All posts by Vin Crosbie

Outernet

One of the most audacious New Media projects I’ve been involved with as a viability consultant is Outernet, my friend Syed Karim‘s project to bring free Internet access to more than four billion people. He plans to do this by piggybacking a fleet of mini-satellites onto commercial satellite launches. These mini-satellites, known as cubesats (each a 10 cm cube weighing no more than 1.33 kg), will provide Internet access (albeit mainly text access) to the majority of the world’s people, who don’t live in regions where Internet access is affordable or even receivable, which is a surprisingly large portion of the planet’s inhabited landmasses. Hundreds of cubesats have been launched for other non-profit purposes during the past 11 even years. Karim and his Outernet team have already raised the US$10 million necessary to build and launched their network of cubesats. CNN recently featured a story about him. Prior to his heading the Outernet project, I’ve known him as Director of Innovation at the Media Investment Loan Fund, a position he still holds. I’ve been an adviser to MDIF for the past seven years.

 Spain recently passed a law that would require online news abstractors and aggregaters, such as Google News, to pay royalties to Spain’s periodical publishers. It’s a bone-headed law, but not surprising that at least one developed country would pass such a law, pressured by the publishers’ lobbying. Those publishers haven’t adjusted to individuation of their contents – the fact that each person online wants to be able to search (or otherwise find or be delivered) only for the stories that match that person’s own unique mix of needs, interests, and tastes, and to be able to receive such stories from all vendors and publications without having to purchase all those publications. The news law is a desperation move at the behest of those publishers. Google announced that Google News will shutdown in Spain on Tuesday. Similar machinations have been underway in Germany. Subsequent stories about the Spanish law – as well as my own talks with Spanish friends (disclosure: my wife is a Spaniard) – indicate that the new law is immediately unpopular among Spain’s online consumers. Rumors have begun that AEDE (the Spanish daily newspaper publishers association) may be having second thoughts about the law. However, I should note that Google’s policies about recording its users actions have often, and probably still do, violate the European Union’s 1995 Consumer Data Privacy regulations, something that few American commentators deign to mention. I only regret that this particular case occurred three weeks too late for me to feature it in the the week’s class on Internet Law that I teach in my postgraduate New Media Business course at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. It’ll be part of the syllabus there next year.

Forget what’s being called Wearable Computing technologies.  The BBC this week reports from Sweden about Implantable Computing technologies.

 

 

 

 

Proximate Remarks & Ultimate Causations

Previous webpage: The Greatest Change in the History of Media

Let’s be frank about the media industries. Most of its executives don’t care a hoot about exactly what is causing the tumultuous changes in their business environment. What they want, almost regardless of the problems, are solutions that can propel their careers and businesses into profits. They’re like recreational surfers: they just want someone to tell them where the good waves are rather than them spending time learning ocean hydrodynamics. Indeed, if the majority of media executives care at all about what’s causing the gargantuan changes in their business environment, they’ll look at the proximate, not the ultimate, causes of those changes.

Yet champion surfers know to look beyond the proximate and understand the ultimate causes of waves. Although they know that finding great waves is the most practical and proximate of their needs, they can reliably find those waves only if they understand the ultimate causation. I’ll thus detail some webpages from here the proximate and practical causes of the gargantuan change underway in the media environment, but first let’s examine what ultimately are causing all of it to happen.

When differentiating between the proximate and ultimate, I ask my graduate students what caused the destruction during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or the 2010 Japanese tsunami. Most answer a great wave of water. That indeed is the proximate causation of the destruction. However, the ultimate causation was the undersea earthquake that causes the great wave.

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At various times in human history, scientific or technological breakthroughs have caused seismic changes in civilizations and humans’ lives. Discovery of how to make fire was the first. Discovery of agriculture was the second. A third discovery, metallurgy, immeasurably increased the power of humanity’s tools and weapons. The invention of writing allowed knowledge to be recorded beyond what could be passed down through oral history. The invention of the telescope 400 years ago led to knowledge that humanity isn’t the center of the universe, a discovery which had huge repercussions on religion, philosophy, and polity. In 1776, mechanical engineer James Watt’s invention of the motor fomented the Industrial Revolution, transforming civilization in ways still occurring. Most people today know that an invention several decades ago is now reshaping people’s lives, livelihoods, societies, politics, knowledge, and all else that preceded it. During the late 1950s, electrical engineers Jack Kilby and Philip Noyce invented the integrated circuit (commonly known now as the ‘semiconductor’ or ‘microchip’) upon which technology all of today’s computers and microelectronics is based.

Hardly anyone who works in media today doesn’t know that offices, homes, vehicles, phones, and myriad other devices and even appliances are being revolutionized or ‘disrupted’ by computerization. Many have notice or heard that these changes are accelerating. Some hope it will stop. Yet few truly understand that whatever they might have so far seen will pale by comparison to what are going to occur or just how quickly.

This chapter is a primer about that, aimed at people who work in the media industries. The chapter outlines the three dynamics whose combined effects are ‘disrupting’, revolutionizing, and transforming the media environment in ways that are only starting to show. It looks at each of those three ultimate causes of the changes underway and briefly examines the three causes’ combined effects.

The ultimate formulation is simple: the ever-accelerating interactions of Moore’s Law, Cooper’s Law, and Butters’ Law ultimately cause the gargantuan changes underway in the media environment. Moreover, changes in the media environment are merely side effects of those principles’ more comprehensive effects on the world.

Despite their nomenclature, Moore’s, Cooper’s, and Butters’ laws aren’t llegislations but principles based upon empirical observations about advanced technologies.  Moore’s Law concerns the advancements and expense of computer processing power; Cooper’s Law describes the advancements and capabilities of wireless communications; and Butter’s Law focuses on photonics, the communication of information through optical fiber cables.  These three principles are similar (indeed, the latter two were prompted by the first). The laws’ rippling interactions are transfiguring most of the world’s other industries, and even governments, societies, and civilization itself.

Next webpage: Moore’s Law Acting on Media

Index of the Rise of Individuated Media webpages

 © 2014

The First Innovative Thing I’ve Posted in Seven Years

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My reputation as a New Media consultant to the news industry, including my appointment since 2007 to teach postgraduate New Media Business at Syracuse’s Newhouse School, largely result from work I did long ago.

For ten years beginning in 1993, I helped guide the strategies of major news organizations’ websites and their other online services. But by the turn of the century I realized that those strategies (known as ‘convergence’, ‘analog-to-digital’, and ‘digital first’, etc.) would ultimately fail and those news organizations’ websites, as well as their traditional products, would unavoidably become irrelevant and unsustainable in the near future. I then spent seven years sounding probably like the prophet of doom to the traditional media industries in post-industrial countries. The doom I predicted has since become apparent.

Since 2007, I haven’t done any innovative work—except that which is done in a room filled with some of the best postgraduate students and doctoral candidates from America, Europe, and Asia, who study the media business. They’ve an advantage over the middle-aged white executives who run most traditional media companies; they’ve grown up online, know New Media as natives, and so aren’t mired in media theories, doctrines, and practices that might have been valid in the 1960’s or 1980’s or even early 1990’s, ideas and concepts that are already obsolete.

Good teaching is a continuous experiment.  Bad teachers teach the same way every semester; like bad actors, they perform by rote. By contrast, good teachers use their classrooms not only to teach established concepts, but to teach themselves when and how established concepts have changed and are no longer relevant or true. In other words, the classroom is where good teachers refine their own understandings of what to teach. If a teacher’s own understanding of what he teaches doesn’t withstand the questionings and skepticism of hundred postgraduate students and doctoral candidates, then his understanding is merely an illusion.

I’ve been luckier than that. The academic freedom to teach what I think is true, no matter how unwanted those truths may be among hidebound executives or how heretical the truths are to traditional media academics, has been a godsend to my thinking. The easiest environment in which to shuck the encrusted dogma of 20th Century media thinking is to be surrounded at any time by dozens of smart young scholars who owe nothing to such dogma except that after their graduations they as media executives will inter it once and for all.

Ten years ago, after realizing that traditional media industries’ strategies of ‘convergence’, ‘analog-to-digital’, and ‘digital first’ will ineluctably fail and will never generate enough revenues to compensate for the revenue declines from the evaporation of those industries’ traditional products (printed periodicals, over-the-air and cable broadcasts, etc.), I turned my attention and that of my students to solving the problem of why. Why won’t ‘convergence’, ‘analog-to-digital’, and ‘digital first’ ever generate enough revenues to compensate for the revenue declines from the evaporation of media industries’ traditional products? Why are indeed those industries’ traditional products evaporating? The solution necessarily involves both questions.

My purpose in asking isn’t to save those industries’ traditional products or websites, but to establish what those industries should have done instead and what the successful new media of the 21st Century will do or are doing now. It’s now too late for most of those industries in the post-industrial countries, but there may still be time for media companies in developing or industrial countries to learn and adapt.

This then is a hyperlink to the first innovative work I’ve posted in nearly a decade, the result of my work with students at Syracuse’s Newhouse School, at South Africa’s Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership, and at several other institutes where I’ve taught or co-taught seminars. It encompasses my thinking about media for the 21st Century.

It starts by examining the misguided beliefs by most media executives and most media academicians today that the greatest change underway in the media environment is simply that consumers have changed their consumption habits from ‘analog’ to ‘digital’ or have mere become ‘wired’ or ‘hooked up’ to electronic devices; that websites or streaming media are electronic multimedia (‘converged’) versions of printed periodicals or broadcasts; and that the future of Mass Media domination will be in online and mobile platforms.

It then describes what is obvious about the changes actually underway in the media environment, which are far different than what the executives and academicians who are trained in the theories, doctrines, and practices of Industrial Era media, namely Mass Media, hope. It categorically states how and why Mass Media are artifacts of that waning era and already are no longer the predominant ways in which most the world’s people now obtain news and information and soon entertainment.  It is about Individuated Media, the new media engendered by the Informational Era, which we can see across the panorama of the media environment once we remove the blinders of Mass Media theory.

I had planned to publish this work online early in 2015, after my classes this semester end.  When seven years ago I’d conceived the core of this work and established its syllabus, I had hoped that what it states would now be obvious. It’s indeed obvious now not only to my students but to those of other media schools who I’ve queried. Nevertheless, dust and debris from the collapse of traditional Mass Media still obscures the sight of far too many media company executives and academicians who, trained in Mass Media, attempt to sustain those Industrial Era forms of media. So, even though I’m still writing the final sections of this work from drafts, I’m going to begin publishing it online now, in hope of guide some of their ways.

I call it The Rise of Individuated Media. Thirty short (three to eight typewritten pages) chapters of this work are now online (starting with a version of this posting). A further 40 are in final draft stages and will go online at a pace of one chapter every two or three days (an easy pace for me to post.) I welcome comments or corrections to this work. Because an aggregate of its many chapters is hard to read solely online, an electronic book version of the whole will in follow sometime in January.

Those chapters already online deal with:

  • Identifying what is the greatest change underway. The answer isn’t consumers switching their media consumption from ‘analog’ to ‘digital’. Or ‘multimedia’ or media industry ‘convergence’. Or ‘smartphones’, tablet computers, or even the Internet.
  • Focusing on what are the ultimate, not proximate, causes of all the changes underway. Knowing what ultimately causes the changes allows a person to identify and rather accurately predict what and how fast future changes will be, an invaluable skill for anyone formulating media company strategies or designing media products and services.
  • Seeing the complete spectrum of changes underway and not being blinded by just those glaringly obvious. There is an ideal ‘prism’ through which to view the entire spectrum. And in this work I divide the spectrum of change into three ‘color’ categories, each of which has its own hues:
    • The ‘greens’ which affect how people gravitate towards and around media contents.
    • The ‘reds’ which affect how media contents are transacted (and even when no monies are exchanged).
    • The ‘blues’ which affect how the very definitions of media contents, as well as production and delivery of those contents, have changed.
  • Why and when traditional Mass Media companies failed to foresee the real changes underway. And what the few traditional media companies that do survive will need to do to adapt, which also means what ‘pure-play’ media start-up companies in the 21st Century should already be doing.

Media academies that have excelled at Mass Media have been flummoxed by the changes underway, few of which conform to their theories and doctrines. These academies have reacted in either or both of two ways. They’ve created institutes or centers of ‘innovation’ in which Mass Media practices are simply continued in whatever is the latest devices. Or else they’ve created ‘entrepreneurial’ programs that involve students learning how to operate without corporate support or to start-up their own corporations.

However, true innovation isn’t the usage of new devices or new technologies, but how theories and doctrines change due to new technologies and new devices; it is the difference between carpentry and architecture. Moreover, planting entrepreneurial seeds in hopes that some might bloom is hardly a sound practice of agriculture.  As the innovative genius Nikolai Tesla said about his fellow inventor Thomas Edison, “I was almost a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.” I herein offer a bit of theory about the New Media.

Digital Deliverance on 27 October 2014

Today is Digital Deliverance Managing Partner Vin Crosbie‘s 59th birthday, which means the start of his 60th year (which he will complete a year from today).

What happens when applied Social Media conflicts with existing laws? This month, the New York State attorney general claimed that most Airbnb listings in the city violate zoning and other laws. Earlier this year, officials in California and Pennsylvania claimed that car services like Uber and Lyft might be unlawful. The New York Times took a look. We will be looking at those three examples when next month we teach a class about where the Internet and laws conflict, in Syracuse University’s New Media Business post-graduate course.

 We’re sorry to hear a seminar being taught in St. Petersburg, Russia, by my friend Randy Covington, the director of the World Association of Newspapers-IFRA’s Newsplex Training Centre at the University of South Carolina , by Joe Bergantino, the executive director of the New England Center for Center for Investigative Reporting, was disrupted by Russian government agents earlier this month. Bergantino and Covington had recently presented the same seminar in Moscow and had, in Bergantino’s taught similar seminars “in China, Serbia, Vietnam, and other countries without interruption by government agents.” Covington and Bergantino were taken to government offices for several hours; presented to a judge; and found guilty, despite their not having had a chance to present a defense, of violating Russian immigration laws; and were the subjects of a Russian television news story. Covington and Bergantino were then released. We know from a variety of our clients that the Russian government, whose President Vladimir Putin only a few years ago was the keynote speaker when the World Association of Newspapers held its annual conference in Moscow, during the past two years has been clamping down on all foreign Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), notably those who teach or fund independent journalism.

Every forget which wing of the cavernous shopping mall you are in? South Korea’s Electronics and Telecommunciations Research Institute has announced development of an indoor equivalent of a Global Positioning’ System accurate to within five meters (16 feet). Or make that within one clothing rack.

 Jaldeep Katwala at Media Helping Media has some excellent advice for journalists conducting interviews.

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Purchase a Brick for Malaysiakini

In 2004, the offices the Malaysian investigative news website Malaysiakini rented in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Bangsar Utama were raided by police. That spooked the building’s landlord, who evicted the 14 year-old Malaysiakini. The site’s journalists briefly worked from a nearby fast-food restaurant that had a WiFi connection.

Malaysiakini has finally found a permanent home, purchasing an industrial building that will serve as its new office beginning next year.

Malaysiakini aims to make a sizable portion of @Kini open to the public.

“To grow, Malaysiakini needs a stronger foundation. Like a tree, this new building will help Malaysiakini plant deeper roots so it can be more stable as we seek to reach greater heights,” according to Malaysiakini CEO Premesh Chandran.

The building – to be known as @Kini – will provide room for Malaysiakinito expand in the coming years, with ample workspace, meetings areas, training rooms and video studios. NONE

“It will offer better facilities forMalaysiakini‘s hard-working team – the true heroes who help deliver the news and views that matter,” said editor-in-chief Steven Gan.

“We envision regular forums, dialogues and movie screening to encourage public participation on burning issues. By opening our doors, we believe we can build something great – together,” said Premesh.

The building (right) will also have the country’s first live webcasting centre, where public forums and discussions can be held with audience participation, both at the venue and over the Internet.

KiniTV, the Internet TV arm of Malaysiakini, will be constructing a multi-purpose studio that uses the same broadcasting system of the “American Idol” shows. It will be implementing the “Open Studio” concept by welcoming civil society groups and people’s organisations to broadcast their programmes, as well as providing new media training.

@Kini was purchased at the price of RM6.1 million. Inclusive of renovations, duties and fees, the total cost is estimated to be around RM7 million (USD2.2 million). Malaysiakini plans to pay RM1 million in cash upfront and seek RM3 million in bank financing.

To alleviate the burden, Malaysiakini is looking to its supporters to raise RM3 million in the next two months through its “Buy a brick” campaign.

Contributions of any amount are welcome but every supporter who contributes RM1,000 (USD313) will get RM1,000 worth of subscription and advertising on Malaysiakini, as well as a brick with his or her name etched on it.

These bricks will be used to build an “appreciation” wall that will become a permanent feature in Malaysiakini‘s new building.

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Malaysiakini targets to get 1,000 people for the RM1,000 bricks. It is also looking for corporate sponsors of either RM25,000 or RM50,000. They too will get prominent recognition in the building as well as an equal amount of advertising space onMalaysiakini in return.

“It’s a great way for individuals and corporations to show their support for independent media,” said Premesh.

The “Buy a brick” campaign kicked off with RM42,000 (USD13,130) already raised among Malaysiakini staff and their friends.

For more information on the building and how to supportMalaysiakini, please visit building.malaysiakini.com.

The World’s Longest-Published Newspaper Successfully Transitions off Print

A Lloyd’s List edition from 1826.

The world’s longest-published newspaper will become a non-printed, totally online service nine weeks from now. On 20 December, Lloyd’s List, which has been continuously published since 1734, will no longer be available in print. It’s online edition for the Web have has been published for more than ten years and its edition for mobile phones has been published for several years.

Lloyd’s List, published by the  is considered by many experts to be one of the earliest English-language newspaper. Although it is primarily a shipping industry daily trade journal, that’s what the earliest English-language newspapers were: editions that not only published news of which ships were leaving or arriving port but what events were occurring in distant or foreign ports that might affect commerce. It was published weekly by by Edward Lloyd, the proprietor of Lloyd’s Coffee House in the City of London, who founded the insurance brokerage market named for him.

Now, 279 years later, the staff of Lloyd’s List has found that only two percent of the newspaper’s readers read the edition in print.

“The decision follows many years of customer research and preparation and is – first and foremost – designed to ensure that the service continues to evolve with customer demand. This is move supported by the overwhelming majority of our customers. Less than 2% of our readers currently use print-only and no other means to access Lloyd’s List. We have already undertaken years of investment in our digital and mobile platforms, but the move away from print will allow us more time and resource to build on that with innovative approaches to data and a more bespoke service that offers content tailored to individual customer needs,” said Editor Richard Meade.

We think the significance of Lloyd’s List ceasing print is that the world’s longest-published newspaper is among the world’s first successfully to no longer need to print.

 

Journalism Schools’ Myopia When ‘Testing’ Google Glasses

Google Glasses
Google Glasses

How will journalists could use Google Glasses ? It’s the wrong question.

The right question for journalists to ask is how and why will people who consume media use Google Glasses (or similarly wearable optic interfaces)?

Whenever I encounter media professors or media researchers testing how journalists could use Google Glasses, I ask them this simple question: what proportion of Google Goggles users will be consumer and what proportion will be journalists? My guess is the ratio 20,000 to one. Thus, which of the following two topics is more important for journalism schools to research:

  • How will and why people use Google Goggles to consume news, entertainment, and information?
  • How will and why journalists use Google Goggles to produce news?

The first question is clearly more important than the latter.

Journalists, particularly when they have a new toy, too often ‘put the cart in front of the horse’. When examining a new device or a new process, they think, ‘How can I use this to do what I do?’ rather than asking ,”How will people want to use this?” Imagine a chef who sees a new kitchen appliance and thinks, “Is there any way I can use this new device to make Chicken Marengo?” when his restaurant’s customers might instead be hungry for something other than that dish. Any industry that continues producing what it wants to produce when instead that product is not what people want or how people want to use that product, will fail. Ask the tens of thousands of newspaper reporters in the U.S. who’ve become unemployed during the past seven years before they and their bosses lost touch with what people want from them.

When journalism schools study what impact Google Glasses might have on their profession, the schools need to focus on: which topics, types, and modes of news will people want to consume while wearing such devices?

There are at least five possible topics of study about Google Glasses, and three of those also are what schools also need to study about the effects smartphones will have journalism:

1. Geolocation – What topics, types, and modes of news will people want to consume based upon their exact location as they roam?
2. Recognition – What topics, types, and modes of news will people want to consume based upon what they see as they roam?
3. Augmented-Reality – How best to provide, display, and explain news visually so that it overlays what they see?

Google Glasses add at least two more topics journalism schools need to study:

4. Hands-Free ContextWhat multimedia interfaces can be used so that people can interact hands-free with news provided in Augmented-Reality? (Unlike smartphones with touchpad interfaces, Google Glasses rely largely upon voice commands and simple scrolling motions; all of which somewhat restrict, compared to other computerized devices, how people interact with the device.)
5. Kinesthetic Context – Because Google Glasses are literally looking at whatever the wearer is looking at that moment (unlike a Smartphone or camera, which must be aimed), an unwavering gaze, how should the topics, types, mode, and displays of news or other information be automatically changed according to not only where the wearer is but what the wearing is doing? For example, a stationary person might want different news than someone who is moving at 30 kilometers per hour through the same spot and different than someone who is moving 150 kilometers per hour though that spot. Detailed texts might be fine for a stationary person, but not someone biking or driving past.

Google Goggles were invented as ways for people to access access information in the context of their lives, not the journalists’ lives.

Unfortunately, most of the research being done about Google Glasses in journalism school focuses on how journalists might use these devices for recording audio or video (most specifically, reporter’s point-of-view videos). Much of that research is well-meant but misguided. By almost all standards, Google Glasses are inferior to hand-held video cameras or even clip-on video recording devices. No surprises there. So, why research how to use an inferior device just because among the many things it can do is reproduce badly the capabilities of better usable devices?. The five research topics I’ve mentioned are more pertinent.

Google Glasses are novel to use, but many journalism schools are using the devices merely as new toys in the labs or excuses for ‘research’ which will likely be inconsequential. Journalism professors and instructors should remove their prototypes these spectacles and directly eyeball how consumers will use the devices. The answers to that are key.

The Epochal Change That The Rise of Social Media Demarcates

Whenever anyone from the traditional media industries writes, blogs, or tweets about Social Media, they miss the point. I find this so exasperating that I want to stab them with the point. Here is my thrust:

When newspaper, magazine, radio, and television folks write or speak about Social Media, they consider Social Media as sideshows or separate from traditional media. They liken Social Media to bulletin boards, chat rooms, or online forums purely for social interactions (hence the name they’ve given it). This misconception is prevalent even in academia. The media school where I teach has created a new position, professor of Social Media, as if Social Media are separate from traditional media.

What they all don’t understand is that Social Media are not separate from Traditional Media. Social Media are the successors to Traditional Media.

The difference between Traditional and Social Media is that the tide has turned. People will no longer go to media sites to find what interests them; they now want what interests them to be delivered to their site. A person’s Social Media page is the edition he will read, the channel he will watch. He will no longer consume traditional media editions or traditional media channels.

For centuries, if a person wanted news, information, or entertainment, the person had to go to the sites of traditional media and hunt & gather there for what might interest him.

  • Beginning in the 1600s, if he wanted news, he had to go read a newspaper posted on or near the public notices board of his town square or buy a copy of that newspaper or, at best, go pay to have that entire newspaper delivered to him. Only a handful of the many stories published in that newspaper edition might truly interest him, but he would nevertheless have to go through the entire edition just to find the few stories which might truly interest him. And starting in the 1700s, he could add magazines to that chore.
  • Starting in the early 20th century, he could receive radio and later television, both of which were automatically delivered to him if he had receivers. Nevertheless, he would wait during the entire programming schedule for the few programs that might truly interest him.
  • And beginning in 1991 (actually 1996 with traditional media), he could go to the web sites of those newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations or networks, where among all the packages of printed stories and broadcast program schedules he might find the few stories or programs that truly interested him.

Thus for centuries people had to go to and through traditional media’s editions and program schedules, and hunt and gather among all the stories and programs for the specific stories and programs matched the person’s individual’s interests. That era is ending.

The rise of Social Media demarcates an epochal reversal in the flow between people and news, entertainment, and information.

The people now want whatever news, entertainment, and information individually interests them to come to their own personal site (i.e., their microsite on Facebook, MySpace, Tencent, Twitter, Qzone, etc.) Less and less will people visit traditional media sites where they must hunt and gather for the stories or programs that interest them. They instead want those individually categorized things delivered automatically to them into their Social Media pages or future equivalents (their Daily Me‘s?)

Rather than hunt and gather, people want to cultivate. They no longer want to go and find at media sites. They now expect the media to come deliver at their sites. It’s an historic change in how they acquire news, information, and entertainment. Indeed, an epochal tidal change: No longer will the people flow to media sites, they now want individually relevant parts of those media sites to flow to them.

This change is one of many ramifications from people’s access and supply of news, entertainment, and information changing from relative scarcity to surplus.

When the supply of something changes from scarcity to surplus, the buyers gain more power than the sellers.  For centuries (no, millennia!), people had scarce access to news, entertainment, and information, so publishers and later broadcasters had the power to compel the people to visit media companies’ sites. Rather than supply each person individually, according to that individual unique interests, publishers and broadcasters were able to insist that the people be a mass and consume aggregated packages, even if not everything in an aggregated edition or channel or program schedule would satisfy each person.

Yet now that people have surplus supply and access to news, entertainment, and information, the people have the power and no longer have to consume aggregated editions, channels, or program schedules. They no longer have to consume as a mass. Each person can compel publishers and broadcasters to deliver only the stories and programs that interest them, regardless of what else might have been in the traditional editions, channels, program schedules, or web sites.

Media sites will still exist, though primarily as repositories of content, and some people will still visit those sites. Yet the vast majority of people will expect the elements they want from those repositories to go to them

Media companies need to learn that the stories in their traditional editions or the programs in their own traditional program schedules are now more valuable separately than as produced as editions or program schedules. Stop concentrating on the producing and selling the editions or the programming lineup schedules. Concentrate instead on producing, syndicating, and selling each individual stories and individual program. Go with the flow. The tide has changed.

Citizen Journalism Absent in the Arab Press

My thanks to Dr. Khalid Mohammed Ghazi, editor of the Cairo-based Arab Press Agency, for citing some of my work in his editorial, صحافة المواطن.. غائبة عن الصحافة العربية (Citizen Journalism…Absent from the Arab Press), published on Wednesday in, among other newspapers, Al Shabiba of Oman. [Click the English title of his essay to read a Google machine translation of the Arabic original].

As Dr. Ghazi writes, Citizen Journalism is hugely missing from the Arabic speaking world! He notes Al Jazzera’s efforts to introduce it, using online and cable television broadcasts (the latter similar to CNN’s i-Report project), but that Arabic printed media lags far behind, even in Arabic countries where government regulation of media isn’t that big a problem. He writes:

“We believe that citizen journalism may have added a new dimension to the news process, allowing the average citizen a sense of the journalist and the curiosity and motivation to become a participant and an architect and not just the quest for truth only; but that citizen journalism in the world still faces some criticism in relation to the accuracy of news put forward through it.”

Arabic is the first language of nearly a quarter billion people and the official language of 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Perhaps one reason for the low adoption of citizen journalism there is that Internet penetration is still relatively low, estimated at 29% (3.3% of the world’s Internet users). However, those percentages should rise this decade, and I hope that citizen journalism will become a staple of many Arabic countries’ media.

Why Americans Who Don’t Use The Internet Don’t Use It

What am I supposed to do with an ethernet cable this short?
(Photo by Hyku / Josh Hallet, Flickr.com)

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project just released an interesting report about, among other things,

The report, Home Broadband 2010, is nominally about how broadband adoption in the U.S. has slowed dramatically and if Americans think that affordable broadband should be a major U.S. government priority.

However, the survey results from the 21 percent of Americans who don’t use is the Internet is illuminating:

  • Approximately half of them don’t find online content relevant to their lives, so they do not go online.
  • Most aren’t interested in going online. Only one in ten say would like to start using the internet in the future.
  • Most aren’t comfortable using computers or the internet. Six in ten say they would need assistance getting. Only one in five know enough to start using the internet on their own.
  • Non-users of the Internet are actually less likely to use it if the government placed a high priority on the spread of broadband connections.

I won’t go into too many details here because you should go the Pew website and download the report (PDF).

Overall, broadband adoption has slowed dramatically in the U.S., except for  growth among African-Americans, which was especially high last year.

Savvy Articles About Change or Its Lack in News Media

On July 31st here, I wrote about the need for Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication to produce more practical research to help media industries faced with radical changes and two days ago I reported about commentary my call produced. For reasons I mentioned on the 31st, I didn’t attend the AEJMC annual conference this year, instead following it last week via Twitter (unfortunately, AEJMC doesn’t webcast).

From what I understand from the tweets, the AEJMC conference didn’t produce any fruitful focus on research that might help the industries survive. Some academics respond that research about how to train journalists to write well and report objectively certainly helps those industries. That’s true, but I worry about if there will viable media industries and jobs for those well trained journalists unless those industries can reverse their declines. It’s fine to produce a fine tool, but it’s worthless unless anybody use it.

Nevertheless, from the tweets I saw, there was indeed a sea change at AEJMC this year–the growing primacy of New Media as people’s way to access news and information.  My Newhouse School colleague, Associate Dean Hub Brown described it well.

I’m glad academia is noticing a change that’s been underway for at least half a decade, when the majority of homes in post-industrial countries began using broadband Internet. A world way from AEJMC, Sky News and others in Australia are reporting that the board of directors at Fairfax Media, has ordered a strategic review of the company’s structure and management and a much more aggressive approach to the Internet side of its business because investors have criticized Fairfax’s Internet strategy. There is now talk of building website paywalls, combining print and online managements, and even ceasing to print and going fully digital. Fairfax publishes  The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial Review, and other newspaper in Australia and in New Zealand it publishes The Dominion Post, The Press, The Sunday Star-Times, and other newspapers.

Last week, Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia, founder of TACODA and Real Media, and the former general counsel and director of New Media ventures at the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association warned that

I know the last thing that local media companies need is another Web-driven disruption in their markets, particularly one that could take a big chunk out of their revenues in the next few years. If local newspaper, yellow pages, radio or local TV companies thought that Google, Yahoo, eBay and craigslist were disruptive, they are now going to face down a competitor that will have an even bigger impact on their businesses than any one of those companies did.

I believe that location-based Web services will take 20% to 25% of the annual revenue out of local media’s current advertising base within four years. Yes, 20% to-25% of their revenue base will be lost by 2014. That spend will be displaced by promotion and marketing fees paid to these new location-based services or applications that run on top of them. To the incumbent companies, these new services will be like craigslist on steroids.

I think he’s right. Read the rest of his warning at MediaPost.

Another savvy article that cuts right through the fog is Robert Niles recent article, The only metric that matters, published in Online Journalism Review:

In the nearly 15 years that I’ve been working online, I’ve watched the most popular metric among Web publishers change from “hits,” to “page views,” to “unique visitors” to “time on site.”

But none of those metrics really matter. I’ve seen sites post phenomenal numbers for each of those categories, and fail. There’s one metric, and only one, that truly matters in determining your websites’s commercial success.

Revenue.

Your visitors can spend hours per month on your website, but a huge “time on site” value by itself won’t entitle you to a dime (see Twitter). I suspect that one reason why various Web metrics fall into and out of favor over the years is that managers talk up or down those metrics based on their website’s individual performance. Someone notices that people are spending more time, on average, on the website, then he or she gets on a panel at a news industry conference and – boom – “time on site” becomes the metric everyone needs to consider.

Like Robert, I’ve seen publishers chase ‘hits’, ‘page views’, ‘unique users’, ‘time on site’, and now ‘engagement’ as false metrics of success. None of those mean a damn unless the content is generating enough revenue to sustain the operation.

A third smart article is Can publishers learn from failure or should we just set the bar lower? written by Kylie Davis, the chief of staff for the Sun-Herald in Sydney, as well as an undergraduate in the Australian Graduate School of Management masters of business administration program at the University of New South Wales.

There is a lot of talk about how newspaper companies are slow to embrace change, that we are laggards when it comes to adopting to new business opportunities and suffer as a result.

But new research from the Australian School of Business takes it one step further, claiming that organisations will often embrace failure and rationalise it into success as a coping mechanism that justifies their behaviour.

Is this what newspapers have been doing?

Ms. Davis has been looking at a study by her university’s Gavin M. Schwarz entitled, the Logic of Deliberate Structural Inertia or, as its the online summary titles it, “Organisational Failure: How Lousy Results Become Optimal Outcomes”. She says that “some businesses suffer from ‘deliberate structural inertia’ where organisations prefer not to change their tried-and-true methods.”

Newspaper companies are full of enthusiastic proponents of new technology — staff who are hungry to embrace the new digital world and work on strategies to bring the dollars in and delight our readers and advertisers and who can see it’s potential. But the word from the top is to “wait”.

The research says “people are limited in their capacity to process information. Consequently they adopt spontaneous strategies to simplify complex problems and this allows failure to be rationally defended.”

Too many newspaper companies have done this over the past 10 years, claiming that the changes in mobile phone and online readers were niches that would never take off enough to justify us altering what and how we deliver content. They’ve preferred to wait until nimbler competitors proved that there really was a market there — and by the time we’ve tried to enter, the horse has bolted.

Savvy stuff for anyone trying to understand the failure to adapt by post-industrial countries’ daily newspaper industries. Whenever I hear a newspaper editor says, ‘Because other media can provide news to people more immediately than we can in print, newspapers’ future will be as a provider of analysis about the news rather than the news itself,’ I see someone who is redefining failure as success. There is no reason why newspapers online cannot provide news as immediately to people as other media can. But not if the editor is going to resist changing his traditional practices.

Ms. Davis article is freely available at the International News Marketing Association’s website.

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, TheStreet.com, Bloomberg.com, Reuters.com, 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.

OECDnewspapers
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.

The Greatest Change in Media Made Newspapers Obsolete

I’ve overwhelmingly tempted to quote words written for the Michael Corleone character by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola in their 1990 movie and novel The Godfather III:

“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”

Except that I’m no gangster, and I’ve somehow always expected to get back into blogging.

During 2008, however, I’d come to the conclusion that my time spent blogging, twittering, or interacting in other casual and small ways with people online was counterproductive to solving the serious and huge problems nowadays facing the news industries — the focus of my professional consulting and teaching work.  I reasoned that, like anyone else, my waking hours each day are limited, so blogging or twittering about la question de jour, and responding to blog comments, and getting involved in the casually chattering echosphere that much of Social Media has become, erodes my time to work on full solutions to the huge problems.

Many aficianados of blogging and twitter will assert that those practices are, are becoming, or will be, integral to solving the world’s great problems. Ask why, and most of those aficionados will be at a loss to tell you (except that it must be true because they do it?) More probative digerati will raise the premise of the Wisdom of Crowds. I’ve other friends who think that  major problems can be solved through Samoan Circles and other novel or New Age means. I understand all the threads of promise in those premises, but I think that in everyday practice they tend to unweave and distract more than they sew.

Whether online or in person, if people from the problemmed industry assemble and talk, they’ll almost certainly progress no further than the latent conventional wisdoms that led and keep their industry in the problems. I teach my university students that the Wisdom of Crowds can help reveal truth but it can just as easy sustain falsity ((go ask the bloggers who still maintain that Elvis lives, that extraterrestials live among us, or that Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq had something to do with the September 11 Attacks). The ball & chain of Groupthink is just as prevalent, if not more, in Samoan Circle exercises than in corporate boardrooms. History clearly shows that breakthrough solutions arise from one or— at most— a remarkably small number of people who aren’t in power delving very deeply into the problems, rather than any large groups of people throwing ideas onto their chalkboards and seeing which proposed solutions might stick (hint: what sticks most often isn’t a solution) or any assemblies of the people under whose managements the problems occurred.

What block formulation of solutions at industry and academic conferences, Samoan Circle exercises, and on most of the blogosphere and twittersphere, are latent conventional wisdoms. Conventional wisdoms are generally defined as concepts and ideas that are generally accepted as true by the public or by experts in a field. Conventional wisdoms are difficult enough obstacles to overcome, but even more intransigent are latent conventional wisdoms — concepts and ideas to which people don’t realize they adhere. (For example, ‘Newspapers aren’t working in print, so how can we create newspapers online?’ in which the concept that the package of information known as a newspaper must be transplanted and maintained is the latent convention wisdom. Likewise, many newspaper journalists fear that the demise of newspapers may mean the end of journalism. Their latent conventional wisdom is that newspapers — journalistic vehicles that have evolved over centuries — are the best of any possibly means for journalism.)  The solutions to any serious, huge problem requires thorough analyses that delve to any root of the problem and doesn’t become seduced by either la question du jour or latent conventional wisdoms.

Moreover, most of my waking hours nowadays are devoted to teaching. I believe that I can have more affect solving the news media industry’s problems if I teach tomorrow’s leaders, rather than spend time casually blogging, tweeting, and otherwise interacting with the industry’s current leaders (very many of who are contributors to the problems). Call me cynical but, based on my experiences, I place more hope in the future than the present. Provided that tomorrow’s leaders aren’t taught today’s leaders’ latent conventional wisdoms, hope abounds.

Thus in 2008 I largely quit blogging. (I say largely because I’d occasionally post something about the death of colleagues, or twice a year post the syllabi for the university courses that I teach, so that professors at other universities can see those.) Indeed, I stopped blogging despite having posted the first parts of a series of essays in which I proposed the real root of the problems in the newspaper industry and was about to propose the solutions.

Because the newspaper industry’s huge problems require full explanations and detailed solutions, I refrained from blogging but continued writing towards the solutions. I intended to refrain from publishing until I was finished in full and detail. At nearly 20,000 words, in several sections, my work isn’t yet finished. I hope it will be this summer (Northern Hemisphere). I plan to publish it not in the form of a printed book but as either its own Web site or the major part of this site.

Yet I now realize that though my premise that blogging, twittering, and otherwise engaging in small interactions are huge distractions from solving huge problems is correct, my avoiding those small interactions helps only to make those problems worse, if even in small ways. There are things from my unfinished writing that I should be contributing to my industry’s discussions, even if my contributions are only in the forms of blog posts, short essays, or tweets. I should be contribute to prevent, wherever possible, my industry’s errors or drift.

Hence, I resume.

My unfinished writings focus on the one root cause of the media industries problems nowadays and how that root cause also contains the materials from which comprehensive solutions can be constructed.  My larger work will detail that root cause, but my semimonthly Digital Publishing column at ClickZ.com on Friday briefly described it (I’d initially titled the column, The Greatest Change Made Newspapers Obsolete, but this root cause affects all media industries).

That ClickZ column begins:

Ask most people who think of themselves as new media experts what the greatest change in the media has been in the past 35 years, and you’ll hear such answers as ‘the Internet,’ ‘social media,’ ‘search engines,’ or ‘iPhones.’

They’re wrong.

The greatest change has been that people’s access to media has changed from scarcity to surfeit. It’s an even bigger change than Gutenberg’s invention of a practical printing press, the invention of writing, or even the first Neolithic cave paintings. It’s the greatest change in all of media history. And it occurred in only 35 years — half a human lifespan.

This unprecedented change (in effect, a reversal) in the balance of Supply & Demand for information is totally reshaping the media environment.  It’s why so many major daily newspapers in post-industrial countries are going out-of-business; why listenership and viewership of general-interest broadcast stations are eroding and their network affiliation structures are beginning to implode; why the numbers of sales of musical albums and of tickets at cinemas are declining; and why consumers, rather than publishers and broadcasters, are not only taking control of media but redefining how prices are set, what local and community mean, how news is packaged, and how advertising will be done.

None of that should create problems for industries that want to adapt to this change, and adapting to the change creates more efficient media for consumers and publishers and broadcasters and marketers. The problems arise because most components of the media industries don’t want to adapt. They don’t want to adapt because doing so requires systemic changes, rather than cosmetic changes (such as ‘convergence’ or repurposing of existing content), and also because these industries’ senior executives are either too myopic to see the change reshaping the media environment or else too fearful that their stockholders will begin to realize it was obviously these same senior executives’ lacks of foresight that led their companies into the problems (or, as Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”)

If the unprecedented change in the balance of Supply & Demand for information — from scarce supply to surfeit supply or even information overload — is the root cause of the problems that media industries now face, how does the root cause contain materials from which comprehensive solutions can be constructed?

The solutions lay in understanding how this change affects pricing, packaging, the power balance between content providers and consumers, and even subjects such as what is local or what is community.

For examples, anyone who’s ever shopped in a bazaar, a flea market, or a souk knows how Supply & Demand affects power balancepricing and packaging. When something is scarce but in demand, its seller has more power over the transaction than the buyer does. The seller controls the price and packaging (‘If you want that, you also have to accept this,’ etc.) of the transaction. But when something is in demand but is surplus, then the buyer has more power over the transaction than the seller does. The buyer controls the price and packaging. All this about Supply & Demand is just as true in the media industries’ markets as in souks, flea markets, and bazaars. Few executives in the media industries understand this. They fail to understand why consumers who online nowadays have access to the contents of every news organization in the world won’t pay for the package of information (much of which is international and national news) that those same consumers would pay in the past when its printed version was their only available source of that content.

Moreover, very few media executives understand how Supply & Demand affects the definition of local news. When daily changing information in text format was scarce, the sellers of that information — newspaper publishers and their editors — controlled how local was defined. For the convenience of their businesses and practices, they defined local to mean their town or city or metropolitan  or some similar single geo-demographic area. However, nowadays as consumers have gotten access to more sources of information — including local news via local bloggers and local news operations that are being started in those localities — the definition of local is beginning to shift out of the publishers’ and his editors’ hands and more into the hands of the consumers. (Control hasn’t passed the fulcrum point into primarily the consumers’ control, but it is becoming shared control rather than be unilaterally controlled by the publishers and editors.) Consumers have begun redefining local to mean something much more local than how the publishers and their editors defined the term. Consumers are refining local to mean something that those publishers and editors could understand by the terms hyperlocal or microlocal news.

I’ve compared usage logs from news sites that offer local news offered according to the publishers’ and editors’ definition and that being offered by hyperlocal/microlocal sites. The latter are much more popular among consumers than the wider geo-demographic definitions that the publishers and their editors had used. And why not? What occurs closest (i.e, on their street, in their neighborhood, along their commute)  to consumers’ life  is what interests them the most.

I’ll be blogging bits here and there about my larger thesis. I’m not resident at Syracuse or Rhodes universities (I’ve been teaching at Rhodes earlier this Spring and will again in late July and August, and teach at Syracuse the rest of the year).

Φ

Speaking of academia, during a faculty meeting last year at a media school I know, a question arose about whether or not to teach students a course in numeracy. Because media professors tend to possess more verbal than mathematical talents, it wasn’t surprising that the question was voted down. One veteran professor who teaches writing noted, “Our incoming freshmen already have high test scores for math, so we don’t need to teach them that.” I bit my tongue and decided not to respond by noting that those incoming freshmen also have high verbal test scores and thus, according to that professor’s logic, the school shouldn’t need to teach them to write. However, I showed the faculty a copy of John Allen Paulos’ 1997 book, A Mathematician Reads the Newspaperand mentioned that so many journalists are innumerate that there’s actually a book written about the problem.

I thought of that today when I today read an Editor & Publisher magazine story about how, despite salary freezes, the average salary at U.S. newspapers was actually rising and last week when I read a posting on the Newspaper Association of America’s Web site noting how subscription churn rates at those newspapers has markedly declined. Both those stories appear to be positive: salaries are rising at U.S. newspapers despite layoffs and salary freezes and subscription churn rates have declined a lot. However, do the math:

  1. As newspapers let go of their more marginal staffers and keep their more essential—presumably more veteran—staffers who are paid more than the marginal staffers, then mathematically the average wage at newspapers has to rise. The mathematical function is fairly obvious: as newspapers reduce all of their department staffs until only the most integral remain, the remaining staffers are likely to be those higher paid because they indeed were integral. Thus, staff reductions tend to increase the salary average. If the publisher were to let go of everyone but himself, you’d see a whopping increase in the average salary.
  2. Likewise, as newspapers’ circulations continue to decline, subscription churn will decline because those newspapers are losing so many marginal subscribers that only the most loyal are left

No surprises, except to the innumerate. Nevertheless, these types of stories get publicity because they superficially seem like good news amid all the bad. The industry associations’ public relations departments spin out press releases touting these ‘good’ things — one can’t blame the PR departments for that: it’s their jobs —and the journalists who report about the industry delve any further than that into what the numbers mean . Indeed, public relations departments often rely on overworked trade journalists not delving beyond and instead taking the ‘good’ spin verbatim.

PaidContent.org was where I first became aware of the story about the average wage rising at U.S. newspapers. It’s the site I use most to find news stories about the New Media business. It’s unusually competent because its staff of journalists most often does delve beyond the spin in press releases and reports issues by the public relations departments of media companies and trade associations.

Φ

Speaking of competency or its lack, in a backhanded remark one year ago May, I disparaged the Newspaper Association of America’s annual Connections conference about New Media. I was incompetent doing so. I was commenting on one of PBS’s Web blogs about why I’ve largely stopped attending the annual New Media conference that Editor & Publisher and MEDIAWEEK magazines hold, and I made a remark about NAA’s Connections conferences (now know as MediaXchange) being even worse. I soon received an e-mail from Randy Bennett, the senior vice president of business development at NAA, who wrote:

I read your comment on the Mediashift blog about NAA’s interactive conferences being worse than E&P’s event, and, presumably others.  I was dismayed by your evaluation given that you have not been to the NAA event, as far as I can tell, in several years.  At minimum, a guy like you who champions the truth should have disclosed that, in fact, you had not attended an NAA interactive event recently and that your judgment was based on, perhaps, previous experience from several years ago or from hearsay.

I certainly don’t begrudge any criticism (although your comment was not particularly constructive), but in a public forum I would expect that you would have been more forthcoming about your perspective.

He is entirely correct. I hadn’t been to the Connections conference in several years and so shouldn’t have been judging whether it was better or worse than another. I didn’t respond to Randy, instead meaning to post a correction (what I’m writing now) here that day or the next. However, by happenstance that May was when I basically stopped blogging for the 19 months .

Now that I resume blogging, it’s only right that I post that correction now, albeit unconscionable a year late!

Moreover, Bennett is one of the most competent executives in the U.S. newspaper industry. For some reason, he and I never really quite got along (perhaps it was my strong personality or because since 1995 I’ve been very critical of the U.S. newspaper industry’s path). But make no mistake: he’s done phenomenal work over the years, despite the titanic forces of change that have gone against his industry. While working in Africa earlier this season, I was dismayed to hear about the NAA cutting almost half of its staff, but I was glad to hear that he was not among those cut.

Ω


Reinventing Your Local Newspaper

I’m spending much of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter (Northern Hemisphere’s summer) in the Republic of South Africa where I’m helping that country’s leading journalism school in what I hope will be a notable advance in how journalism and news publishing are practiced in the 21st Century. I’ve not previously written about this project, and am a bit constrained doing so no simply because my Internet connectivity here 500 miles east of Capetown is severely limited (but if you want to bump into wild rhinos, I can help you). Nevertheless, my most recent digital publishing biweekly column at ClickZ.com describes some of the project.

I’ve been in the SA since mid-April and will return to the US on May 10th. I’ll then spend a week in Syracuse teaching the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication’s Social Media course in its Executive Education in Public Relations master’s degree program, then a week in Los Angeles, co-teaching the Knight Digital Media Center’s Digital Media Entrepreneurship Boot Camp. After a June vacation, I’ll then return to the SA and this main project in July.