A Sign of the Times

March 18, 2011

Get ready for either frustration or a monthly bill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While I’m keen to see content owners compensated, the New York Times is far from an average content owner so the lesson here will be a one-off. And as Peter Brantley points out, “the New York Times is prominent enough, and these prices high enough, to dry out the market for other sites who would wish to charge for access.”

Meanwhile on March 14 the Pew Research Center revealed in yet another of its invaluable State of the News Media reports that three quarters of Americans won’t pay a cent for online news access.

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Journalists Should Sue Themselves

September 20, 2008

Wow!

Jeff Jarvis, whose BuzzMachine blog is one of the best there is, went to town in a September 17th entry sparked by the lawsuit of the journalists at the Los Angeles Times against their controversial new owner, Sam Zell.

I think you could say that he really let the journalists have it.

The second paragraph gives you a taste of his current state-of-mind: “Journalists are such a whiny bunch, always complaining, constantly blaming someone else for their problems. But friends, as the Rev. Wright would say, the chickens are coming home to roost.”

Later in the entry the attack resumes:

“When the paper failed even at covering its own hometown industry, did you jump in to fill the void? No.

“When the internet came, did you all – every one of you as responsible, smart journalists, on your own – leap to get training in audio and video? Did you immediately hatch new ways to work collaboratively with the vast public of bloggers able and willing to join in local journalism? Not that I saw.”

He finishes this scathing attack on journalists with “Want to see who’s to blame for the state of your paper? Get a mirror.”

At the same time he presents the most emphatically damning statement about the future of newspapers:

“Newspapers and newspaper companies are about to die (emphasis mine). The last remaining puddles of auto, home, job, and retail advertising are about to be sucked down the drain thanks to the economic crisis and credit is about to be crunched into dust. So any newspaper or news company that has been teetering will fall. If Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, and AIG can fall, so can a puny newspaper empire — and there’ll be no taxpayer bailout for them.”

I wrote the 27th response to Jeff’s entry:

“That is the most refreshing and to-the-point article (OK, blog entry) I’ve read in the midst of these endless months of hand-wringing, tear-jerking and self-serving twaddle. It’s strong stuff, but exactly what needed to be said. Sure, some folks can take some small issue with parts of it. But they should read the entire indictment and respond to that. You’ve finally said what needed to be said. For this I thank you. I’m going to send my readers to it from my blog.”

Check it out.

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News Audiences Now Blend Online And Traditional Sources

August 20, 2008

The title of this blog entry is approximately the title of the ever-reliable Pew Research Center for the People and the Press’ latest report, “Key News Audiences Now Blend Online And Traditional Sources,” subtitled “Pew Research Center Biennial News Consumption Survey.” As I’m fond of saying, the report is both exhaustive and exhausting, weighing in at some 129 pages. Perhaps this is more than most of us would like to know (although in fact the analysis and commentary comprises about half of the total, the rest being devoted to detailed statistical analyses).

The report adds bulk by segmenting the audience, for example into:

1. Integrators, who get the news from both traditional sources and the internet

2. Net-Newsers, who principally turn to the web for news, and largely eschew traditional sources

3. Traditionalists, who say that seeing pictures and video, rather than reading or hearing the facts, gives them the best understanding of events…and the

4. Disengaged, who stand out for their low levels of interest in the news and news consumption

There are numerous informative charts in the report; one of the most startling is below.

Decline_in_Print_Readership_Outpaces.jpg

I’ve been clapping my hands for newspapers, hoping this will keep them alive, but this data does depress. It’s certainly bad news for the printed versions of newspapers (which should not surprise unless you’ve been vacationing in Tonga for the last year, waiting for the new monarch to emerge), but also doesn’t bode well for the online future of newspapers either.

When you look at the slightly broader picture painted by the chart below, it’s difficult to put on a happy face, although you see a more complex picture, as suggested by the title of the report. “Traditional Sources” in the Pew study refers largely to television. While the nightly network news has taken a big hit since 1993, followed by local TV news, both cable news and morning news are holding their own, or gaining slightly.

Newspaper_Readership_Declines.jpg

The more delicate and yet most intriguing fact in the report is stated bluntly: “In spite of the increasing variety of ways to get the news, the proportion of young people getting no news (emphasis mine) on a typical day has increased substantially over the past decade. About a third of those younger than 25 (34%) say they get no news on a typical day, up from 25% in 1998.”

I’m still in the camp that believes that getting some of the news, some of the time, is an essential part of living in a democratic society. To imagine that a third of those half my age do not share this opinion is troubling to me. Change is coming, we just don’t know what it is.

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If You Believe in Newspapers, Then Clap Your Hands

July 29, 2008

Many will remember the immortal words of J.M. Barrie in Peter Pan: “If you believe in fairies, then clap your hands.” Many are urging us to do the same for newspapers. For some commentators clapping our hands might represent the only hope remaining for the daily newspaper in the U.S.

I thought of this as I read Chris Hedges report article on AlterNet titled “The Internet Is No Substitute for the Dying Newspaper Industry” (courtesy, once again of Bob Sacks).

I read this article the day after finishing Neil Henry’s “American Carnival: Journalism Under Siege in an Age of New Media,” published by the University of California Press.

The article, and Henry’s book, point to two aspects of the tradition of the press in America. On the one hand, there is a great deal of sentimentalism that the press in America is more or less synonymous with our democratic freedoms, and the “twaddle” we encounter on the Web doesn’t even begin to do justice to what the press has been serving for oh so many years.

This sentimentalism is embodied in quotations that could fill a book, but this one, from Thomas Jefferson, well embodies the sensibility: “No government ought to be without censors and where the press is free, no one ever will.”

Of course well before the advent of the Internet the sentiments were not all positive, as noted in the oft-quoted remark from A.J. Liebling: “Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.”

Neil Henry takes great care in enumerating the more modern problems of press credibility: celebrity journalists, bogus exposes, owner interference and onward.

He is not a follower of one of my heroes, Noam Chomsky, who has reported repeatedly (some would say ad nauseum) on the massive biases of the American press, a result of so many factors, from meddling publishers to an ingrained centrist outlook of those who most often serve as reporters at the daily papers.

But of course the most recent issue that has robbed tremendous credibility from American media (not just newspapers) was the blind support for George Bush and the Iraq war. The massive gaffe still stings many, and has hurt the press as much as it has destroyed Bush’s legacy. There’s a strong argument to be made that quite apart form the Internet the press was well on the way to destroying itself.

So now we’re in a recession in the U.S. and the newspaper industry appears to be crumbling. But both Hedges and Henry do a fine job of reminding us of what the press could be, of what the press should be. Will the Web prove a suitable substitute for an apparently dying newspaper industry? Clap your hands, regardless of which side of the fence you occupy.

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Remembering When Journalism Mattered

July 23, 2008

BeAnEditor.jpg

This marvelous document appears on the Tell Zell: What You Really Think blog, “courtesy of Andrew Spencer, now 10. Sent in and used with the permission of his mom, Gail Gedan Spencer, a blogger and copy editor at the Sun”

I’ll just note a small part of her commentary, and encourage you to visit the site.

“I’m sending you something that I’ve had taped up at my work station for the past few years. It’s a worksheet on careers that my son did in first grade. As you can see, a love of journalism must have passed into his DNA from my husband and me. It’s hopeful and sad at the same time. (He now has more sensible career goals — cartoon voice artist or professional sports team mascot.)”

I don’t think we should despair about the future of newspapers. I think we should keep the faith.

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