Monday, April 20, 2009

grad school strikes again

The Bill Moyers interview of David Simon dovetails with a number of things I have been thinking about recently.

The current situation that most news on paper organizations have found themselves is an interesting combination of two classic graduate school thought exercises. The "Free rider problem" and "The tragedy of the commons."

The wiki definition of Free riders is: “[they] consume more than their fair share of a resource, or shoulder less than a fair share of the costs of its production. Free riding is usually considered to be an economic "problem" only when it leads to the non-production or under-production of a public good.” Sound like anything we are familiar with?

The 'Tragedy of the Commons' is similar in that it is a case when multiple people all acting in their own self-interest can destroy a common or limited resource.

So what do we have going on in the news industry? People are able to free ride the system in a number of ways: including reading content for free, even though there is a cost associated for gathering it, sites can link to other people’s content without incurring any cost, the web is seen as ‘free,’ even though practically there are costs.

From the tragedy of the commons side, news on paper organization have been providing free content on the web even though collectively they are all cutting each other’s throats because the ‘other’ is giving away content for free. There is a great deal of commentary on the web, and that makes it appear as there is also news, but the gathering of the commodity of news is not borne by the commons that utilizes the commodity.

So where does this leave us? David Simon argues "since we basically have become a market-based culture and it's what we know, and it's what's led us to this sad denouement, I think we're going to follow market-based logic, right to the bitter end." He is speaking about our economy in general, but it speaks volumes to news on paper and society.

One of his other great observations is that:

"You show me anything that depicts institutional progress in America, school test scores, crime stats, arrest reports, arrest stats, anything that a politician can run on, anything that somebody can get a promotion on. And as soon as you invent that statistical category, 50 people in that institution will be at work trying to figure out a way to make it look as if progress is actually occurring when actually no progress is."

Why does that matter? If you read Martin Langeveld's Print is still king: Only 3 percent of newspaper reading happens online
and you see a fine example of David Simon’s argument. He raises some good questions about how much people are really getting their news from online. His numbers seem high to me, and his numbers from the web seem low. Now if he were able to stratify his numbers over social and economic classes I might be more willing to believe him (just from anecdotal observations on my own part.)

So, I will consider this part 1. Part of the solution is identifying the problem, so perhaps next time some solutions.

must watch

If you haven't seen the Bill Moyers video interview of David Simon of "The Wire" fame, go watch.

I cannot say enough good things about this for any number of reasons.

My favorite quote is "It was about that which is-- has no value, being emphasized as being meaningful. And that which is-- has genuine meaning, being given low regard."

Friday, April 17, 2009

welcome to the new world

In case you missed it yesterday, Ahston Kutcher beat CNN to 1 million twitter followers.

While I am not a big fan of Twitter, I recognize that it works for people and has even helped a politician ruin his party's push for dominance of their state capitol.

Back to Ahston and CNN. In his claiming victory Ahston talks about how "We can and will create our media," he said in his speech on "We can and will broadcast our media. We can and will censor our own media ourselves."

During the race, CNN talking heads would ask viewers to follow them on Twitter. What Kutcher was doing was a live stream broadcast, reading people's twitter messages out loud, asking questions and responding to questions. In other words, he was interactive and responsive, CNN was unidirectional. New school vs. old school.

Mainstream media just doesn't seem to get it. One of the most important things that happens during Easter that people don’t often reflect on, is that when Jesus dies, the curtain in the temple is torn apart, ie. there is nothing separating people from the holiest of holys.

Why is that important here...the curtain has been torn again. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. People do not need a multimillion dollar TV studio or printing press to get their message out. There are many streams of information that our outside of the control of the media and other information or entertainment technology.

The message is out of the bottle, what used to be controlled by a small group of agenda setters is becoming democratized. Welcome to the new world.

Monday, April 13, 2009

it's in your hand

Our CEO forwarded a link to me that points out something so obvious you might have missed it.

Do you wonder what will replace news on paper in the future? You may be already holding one in your hand: the iPhone.

Mark Potts on his 'recovering journalist' web site references a post on Joe Poz's blog about the iPhone. Both posts discuss that they are able to customize what they used to get from newspapers on their iPhone with different apps (applications for those not in-the-know).

That means they can get the sports feed they want, weather, find what is playing at the movies near them and they can customize WHAT THEY WANT. It used to be the news on paper was one size fits all, not any more.

You can even volunteer via the iPhone with the Extraordinaries.

I know that news on paper companies don't want to do it or recognize it, but they are now in the computer/media/technology field and that means innovation, every 18 months. Sorry, that is reality.

Friday, April 10, 2009

the times have already changed

Arianna Huffington hits the nail on the head with her latest post 'the debate over online news: it's the consumer, stupid.'

As with most things in our world, the consumers are voting with their feet and walking away from newspapers to the internet. Sorry, it has already happened. We can cry about this, or we can stand back up and lead, follow or get out of the way. My fear is that a number of news on papers are getting out of the way.

'Charlie Rose summarized what I(Huffington) was saying: "We have seen the future and it is here. It is a linked economy. It is search engines. It is online advertising. That's where the future is. And if you can't find your way to that, then you can't find your way."'

News on papers used to control the debate and the dissemination of information, sorry, not any more. By not linking, by not aggregating, by not allowing video to be embed somewhere else the news on paper crowd is sliding off, quicker than they expected, into oblivion.

Monday, April 6, 2009

healthy debate

A former colleague just posted a link to Alan D. Mutter's Reflections of a Newsosaur and his latest post about how failing newspapers bring me joy post written by an anonymous blogger (supposedly). My colleague wondered if she had been part of the giant 'journalistic cabal,' although if you read Joe Bageant's 'We've let corporations and media rob our souls' and you might start to think they are both on to something. But I digress...

A look-see over the newsosaur's blog highlighted a number of topics for future posts:

  • Publishers zero in on charging for content

  • How to charge for online content

  • Why media must charge for web content

  • Bridge to nowhere, nonprofit press

  • Sense a theme yet?

    The best argument I have heard about giving things away for free is that people begin to believe that free is what you think it is worth. Thanks to one of our AME's for that gem. I have watched a TBC employee try and give away free newspapers where the supposedly educated population lives in town, and NO ONE would take a FREE paper.

    I will address each in a post, but as I have commented to most people who politely listen to m rantings on these topics, this is a very interesting time to be working in journalism. There is a saying that approximately goes 'may you live in interesting times.' Lately it has been far too interesting and the newsosaur even comments on how this is the best and worst times for journalism a la 'A Tale of Two Cities.'

    As I will continue to point out, last time we went through a major upheaval of the means of communicating, we had the reformation of the Roman Catholic Church.

    Makes you wonder what will happen this time?

    Friday, April 3, 2009


    In the depths of our economy and the journalism field, some words of hope.

    Andy Hall over at writes about his take away thoughts from the recent conference in his post "Words of hope in an era of calamity."

    As we all know and recognize, we are undergoing a monumental shift from print to digital. The dominant medium of expression for over 500 years is giving way to something new that none of us fully understand. As with all deaths and births, it is exciting and frightening.

    Andy shares some positive thoughts about alternative forms of journalism and news gathering, and that I believe is where the future will be. There will just not be newspapers (in whatever form) and TV; there will be citizen journalists, there will be small non-profits, there will news aggregators, there will be small staffs of news gathering and analysis organizations.

    There will always be the need for gatekeepers, analyzers and referees and that is where journalism needs to find its new home.

    for fun

    "Saving newspapers: The Musical."

    Monday, March 30, 2009


    As they taught us in grad school, always question your own assumptions.

    A fine example from today. In our Local section, our center piece was a 'blog scrape' from our CEO’s blog where he reports that he found a Facebook page where local college kids posted things they missed about Bakersfield. Actually kind of fun and tied into our sister-products version of March-Madness where local icons went head to head in brackets.

    The problem is, how many of our readers took their paper over to their computer, logged on and typed in the log address to take a look. I wonder... My educated guess is that we have two distinct audiences: a digital one and a print one. DO WE assume that there is crossover, do we have proof that readers do this?

    Let’s suppose that a reader, me, for example went and did this. Sadly, the center piece could not be found on, I could go to our CEO’s blog, but the post the packages referred to I could not find on this quickly, and if you know anything about Facebook, you have to be a member to log in and then search for this page.

    So, what have we done today?

    We assumed print readers care about Facebook and social networks (which they might), we have assumed people will use their paper to visit the internet, and if we really did believe that, we have now frustrated them because they can’t get to the original content/posting easily.

    good news:

    The Huff-post announced plans to fund long-form and investigative journalism on the web.

    of interest:

    One of our former staffers has started a blog where she discusses in detail many of the decisions TBC made in migrating to the web.

    Thursday, March 19, 2009


    This was originally going to be a discussion of's interesting post on 'There is only us,' until I read Nicholas D. Kristof’s 'The Daily Me.'

    Newless argues that news is becoming unbundled from the traditional mode(s) of distribution. I prefer democratization, but it is not my post. The argument is that the power of packaging news and advertising is diminishing. The role of journalist has been released from the monopoly of newspapers and news television; anyone can be a journalist now. This is both an exhilarating and scary concept.

    Kristoff points out that we as thinking animals like to read opinions that we agree with. We also, to a smaller extent, like to read opinions that are caricatures of the people we disagree with. So if we are now the editors of 'The Daily Me' as he calls it, society will become more confined to its mental bunkers that people will not have to leave.

    If you contrast these two articles I start wondering about the future. To me the future of journalism is to play referee and point people to good, well-founded content and illustrate how badly thought out other content is. I think it will also be to aggregate content that people should consider fro0m multiple perspectives.

    The bad news is that we just want to read the perspectives we agree with. One of the advantages of the newspaper is that it tried being all things to all people, and that was problematic. But having fielded a few angry reader calls, I know that the newspaper made you think, made you experience emotions and made you call to express your opinion, and that will be lost.

    Tuesday, March 17, 2009

    sad day

    Today the Seattle PI stops the presses and goes digital. A sad day for the paper product industry but I wonder how well the digital/information experiment will go.

    Michael Wolff of does not think it will go well in his piece 'old-news-becomes-new.'

    There are a number of things I agree with him about and other I do not.

    Out of the gate, the current web site appears to be the result of the web having a print master or repacking the the print version. It is not easy to navigate, it makes you think and I just click off of it. The web programs or designers are not talking to the designers or graphic people.

    Web sites for news organization are in the tech curve by going digital, print really hasn’t had any major upheavals until digital photography and that didn’t change too much ultimately. So the reality hits, the people who know anything about tech are on the second floor in IT and not on the newsroom floor, guess what has to change.

    Finally Wolff disparages that reporters have given up reporting local news. There I will disagree with him. I think they need to leave their chairs and get out of the building, but I think many still know how to do their jobs, it just hasn’t been valued at their own paper product.

    There is hope, we are just in a transition period that looks like it is going faster than anyone imagined.

    Internet passes newspapers

    According to the latest Pew Research Center survey: more people, 40 percent, get their news from the internet rather than newspapers, 35 percent. Teevee news still leads the way with 70 percent, but that is down from a high of 82 percent.

    So what does this mean?

    For starters I wonder why so many newspapers are pulling back from the web and focusing their efforts on the print side, or as I now like to call it, the paper product. Why? Because that is where the advertising dollars are coming from. Because this is what they know.

    So now we have a business model that is content to let its market share get smaller, ie. die off, knows where the audience is heading (clearly) and doesn’t want to change. Hmmmm.

    So Mike, you are going to give us your big idea, right? The short-term answer is not what we are doing right now. The competitive advantage of a newspaper is that it can provide depth, analysis and perspective. So why make the paper product more like the web?

    The major problem moving ahead for news organizations is how to market/fund/pay for local news that is comprehensive. Niche marketing and advertising is doing some amazing work around the country and globe, BUT, that depends on smaller slivers of the market that are highly energized or focused on something. So, depth comes from breadth. For local news the problem is that there is no depth to support breadth.

    Moving away from monetization, the core problem is that society and what customers want have moved away from newspapers and their paper product. So what are news organizations going to do? They could and it looks like they will milk the cash cow until it is dry OR they might actually start to think about how to innovate and change to embrace the new platform for information delivery. Only time will tell.

    Thursday, January 22, 2009


    After much thought I am starting back up again.

    Until newspapers are able to answer some vital questions about their purpose as news gathering organizations or how they will fit into the future, it doesn't do me much good to write, review and think about multimedia.

    So with that in mind I offer up Ryan Sholin's 10 obvious things about the future of newspapers you need to get through your head
    and its folo One Year Later.

    The basic outline is:
    1. It’s not Google’s fault. Get over it, professor.
    2. It’s not Craig’s fault.
    3. Your major metro newspaper could probably use some staff cuts.
    4. It’s time to stop handwringing and start training.
    5. You don’t get to charge people for archives and you certainly don’t want to charge people for daily news content. Pulling your copy behind walls where it can’t be seen by readers on the wider Web. Search rules. Don’t hide from it.
    6. Reporters need to do more than write. The new world calls for a new skillset, and you and Mr. Notebook need to make some new friends, like Mr. Microphone and Mr. Point & Shoot.
    7. Bloggers aren’t an uneducated lynch mob unconcerned by facts.
    8. You ignore new delivery systems at your own peril. RSS, SMS, iPhone, e-paper, Blackberry, widgets, podcasts, vlogs, Facebook, Twitter — these aren’t the competition, these are your new carriers.
    9. J-schools can either play a critical role in training the next generation of journalists, or they can fade into irrelevancy.
    10. Okay, here comes the big one: THE GLASS IS HALF FULL. There is excellent work being done in the new world of online journalism and it’s being done at newspapers like the Washington Post and the Lawrence Journal-World and the San Jose Mercury News and the St. Petersburg Times and the Bakersfield Californian and all sorts of papers of all sizes.

    By all means read the post and the folo.

    The central element to all of this is that the web is moving forward faster than papers are able to understand or are willing to address.

    So, how will we move forward as new gathering orgainzations recognizing the list and how management is approaching the future?