only did he skip-out, the rebel "blogged online" about why he didn't show. John Robinson writes:

About every presentation described in the daily ASNE reports, I already felt I knew. As an editor who wants journalism to endure, I need to learn about participatory journalism, about breaking out of silos and about passing along authority and control. I need to listen to futurists, to specialists and to readers talk about what I'm missing -- in their habits, in their communication, in their lives. I need to hear about teenagers and college students discuss connection -- to their friends, to their communities and to their interests -- and why newspapers aren't a part of it.

How about a conversation about exploding the newsroom, realigning beats behind community priorities, and being the community? ...Maybe a session on all the newest technological innovations. I know that hundreds of sites are dedicated to just that, but for a techno-idiot, it's hard for me to separate the hype from the reality, the 8-track from the cassette. What about the methods of casting off the moorings of traditional commodity content, and how to manage the repercussions.
If the convention is any sign, a significant portion of the editorial board is not yet interested in converting to new media. But should newspapers, or other mediums of traditional journalism adopt new-fangled online interactive, blogosphere traits? Can they?

Blogmavrick--in reflection on two years of blogging joy-- the fundamental difference between blogs and traditonal media is money: personal diversion v. corporate cash.
I can write about anything. I can write opinion. I can report facts. I can ask questions. I can jump from topic to topic to topic. Sports, the NBA, business, personal experiences, technology, movies, entertainment, hdtv, whatever I want to write about. One minute I'm a reporter, communicating what happened and where, the next Im an opinion columnist. The next I'm op-ed, punching or counter punching someone in traditional media, just to see if they can take a punch as well as they can throw one. Its all up to me and its fun.My blog is just that. Mine.

Traditional media members can't do any of the above. They get hired for a specific job and they have to do that job. They get hired by a corporation that is most likely public, which means their senior management , the people they ultimately report to, have to put getting the stock price up above all else. That is really what blogging vs traditional media in 2006 has come down to. Bloggers drive blogs, share price drives traditional media. Blogging is personal, traditional media is corporate.

Which is exactly why blog readership is going up, while traditional media is consolidating, if not contracting. Traditional media goes to work, bloggers live their work. (emphasis original)
My ever less experienced two-cents is that Blog Mavrick is right in poining out as a problem the corporate emphasis on creating a commdified product (neatly wrapped to be sold). Blogs are in comparison unruly--shifting topics, tone, changing style and even evolving views. What readership--what ad base--is defined by that? But the solid financial base of traditional media isn't itself the problem; rather, it's how that corporate board is interpreting (or failing to reinterpret) what is profitable in the market.

Nothing makes that so apparent as last quarter. If trying to serve the market, the newspaper really are doing miserabely. Top newspapers have suffered terribly in the market in the quarter, 0ct-March (as reported May 9, in the NYT).
[Overall U.S. newspaper criculation] dropp[ed] 2.5 percent from the same period a year ago... Sunday circulation fared even worse, dropping 3.1 percent. The figures are comparable to the declines of the previous six-month period, which were the steepest in any comparable six-month period in the last 15 years... As of March, daily circulation had dropped to 45,414,979. Circulation in March 2005 had been 46,589,261. Daily newspaper circulation reached its peak in 1984, at 63.3 million. Executives at the Newspaper Association of America said some patterns emerged in the figures, including the biggest papers and the smallest papers being better able to maintain their circulation than medium-size papers. Papers along the Atlantic Coast generally fared better than those along the Pacific Coast, the executives said...
Of the 25 biggest papers in the country, 20 reported drops in circulation. Of the five that did not drop — USA Today (2,272,815), The New York Times (1,142,464), The Chicago Tribune (579,079), The Star-Ledger of Newark (398,329) and The Detroit Free Press (345,861) — the gains were all less than 1 percent. The losses were much more striking. Circulation at The San Francisco Chronicle fell by more than 15 percent, to 398,246, and at The Boston Globe, which is owned by The New York Times Company, by more than 8 percent, to 397,288. Both papers attributed the sharp declines largely to deliberate strategies of eliminating free copies...
I quote the numbers at length because they are astounding, from any perspective. It's the same (ongoing) story of readers pivoting toward the internet and alternative news sources; but my god, this rate suggests the market is gone, and what's left must evolve to survive, quick. The NYT will keep it's head above water longer than most (enjoying well-deserved brand monopoly), so it's no good barometer. The numbers almost everywhere else are down in a way that will cyclically hurt quality, reporting coverage, and circulation, hence ad revenue. The market, in short, has moved out.

So what comes next for the Gray Lady? For Tim Porter, that reinvention means local news:

Yahoo and Google spew out routine national and international news by the screen full. The bleat of the blogosphere and the wail of cable TV heads provide the nation with punditry in spades. Myspace, Flickr and other social network sites built the virtual communities the Internet promised in its nascency. The one-time mass media has been thin-sliced and cross-diced into me-media, an RSS feed for every person, an opinion expressed for every viewpoint offered, everyone a publisher. All that's left is the journalism.

Actually, the whole post is worth reading. The bullets from Porter:

1. Start with a question: If you could rebuild your newsroom from scratch, with the same full-time equivalent of employees and budget numbers, and with the only requirement that you must make a print and an electronic product, what would you change?
2. Put the bodies in the right places
. This is called product development.
3. Determine the skills your newsroom needs to meet your new goals.
4. Kill the defensive, authoritarian newsroom culture.
Don't manage, enable.
5. Get a persona.
6. To borrow a phrase from Hodding Carter, don't cover the community, be the community.
Old-school journalists probably have an edge in blogging. So far feldgling blogs run by newspapers are doing well, by my standards, mostly because they host columnists already proven in readership. The CJR differs, writing "alas, in recent days it's become clear that when it comes to navigating the tumultuous seas of the blogosphere, the Gray Lady is still learning to swim." CJR was pointing mainly to some technical ineptitude, but I've heard that sentiment held generally elsewhere. Many meta bloggers write that blogging is a different project than publishing even commentary for print. How so? eh, I'm guessing---time lag, different audience, expectations of interaction, topic breadth, depth of research---maybe even responsiveness to search engine and ad-link keywords? It's a different medium sure, but good writers can adapt their writing. The big question for me is if editors and the newspaper mechanism itself can preen itself into a blog---to open a virtual door to these elite, traditionalist institutions, to hold back an urge to control content sometimes and let loose.

To accomplish the type of native-voice integration Porter suggests, BuzzMachine advises newspapers learn to cow-tow to blogs as a source for the organic community---tapping the volksgeist, or something---that big media is always claiming to be after. Jarvis had an exchange with the editor of the Wisconsin on getting readers' input on what news wasn't being covered. Jarvis followed with "a few suggestions"---a legthy list of eight, actually---"that's a start". Here are the headlines, you can read the full posts on his site.

1. Read local blogs.
2. Hire local bloggers to help cover the community.
3. Start a forum asking what you’re not covering. You’ll get suggestions, I guarantee.
4. Let people vote on beats, not just stories.
5. Hold Meetups.
6. Webcast your news meetings so people can have more input than voting on one story.
7. Start a Digg [an online network that ranks news headlines] edition. Go ahead and make your front page.
8. Go Digg one better and create the means where people can vote on the stories they think you should cover.

And the perennial blog defender, Jarvis goes one further, asking why should NYT bloggers be subjected to strict background scrutiny while journalists are not? He even says the practice may be a good idea but "Why shouldn’t every journalist fill out such questionnaires? And why shouldn’t they be made public?"

Quality always will remain an issue where entry-costs are so low, to the point vanishing to time for diversion. Prominent blogger, Rebecca Blood leaves this quote from George Eliot up on her site: "Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of it." [Rebecca's Pocket provides a history of (we)blogs since 1998, written in 2000 (so good, it's been translated into French, Persian, Japanese and Korean).]

Meanwhile at Newsvine, another social news ranking site, Hungary-based user named Anna Sebastian asks, are
"Individual (Newsvine) Blogs Doomed To Failure?" Anna notes that the myriad of small-time news tagg blogs are competing in futility to gain momentum alongside older, prominent blogs with a legacy audience; and logically suggests that the solution for newbies is to form a blog band, particularly facing new blog search engines like Sphere, which reward theme-specific blogs that pace updates and keyword hits.

What is weird is that blogs and newspapers are hardly competing against each other at all. No I haven't forgotten that resident Elephant called lost ad revenue. But I think the real concern is that we--as citizens and consumers--will lose newspaper journalism altogether, for blogs are no replacement. As Kottke even suggests, bloggers are not writers at all, but more akin to editors, news rehashers---djs not musicians. What newspapers--online or off--provide is the scale that sustains breadth and depth, promotes quality control, and tends to balance out individual biases to create a steadier, mor ecredible voice to which a wider audience will listen. Citizen journalism is great for creating involved individual citizens. But for informing citizens, lengthy indepth research is usually needed to create the kind of journalism that plays its role in checking powers, and for that sustained funding, institutional stability, and (some source of) editorial control are required. I don't know if newspapers can sustain themselves entirely online, dedicated to local news.