Monday, February 23, 2009

The gap between young and old

I attended the "Chicago Journalism Town Hall" today at Hotel Allegro downtown.

An esteemed panel of professionals from outlets such as the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, Chi-Town Daily News, Huffington Post, Gaper's Block, CLTV, WTTW, and NBC were there, as well as professors and experts in digital media.

The crowd of 400+ (expected attendance about 50-100 originally according to organizer/moderator Ken Davis) included journalists, students, bloggers, publishers, advertisers, and public relations professionals. It was a great meeting of the minds to discuss the shift from traditional journalism to online and how to save local journalism.

A topic such as this, in the current economic climate, can be highly sensitive. It was. Emotions got the best of people at times, and conversation really heated up in the third and final hour of the discussion. Some people said things they later regretted and some people went really over the top.

One thing was more apparent than anything else. One thing. It was glaringly obvious.

The gap between the young and the old. The new media, Web-savvy folks and the old-school journalist folks.

This is not meant to be an insult to the professionals there I classify "old-school" and traditionalists, many of them understand the Web well enough to get by, but they simply don't "get" it. And the young people did.

Andrew Huff of Gaper's Block, Ben Goldenberg of Huffington Post, Geoff Dougherty of Chi-Town Daily News -- they all get it. They see where the industry is going. They see where the opportunities are. They've all plugged in those holes with innovative ideas which will likely be a major part of the future of this industry.

Hearing some of the "old-school" folks talk about the need to fund this, or the need to fund that, I just shook my head. No one CARES about much of the content they were talking about! Start writing with young people in mind, the future of your organizations. Start channeling your content to areas most in need, write stories that people are most interested in reading - please.

And do your homework when it comes to the opportunities that online offers. Understand there are ways to monetize the Web. There are huge opportunities out there. And micro-payments, while a good idea in theory, may not be the best way to do it. What are some alternatives? One person at the event, Kiyoshi Martinez, put up this blog afterward on ideas he has to generate revenue on the Web. Some solid ideas.

The saddest part is how tight some of the old-school journalists were clinging on to the past. They showed no interest in even having a dialogue about change. They were so wrapped up in their own ways. Attitudes like that will get the industry nowhere.

It's time to be innovative, to pull out all the stops, to try new things. Because there's no question anymore where the future lies. And that's the Web.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

College papers not immune to economic crunch

College newspapers are being hurt by the state of the economy, according to Bryan Murley in a PBS MediaShift article published today.

Some had assumed "college newspapers would weather the storms of the changing media environment better than their peers in the wider industry," according to Murley.

I've heard this assumption in the past as part of the campus newspaper staff at St. John Fisher College and now DePaul University. The thought is that college papers are so "niche" that they are more likely to succeed, and also that the young people running these newspapers are more likely to be plugged into social networks like Facebook to help promote their work.

The problem goes back to advertising. Like other print publications, college newspapers are now suffering from "a decline in advertising revenue" per the article. Free classifieds online and businesses' reluctance to transfer their print accounts to the Web are part of the problem.

General manager of the Daily Pennsylvanian Eric Jacobs said "the drop in national advertising was like falling off a cliff." He also expects declines in local advertising in the coming months.

Murley states that college papers are cutting back costs to deal with the advertising decline. For example, the Daily Orange at Syracuse University and Daily Californian at University of California at Berkeley both dropped a publication day last fall.

It will be interesting to monitor long-term affects of the economic crunch on college newspapers and how the conditions improve as the economy recovers.

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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 18, 2008

Breaking News on the Web: Mats Sundin Timeline

As most know, I'm a huge hockey fan. Here's how news of the biggest hockey story of the year spread on the Web.

3:01 Pacific Time: NHL Director of Corporate Communications Michael DiLorenzo posts on Twitter: @umassdilo "sundin to canucks"

3:01 Pacific Time: Radio personality Buzz Bishop posts on Twitter: @buzzbishop "just got the press release. it's official SUNDIN IS A CANUCK"

3:06 Pacific Time: TSN posted a story saying Mats Sundin is a Vancouver Canuck

3:06 Pacific Time: Alanah McGinley of Kukla's Korner posts the news in the blog Canucks & Beyond

3:11 Pacific Time: Popular hockey site HockeyBuzz.com posts an update stating Sundin is a Canuck

3:12 Pacific Time: Vancouver online news site Straight.com reports the news

3:14 Pacific Time: Sportsnet.ca posts the story on its site

3:23 Pacific Time: ESPN.com posts the story on its site

The first official media outlet to break the news seems to be 95Crave in Vancouver. Buzz Bishop told me on Twitter that he announced the news on the station "seconds after presser was dropped, before twitter."

It would appear that the press release was officially sent out by the club at 3:00 Pacific Time (that is the time stamp for the story at Canucks.com as well). Just one minute later by Twitter, not bad. Certainly beat the big boys on the Web.

This is yet more evidence that Twitter is becoming a viable way to break news to a niche audience.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Déjà vu

Our friends north of the border are now experiencing what thousands of Gannett employees went through just a few weeks ago.

Sun Media, Canada's largest newspaper publisher with operations in Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton and elsewhere, announced Tuesday that it is cutting 10 percent of its workforce as a result of "harsh economic conditions," per the Canadian Press.

That amounts to some 600 layoffs, proving that the newspaper industry's troubles are not just limited to the United States.

The CP quoted Sun Media CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau as saying in a release: "The news industry is being revolutionized and we have to adapt if we want to remain an industry leader."

Similar to the independent Gannett Blog, which chronicled the Gannett cuts, the Toronto Sun Family blog is telling the story of these latest media layoffs.

According to the Toronto blog, President of the Southern Ontario Newsmedia Guild Brad Honywill said of the layoffs: "I don't think Toronto's, or, for that matter, North America's, media landscape will look the same after this recession. We're going through a fundamental shift that will result in fewer sources of news and less and less depth."

Honywill continued, "Increasingly, stories will be shared across chains, diminishing local voices [...] So these cutbacks represent a real loss to the community and to our democracy."

It's so sad to see the newspaper industry come to all of this, and I feel deeply for all Canadians affected by these cuts. I have a particularly close eye on all things Canada with my paternal grandfather's family being from there, and having many cousins in the country still. This hurts.

Once again, we can blame the economy in terms of how rapid this media collapse has been. However, this was bound to happen eventually - the economy is just speeding up the process. It's a new world out there with the Internet, and so much free content available to consumers online. The need for a new business model is more urgent now than ever before. Now is the time for the news industry to act.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

How journalists should use Twitter

This convenient list was posted at The Earley Edition, a blog by Australian journalist Dave Earley.

"Journalists should use Twitter:

* to find contacts
* to maintain and communicate with contacts and their audience
* to monitor keywords relevant to their round (their beat, for my American friends)
* to monitor updates around a specific geographic location."

Earley works for the Courier Mail, a large daily doing some cutting edge work online. I first ran across him and his Twitter feed during the recent severe thunderstorms in Brisbane, Australia, and the Courier Mail's use of Twitter at the time.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Economy adds to newspaper woes

New statistics released today revealed more bad news for newspapers.

Newspapers lost nearly $2 billion in the third quarter, a record 18.1 percent decline from the second, according to Advertising Age, citing a study by the Newspaper Association of America.

Even worse - online ad revenue for newspapers declined for the second straight quarter. It went down 3 percent in the fall quarter after a decline of 2.4 percent in the quarter before.

The Advertising Age predicts more trouble to come: "This fall's financial collapse affected only some part of the latest results. However, the rest of the year is likely to look even worse."

Not the type of report the newspaper industry needed to hear on the day the U.S. economy was officially declared in a recession.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lehrer to journalists: Calm down

Jim Lehrer, executive editor and anchor of the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, had some choice words for the growing "woe-is-me" journalist population out there.

"Calm down," he said at a recent talk at the University of Oklahoma.

Lehrer said that the rise of independent blogs, podcasts, cable television/radio shouting matches, and the like only makes traditional journalism - real, sound reporting - and the role of the editorial gatekeeper MORE important, and he predicts the industry will make a big comeback, according to the Huffington Post.

Again per the HuffPost: "People are busy, they want some professional, unbiased, un-agenda assistance in sorting through it all to help determine what is important before they go off to the editorial page or the commentators, or to be shouted at or entertained about it."

You know, in a lot of ways he's right. But the problem remains on how the news business can make money, especially as ink costs go up, advertisers pull back, and circulation continues to decline. Perhaps a non-profit/trust or new type of business model will become the best way to go when all is said and done. Time will tell.

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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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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Day musings

I was part of the action on Nov. 4, as I went around polling places in Chicago to interview voters for the Associated Press. A bit of my reporting was actually picked up by media outlets. Quotes from Miranda Young, an 18-year-old St. Louis native who left a local hospital to cast a ballot for Barack Obama, appeared in the Boston Herald, Gainesville Sun, and WBBM 780 in Chicago. Quotes from Julius Taylor, a 37-year-old Chicago truckdriver, were in the Rockford Register Star. Very cool.

Then I attended the rally at Grant Park. Put together a video of highlights from my vantage point at the rally, including when CNN announced Obama had won the presidency, and uploaded it on YouTube...can be found here. That's already received more than 1,700 views now; the power of the Internet to reach people and connect with others is simply amazing. In fact, a search of "Obama rally Grant Park" on YouTube turns up my video second! Have had overwhelming feedback on that and many comments. It was fun little enterprise and I'm glad people have enjoyed it. I believe that night was so historic and one we should all share in.

I also have to give a shoutout here to my old campus newspaper, the Cardinal Courier. They posted updates THROUGH ELECTION NIGHT and did some great original reporting on the fly! They had a special Election Edition come out today and word on the street is it's amazing looking. Can't wait to see for myself. Props to the Courier.

Just three types of journalistic projects, all of which utilizing the Internet, that went on Tuesday, among the MANY, MANY more. Looks like online and journalism are a good marriage after all.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

That didn't take long

Ironic timing, considering my last blog entry, but the next Capital Times has in fact arrived.

The highly-respected, 100-year-old Christian Science Monitor announced today that it will stop printing its daily edition, in favor of going Web only and printing just once a week.

This is the first national U.S. newspaper to abandon daily print operations for the Web. The Capital Times of Madison, Wisc., was one of the first metro dailies to go Web only six months ago.

Said Editor John Yemma: "It's a tough road, but we basically feel that the Web is where the growth is."

Here's the official story from Christian Science Monitor itself.

Now that CSM has taken the lead on a national scale, will others follow? We'll see.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

No CBS affiliate in Buffalo - for now

This is a bit different than what I usually write about, but it is related to the media, and it's a pretty big deal where I'm from, so I figured I'd throw something up about it.

I'm not certain why this happened. I'm not an expert, nor do I claim to be in this case, but the main cable provider in Western New York, Time Warner, as I write this, does not currently have a CBS affiliate on the air. The contract expired yesterday and a new one has not been reached.

It could not have come at a worse time for people in Buffalo. Our 4-0 Buffalo Bills are playing at Arizona this Sunday - their final game before the BYE week - and CBS was supposed to carry that game. So, theoretically, tens of thousands of Western New Yorkers could be blacked out of the game if a deal is not reached.

It makes this blog for one other reason, something tied much closer to what I usually write about. That CBS affiliate is using its Web site, WIVB.com, to get its messages across. It has content up for its viewers, on the negotiations and what's going on, including a video, and of course it continues to update based on news in the area. The news continues, despite the blackout, and its most loyal viewers are now going online. What a great use of the site. Hopefully the situation gets resolved soon.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Start your day with your favorite newspaper online

I'm impressed by the Buffalo News' initiative to give Western New Yorkers a dose of the latest news to start their every morning.

"Good morning, Buffalo" - this link kicked off today for presumably thousands of Buffalonians. First posted at 12:11 a.m. - and presumably updated later - it gives a breakdown of the latest "overnight" news and keeps track of current events in the near future. It also conveniently starts with a weather report.

Now THAT'S a way for newspapers to use their Web sites and do something they just can't accomplish in the print version.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Expanding my network

I'm meeting some real interesting people in online journalism, thanks to the suggestion of University of Florida professor Lauren Hertel to look outside the box from the normal Web sites I hit up daily, like Facebook and HockeyBuzz.

I joined the Online News Association for an affordable student rate of $25 for the year. That has given me access to a database of hundreds of people also involved with online journalism, which I can search by place, employer, whatever, to make connections. Unfortunately I'm the only student at DePaul currently subscribed, as far as I can tell, but there's a lot of contacts in Chicago listed.

I also hopped onto the social network Wired Journalists. There's about 2,500 members there, and this site includes various groups, forums, and of course tons of member profiles for journalists interested in new media. It looks like a great place to network, and it looks like a great place to do some reading too -- I've already found several fascinating blogs there.

These will likely become part of my daily dose when I wake up in the morning. They'll allow me to connect with people like me, with similar interests and ambitions, in this ever-changing world of journalism.

If you're interested in online journalism like me, and you're not a member of ONA, take a look at the organization. And if you're looking for something that won't cost you a penny, stop by Wired Journalists and get connected with likewise professionals! Certainly can't hurt.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mariotti jumps ship

"I feel like I'm getting off the Titanic."

That's what renowned sports columnist and ESPN contributor Jay Mariotti said upon his resignation from the Chicago Sun-Times this week. Those were his parting words to newspapers, as he moves on to pursue new opportunities on the Web.

He's not the first and definitely not the last to switch from a career in print to online, but the fact that he's so outspoken makes him a particular interesting case study. He held nothing back in his most recent comments.

"Any paper without a quality, progressive Web site is dead meat ... [The] Sun-Times is dead meat," he told the Chicago Tribune.

He added to the Boston Herald that print media is “dead in the water if we don’t realize what’s going on."

Mariotti admitted to the Tribune that his former employer of 17 years is not at all happy that he's speaking out about the "weak" state of newspapers, but he wouldn't have it any other way. He said he came to the realization that the business was no longer for him when he was at the Beijing Olympic Games earlier this month and saw more Web outlets than print.

It'll be interesting to see where he goes and what this could mean for the Sun-Times as a whole, which has already been suffering mightily in recent months.

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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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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Latest newspaper numbers

Here's a news flash (not really): A study released this week by the Pew Research Center found that newspaper readership is (still/again) on the decline.

Just 34 percent of Americans are reading a daily newspaper, compared to 40 percent in 2006, and 48 percent in 1998. On the other hand, 37 percent of Americans are going online for their news at least three days a week, compared to 31 percent in 2006, and 13 percent in 1998. These latest numbers support Pew's State of the News Media 2008 report from back in March.

The online-only Huffington Post, which I've been reading increasingly lately, had a story up on this latest Pew poll on Monday. While many newspapers are cutting back, the Huffington Post just launched HuffPost Chicago, a hyperlocal news source and community, the first of its kind for the formerly "national" publication. We'll see where that goes and whether or not HuffPost expands to other cities, but my point is, outlets like Huffington Post seem to be growing, while we saw more cutbacks at Gannett and Tribune Co. just last week.

Arianna Huffington herself commented on the Huffington Post story in her Google Reader, which I'm now subscribed to. She writes, "A good snapshot of journalism's hybrid future.: more online, TV still strong, newspapers scrambling to adjust." I'm not sure I agree with the whole of that statement, but I think the hybrid future and online parts were right on. I think where TV fits into all of this and where newspapers end up are still up for debate.

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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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