Regarding Academic Research and Fatuous Reporting About Trouble Media Industries

Many of the media industries for which journalism and media professors prepare students are, if not yet dying, seriously ill, stumbling if not yet in collapse due to titanic changes underway.

Ten days ago, I published here a call for American journalism and media professors to conduct more practical research because too much of their research is too esoteric to help those industries. Rather than write this call all by myself, I heavily quoted Earl Wilkinson, the executive director of the International Newspaper Marketing Association (now the International News Marketing Association). I timed it for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication‘s (AEJMC) annual conference, the largest convention of American and Canadian journalism and media professors, held last week in Denver. Wilkinson had attended AEJMC in 2002 and spoken at the AEJMC 2003 conference.

My call provoked a dozen remarkable comments, from professors and from industry change analysts, about if they should be solving the industry’s problems, if those problems are caused by business people or the people who create the industries’ content, and if whatever problems exists just in US academia. On the AEJMC Newspaper Division’s blog, it prompted blogmaster Bob Stepno,  a journalism and media professor of Radford University, to retrieve Wilkinson’s correspondence with AEJMC and  the AEJMC’s own qualitative and quantitative surveys about the focuses of its research. All worth reading if you’re a media academic, student, or someone who’s looking for answers for the media industry’s problems.

According to their tweets, many professor at AEJMC10 were disappointed that the venue (the Denver Sheraton) didn’t always have a WiFi field available in the conference hall. Some of the professors are now tweeting that a working WiFi field should be requirement for the AEJMC11 venue.

Fine idea. However, the problem says more about the professors than the venue. Most of those professors should be teaching their students how to get online when WiFi isn’t available—such as when filing a news story from the scene to their newsroom. You’d think they’d know how to do that themselves. Never rely on there being WiFi. Real world practitioners don’t. When I don’t find WiFi where I am, I plug an inexpensive USB cell modem stick into my computer. It’s gotten me online in Malaysian jungles, atop alps, and in hotels that don’t have WiFi.

Southern Methodist University Professor Jake Batsell rightly told me that there wasn’t a solid cell signal deep inside the Denver Sheraton, so this method probably wouldn’t have worked there anyway. I was just surprised how dependent professors are on free WiFi, upon which the journalists they train shouldn’t be.

Did I say that many of the media industries  are, if not yet dying, seriously ill, stumbling if not yet in collapse due to titanic changes underway? I’m sure that some professors and some media industry executives (what’s Gavin O’Reilly up to these days? He’s being uncharacteristically quiet) will still disagree with me about that, despite all the data evidence.

Speaking of which, I had to chuckle at former Guardian editor Peter Preston‘s column in The Observer on Sunday in London. Triumphantly entitled Newspapers beat the doomsayers’ final deadline, it states:

Not long ago, the experts predicted 10 US papers would be gone in 18 months. They were wrong. And prospects for print are looking better, not worse, than they did in the depths of the crunch…. In America, where the direst predictions flourished,Time ran a March 2009 article on the nation’s “10 most endangered newspapers” and forecast that ‘eight would cease publication in the next 18 months’. Well, that was 17 months ago, and all 10, from the Miami Herald to the San Francisco Chronicle, are still publishing.

What a splendid example of fatuous retorting of fatuous reporting!

First and foremost, what “experts predicted 10 US papers would be gone in 18 months”? Not any newspaper industry analysts I’ve ever heard or read, and my profession has been as a newspaper analyst for the past 17 years. No, the “experts” Preston cite is Time magazine itself, that fading and ever-more People magazine shadow of what had been a decent news magazine 30 years ago.

And what “experts” did Time itself quote in the 10 most endangered newspapers story that Preston quotes? A website in New Rochelle, New York, called 24/7 Wall St. whose six-person news staff writes stories and opinionson the subject of:

For several decades most business journalism was dominated by Business Week, Forbes, Fortune, and The Wall Street Journal. While all of them have online editions, new web operations from Marketwatch,,,, The Fool, and a dozen blogs and commentary sites have begun to take the place of print. Revenue is also flowing out of print to the web allowing financial websites to spend more on writers and content.

In other words, Time based its 10 most endangered newspapers story on a single source which has a vested business interest in seeing printed editions fail and being replaced by companies like that single source. In fact, if you’re planning a conference and a speaker on that subject, the 24/7 Wall St. website says they’re the speakers you want about how companies like theirs are replacing printed news publications. Moreover, 24/7 Wall St. is hardly an expert about the newspaper business. Ask people, either pro or con the future of newspapers, within the newspaper industry or any academic who follows that industry. There are plenty of experts about the newspaper industry, but 24/7 Wall St. isn’t one. Go to its site, particularly its About page, and judge for yourself.

Indeed, no real or credible “experts” about the newspaper industry has ever said that eight out of the ten newspapers on the list that Time got from 24/7 Wall St. will fail in 18 months. Or even 36 or 72 months. But Time‘s fatuous reporting provide a London columnist and former newspaper editor a chance to say the talk about newspapers being in jeopardy or dying was much ado about almost nothing.

2007-2009 declines, by percent

Here’s that almost nothing, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In the US, combined print and online newspaper ad revenues dropped 27.2 percent just in 2009. That’s a plunge from $37.8 billion to $27.5 billion. US newspapers’ online revenues, which were already less than a tenth of those newspapers’ revenues, dropped 11.8 percent.

Most real experts about newspapers have talked about the real possibility that half of the 1,408 daily newspapers in the US could fail during this coming decade. Just because 8 of a fatuously cited endangered 10 didn’t fail within 18 months doesn’t mean their danger is over.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK might have read Preston’s column in print Sunday, but people wanting to read the Montreal Gazette could do so only online that day and future Sundays. After 22 years, the Gazette ceased print publication on Sundays, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Alan Allnut announced.

At the end of this month, Jornal do Brasil, one of the oldest newspapers in South America’s largest  country, will stop publishing its print edition and will be only available online. in 1995, Jornal do Brasil was one of the first South American dailies to launch a website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *