The cheerily titled Newspaper Death Watch may not sound like the go-to blog for journalists anxious about state of print journalism, but it’s worth a look — and actually quite inspiring.
Longtime tech journalist and industry thinker Paul Gillin doesn’t have an anti-print agenda, and indeed he considers himself “a newspaper junkie from way back.”
But he does believe in “a new model of journalism built upon aggregation and reader-generated content,” and Death Watch is all about covering the painful transition from print.
Recent posts include a detailed look at Patch.com’s localized coverage of Hurricane Irene and a farewell to the consolidated Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times.
Something for your bookmarks …
Under the headline “At Flagging Tribune, Tales of a Bankrupt Culture,” David Carr at The New York Times offers a 4,000-word analysis, complete with unflattering anecdotes about new executives along with the more quantitative picture.
It’s an amazingly sad story — and would be sensational enough without working the phrase “show him her breasts” into the first stick of type in an anecdote attributed to “two people at the bar.”
At a time when the media industry has struggled, the debt-ridden Tribune Company has done even worse. Less than a year after Mr. Zell bought the company, it tipped into bankruptcy, listing $7.6 billion in assets against a debt of $13 billion, making it the largest bankruptcy in the history of the American media industry. More than 4,200 people have lost jobs since the purchase, while resources for the Tribune newspapers and television stations have been slashed.
A later comment:
“They threw out what Tribune had stood for, quality journalism and a real brand integrity, and in just a year, pushed it down into mud and bankruptcy,” said Ken Doctor, a newspaper analyst with Outsell Inc., a consulting firm. “And it’s been wallowing there for the last 20 months with no end in sight.”
Included is a hat-tip to blogger Robert Feder for spreading the word (and Facebook photos) of an executive poker party at the Tribune tower, a scene that seems to echo the “culture” described in Carr’s piece.
Within the story’s first day online, there were more than 300 reader comments attached, including some that refer to what Tribue Corp. did to The Los Angeles Times, The Baltimore Sun, and other papers. (I don’t see any comments from my former colleagues at The Hartford Courant, but they have other outlets for venting — and for passing on a link to a Tribune exec’s response to Carr’s piece.)
While you’re at the Times, check out the comment “Highlights” and “Readers’ Recommendations” feature that let you browse a selection of comments, if you don’t have time to wade through the whole collection of sympathetic sighs and screeds against fat-slob capitalism.
The Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development offers a 98-page report on “the global newspaper market and its evolution, with a particular view on its economics, the development of online news, related opportunities and challenges and policy approaches.”
Some OECD countries already stepped in to financially help the newspaper industry, while others are debating whether government suppaidort can support a diverse and independent local press.
“Given that almost all OECD countries are currently reflecting on how to approach these issues, this study is designed to provide a platform for further exchange on immediate and longer-term policy development,” the report’s introduction says.
Among the report’s observations:
- About 20 out of 30 OECD countries face declining newspaper readership, especially among younger people.
- The largest declines are in the United States, the United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, Canada and Spain.
- Elsewhere, country-by-country and title-by-title data “currently do not lend themselves to make the case for ‘the death of the newspaper,’ in particular if non-OECD countries.”
- “In terms of time spent, Internet users report a large increase in reading online newspapers, but most online readership is more ad hoc, irregular and sporadic than print newspaper readership used to be. The way news is consumed is also radically different on line.”
“On Deadline: Is time running out for the press?” by Connecticut Public TV focuses on the near-demise of the Bristol Press — and to a lesser extent, the New Britain Herald — in 2008, with an update regarding the papers’ present situations.
The 55 minute documentary, co-produced by John and Rosemary Keogh O’Neill and Jeff Young, is online here: National Newspaper Association | On Deadline: Is time running out for the press?.
The program includes optimistic accounts of both a print-newspaper rescue in Bristol and veteran newspaperman Paul Bass’s innovative online-only project, the NewHavenIndependent.com, as well as a discussion of the search for business models that can pay for quality reporting.
I’d recommend this for newspaper-focused classes, Web-focused classes, and video/documentary students, too.
Suggested “bacronym” for LOON: Lovers of Old Newspapers. Count me in…
“An obituary does not propose a solution,” Richard Rodriguez observes toward the end of his Harper’s Magazine article, Final edition: Twilight of the American newspaper.
“When a newspaper dies in America, it is not simply that a commercial enterprise has failed; a sense of place has failed. If the San Francisco Chronicle is near death—and why else would the editors celebrate its 144th anniversary? and why else would the editors devote a week to feature articles on fog?—it is because San Francisco’s sense of itself as a city is perishing.”
If you haven’t guessed, it’s not an optimistic article, but Rodriguez tells a good story and knows how to save a special phrase for the end of a sentence…
“Newspapers have become deadweight commodities linked to other media commodities in chains that are coupled or uncoupled by accountants and lawyers and executive vice presidents and boards of directors in offices thousands of miles from where the man bit the dog and drew ink…”
Personally (and this is a blog, after all), the article makes me want to go write my own 6,000 word magazine article, mingling nostalgia for my Daily Hampshire Gazette paper route and my old Hartford Courant bureau reporting with something optimistic about the future of journalism.
But I’m too busy catching up on some real news in both those papers… It’s a fire story, of all the traditional newspaper things! And covered by both with all the latest online tools, from YouTube video to Google Maps mashups. That first link was to the Courant (est. 1764), where I saw the story yesterday; here’s the Gazette (est. 1786), and my old hometown paper does appear to be doing a good job of local reporting in a crisis.
The defunct, center-right New York Sun newspaper has relaunched itself as — what else? — an online-only publication. Those of us who used to read and enjoy the Sun during its noisy print existence from 2002-2008 will obviously applaud. For what it’s worth, it seemed to be a terrific training ground for conservative journalist-wannabes (one of my former students, a dedicated neocon, did a stint at the Sun as a writer and went on to right-leaning cable news punditry greatness). Indeed, when the Sun was in print it was hard not to admire the wonderful chutzpah of the Sun’s indefatigable founder, Seth Lipsky, and his stated aim to challenge the New York Times’ local coverage. Besides, the Sun always seemed to be hiring back then. Smart young journalists around New York City had one more place to apply. Its local coverage sometimes possessed a pushy free-market perspective, but the overall package was slick, intelligent, and provocative.
Still, one has to wonder whether the online Sun can eek its way toward some kind of financial progress. At the moment, it’s almost more of a crossword puzzle with a newspaper cover; the Sun is heavily promoting its famous Peter Gordon crosswords, now gone interactive. There’s some well-reasoned opinion, a bit of knowing around-town light news, but — so far — this is early days. Lipsky clearly grasps this. “I understand that what is up on the site now is only the most modest of beginnings,” he told me.
Let’s hope it shines on.
Our communications and journalism graduates are apparently finding the worst job market in decades, but I’m amazed how the View All Jobs listing at the indispensable www.journalismjobs.com continues to hover around 600. For those of you who check this listing as obsessively as I, you know that the total number dropped to 300-400 levels in the dark post-9/11 days. Six hundred doesn’t look bad. One big difference between then and now is proliferation of new media jobs, a point echoed somewhat in an intriguing post on the New York Times’ Bill Keller at the excellent Nieman Journalism Lab blog. Not scientific, I know … but I’m just saying.
It’s been floating around the net for almost a month, but if you haven’t seen it and need an infographic to make clear the state of the traditional newspaper biz to anyone, try this picture from Mint.com, a financial-management website. The original is 1100×2001 pixels, if you’re counting, big enough to see the sad details.
Extra points to the copydesk veterans who catch the biggest error in the multi-part graphic, or for adding comments to this post to point out specific pages at NAA, Bloomberg, or elsewhere, with the graphic’s source statistics.
The accompanying blog post is here, with discussion, including at least one eagle-eyed reader’s comment on a “do the math!” error of the sort we try to impress on beginning reporters and editors:
If you don’t mind the distraction of discouraging news, you might use the graphic as a math-literacy teaching tool, with a hat-tip to Joe Murphy of the Denver Post for catching the error. Not much of a silver lining, but…
Loosely related (and some more-optimistic) items, rather than have an depressing block of white space next to the long, tall depressing graphic:
- Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy (Oct. 2009) report: Informing Communities Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age
- Dan McDonough Jr. and Alan Bauer (May 2009) in The Christian Science Monitor, A newspaper business model that’s working.
- Paul Starr in The New Republic (March 2009), Goodbye to the Age of Newspapers (Hello to a new era of corruption)
- Walter Isaacson (Feb. 2009) in Time, How to Save Your Newspaper.
- Eric Alterman (2008), in The New Yorker, on Out of Print: The Death and Life of an American Newspaper.
- NAA Presstime Blog
The ‘save journalism’ and ‘save newspapers’ debate
Is this a ‘dying industry’ or not?
by Bob Stepno… A Summer 2009 collection of news and blog pieces on the “future of news” and “newspaper bailout” debates and related issues… Originally posted in Bob’s old AEJMC Newspaper Division blog.
[Fall 2009 revisions to this July list will be highlighted in green next to the original item, such as the note from Jeff Jarvis below, or they can be added as comments.]
Don’t let the title fool you… There’s inspiration and a hint of optimism in Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2009 commencement address at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism: Welcome to a dying industry, journalism grads
Next, from Jane Singer, in an AEJMC discussion of the future of journalism & mass communication: one blue-sky scenario of how the not-too-distant future might look for our graduates. (Updated link & info: Since my original post, Jane’s essay has won an AEJMC prize.)
Save the separation of press and state, by David Carr, NY Times
In Congress, no love lost for newspapers, Dana Milbank column in Washington Post
Laws That Could Save Journalism by Bruce W. Sanford and Bruce D. Brown in The Washington Post
“A Newspaper Bailout” by Adam Ross in the Post back in February, describing President Nicholas Sarkozy’s plan to aid the French press.
They Pay for Cable, Music and Extra Bags. How about News? by Richard Perez-Pena and Tim Arango, NYTimes.
Sen. John Kerry’s opening remarks as chairman of Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet’s hearing on “The Future of Journalism.” Also from hearing, Arianna Huffington‘s testimony.
Video and transcripts from the “Free Press Summit” sponsored by the Knight Foundation.
Duke University’s non-profit media conference, including Penelope Muse Abernathy’s paper, “A Nonprofit Model for The New York Times?” — which inspired this follow-up in the New Yorker. And more about the conference at The Nonprofit Road.
“Life after newspapers,” by Michael Kinsley.
“The American Press on Suicide Watch,” by Frank Rich.
The newspaper crisis discussed at Princeton event, from NewJerseyNewsroom.com, a site founded when a bunch of journalists got together at a public library and decided to “create a news site — unlike any other — to address the growing journalism void.”
Scott Rosenberg, “How charging for articles could hobble the future of journalism.”
“First, stop the lawyers,” by Jeff Jarvis, Buzz Machine.
I now say that there isn’t a crisis. That’s not what I used to say. Indeed, one of my mistakes in this debate has been accepting the assumption that there was one and allowing the debate to start there: “How are you going to save journalism from the scourge of your damned internet?”
Instead, the discussion should start here: “Look at all the new opportunities there are to gather and share news in new ways, to expand and improve it, to change journalism’s relationship with its public and make it collaborative, to find new efficiencies and lower costs and thus to return to profitability and sustainability.”
(Back to the earlier list…)
Two big ones, saved for the end:
From “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable” by Clay Shirky
special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as
researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship
or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will
rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these
models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now
losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection
of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need.”
From The Elite Newspaper of the Future by Philip Meyer, last fall in American Journalism Review.
The now-emeritus UNC professor suggests it’s o.k. for newspapers to give up on “selling everything to everybody.” Instead, he says they should focus on being trusted, responsible sources of evidence-based public affairs news and analysis, aimed at what the sociologists call “opinion leaders” — what Phil calls “well-educated news junkies.”
hybrid content: analysis, interpretation and investigative reporting in
a print product that appears less than daily, combined with constant
updating and reader interaction on the Web.”