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The Greatest Change in the History of Media

by Vin Crosbie

We live amid the greatest change in the history of media. Its speed, intensity, and magnitude are so enormous that most media executives and media scholars fail – and some even refuse – to recognize the change’s epochal nature. Of those who fail or refuse to see it, most do so because so many of its major aspects contradict the theories or contravene the beliefs upon which they’ve built their careers.

However, as the pace of the change of accelerates, an increasing number of those media executives and scholars have begun to claim that they now do perceive the greatest change. Yet the reality is they don’t. They are instead joining a growing movement of executives and scholars who mistake the traits or characteristics of the greatest change as the change itself.

This movement erroneously believes the greatest change underway in media is that consumers are simply switching media consumption from ‘analog’ to ‘digital’. [Or a more recent but parallel misperception: that the greatest change underway is that consumers are simply switching their media consumption from ‘desktop’ to ‘mobile’]. In other words, these executives and scholars believe the greatest change is that people who used to consume news, entertainment, and other information via printed periodicals, television sets, and radio sets, instead are now consuming the same packages of news, entertainment, and information via personal computers, tablet computers, and ‘smartphones’. This myopic misperception has led these executives and scholars to believe that all the media industries need to do to survive and prosper is to transplant the traditional business models, the traditional content packaging, and the traditional content (albeit with the addition of hyperlinks, audio, video, animation, and other multimedia) into online media accessible by personal computers, tablet computers, and ‘smartphones’.

This pernicious strategy, based upon a misperception of the change underway, has become responsible for the continuing failure of the world’s media industries to adapt successfully to the epochal change underway. Despite more than ten years of its implementation in post-industrial nations, this strategy, called convergence or ‘digital first’ by its proponents and shovelware by its critics, has demonstrably failed to generate revenue from online that are anywhere equal to those the same companies and industries earned from providing the same contents via traditional forms of media such as printed periodicals and terrestrial or cable broadcasting. Nor has implementation of the strategy created usage of the contents online that has been as frequent or thorough as the contents have in those traditional forms. The results of  ‘convergence’ or ‘digital first’ strategy are new media that are less frequently and less thoroughly used and are less profitable than the old media, despite having more users than the old media, are that are cannibalizing old media as more and more users switch to it.

The strategy’s failure flummoxes the executives and the scholars who believe its central assumption that the greatest change underway is people are simply switching media consumption from ‘analog’ to ‘digital’. Nevertheless, rather than question that core assumption, these executives and scholars doggedly continue to pursue implementing the strategy, for lack of any other ideas. They are leading most media industries into catastrophe. They have wasted more than 15 crucial years that could instead have been used to adapt the media industries properly to the epochal change underway. During that lost time, many formerly robust media industries in post-industrial countries have withered, losing significant portions of their audiences (including most of a new generation) and having had to discharge hundreds of thousands of trained media workers (including many tens of thousands of journalists whose investigative and expository reporting is necessary for their nation’s democracies to function properly). The aggregate damages to these industries in some of the post-industrial nations are grave, as well as warnings to the media industries of industrial nations in which the epochal change underway is only now beginning.

The media executives and media scholars who believe that the greatest change underway in media is that consumers are simply switching media consumption from ‘analog’ to ‘digital’ figuratively can’t see the forest for the trees. They mistake one of the change’s traits or characteristics as the change itself. It is the stunning conceptual myopia of ‘convergence’ or ‘digital first’ strategy that I address and remedy.

People are indeed switching their media consumption from ‘analog’ to ‘digital’, but not because they find that reading texts, listening to audio, and watching video is easier and more pleasurable via personal computers, tablet computers, and ‘smartphones’ than via printed periodicals or radio receivers or television sets. That’s certainly not why they do it or the greatest change in media.  Instead, as I’ve been writing since 2004, the greatest change in the history of media is that, within the span of a single human generation, people’s access to information has shifted from relative scarcity to surplus, even surfeit.

Billions of people whose access a generation ago to daily changing information was at most one, two, or three locally-distributed printed newspapers, one, two, three, or four television channels, and one or two dozen radio stations, can now access virtually all of the world’s news and information instantly at home, office, or wherever they go. The economic, historical, and societal ramifications of this epochal change in media will be far more profound than Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type, Nikola Tesla’s and Guglielmo Marconi’s invention of broadcasting, or any other past development in the history of media.

This epochal change occurred over several waves during a 20 to 40-year period:

  • The 1970s brought the first wave: cable television(CATV) followed decades later by satellite television (SATV). People in post-industrial countries who used to have access to no more than three or four television channels gained access to dozens and then hundreds. The defining characteristic of this, as well as the subsequent waves of the change, was not only that it gave those people more choices within a format of media but more specific choices. Almost all of the new channels weren’t general interest or foreign-language but instead topical. If you’re a tennis fan, you no longer have to be satisfied with an occasional report during the one, two, or three original channels’ newscasts or hope that those channels’ weekend sport programs might feature a tennis match. You can now watch entire networks devoted only to sports, including one network entirely devoted to tennis. If you love to cook, you no longer have to wait for a weekend cooking show aired by those few original channels, but you can instead watch four or five new networks each devoted to cooking. Likewise, there are entire television networks each devoted to a specific category such as news, sports, history, biography, cartoons, science, comedy, animals, fashion, science fiction, shopping, etc.
  • The 1980s brought the next wave: advances in offset lithographythat made publication of topical (‘niche content’) magazines economical. Newsstands that previously sold 20 to 30 magazine titles now sell hundreds, almost all of which are about specific categories or topics. A reader specifically interested in that topic now no longer must wait for the occasional story about that topic in a newspaper or general-interest magazine.
  • The 1990’s brought Internet access to the public. More than 3 billion people worldwide have since gained access to more than 857 million active Web sites. These include virtually all the worlds’ newspapers, magazines, trade journals, broadcast networks and stations, plus social networks, some than 100 million blogs, and innumerable sites about specific topics and topical categories.
  • The first decade of the 21st Century brought the next wave: broadbandaccess to consumers in post-industrial countries. The hallmark of this wave of change is instant, ‘always-on’ Internet access. The first decade of the 21st Century brought the majority of Internet users in post-industrial countries broadband speeds, plus mobile access. The hallmark of broadband is instant, ‘always-on’ Internet access, eliminating the need to dialup a telephone line for online access. Although some experts claim the wave which brought the Internet to the public was the most powerful, the broadband wave was deeper and more powerful because it markedly changed how and from whom consumers access news and information. It markedly increased the ease by which those people consume their newfound cornucopia of media, and so reshaped how and from whom they consumed information. It also provided them with ready access to 3,700 TV stations broadcasting online, plus tens of thousands of downloadable movies, and hundreds of millions of professional and amateur video clips.
  • Our current (2010s) decade’s wave will provide all that information to people not just through desktop and laptop computers but via all mobile devices, vehicles, the electronic equivalents of flexible paper, and even television sets. Almost all the new mobile phone handsets are being designed as ‘all-screen’ models with full Internet access. Many top-of-the-line handsets are also being designed to receive streaming video signals (even if only through arrangement between the cellular carrier and television networks). Because most people replace their mobile phone handsets every two to three years, these new handsets mean that probably by the end of 2015 the number of people who have Internet access will increase to 3 billion (and sooner or not very later than that the number of Internet-equipped ‘smartphones’ in existence will be more than the human population!). Moreover, many of the world’s major manufacturers of television sets, companies such as Sony, Samsung, and LG, have announced that most of their products will be connected directly to the Internet. People will be able to view YouTube, Hulu, any other video streaming sites, as well as all Web sites via their television sets. Television sets with Internet access will also be able to circumvent the limited number of television networks and channels available terrestrially or from local cable television service providers. Software programs already allows users of personal computer, iPhone, or Android mobile phone handset to access more than 4,000 live television stations’ broadcasts from all over the world, and television sets connected to the Internet will have a similar capability. People with Internet-connected television will be able to access any of the thousands of television stations in the world that happens to stream their broadcasts online. Many television networks have already begun streaming high definition broadcasts into the Internet in anticipation of this trend. The result of this coming decade’s wave will be that all information in text, audio, and video formats will be instantly available to the majority of the world’s population wherever they are.

Thus during the past 30 to 40 years the cumulative effect of these waves of technological change is that the majority of humanity access to news and information is changing from scarcity to surfeit. As examples, a Xhosa tribesman in South Africa with a Vodacom HTC Magic mobile handset has instant access to more information than the President of the United States did at the time of the tribesman’s birth; so does a Bolivian girl to whose school has been donated refurbished Macintosh computers; so does a Mongolian plumber who bought a Lenovo netbook for his son’s education. Today, between 1.7 billions of and 4.1 billion people can instantly obtain more information than could be contained in the ancient library of Alexandria, the Renaissance Era library of the Vatican, and the modern Library of Congress combined.

Gutenberg’s invention of the movable type printing press some 570 years ago had profound effects upon civilization. Within 50 years of that invention, ten million books had been printed and distributed throughout Europe. However, the historical and societal effects of Gutenberg’s invention pall when compared to what has happened during the past 50 years: the majority of the world’s population has had their access to information change from relative scarcity to instant and pervasive surplus. This is not only the greatest development in media since Gutenberg’s press, it is the greatest media development in history.

Nokia’s Life Tools and 175+ Countries

Last month elsewhere, I wrote about the importance of providing services to mobile phones as the basis for any newspaper’s future services. I’m involved in a project in a small South Africa city in which mobile will be the key (the story at that hyperlink describes it).

I’d written, rather bluntly, that I don’t particularly care what online business model saves The New York Times or The Daily Telegraph or National Post or Le Monde. Those national publications’ journalism certainly is worth saving, but national publications are atypical. What’s really needed is a business model that can save much smaller daily newspapers, those with less than 100,000 circulation. Those comprise more than 95 percent of the world’s newspapers.

I today spent quite a bit of the day examining Nokia’s Life Tools project. On Sunday, CIO magazine published a brief article outlining the project. It notes:

Life Tools includes a range of services aimed at rural mobile users in emerging markets, where agriculture remains a mainstay of local economies.

Agriculture-related offerings on Life Tools include local weather forecasts, information on crop prices at local markets, advice on growing crops, as well as pricing information for pesticides, seeds and fertilizer. Educational services include English lessons and advice on taking exams, while sports scores and music are available for entertainment.

While agriculture-related services might not be attractive to small newspapers in post-industrial countries, such services are very important in more than 170 other countries worldwide, countries where most of the world’s population lives.


Moreover, what I’ve been discovering over the past several years is that newspapers need to develop their mobile phone services the opposite way that newspapers developed services in their printed editions.

Newspapers have been printed for more than 400 years. The original newspapers printed only news (hence the name newspapers), but over the centuries other information was added: advertising, scores calendars of events, cartoons, stock prices, dining & entertainment listings, horoscopes, etc.

Today, however, newspapers that use mobile phones only to offer news won’t gain very many mobile users. But if they instead offer mobile services providing dining & entertainment listings, horoscopes, calendars of events, services that match consumers and local merchants, etc., those newspapers’ mobile services will then have enough usage to be profitably able to provide news.


New Media Business Syllabus for Spring 2009

I continue to teach New Media Business classes at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Tuesday will be the first day of a new semster and new students. In September, the school opened this graduate school course to upperclassmen, too. It was oversubscribed last semester, with students turned away. So, this semester I have agreed to teach two classes of it, a total of 39 students. In generally, I’ve collected the students whose majors are newspapers, magazines, broadcast journalism, television, radio, film, public relations, or public diplomacy into one class and the majors in advertising or media management in the other. The weeky-by-week topical agenda will be the same for each class, but my emphases during each topic will be different for the ‘content producers’ than for the ‘revenue producers’. Each 90-minute class meets twice weekly.

I’m introducing each classes by telling students:

Not only do you live during the greatest change in the history of media but you’re about to graduate as it crests the barricades and overthrows many traditional media theories, practices, companies, plus a lot of what the Newhouse School and other media schools have traditionally taught.

This three credit-hour course teaches the new theories and practices of journalism, entertainment, and persuasive communications that arise directly from New Media, and the modes of online, interactive, and mobile media – even including new forms of print and broadcast – that are now supplementing or supplanting traditional forms of media. The course will explain, as best as humanly possible, the dynamics that underlie New Media; the history of it; how and why New Media fundamentally differs from traditional forms (hint: multimedia and convergence aren’t the differences); how it varies around the world; and how to operate and support media businesses from it.

Because the course’s students come from the full spectrum of Newhouse majors, plus some from other SU schools, it will not focus on any one media discipline or major. Rather the class as a multi-discipline group, similar to a company, will study the theory of New Media; the industrial changes, crises, and opportunities that New Media spawns; its revenue and business models and their technologies and practices; and its evolving future. The course aims to give students the conceptual and basic business knowledge they’ll need to work in 21st Century media.

Here is my planned topical schedule for the class. No 13-week course can possible teach students everything they need to know about the New Media Business for media practioners. I therefore teach just the basics.

  • January 13 – Course Introduction and Syllabus: We’ll discuss our backgrounds, the students’ expectations, and the instructor’s requirements for this course, its grading, assignments, etc.
  • January 15 – Embracing Change: Why this is an exceptional time in millennia of media. Why you’ll almost certainly not do what this school trains you to do. What do confederate widows, Eddie Rickenbacker, the instructor, and the class’s students have in common. What is the one skill that students will need to learn?
  • January 20 – Crisis: Put the students in the shoes of media companies’ executives today. General Trends & Creative Destruction in the media industry. What are the challenges that media companies face? What, if anything, can be done? If you have to think ‘Outside the Box’…?
  • January 22 -The Future is Here; It’s Just Unevenly Distributed: Change is neither smooth nor contemporaneous. How to discern between fads and trends? What are the long-term trends in media?
  • January 27 -A World Tour: Cultural and Geographic Variations in New Media worldwide. That there actually are New Media outside the U.S. and what can be learned from them? Who has the best Web sites in the world and why? Who has the best mobile media and why? Who uses what parts, where, and why?
  • January 29 – Internet Timelines & Versions: A brief history of the Internet, its parts, who invented it, and how it works. What are Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, and Web 3.0? Why each is significant and what effects they have.
  • February 3 – How New Media Differ Legally from Traditional Media: How laws governing publishing, broadcasting, marketing, and advertising in New Media differ from those governing traditional media. COPA. CAN-SPAM. Spyware. Cybersquatting. Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Webcast royalties. Digital Rights Management. Personal jurisdiction/foreign jurisdiction. ‘Safe harbors’, etc.
  • February 5 — How New Media Differ Economically from Traditional Media: Conflations of daily and monthly. Behavior versus Demographics. Eyeballs versus Actions. Why it takes 50 to 100 online users to make up for the revenue lost losing one traditional media user?
  • February 10 -Paid Content, Permission, and Personalization: Why information doesn’t necessarily want to be free. What will people pay for online content, when, and why? The three criteria for paid content. ‘Personalization’ & Individualization of content and advertising. Permission Marketing.
  • February 12 — Digital and Interactive: Why the true definitions of those terms matter in a world of hype. What is digital and how do its technologies work? What characteristics and capabilities make it different than traditional forms of media? What is interactive and why true use of that term matters?
  • February 17 — What is/are New Media? (Part A): The four common characteristics of successful New Media business plans. ‘Bits not atoms.’ Digital addressability. A quantum shift in control over media. Why Open triumphs over Proprietary systems.
  • February 19 — What is/are New Media? (Part B): The Theories of New Media. Is it anything put online? Is it only things that are not associated with traditional media? What new dimensions, if any, does New Media give to media? Potentials & Opportunities.
  • February 24 — Social Media & Virtual Words: How to publish and broadcast and manage in Social Media. How to market and advertise in Social Media. A tour of text, chat, and virtual world sites.
  • February 26 — Streaming Media: Webcasting, podcasting, vodcasting, peer-to-peer, BitTorrent, YouTube, etc. Why Blue-Ray’s victory over HD DVD will be moot. New forms of broadcast that are unique to New Media.
  • March 17 — Alphabet Soup & Metadata: How not to sound stupid in discussions of New Media: What is XML, Exif, NewsML, AdML, Mash-ups, etc.? How and why metadata controls content distribution in the 21st Century?
  • March 19 — Metrics & RSS: Server logs, clickstreams, analytics, new Phorms, Really Simply Syndication, and the gaps in the world’s most accountable form of media.
  • March 24 — Banners & ‘Rich Media’ Advertising: Clickthroughs and banners. Landing pages. What is ‘Rich Media’ advertising. Targeting by demographics, context, behaviors, geography, affinity, or purchases. Dayparting. CPM versus CPC versus CPA.
  • March 26 & 31 — Search Engines Marketing & Optimization: Why more than half of all online advertising today is about Search Engine Marketing. How does SEM marketing work? How to optimize content for search engines?
  • April 2 — E-Mail Marketing: Why electronic mail is still the ‘killer application’ despite spam. How e-mail publishing/marketing works and what are its metrics.
  • April 7 – Mobile & Wireless: Publishing or broadcasting to mobile phones, game consoles, and other mobile devices. WiFi, WiMax, 2.5G, 3G, 4G, and 5G.
  • April 9 — E-Paper & Print: Portable Document File editions, electronic paper, Kindles, OLEDs, and digital presses. The 21st Century revenge of paper.
  • April 14 – The Future: Change and Resolution. Future New Media.

Why Should Newspapers Offer Online Video News?

If you work in New Media, the answer should be obvious. Nevertheless, there are still many newspapers that don’t understand why. Some merely offer online video as a novelty featured under the title ‘Multimedia.’

Video news should be an integral part of any newspapers online news efforts now that online is the main way that most people in developed countries utilize newspapers. People see and hear, as well as read. Paper limited many news organizations to only text and still photos. However, online liberates all news organizations to be able to satisfy people’s desire to see, hear, and read the news.

Newspapers in less developed countries have an opportunity to jump ahead of most developed countries’ newspapers. This is because newspapers in less developed countries may be relatively new and so don’t have an ingrained legacy of decades or centuries of print practices. They’re immediately able to grasp utilize the best New Media practices, which means making online video an integral practice.

I’m interested in newspapers in less developed countries. For the .past few years I’ve been doing pro bono consulting to the Media Development Loan Fund in Prague. It finances development of objective news organizations in countries that now or in the recent past have suffered under repressive regimes. In November, MDLF flew me to Podgorica, the capital of the Republic of Montenegro, to deliver the opening speech at its Broadcast Design workshop for journalist from newspapers and radio and television stations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, South Africa, Russia, and the Ukraine.

Why did this Broadcast Design workshop include journalists from radio and television stations? Because still too few of those news organizations are broadcssting online.

Montenegro’s Televizija Vijesti, the six month-old spinoff of the 11 year-old daily newspaper Vijesti, recorded a few minutes of that speech and a later interview.. You can also view this plus selections of other speakers’ speeches.

The Fatal Arrow, Shot From a Crossbow, Struck His Chest

Abel Girón Morales (1979-2008)

Abel Giron Morales
Abel Giron Morales

Shot from a crossbow, the plastic and metal arrow struck him in the chest, shattering one of his major arteries. The 29 year-old victim, a graphic layout artist, had left home his home on the outskirts of the city, was walking to work, and apparently hadn’t taken notice or worried about the black pickup truck that was following his movements. From inside the truck, the assassin, a “young-looking man”, fired while moving. Then the truck sped away.

One of the victim’s neighbors, who witnessed the attack, removed the arrow and called for help, but 29 year-old Abel Girón Morales, a graphic layout designer for El Periódico in Guatemala City, died that Wednesday morning, October 22nd, before the ambulance reached the hospital.

The deputy head of the Guatemala Public Ministry section investigating the murder told El Periódico that the murder method showed the “sadism” beyond a the usual murder. What is more unusual is that Giron wasn’t killed because he was a journalist for the investigative newspaper El Periódico , but simply because he worked for it. His widow, a photographer, also works at the newspaper. They are trying to intimidate all of the newspaper’s staff.

Violence aimed at El Periódico isn’t new. In 2001, 50 people armed with clubs, stones, bottles, and burning newspapers and rags tried to force their way into it. In 2003, a dozen gunmen raided the home of El Periódico publisher José Rubén Zamora and threatened him. Bombs have been discovered under reporters’ cars.

I often receive telephone calls from friends here in the United States who tell me that they are ‘taking a risk’ by changing jobs from North American newspaper to another. But they actually have no clue what taking real risks are for a journalism. The employees of new organizations in countries with repressive regimes know all to well. I toured El Periódico last year while working pro bono for my client, the Media Development Loan Fund. I believe I met Girón Morales there.

I work almost exclusively in New Media. However, New Media is becoming the media, the mainstream. It is certainly time for news organizations’ New Media divisions to the leadership in fighting censorship. Indeed, Reporters Without Borders reports that 68 of the 195 journalists imprisoned this year are from New Media.

For more stories about the assassination of Abel Girón Morales:

Ian Alexander Davies (1959-2008), R.I.P.

Ian Davies
Ian Davies

Ian Alexander Davies, 49, of Topcroft, Norfolk, U.K., a husband, father of two, newspaper and magazine New Media expert, and an ardent private pilot, died Wednesday when the two-person aerobatic biplane he was aboard collided with a crop-spraying tractor as the biplane was approaching the runway at an airfield near his hometown. According to the BBC, one other man was aboard the plane and was hospitalized with serious injuries and the tractor driver was treated for shock. Police are investigating the accident and have yet to determine which of the two men was piloting the aircraft.

Ian was passionate about flying. He’d logged more than 3,000 hours as pilot and was qualified as a light aircraft instructor, a helicopter pilot, and ratings instructor. He was also a formation display pilot with the Red Sparrows aerobatic team and had d been the consulting editor for Pilot magazine for three years.

Ian Davies
Ian Davies (Photo courtesy of Carol de Solla Atkin)

I’d known Ian for a few years, primarily when he was director of group business development and new media for the Archant newspaper chain, for which, until recently, he’d been employed for 19 years. I’d last seen him in May during the EPublishing Innovations Forum 2008 conference in London, and had enjoyed his after-work company at Ifra’s Beyond the Printed Word conferences in Dublin last year and in Vienna in 2006, Besides being a forward-thinking New Media executive for print publications (and there aren’t that many of those who are truly forward-thinking!), Ian was a renowned bon vivant — great company at a meal, drink, or conversation. I last talked to him July 31. I learn of his death from his other friends’ testimonials to him on his own home page on Facebook.

The Press Gazette, trade journal of the U.K. newspaper industry, features Archant’s posthumous testimonial to Davies. Testimonials have also appeared from hometown’s weekly newspaper.

Since leaving Archant earlier this year, Ian had been looking for something new to do, as he explained on his own website.

I’ll miss Ian. The sole solace is that he died doing what he loved — flying.

Beer Is The Better Investment Than U.S. Newspaper Companies


(Kegs photo by Jeramey Jannene via Flickr. No endorsement by him of this posting is implied.)

Do the executives who manage America’s major daily newspaper publishing companies think they know what they’re doing? They’ll assure you the answer is yes. But how obvious does the evidence have to be before even they have to admit that the answer obviously is no?

My biweekly column at the online marketing site provides sobering examples. Three years ago, if you had purchased $10,000 worth of beer and then got drunk each day ever since, the value of the deposits on the beer kegs would have given you a better Return on Investment than if you had investment that $10,000 in almost any U.S. newspaper company. Moreover, you’d have plenty of beer left and would have had a much better time!

Indeed, using today’s stock prices for those companies, buying beer and getting drunk night would on average have given you a ROI three times better.

Even worse, if you had invested in the McClatchy company, beer instead would have given a seven-times better ROI. Beer yielded a 12-times better ROI than the Journal Register Company. And beer toasted a 41 times better ROI than an investment Gatehouse Media. The executives of those companies are losing advertising, losing circulation, and losing the financial community’s confidence. The executives can hardly make a case for being financially sober. In their cases, the ’empties’ aren’t the beer kegs.

What does it take to spotlight that these companies’ managements aren’t on the right tracks. What examples do I have to tap?

Multimedia Newspaper Professorship Opening at Syracuse

In case anyone reading this is interested, the Newspaper Department at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University, seeks an experienced journalist with strong multimedia skills to join a department committed to preserving core journalistic competencies while teaching students to tell stories in online media. Work in the school’s new Collaborative Media Room, and teach many of our 400 undergraduate and graduate students in the Newspaper and Magazine print majors to deliver content interactively and using multiple media.

Qualifications: At least 10 years of experience in the news environment, with a strong reporting and writing resume and facility with still and video capture and editing and/or interactive and database reporting. You must submit a portfolio that demonstrates your hands-on storytelling talent for multiple platforms. Master’s or other advanced degree preferred. Tenure-track position at associate or assistant professor level. Previous teaching experience is not required, but you must show potential in the classroom.

Expect to teach traditional reporting and writing for print as well as for online delivery, and to also work with some of our broadcast professors and students. You should be able to play a significant role in our new visual storytelling class being prepared as a requirement for incoming freshmen in every one of our eight majors. The school is launching a content-managed, student-produced Web site in 2009, and it is a participant in the Carnegie-Knight News21 Initiative.

This is a tenure-track, nine-month appointment, with a requirement to teach five classes per year and to pursue a research-creative agenda — preferably related to manufacture and delivery of news and information online. The Newhouse School is committed to increasing the diversity of its faculty and especially welcomes applicants from underrepresented groups. Syracuse University is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

Review of applications begins November 2008. Start: August 2009.

How to Apply: Candidates should visit to read the detailed faculty postings and apply electronically. All positions require a cover letter, CV or resume and a list of four professional references. If you have any questions about the opening please contact Steve Davis, chair, Newspaper Department, at

Life Aboard an Academic Supercarrier

In May, when after a year of teaching graduate school courses, I wrote a column lamenting how resistant to change many media schools are about New Media, I was amused when my friend Jeff Jarvis tried to hijack my column and turn it into an advertisement for his smaller and competing school.

“Reading Vin Crosbie’s piece about the resistance to change and general obstructionism he has found teaching at journalism school (he doesn’t say it, but he has spent the year at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University), it makes me triply glad I am teaching at CUNY [City University of New York] Graduate School of Journalism. This will come off as blatant self-promotion for the school but so be it….When I arrived at CUNY, I feared I would find what Vin did. But I haven’t, not at all. I thought I might be marginalized as the crazy guy. But that hasn’t happened….Instead, in the last few months, I’ve been teaching the faculty itself in all the tools of online: blogs, wikis, RSS, video, SEO, and on and on. The best part of this has not been my colleagues’ receptivity to, curiosity about, and eagerness to adapt the tools themselves in their classes but the discussion we have shared about the impact of these tools on journalism and education. We’ve had rich back and forth on the new architecture of media and news that the impact of this change on journalism education.”

Reading that, I felt like an American does when he reads a Hungarian or Malaysian write, ‘Look at all the trouble the U.S. economy is in! Come start your new business in my country, whose economy is growing.’

Well, much as I love Budapest and Kuala Lumpur and congratulate their countries about their economy’s growth, I’d much rather be working here in the United States. Indeed, when my one-year contract to teach graduate school courses at Syracuse University expired a week after I wrote my column and that university offered to renew it, I did so without hesitation, despite offers from other media schools.

There might be some old-fashioned professors, including a few obstructionists, in my school, as there are at most schools, but I’d rather help navigate a supercarrier with its awesome firepower, than serve in the navy of a smaller country of lesser prowess. When I recently read about Arizona State University receiving a $552,000 grant “to create an incubator where students will learn how to create and launch digital media products,” I had a similar feeling as I sat in my office within Syracuse University’s 72,000 square-foot, $32.5 million dollar Newhouse III building, which is devoted to New Media.

With all due respect to Jeff and his school, I was miffed about seeing my column hijacked into an ad for another school. I’ve been meaning to respond. Had I known someone would use what I wrote to tout another school, I would have balanced the disadvantages I mentioned by also mentioning my school’s overwhelming advantages.

Jeff is improving CUNY. As he has written, he’s teaching his school’s faculty how to use blogs, wikis, RSS, video, SEO, and Twitter. We’re doing that here at Syracuse, too. Moreover, the other New Media professors and I have begun cross-training Syracuse faculty, whose ranks number several times larger the size of those at other media school. We’ve begun teaching photography, audio, and video to the professors in the newspaper, magazine, advertising, and public relations departments, and also teaching all of the schools’ professors how to build and operate Web sites (including Dreamweaver and XML), nonetheless to use RSS, blogware, etc. Our efforts are helped by having all three Newhouse School buildings networked with 25 miles of 100-gigabyte Ethernet onto a 72-terabyte server array. Our supercarrier has nuclear propulsion.

At Syracuse, we’ve also been lucky to have some wonderful guest speakers in the school. Sports broadcaster Bob Costas was in today, as was ESPN’s Mike Turico last week. I want my New Media Business students to listen in particular to Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide CEO Kevin Roberts and Optimedia CEO Antony Young, who each will be here next month. Last semester, I had Rob Curley, Bob Cauthorn, and Rafat Ali each meet with my New Media Business class.

Those are only some of the reasons why I’m now in my second academic year of teaching at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Last year, I taught New Media Business as two weekly classes over 15 weeks, a total of 28 classes not counting mid-term and final exams. This year, because of the school’s class scheduling and my classroom preference, I’m teaching it as 14 once per week classes. So, the course’s syllabus can vary semester by semester. However, here is what I’m teaching this semester:

Continue reading Life Aboard an Academic Supercarrier

Why Mass Media Content is Dumbing Down

In the second part of my essay, Transforming American Newspapers, I mentioned several corollary effects that occur when the sheer number of Media vehicles radically increases. However, I inadvertently omitted two other corollary effects.

The primary business model of most Mass Media vehicles (newspapers, magazines, broadcast programs, etc.) is to attract sufficient numbers of consumers so that the vehicle will attract advertisers who will pay to place their advertisements either adjacent or interstitial to the content that attracts the consumers. The more consumers the vehicle attracts, the higher the rates the advertiser are willing to pay and the more money the vehicle earns.

Yet when the sheer number of Media vehicles radically increases, the median number of consumers attracted to any vehicle decreases because the total number of consumers are spread across many more vehicles (the so-called ‘fragmentation’ of audiences). That tends to reduce the median revenues of those vehicles. Mass Media vehicles try to compensate for this by (1) ‘dumbing’ the quality of their content, attempting to attract a larger audience by appealing to a lower common denominator and restore larger numbers of consumers.

That corollary effect is why so many television networks have ‘dumbed down’ (a wonderful technical term) their programs. The plethora of ‘reality’ programs are examples. Other examples are how formerly ‘quality ‘ programs or ‘quality’ networks are now purveying content of questionable quality. For instance, the Biography television program on the Arts & Entertainment Network used to broadcast biographies of Einstein, Picasso, and Michelangelo, but now broadcasts biographies of Madonna, Jim Carey, and Britney Spears. Or, for instances, how the Learning Channel used to broadcast programs about mathematics, science, and the humanities but now broadcasts programs about purchasing real estate, upgrading wardrobes, and home furnishings.

The another corollary effect that I inadvertently omitted is similar. When the sheer number of Media vehicles radically increases and the median number of consumers attracted to any vehicle decreases, (2) Mass Media vehicles become more timid, fearing further loss of consumers. No surprise.

Both of these effects are caused by the radical increase in the supply of media vehicles consumers now have. Both doom us to increasingly crass content on television and, more often than not, more timid content in all Mass Media nowadays.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Expert at estimating and forecasting the amount of unexpected chores my clients might face when completing tasks, I can woefully underestimate and overlook the unexpected when I’m trying to complete my own. I’m now more than two weeks past when I promised to post the third part of my four part essay Transforming American Newspapers. I didn’t expect the reaction the first two parts received.

I expected negative reactions and disputes from newspaper executives and media academics. The contretemps I received instead were requests from American and European journals to write derivatives of the essay. I’ve written those articles (choosing to write for those trade journals that would pay for the work), but doing so had consumed almost all my free time during the past two weeks, when at Syracuse University I’d simultaneously begun teaching my graduate school class in New Media Business for news organizations, a full-time job in itself.

So, please pardon my delay. Part Three of the essay is written (most of it was written a year ago) and I hope to post it midweek, once I have time to review and edit it one last time. Meanwhile, I has class lectures, slides, and presentations to prepare by Wednesday, and that paid academic work takes precedence over providing free consulting advice online.


Speaking of academia, I was writing categorically, not personally, when last month I wrote that:

“I went back to school approximately this time last year. I’d hoped that news media academics might have the answers. What I found was that…the academics don’t. In fact, most media academics are even further behind than the industry executives.”

I know dozen of media academics who are very savvy about the problems facing American daily newspapers. So if you’re an academic, you’re probably one of them. Don’t take my criticism of all academics personally.

My criticism of media academics distills to this: In the fields of engineering, medicine, law, science, and computer science, the academics conceive the new theories and solutions, which those industries follow and adopt. But in the field of media, it is the academics who follow the industry. At this time when the media industry is lost and desperately needs new theories and solutions, where is the media academy?


Did you know that one-third of all the journalists imprisoned worldwide are online journalists? Or that more online journalists are imprisoned than broadcast journalists? Those facts shouldn’t be surprising when you realize that objective journalists who live or report in repressive regimes cannot get broadcast licenses, so they report via online.

I’m formulating a graduate school course next Spring about Using New Media to Circumvent Censorship. I’m hoping to draw upon case studies and experiences from the Media Development Loan Fund, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans Frontières), the World Press Freedom Committee>/a>, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Albert Einstein Institute, and other organizations devoted to the free press in repressive regimes. If you happen to know of a case worth study, please let me know.


Entering an Apple Computers store to purchase a copy of Microsoft Office 2008 for one of my Macintoshes (I use both Macs and PCs), I was surprised to see there are still long lines to purchase iPhones. I wonder how they’ll feel later this year when the first of the gPhones appear in competing stores? The first ‘Google phones’ will be on sale as early as next month.

Transforming American Newspapers (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

Violating the Principle of Supply & Demand

If the major reason for the American daily newspaper industry’s demise were its stories contained too many dangling participles, then the industry could more easily comprehend its situation than instead hearing that the reason was it had violated the Principle of Supply & Demand.

The understanding of economics, particularly media economics, has never been its strong suit, except if the topic is how many tons of newsprint to buy, how many points a major stock market dropped, or how cut expenses to match revenues. Most newspaper publishers, editors, or journalists tends to equate economics as solely the science of government financial policy, household spending, Wall Street speculation, and petroleum pricing. They don’t understand or have forgotten that a major branch of it is the behavioral science of Microeconomics – the study of how individuals make decisions to allocate their time and activities.

The main paradigm of microeconomics is known as rational choice theory or rational action theory, which states that individuals choose the best action according to their preferences and what constraints of supply, demand, time, and access face them. In it now lays the demise of American daily newspapers as we know them.

How did the American daily newspaper industry violate the Principle of Supply & Demand by failing to adapt the industry’s core product to a radical change in consumers’ supply of news and information during the past 35 years? To understand how, both start and end at the roots of the newspaper industry.

Start in the European city of Strasbourg during 1605 when the world’s first newspaper began publication. It used a technology developed there 164 years earlier by the metalworker Johannes Gutenberg, who had invented a device for producing innumerable copies of the same text. (Please keep that concept in mind, because it’s now moldering the newspaper industry). The Supply & Demand equation for accessing daily changing information was then quite the opposite it is today: Consumers had little or no supply of daily news until the daily newspaper. So to produce newspapers, this adaption of Gutenberg’s book printing technology spread quickly worldwide.

Some modern critics of newspapers say the industry is leaden and ‘doesn’t think outside the box.’ They probably don’t realize the historical irony that underlay their criticisms. The core of Gutenberg’s technology was a box containing lead type whose impressions could print innumerable copies of the same thing. In that core is the inherent limitation that it produces the same edition for everyone. Although in the 19th Century steam and later electrical power speeded Gutenberg’s technology and the introduction of offset lithography during the middle of the 20th Century eliminated its use of lead, the analog technology used to produce today’s daily newspapers is still Gutenberg’s. Indeed, today’s analog printing technology still has the same limitation that it had in Gutenberg’s days – it produces the same edition for everyone.

That technological limitation delineated the newspaper industry’s editorial and advertising practices during the past four centuries. Because each edition had a finite number of pages and was printed by analog technology had to produce the same for everyone at once, newspaper editors had to select stories according to two criteria:

Continue reading Transforming American Newspapers (Part 2)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I’m back! I’d taken a year off for reflection.

After concluding that no daily newspaper executive in North America knows where their industry is headed, I went back to school approximately this time last year. I’d hoped that news media academics might have the answers. What I found was that, with the exception of some folks at the Media Management and Transformation Centre at Jönköping International Business School in Sweden, the academics don’t. In fact, most media academics are even further behind than the industry executives. (Except, of course, for academics who might be reading this.)

Meanwhile, the university to whose media school I was consulting, asked me to teach in its graduate school. I discovered that I like teaching, even thought I had to create the syllabus and course materials myself. During the Spring, I taught two classes: New Media Business (for news, advertising, and public relations practioners) and a Content Lab in experimental online media. During the Summer, I taught a post-graduate executive education course about Social Media for public relations practitioners. Starting Wednesday, I’ll again be teaching New Media Business to graduate students, plus some upperclassmen this time. (I’ve also agreed to teach a shorter version of this course at a foreign university during Summer 2009.) Nevertheless, my teaching schedule is now only one day per week (down from three in the Spring). So, I now again will have time to write and blog, in addition to consult and teach.

Yesterday, I posted the first part of an essay I actually wrote last year at this time (I did update its data). I’d withheld publishing it then because I wanted to what the academia knew. I now know that I could have published it last year.


Iif you are in the news business and have heard about Moore’s Law — the principle that approximately every two years the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles and the cost of that computer power halves — then it’s time you also knew its antithesis, what I call Zell’s Law:

Approximately every two years the staffing and budget levels halve and the difficulties of publishing daily a newspaper double.


My congratulations to three online news veterans who’ve new positions, Rob Curley, Chris Jennewein, and Jonathan Dube. Curley has been named president and executive editor and Jennewein named senior vice president and publisher of Greenspun Media Group’s interactive division in Las Vegas (where the Las Vegas Sun is Greenspun’s flagship publication).

Curley’s move to Las Vegas has been no secret, but news that Jennewein was joining him was made public this week. Curley had been vice president of product development at WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive, director of new media and development at the Naples (Fla.) Daily News, chief of Interactive operations at the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World and the Topeka (Kans.) Capital-Journal. Jenneweinwas vice president of Internet operations at The San Diego Union-Tribune and has had a long career in online news operations at Cox Newspapers and Knight Ridder, including as part of the team that put the world’s first newspaper onto the Web. I was amazed when earlier this year San Diego Union-Tribune Editor Karin Winner, not exactly a visionary, jettisoned Jennewein (and his interactive editor Ron James). I’m glad to see that he’s wound up somewhere better.

Jon Dube has been named Vice President of, where he worked before joining the CBC News (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) as director of digital media and before joining as a technology editor, senior producer, and managing producer. Dube is also president of the international Online News Association.

Congratulations to all three!


Editor & Publisher magazine reported yesterday that Nielsen figures indicate that the amount of time that the average user spend on nearly half of the Top 30 U.S. newspaper Web sites declined during July. What I find inexplicable about that isn’t the declines but that the E&P doesn’t mention that this is at least the fifth straight month those overall declines have occurred. None of E&P’s stories during each of the past many months has reported the trend (for example); each monthly story has been about the declines during just the previous month. Doesn’t E&P notice the trend? Are these stories’ omissions of the trend intentional or is their oversight just lousy journalism?

Transforming American Newspapers (Part 1)

Ignorance isn’t bliss to the dying. Witness the pathos of American daily newspaper companies. Most have finally begun to realize that the deterioration of their businesses isn’t cyclical but grave. Yet few, if any, understand why. Almost all grasp for the reasons.

Some attribute their grave condition to advertisers suddenly switching huge portions of spending from print to online – an excuse that ignores more than 30 years of declines in those newspapers’ printed editions’ circulations and readerships. Some others attribute their deterioration to not having transplanted their content into online quickly enough -an excuse that ignores not only the dozen years they’ve spent transplanting it but how their online editions are now read even less frequently and less thoroughly than their printed editions.

Most of the print newspaper experts who diagnose these companies’ condition still prescribe stale nostrums such as more consumer focus groups, subscription price incentives, more stylish typography, or shorter stories. Meanwhile, most of the experts who diagnose these companies’ Web sites prescribe balms and accessories such as giving blogs to reporters, adding video, or having the readers themselves report the stories. American daily newspaper companies have long been too financially impatient to submit themselves to anything but ostensibly quick cures and they’ve even longer been too conceptually myopic to perceive the real reasons for their declines.

I’ll declare the real reasons. There are but two and neither has anything to do with multimedia, ‘convergence’, blogs, ‘Web 2.0’, ‘citizen journalism,’ or any ancillary topics you may have heard presented at New Media conferences this millennium.

Nor is either of the real reasons advertisers’ abandonment of printed newspapers. Their abandonment is a symptom, not the reason for the decline. Contrary to myopia of many newspaper executives, advertisers aren’t newspapers’ primary customers. Although advertising revenues may be sunshine for newspaper executives, the roots of their business are readers. A newspaper with readers will attract advertisers but a newspaper without readers will not. Readers ultimately support and sustain the newspaper business.

To understand the real reasons why the American daily newspaper industry is dying, first understand why more and more Americans are no longer reading daily papers and how their abandonment of newspapers has been wrought by changes in their own media economics. Also comprehend why the epicenter of the newspaper industry’s problems in post-Industrial countries is America and exactly how grave the situation is there.

Continue reading Transforming American Newspapers (Part 1)