Saturday, January 10, 2009

Uncertainty in Seattle

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has served its community for 146 years, but right now the publication is on pins and needles.

Yesterday, a painful countdown began for Seattle P-I and its 170 staffers. Sixty days. Its parent company Hearst announced Friday that it is putting P-I up for sale, and if there is no buyer after 60 days, the publication will either go Web-only or it will cease to exist, according to the Associated Press.

P-I reporters Dan Richman and Andrea James wrote about the developments for the paper's Web site. They say that "[e]conomic reasons have forced the state's oldest morning newspaper into a sale," according to Steven Swartz, president of the Hearst Corp.'s newspaper division, and that the publication lost about $14 million in 2008.

Richman and James continued: "Today's dismal climate for newspapers means no buyer is likely to emerge, several sources said."

They painted a picture of the grim atmosphere: "P-I employees were silent as they listened to the announcement, which lasted about 10 minutes. Some shed tears. Others held up cell phones or voice recorders in news-conference fashion. Phones rang unanswered and the police scanner buzzed on."

The blog Newspaper Death Watch called the unfolding events the "Seattle Surprise," noting that rumors had been "floating around for months" that another paper, the Seattle Times would shut down. The Times apparently has been having its own trouble in recent years, and its future is also very uncertain.

I can't help but hope on this that somehow, someway, the Seattle situation turns out OK. While I'm well aware a buyer is unlikely to emerge, I'm a guy who loves to fight the odds until the absolute last second. Wouldn't it be great for an independent business owner to step up and save this critical piece of history in the Seattle community? If not, here's hoping P-I can at least restructure to have an on-line only product, so that it can at least survive in some form.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Something positive amidst the negative

Yesterday was a brutal day for Gannett newspapers, as the majority of the estimated 3,000 job cuts this week were carried out. The official account of layoffs/buyouts, as official as one can get anyway, per the independent Gannett Blog, is now 1,770. The number continues to climb, as that only accounts for 57 of the 85 community dailies owned by Gannett.

Scott Pitoniak - one of my first journalism mentors, a former professor of mine, and someone I have the utmost admiration for - was among those laid off. I've written about him before in this blog. He did a phenomenal job covering the Beijing Olympics this past summer, and he's easily one of the best sportswriters in the country. It was an untimely, and unjust, end for him at the Democrat and Chronicle. I wish him all the best. Sadly, he wasn't the only one affected who I knew. Copy editor Ted Rosen and assistant sports editor Jim Castor are among the departed, who I both worked with in the Sports Dept.; I wish them both the best as well. Great people, with more than 90 years of Rochester, N.Y. sports journalism experience COMBINED. So sad.

But here's something positive. Even though Gannett is headed in the wrong direction of serving the American people and carrying out the First Amendment, the journalism profession itself is not dead. Other media companies are growing without laying off their workers; and undoubtedly, more news organizations will be born in the coming years (perhaps smaller ones, more independently-owned and non-profits). And there's tremendous room for growth too, tremendous opportunity, as big media companies continue to fail the American people, cutting back personnel and seeking higher profits.

One journalist, Chrys Wu, provided a wonderful list tonight of places for unemployed journalists to find work. They include ACES Job Board, Copy Editor Job Board, and IRE Job Center, but there's more. The full list is here.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Twitter truly opens up new doors

I've been getting more and more intrigued with Twitter lately and the role it may play in the future of news.

Twitter is a largely public tool. And applications like TweetDeck document the most popular words being said at any given time. For example, in the last few minutes, the most popular words have been "Berlin" and "thunder." I looked through the "tweets" with these words and learned a fire had broken out at the airport in Berlin and there was a major thunderstorm going on in Brisbane, Australia - I even saw photos of the storm!

Here's some of the tweets on the Australia storm too:

KatJohnston : #bnestorm now hailing in newmarket.. hope it doesn't hurt the car.
Posted at 02:42

JonoH : 420 Queen ST is getting smashed!!! people can not walk.. Wind too strong!! #bnestorm
Posted at 02:42

WauloK : #bnestorm at Corinda sitting at the open front door watching the storm. Wild!
Posted at 02:39

JonoH : Currently 785 Strikes a minute for the lightning in SE QLD! incredible! #bnestorm
Posted at 02:38

So, in essence, it can be used as a news service. It chronicles news as it happens. It also documents buzzwords, the most popular talk at any given time.

So what role does it play in the future of newsgathering and news in general? I've been thinking about it...there has to be one.

In one sense, it's niche at its best because you can target specific audience and communicate with specific people who have the same interests as you. Newspaper personalities like ColonelTribune and WeatherBird utilize Twitter really well, getting their stories out while also interacting with their readers.

Editors can also toss words around on Twitter, do some interacting, and see what's hot and what's not. What's popular and what's lost into cyberspace. They can also do this by monitoring all the most recent tweets. And base stories on that. Really.

I think Twitter will continue to grow and be a big part of the future of the Web, and it'll be interesting to see what else comes of it. Other than that, who knows what form it'll take in the next few years. To be continued...

Update: I found this wonderful slideshow on the basics of Twitter and how it can be used for PR, journalism, live reporting, and more.

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Saturday, November 8, 2008

National Press Club discusses journalism's future

Former broadcast anchor Dan Rather, Associated Press President/CEO Tom Curley, New York Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson, and NYU professor Jay Rosen were all present for the event in New York City, and it can be seen here at the C-Span Web site.

Some interesting thoughts:

Rather said that he thinks doomsday talk for TV, radio, magazines and newspapers is premature. He says two things are lacking right now: "optimism" for what's to come - and he added he's an optimist "by nature and experience" - and "idealism," striving to provide the best coverage possible and lessen the bleeding of "entertainment values overrunning news values." Rather added, "the center of gravity is shifting to new media."

Curley: "Don't dismay. There's a tremendous opportunity out there for covering the news, and it's never been better."

Rosen: "The tools of media production ... have now been distributed to the people out there. That is a social fact. People have blogs, they have cameras, they have video, they can edit, they can create their own report, they can upload it and they can distribute it to the world."

When those who were formerly the media's audience take up the craft, that is "citizen journalism," Rosen says.

But that same context amounts to exciting opportunities ahead for young journalists and students of journalism, who stay optimistic and push forward, he says. "The tribe of professional journalists are in a situation of forced migration, meaning they can't live anymore on the land they colonized and developed so successfully for the last 100 years. The land gave out." "If they're going to have a future for their people, for their tribe, they're going to have to migrate across the digital divide and rebuild."

"The AP is making the journey over, the New York Times has made the journey over, and what they're discovering is there is a new land there and we can thrive there."

"It's like a frontier, it's like the Wild West, that hasn't been colonized yet, it hasn't been civilized yet. It's still wild in a lot of ways. That's what's fun about it, that's what's cool about it, that's what makes me optimistic."

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Friday, November 7, 2008

CSM continues to lead

Christian Science Monitor continues to take the lead in the future of journalism, particularly on the Web. It held a live webcast this evening, appropriately entitled, "The Future of Journalism."

I wasn't able to attend the webcast, I was at class, but thanks to Twitter, I was able to learn some things that were said.

Particularly interesting "tweets" from social media expert Doug Haslam, who was broadcasting bits and pieces from the CSM webcast:

Mark Jurkowitz: new media models rushing to fill the void left by shrinking print reporting staff
Can anyone but NYT& WaPo afford to break the big stories? Jurkowitz
Ellen Hume of MIT: New journalism means the old media aren't the only ones w/ reporting power.
Hume: if journalist is popular there's something wrong.
Douglas K. Smith: median age of ABC News is 61. Enterprise model still works but shrinking.
Jurkowitz: broadcast tv still has a significant role. it's changing but still big
Q: will newspapers go away? Jurkowitz: print will change become more niche. remeber gulf war 1 as end of paper 1st
Ellen Hume is big on participatory journalism.
Ellen Hume: face to face is irreplaceable. use tech but continue to be a journalist
Jurkowitz: dangers of people sticking with news that fits their world view

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Are more Capital Times on the way?

Six months ago, The Capital Times based in Madison, Wisc., became one of the first daily newspapers in the country to make the switch to online-only.

According to the history page of the publication's parent company, Capital Newspapers: "The company's most recent change - and one of its most important - took place on April 26, 2008, when The Capital Times published its last daily print edition and became one of the first American daily newspapers to go primarily online. The Capital Times now consists of three separate, interrelated products."

What are those three main products? While, there's the "main" one - the newspaper's Web site, captimes.com. There's "a new magazine-style print edition, The Cap Times" published every Wednesday. And there's a new "arts, entertainment and culture publication" published every Thursday.

How has the transition gone? Well, if looking at the company's Web site today is any indication, it seems fine. The content is current, it's fresh, and the site looks good.

2009 is just beyond the horizon. The State of the News Media reports at Journalism.org paint a grim picture for the future. There were many layoffs and cutbacks at newspapers this past year. No one should be surprised to see more experiments like the one at The Capital Times, especially as online journalism continues to develop.

Here's a good feature on The Capital Times' switch to Web-only back in February for those interested.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Stop the presses?

Director of Social Media at the St. Louis Dispatch Kurt Greenbaum offered some really interesting thoughts in a recent blog entry. Among them: do we really need to print a newspaper anymore?

Think about it, he says. All this talk lately about the need for a new business model - how about an online-only one? Cut the Circulation Department. Cut a good chunk of Advertising. Cut a fraction of News/Editorial and go digital only.

No ink costs, printing costs - no need to own printing presses anymore either.

But then he took a real close look at it, and detracted those same thoughts, saying they wouldn't work - at least in his estimation.

He used various numbers he collected on the Web and came out with a 15 percent profit margin currently for the average newspaper - about $51 million revenue, about $43 million expenses. The new model? Even minus those expenses listed above, your standard newspaper would be 9 percent in the red. Not enough online revenue yet.

Perhaps his ideas could be tweaked and looked at further though.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Newspapers are not dead"

Poynter Online just posted this response to Jay Mariotti's departure from the Sun-Times, and specifically how he handled it. This should be required reading for everyone in newspapers. It's a rally cry. "Newspapers are not dead," Roger Ebert emphatically proclaims, and he goes on to say why.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

New world of journalism "like baseball"

A past professor of mine - and former colleague at the Democrat and Chronicle -, Scott Pitoniak, was in Beijing covering the Olympics the last three weeks. He wrote in excess of 100 items (stories, blogs, web updates, features) while there according to his latest estimate and was one of just nine sent by Gannett to cover the Games, his fifth Olympics. I look up to him greatly and he really knows his stuff. The closing ceremonies were held yesterday and he wrote the following in his wrap-up blog, reminding readers that he has a regular blog too and they should keep coming back to check it out:

"[T]he new world of journalism is like baseball, and if I don’t get a sufficent number of hits, they’ll be putting this middle-aged sports scribe out to pasture."

That really resonated with me. What a sad way of putting it, but as a sports fanatic, what a perfect analogy, too. Online is all about generating traffic, building up readership, creating loyal customers, and providing a viable product that people find worth checking out...when there are so many other distractions out there in the chaotic digital age that surrounds us. How do you get someone's attention and maintain it? It's certainly not an easy task. If you're not good enough, you're replaced by someone else and the beat of the business goes on, just like in big league baseball - because after all it is a business. It's a harsh and terrible truth in newspapers at this difficult time. And Scott couldn't have put it better than he did in that statement.

I certainly wish him and everyone else at Gannett all the best at this difficult time. And I sincerely hope that changes for the better are on the horizon for all of print journalism, whether that be a new business model, a new direction - it's yet to be seen but adjustments are still needed.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

An uncertain future

Times are bad right now for journalism, and they're only going to get worse, so the experts say.

I suppose that's why a number of professionals have asked me, "Are you sure this is what you want to do?" And why I was cautioned a number of times throughout college that I may want to look into another field. The signs of trouble ahead were evident when I first enrolled in the Communication/Journalism program at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y., and they amplified as the years went by. But I plunged forward, anyway, because, yes this is what I want to do. I walked the stage with a C/J degree and now I'm about to pursue an M.A. in Journalism.

As often as I've been questioned about my career choice, I've heard far more people say, "Make sure you do something that you love." They say it makes going to work bareable, even worthwhile and enjoyable. I've found that passion in journalism, and that's why I'm as confident as ever that I've made the right choice - even though the industry forecast continues to call for stormy weather ahead.

My main interests are newspapers and online. We're at a crossroads right now in which newspapers are still trying to figure out online. How to make the shift, how to be profitable in the process, how print and online should work together, how print and online should be different, and where the majority of their resources should be going are just a few questions being asked. Some newspapers are further ahead of others in this digital age. But big questions still remain. What will the future hold and what role will the latest technologies (and new ones) play 5, 10 years from now and beyond?

Naturally, I'm keeping a keen eye on all of this. It's the industry I've chosen to join, and the uncertain future of journalism directly affects my future. I'm doing my absolute best to prepare for what that future may hold. That's what led me to the Masters in Journalism program at DePaul University, which emphasizes the online, convergent newsroom and social responsibility of journalism. I start classes for that in less than a month.

This blog will give me an outlet to share my thoughts as time goes on, sure to continue to evolve along with the industry itself, and a place to monitor the rapid changes going on all around us in the media.

I'd encourage comments, especially from others in the journalism industry or those interested in technology, the Internet, and new media, as I am. By combining your insight with my own, I'm sure we can learn more together about where journalism is and where it might be going.

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