Category Archives: Esoterica

Bill Moyer's Speech to Journalism Professors

I recommend watching the video of Bill Moyers‘ speech to the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communications (AEJMC) conference last week.

Meanwhile, a story in InsideHigherEd.com notes how little has changed in journalism education despite the rise of new-media. During a speech at the AEJMC conference, Associate Professor of Journalism David Wendelken of James Madison University quoted a ten year-old article in Quill, a publication of the Society of Professional Journalists, which deemed the ability to “deal with new media such as electronic newspapers or World Wide Web pages” as “nice, but not necessary.” Many panelists and audience members at this year’s AEJMC conference still cited resistance from some faculty who lack multimedia skills themselves or otherwise don’t see the need to instruct undergraduates in the digital media, according InsideHigherEd.com.

Moreover, many cited resistance from journalism students themselves. “A lot of college students select their medium in high school. When they come onto campus, they’re already a TV person or a radio person or a newspaper person,” said Wendelken. “I’m a print journalist,” he continued, imitating the attitude of many aspiring journalists. “Why do I need to learn video?”

In the lectures I’ve given at journalism schools, I’ve noticed that, too. It’s as if many journalism students have pre-decided to emulate old media journalists. You might think that the youngest people in journalism would be the most amenable to new-media, but that’s not true. I’ve found that journalists in their twenties have the best grasp and affinity for new-media journalism.

Congratulations to Elan Lohmann of South Africa

Congratulations to Elan Lohmann, publisher of News24.com in South Africa, and Meredith Artley, Executive Editor of LATimes.com, who will co-chair Ifra’s 15th World Digital Publishing Conference, 8 – 9 November in Dublin. Annelies Van Den Belt and I co-chaired last year’s conference, which was held in Vienna. That’s where I met Elan and learned about the work he’s done advancing new-media in Africa..

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Bob Cauthorn, Vin Crosbie, Sal Kurdi-Serafi, Rob Curley, and Elan Lohmann at the Gastwirtschaft zu den 3 Hacken, Vienna, November 11, 2006. (photo by Colin Daniels)

We’re amid the ‘dog days’ of the Northern Hemisphere’s summer. Traffic to newspaper web sites has slowed.

And on the topic of declining use, but this time for print, a story in Folio, the trade journal of the American magazine industry, reports that more than 80 percent of people who visit the Web sites of major monthly U.S. magazines say they don’t subscribe or purchase the print edition, according to a survey by Nielsen//NetRatings. The survey, which looked at 23 high-circulation monthly magazines and the traffic to their Web sites, found also that male visitors (90 percent) were slightly more likely than women (83 percent) to read a magazine’s content only online. Among the individual titles studied, the amount of web-only users ranged between 65 and 83 percent. I know that the percentage of daily newspaper site users who don’t read printed editions is only about half those percentages.

Further on the topic of declining use: research by the media investment firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson, reported in Mediapost.com, indicates that American consumers last year used media less than in previous years. The firm says it’s the first first time in recent memory that the amount of time consumers spend with media has declined. The average American consumer spent 3,530 hours with media in 2006–down 0.5% from 2005. The drop follows a period of decelerating growth that the VSS report attributes to the increased efficiency of utilizing digital media.

I’m always amazed by the number of publishers and broadcasters—all busy shoveling their content online—who not only believe that consumers will spend as much time using new-media as they did old media but believe that consumers will also pay them as much for it. If new-media is more efficient than old media, consumers will logically spend less time and money using it.

The lead story in The New York Times‘ business section (free registration required) today is about the National Broadcasting Corporation’s attempt to use iVillage.com as a mass medium after NBC last year purchased the site for USD600 million. Among the missteps were efforts to increase traffic by ‘synergyzing’ it with a syndicated television program, iVillage Live, which instead resulted in reduced traffic and low TV ratings for the program. The story focuses on “the snags that can arise when trying to bolt a new media operation onto an old one.” I think the problem instead was simply what happens when a company mistakenly tries to use a new medium as a mass medium.

Minding The ABCs

Anyone who’s learned another language that uses the Latin alphabet knows that there can be confusing nuances in how to use different ABCs. The same can be true in the newspaper industry despite a common language.

ABC in the newspaper industry refers to Audit Bureau of Circulations. The confusing nuances are between how the American one and the British one deal with online traffic.

Last month, the American ABC announced that in November it would begin publishing reports that combine the print newspaper circulation and the online traffic for those newspapers’ web sites. The British ABC told MediaGuardian.co.uk that it has no such plans. The MediaGuardian described the American ABC as having “a reputation for being more experimental with its rules and metrics around circulation figures.” Well, if what the American ABC is doing is experimental, it’s best labelled alchemy.

The American ABC is desperately searching for some way to make gold despite American magazines’ and newspapers’ declining readerships and circulations. A decade ago, it permitted publications to prop up circulation figures by combining actual paid circulations and the unsolicited ‘bulk circulation’ of unsolicited editions slipped under hotel doors or ‘donated’ to schools. Or at least it did until the prop broke in the circulation number scandals earlier this decade. It now wants to combine daily print circulation and weekly or monthly online traffic numbers. I’ve frequently written (for example) about such temporal sleight-of-hand.

Because the American ABC won’t actually publish these new reports until November, I can’t actually condemn a practice that hasn’t yet happened. However, if the prototype report the American ABC released as an example is any example, the sleight-of-hand resembles Three Card Monte.

The prototype report is for a imaginary daily of 31,514 weekday circulation somewhere in Illinois. The ABC also imagines that this small newspaper also delivers an electronic edition (i.e., digital replica edition) that sells 125 copies daily—which is about how many the Chicago Tribune, a newspaper ten times large, actually would. But it’s the prototype’s arithmetic about this imaginary newspaper’s website that bothers me. It shows a website that generates 700,000 monthly page-views from 279,764 monthly users. I know that several years of surveys of American newspapers’ websites by Belden Associates have shown that the actual number of online users is generally averages about half of this size newspaper’s print circulation total. So, this 31,514 circulation daily must have a phenomenal site it can generate almost nine times more readers than the print edition, nearly 18 times what the Belden Surveys would say!

Moreover, 700K page-views generated monthly by 279,764 unique users indicates that the average user sees at most five pages monthly on the site. Is that good for a daily?

The prototype report then reports that the newspaper’s online readership during the past 30 days within its ‘Newspaper Designated Market’ (a geographic area selected by the newspaper itself and encompassing at least 75 percent of the newspaper’s total paid print circulation) numbered 40,597 people and within its even wider ‘Designated Market Area’ ( a standardized television viewing market as defined by Nielsen) included 45,108 people. I wonder where the other 234,658 monthly unique users came from? Neighboring states? Foreign usership? Mars? The 83 percent of the web traffic to this small newspaper in Illinois apparently comes from outside its own market.

If the American ABC cannot publish a prototype report that has internal consistency, will it be able to publish actual reports that do. We’ll have to wait until November to find out.

Another Reason For Journalists To Work Online
A recent survey by the recruitment firm PFJ of 4,299 media workers in the UK found that online journalists there currently earn more money than their print counterparts. For example, the survey found that online staffers with two years experience earned around £20,000 per year but that print reporters earn £18,000 with the same amount of experience. The gap widened with even more experience. Online journalists with three to five years experienced earned approximately jumped £35,000 per year, while their print compatriots earned between £24,000 and £30,000. After 10 years of experience, the divide continued to widen, with local journalists reporting salaries of £40,000 and both online and consumer journalists reporting £60,000.

I haven’t yet seen an equivalent US survey.

Laudable Victory, But Also An Example of A Changing Battlefield
Because I’ve been working in online publishing long enough (part-time since 1990 and full-time since 1993) to know where bodies were buried, I often see things that publishing companies today herald as an innovative successes to be instead examples of long-term loss. Battles they’ve lately won in a war they’re very much losing.

Sometimes I hear about these battles a bit late. An example is how Conde Nasté Interactive is using YouTube.com. Conde has created ‘branded channels’ on YouTube for the British editions of Vogue, Glamour, em>GQ,and Brides magazines.

That’s laudable. Yet it’s also more examples of how publications are having to adapt to no longer drawing as much traffic as ‘pure-play’ portals such as YouTube.

The Dead Tree Digital Replacement Index

My desk is awash with quarterly financial reports from newspaper companies. Almost all try to emphasize anything positive that could distract from the larger negatives. For example, ‘Digital Revenues Rose 50 percent, Despite Print Revenues Declining 30 Percent’ is the type of sleight-of-hand that newspaper companies’ investor relations departments use to distract attention from the fact that the good news of the digital operations’ gains doesn’t compensate for the print operations’ larger losses.

The only number I care about is one these financial reports don’t state, but which I’ve invented and call the Dead Tree Digital Replacement Index.

The DTDR takes the change in the net income (i.e., gross revenue minus gross expenses) of a newspaper company’s digital operations and divides it by the change in the net income (i.e., gross revenue minus gross expenses) of that newspaper company’s print edition operations. Note that DTDR calculations include no special charges (such one-time gains from the sale of an operating division) and is calculated before taxes or depreciation.

If a newspaper company has a DTDR greater than 1, then the growth in its digital operations revenue gains are more than compensating for the company’s print operations’ losses. In other words, it’s a company with a healthy core. But if a newspaper company’s DTDR is less than 1, that means the company’s print operations are losing money far more quickly than its digital operations can compensate. In other words, it’s a newspaper company whose core operations are unhealthy.

Now, before some of you quibble that a newspaper company can have a DTDR of less than 1.0 but be still financially healthy because it also owns non-newspaper businesses that compensate for any losses by the print operations (companies such as Scripps Howard with its cable television networks or The New York Times Company with About.com), remember that I’m formulating an index that examines newspaper companies’ core business of newspapers and nothing else.

I also don’t calculate DTDR indexes for newspaper companies whose print operations had net gains or digital operations had net losses, but there are precious few such companies today. The DTDR is short-hand mathematics, and I’ll leave it to any mathematicians out there to help me fine-tune it. The bottom line in the DTDR is that newspapers’ digital operations had better be more than replaciing any revenues that printed editions are losing.

Let’s calculate some examples of the Dead Tree Digital Replacement Index.

The Tribune Company’s says its digital revenues increased 17 percent to $66 million last quarter. Although the company’s press releases don’t mention the digital operation’s expenses, let’s just say for simplification that this 17 percent increase of $ 11.22 million was the overall change in Tribune’s digital operations’ net income. The press releases do mention that the company’s Publishing division revenues declined 9 percent or $95 million and that this division’s expenses increased by 1 percent or $7 million. So, the change in its Publishing division’s net income was a loss of $102 million ($95M + $7M). The Tribune Company’s DTDR would thus be 0.11 (11.22 divided by 102), which is woefully unhealthy. If you calculate the reciprocal of the DTDR, you’ll see it indicates that the Tribune Company’s print operations are losing money nine times quicker than that the growth of company’s digital operations can compensate.

The New York Times Company’s say its digital revenues grew 23.4 percent or $15.3 million last quarter, but that print revenues fell 4.5 percent or $36 million. Its press releases don’t include expenses, but a simple calculation would nevertheless shows a DTDR of 0.425, which is better than Tribune Company but still unhealthy.

The Washington Post Company reported that its digital operations earned 2.9 million more this quarter but that the company’s print operations lost $17.7 million more. The DTDR here is only 0.164. Not good.

Are all newspaper companies’ DTDR indexes below 1?

Yes, outside of Scandinavia, the Baltic Countries, and a few companies in the Netherlands, most newspaper companies’s print losses are larger than digital gains.

It will be interesting to see if newspaper companies’ DTDR indexes move closer to 1 during the next few years. However, history indicates you should bet against that happening: The gap is growing. Newspaper companies print losses are outpacing digital gains.

WSJ Parody; Pan Am and UPI; and Reuters Hot Car

Guardian Unlimited today offers MoveOn.org’s parody (PDF) of what Rupert Murdoch will do to The Wall Street Journal. It fills the WSJ‘s front-page format with pro-Republic, anti-Democratic party headlines and excerpts from the Murdoch’s “Fair and Balanced” Fox TV News Network.

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Speaking of parodies, the story that United Press International is cutting 11 staffers in its Washington, D.C., bureau, including its lone White House correspondent, hit me with all the impact of another story last week: that Pan Am will stop flying to there from New Haven, Connecticut. Who are these companies fooling but themselves.

There is a Pan Am airlines. Or, at least, there are some folks who bought the Pan American Airlines name and logotype years ago and have started a very small airline that mainly flies between the a former air force base north of Boston to Trenton, New Jersey; Elmira, New York; and nearby Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It’s certainly in no way connected or related to the legendary Pan American Airlines, the dominant U.S. international airline that went bankrupt in 1991. But it wants people to think so.

There is a United Press International. Or, at least, there is the Reverend Sun Yung-Moon’s Unification Church, which operates a very small news service employing perhaps a dozen people who appear to work mainly from their homes (the Unification Church also owns the Washington Times newspaper, which at least has a building). This UPI can perhaps claim some distant relation to the legendary United Press International news service that employed 1,200 reporters in 184 news bureaus worldwide. The legendary UPI was sold during 1982 to two Kentucky entrepreneurs who bankrupted it three years later. The bankruptcy court sold it to a Mexican publisher whose manuevers bankrupted it again in 1985, when the bankruptcy court this time sold it to the owner of the Financial News Network. That owner sold it to some Saudi investors, shortly before he went to federal prison on a felony conviction for securities fraud. And the Saudis later sold it to the Moonies. So, I guess you could say the company currently called UPI is related to the legendary old UPI through two bankruptcies, a felony conviction, and at least consecutive five sets of owners. The new company would like you to think it’s the same company.

I wish the current entity called Pan Am would ground its airplanes, remove the legendary logotype and name from those planes, and rename the company and its aircraft something else. At least the current entity called UPI is doing something similar by closing most of its last known office and leaving the White House (now if we can only get what’s left of the compay to change names). [Disclaimer: I worked for the old UPI from 1983-89, when it still had some air beneath its wings.]

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I yesterday mentioned that the Boston Herald, rather than using its own presses, is negotiating with Dow Jones to print it. Today comes news that the Boston Globe will print two newspaper that compete with it, The Patriot Ledger and The Enterprise, two Gatehouse Media dailies in towns near Boston.

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When a news company gets funding, does that validate it’s business plan or purpose? Not necessarily, but many journalists mistake so. Too many journalists confuse finance and business.

The aim of business people is to generate profits from the operations of businesses. The aim of financiers is to generate a profit by buying or selling businesses. Those are different aims. There is also a third class of people called entrepreneurs who start businesses they hope will generate a profit or be bought by financiers (or by the public if the comnpany’s equity becomes sold on the stock markets). Entreprenuers very often sell part of their nascent businesses to financiers to get enough funding to fund the business until it’s profitable, likely to be profitable, or otherwise becomes attractive enough for the majority of its stock to purchased by financers or the public.

Most financiers aren’t dumb, but few have expertise in new-media, particularly new concepts in new-media. They sometimes invest in new businesses founded on unsound plans, even when the newest new-media concept underlying those plans may be solid. ‘If the concept isn’t sound, then why would those companies be funded by tens or hundreds of millions of dollars?’ goes the circular logic. Remember the huge funding given to ‘Push’ technologies during the mid-1990s or to the cuecat scanner technology at the turn of the millennium, etc.? Many trade journals heralded that funding as proof that those technologies and business plans were sound.

I hope that the $10 million funding that Associated Content received this week and the $10.6 million that NowPublic received last week is spent wisely. I hope they’re more of a ‘slam-dunk’ than Backfence was.

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Earlier this year, I wrote about how online journalists now comprise the second largest category of journalists who are killed, wounded, or imprisoned each year, fewer of them print journalists, but more than broadcast journalists. So, I’m sad to hear that Abel Mutsakani, editor of ZimOnline, an independent Zimbabwean news service based in South Africa, was shot last weekend. He is in serious condition with a ruptured lung and a bullet lodged near his heart. The Guardian reported that Mutsakani was parking his car near his home when three men attacked him. Nothing was stolen in the assault. Mutsakani was once managing editor of Zimbabwe’s Daily News newspaper, which was banned in 2003 by the government. He moved to Johannesburg and set up ZimOnline, providing coverage of the social and economic strife back home

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Video letters-to-the-editor are an interesting experiement at the Sacremento Bee. Back when I worked in daily newspapers (1977-83) we’d receive but not publish some real rabid printed letters-to-the editors. I can only imagine the video equivalents: Hand gestures instead of four-letter words. But it’s great to see a newspaper publish (broadcast?) the rational ones.

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Kudos to the Associated Press, Agence France Presse and l’Equipe last week for helping Reuters at the Tour de France last month. Photo District News reports:

Reuters photogs seem to be having a lot of bad luck these days. Four Reuters photogs went to shoot the Tour de France and were dealt a series of mishaps, ranging from photog Eric Gaillard’s brand new Canon Mark III and lens being stolen to photog Vincent Kessler having to undergo tests for suspected coronary irregularity. And then, Mal Langsdon got an Instant Message from Reuters’ student-assistant (and Mal’s son) Ian Langsdon saying, “S–t, S–t, we’re on fire!” referring to the Renault the team was driving. But, even in the photo world, the race must go on. So many outlets published the Reuters’ photogs’ pix of their burning car, and the Associated Press, Agence France Presse and l’Equipe shared their production until Reuters could resume coverage.

It's World Press Freedom Day 2007 (Outside the U.S.)

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Today is World Press Freedom Day, although you’d hardly find evidence of that in the United States. Last year, 49 journalists were killed in the Middle East, 27 in Asia, 5 in Africa, 4 in Europe and Central Asia, and 25 in the Americas. Worldwide, 134 journalists were in prison last year. Fourteen years ago, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed each May 3rd to be World Press Freedom Day to prevent such killings and imprisonments from happening.

The theme of the 2007 World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) is the many ways in which widespread tightening of security and surveillance measures to prevent terrorism are also preventing journalists from reporting the truth. As World Association of Newspapers CEO Timothy Balding said:

The objective of these measures is laudable and compelling – the protection of citizens against threats to life and property. There is, however, a legitimate and growing concern that in too many instances such measures, whether old or newly introduced, are being used to stifle debate and the free flow of information about political decisions, or that they are being implemented with too little concern for the overriding necessity to protect individual liberties and, notably, freedom of the press.

Anti-terrorism and official secrets laws, criminalisation of speech judged to justify terrorism, criminal prosecution of journalists for disclosing classified information, surveillance of communications without judicial authorisation, restrictions on access to government data and stricter security classifications, all these measures can severely erode the capacity of journalists to investigate and report accurately and critically, and thus the ability of the press to inform.

Newspapers and broadcasters outside the U.S. are commemorating World Press marking this day and calling for greater protection of journalists and the free press. The Himalayan Times in Nepal reported journalists rallying on the streets of Katmandu. In Zimbabwe however police banned 10 marches that the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists had planned through cities of that nation, the first time that police has refused ceremonial marches by Zimbabwean journalists. The Interfax news agency reported that the Russian parliament plans to develop a system of criteria for assessing the level of press freedom in the regions and in Russia as a whole. The Associated Press reported that the murder of Russia’s Anna Politkovskaya and the kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston were at the heart of World Press Freedom Day commemorations in Europe.

Yet how many journalists within the United States even know today is the UN sanctioned World Press Freedom Day? Though the White House issued a proclaimation commemorating the day, but you’ll find hardly any coverage of it or about WPFD itself. (Kudos though to Editor & Publisher magazine’s Mark Fitzgerald for writing about WPFD).

For the past 14 years, the World Association of Newspapers has provided newspapers with publishable case studies, articles, photos, and videos about slain, wounded, kidnapped, or imprisoned journalists. Those materials get widepread use by newspapers and broadcasters outside the United States.

However, most American newspapers and broadcasts seem either too oblivious or unconcerned to commemorate WPFD. You’d think that after the murder of The Wall Street Journal‘s Daniel Pearl, Fox News’ Osama Qadeer, CBS News’ Paul Douglas and James Brolan, or the wounding of NBC News Bob Woodruff might waken the U.S. media in recent years to WPFD. Unlike their brethren elsewhere in the world, perhaps newspapers and broadcasters within the U.S. feel that commemorating WPFD is somehow unseemly self-congratulative? I don’t know the reason why WPFD isn’t commemorated within the U.S.

For several years now, I’ve been calling upon U.S. news media who work online to commemorate WPFD. No longer electronic stepchildren of newspapers or broadcasters, U.S. online media wants to participate at the ‘big table.’ But like it’s elders, U.S. news media online seems even more oblivious or unconcerned about WPFD. Do they know that 49 of the 134 journalists being imprisoned work for online news media? I bet they don’t know that Internet journalists now constitute the second largest category of imprisoned journalists.
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Last last year, World Association of Newspapers Communications Director Larry Kilman and I happened to meet at La Asociación de Editores de Diarios Españoles annual meeting in Léon, Spain, and talked about ways that WAN and online media (notably the Online News Association) could work together to get online news media to commemorate WPFD. (I put Larry in touch with ONA’s management but saw no results). I’ll try again next year, by which time even more journalists will be killed, wounded, kidnapped, or imprisoned.

Accounting for Time

The more business we do, the less time we have to post our views. That’s one of three reasons for the scarcity of recent postings to the business blog section of this website.

The second reason is that I’m drafting a long article about the root of why American newspaper circulation has declined during the past 30 years, why that industry’s efforts to transplant its existing business from print to online won’t save it, what should have been done, and what might still be done in the ruins. I intend this article to go beyond What Newspapers and Their Websites Must Do to Survive, my essay published three years ago this month in Online Journalism Review. I think almost everyone has overlooked the major cause of why newspapers have lost circulation and readership during the past 20 years (which is also a major the reason why most newspapers’ websites after ten years are still read by fewer people and less frequently than the printed editions).

What’s the major cause? Sorry, but I’ll spotlight that in my article, which I hope to publish either late this month or early next month. As food for thought, meanwhile, allow me to list what the major problem is not:

  • The major problem isn’t ownership of newspapers by publicly traded corporations. Wall Street isn’t the problem. Newspaper readership has been steadily declining since the 1960s, well before most American newspapers were became owned by publicly traded companies. The layoffs and cutbacks that such companies are now making wouldn’t be made if readership and circulation were increasing. In other words, the layoffs and cutbacks are in reaction to the problem, not the cause of the problem. Yes, cutting newsroom staff doesn’t help increase readership and circulation, but it isn’t the cause of the decreases in readership and circulation.
  • The major problem isn’t lack of ‘Citizen Journalism.’ It is true that most American newspapers lost touch with their readers and many also ‘talk down’ to the readers who remain. There are many worthwhile ‘citizen journalism’ experiments underway at some American newspapers, and the tools those use can be widely applied throughout the industry. However, American newspapers thrived for centuries without ‘citizen journalism’ and advocates of it should why and what changed.
  • The major problem isn’t print’s lack of interactivity or multimedia. American newspapers thrived for centuries without interactivity or multimedia. Why and what changed?
  • Nor is the major problem newsprint itself. People today aren’t forsaking paper, just what newspaper companies print on it.

I hope my coming article will answer those questions, plus show how American newspapers need to return to what made them thrive for centuries, things the newspapers can do even better now with the new technologies.

Finally, the third reason for the scarcity of recent postings here is that any time my business partner or I blog is unpaid time for us. Unlike many other bloggers elsewhere, neither of us has had a paycheck or salary during the past ten years. We live solely from the net profits of our companies. An hour or so blogging is an hour or so of lost income to us, which can be a costly distraction.

Nevertheless, many people have asked us to continue blogging. So, we’ll continue to try whenever spare moments between business and other writing permits. Here’s what caught our attention online today:

National Journal magazine columnist William Powers believes that, “What the newspaper industry needs right now is a good publicist. Not a ‘vice president for public relations’ or a ‘spokesperson’ who puts out press releases and waits for phone calls. I mean a hard-core, hard-charging publicist like the ones celebrities employ to craft the image and keep the ‘brand’ humming.” Yes, that’s what he thinks it needs. He apparently thinks readership and circulation has been declining because newspapers don’t get enough publicity and need brands that ‘hum’ more. I’m glad he didn’t suggest Tupperware parties, too.

Jack Klunder, the circulation chief of the Los Angeles Times has sent a memo to the newspapers’ employees, “The fact remains there are too many of us with too many reasons for not subscribing. Is it because you don’t care? Is it because you get it at the office? Price? Latimes.com? Regardless of your lame excuse, all of us should be subscribing to our great paper. Why we don’t escapes me.” Perhaps, because they read it at the office?

The Wall Street Journal yesterday reported that its advertising revenues slid ten percent last month, largely because of “weakness in technology, financial, general and classified advertising categories.”

Meanwhile, the Tribune Company, which earlier this month sold its two smallest newspapers (the joint operation of The Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time), announced that, ” we have no current plans to sell additional newspapers.” So said Scott Smith, president of the publishing division of the Chicago-based parent company, in a brief statement. Considering that nobody responded when Tribune put its other newspapers out to bid, Tribune’s plan is no surprise.

I live in Greenwich and know some Greenwich Time staffers socially. They were happy that Tribune sold their newspaper to Gannett Company, which publishes neighboring newspapers. That is, they were happy until Gannett asked all Greenwich Time and Stamford Advocate employees to apply for their own jobs. Apparently, Gannett bought the assets of those newspapers, not the company or its employment.

Just as Tribune was selling its smallest newspapers, the Washington Post reported what many of us who have published small newspapers know: “If there’s any good news about the businesses of newspapering these days, it can be found at the industry’s littlest papers, which are doing well even as their bigger brothers founder.”

I may need to hike my consulting fees. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that it’s hired one of my acquaintances, 36 year-old Eric Grilly, as the new president of Philly.com, that newspaper’s online operation. Eric’s departure from the MediaNews Group newspaper chain, where he recently was given a seat on the executive committee and where his father retired as chief operating officer eight months ago, has surprised a lot people in American online news publishing community. More surprising to people was his compensation at MediaNews Group, which Philly.com reported as $346,050 in salary and bonus during 2006.

eMarketer.com is predicting that American online advertisement revenues will increase only 18.9 percent this year, compared to increases of more than 30 percent during each of the past three years. eMarketer predicts it will rebound to 22.1 percent during 2008, but then begin shrinking to to 13 percent annual growth in 2011. MediaPost reports that five other analysis firms (Borrell, Forrester Research, JupiterResearch, Oppenheimer and PricewaterhouseCoopers) predict annual growth slipping into the single digits in the next couple of years, for the first time since the start of the commercial Internet. I keep that in mind whenever I read newspaper trade journal predictions that at the ‘current rate of growth’ online revenues will be able to save the declining print operations. What makes those journals think that the 30 percent growth will continue?

I would have liked to attend the UK Online Publishers Association meeting in London or the World Association of Newspaper’s Digital Winners conference in Oslo this week, but was preparing for a business trip to Central America (which became postponed yesterday).

Promote World Press Freedom on May 3rds

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(Storm Coming, Puerto de las Nieves, Canary Islands, Spain)

On November 22nd, a date which marked my 10th anniversary of consulting full-time about new-media to traditional media companies, after a speech at the Spanish Daily Newspaper Association’s annual meeting, I took the liberty of staying in Spain for the rest of the year as an extended vacation in that country’s Canary Islands. Forgive me, but this long vacation was long in coming.

I’m back at work now, and want to start 2007 with a suggestion to news websites:

If our new media is to succeed traditional printed and broadcast media, then it also must assume traditional media’s responsibilities about press freedom around the world. The world is now in its second ten years of mass use of new media, and I think the time has now come for new-media journalists and editors to begin assuming the mantle of world press freedom in general.

In 1993, the United Nations declared every May 3rd to be World Press Freedom Day, a day to pay tribute to the journalists around the world who risk their lives by professional choice, in their effort to promote the free flow of information and assertion of press freedom on behalf of all members of society. World Press Freedom day also is commemorated by organizations such as Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Inter American Press Association, International Federation of Journalists, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, International Press Institute, Media Institute of Southern Africa, and the World Association of Newspapers (WAN).

WAN, for example, supplies newspapers with press freedom case study stories, public service advertisements, and even videos, to publish on May 3rds. According to WAN, as of November at least 109 journalists had been killed during 2006 and many more have been imprisoned. WAN is even holding a conference about ‘New Media: The Press Freedom Dimension’ in Paris on 15-16 February 2007.

On May 3rd, 2007, I think news websites should each devote a story and at least one home page banner ad (even if in rotation) to World Press Freedom. If newspapers can promote it, why can’t our sites? Heaven knows, we should be able to do even better than traditional media. And our commitment is only one story and one banner ad on one day a year. Wouldn’t it be great to see nytimes.com, washingtonpost.com, guardian.co.uk, dw-world.de, oglobo.com.br, and smaller sites reminding what journalists risk on users’ behalf.

As a publishing consultant and former journalist, I’m asking my clients to promote World Press Freedom Day online.

Sincerely yours,

Vin Crosbie

Major Media Companies Have Become Your Father's Oldsmobiles

“Ce ne sont plus les start-up qui sont demandeuses d’un accès aux grands médias pour la diffusion de leurs contenus, c’est l’inverse.” — ‘Web 2.0 : le bon tuyau pour l’Internet‘, Libératiion (30 August 2006)

I’d of course known that Web 2.0 is defined by ‘user generated content.’ But I hadn’t before seen the pithy observation that Libératiion‘s reporters Christophe Alix and Laurent Mauriac mentioned — that startup companies no longer seek access to major media to disseminate their content; instead, the opposite is true.

Last week in León, Spain, the CEO of a major newspaper trade association asked me how companies such as YouTube.com can grow so big so quickly. The answer is simply that startups no longer need major media companies for promotion, marketing, and advertising. Indeed major media companies increasingly need to deal with (or buy) the successful Web 2.0 startups, for promotion, marketing, and advertising.

Neat! Major media are now your father’s Oldsmobiles.

Travel Plans for November

I’ll be traveling during most of November, and I look forward to seeing friends and business acquaintances on these date and cities:

If you’re in those cities on those date, please feel free to contact me ahead of time.

To Blog or Not To Blog?

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Singapore River   – © Vin Crosbie

During a BloggerCon conference a few years ago at Harvard University, Jeff Jarvis was lecturing about why businesses should blog. Knowing that this site had been blogging, he picked me out of the audience and asked if blogging had improved my site’s traffic. I answered the question accurately. Yes, I said, it had tripled my site’s traffic. What I didn’t say was that almost all of the new traffic was from people who aren’t likely to be prospective clients because they’re not in positions to approve hiring consultants.

In fact, a consultant who blogs is giving away some, if not a lot, of the information and expertise he sells. It’s counterproductive for me to blog; I know that from six years’ experience blogging. Blogging is time taken away from productive (i.e., paid) work. It’s also can be pain to do.

Nonetheless, I’m not only going to continue blogging, but plan to do it more often. I’ve blogged here less and less during the past year. There are more than enough blogs elsewhere about digital publishing, most of which are used reportorially — to point to some development that the author feels is significant. So, I’d felt that I’d use this one to comment only when I felt a story or event was extra significant.

However, I’ve now rethought all that. Many of the other blogs — as George Bernard Shaw once said about newspapers — can’t seem to tell the difference between a bicycle accident and the apocalypse. I spend a lot of my business time telling clients which developments are significant and which are not. It’s time I began doing that here again. Yes, it gives away some of my business, but then it’s for the common good. Besides, about one-third of my client work since 1996 has been pro bono. Why not here, too?

I’ve just returned to the U.S. after spending most of July in the Orient; partly on vacation and partly on research for reports I’m writing about the newspaper industry’s experiences with SMS & MMS and with digital editions. A month isn’t a long baseline, but what’s been striking to me about returning to the U.S. — besides the fact that my bodyclock is now 12 hours ahead of everybody else in town — is just how rapidly the endgame for newspapers has begun>.

For a decade, myself and others have been telling newspaper executives that the end is near unless they changed their ways. They must have thought we were talking about bicycle accidents rather than their apocalypse. Yet as I catch up with a good reportorial blog like Jim Romenesko’s, here are recent news industry headlines::

Newspapers, as I knew and loved them, are on the way out

Thinking about the day when WSJ isn’t available on paper

News biz revolution is good for j-students, says ex-editor
— “As the mainstream business models collapse …”

Etcetera. Headlines motivated by evaporating readership, cost cutting, and very limited (if any) real revenue growth.

I say endgame because an analogy to chess is particularly appropriate. That game generally has three phases: opening, midgame, and endgame. The opening phase for newspapers occured between 1605 and circa 1920. That was when most newspapers were founded and launched. The midgame for the industry occured during the subsequent 50 years. As with chess, it was a phase of consolidations and reductions, in this case of newspapers. The endgame began with the demise of major pieces, in this case many major newspapers in major American cities, which started in the late 1960s and is now accelerating. Whole ranks are now gone, such as Knight Ridder.

Can the newspaper industry save itself and win in the end? Yes, but not the way it’s playing. For more on that, you’d better be one of my paying clients.

Many Thanks for the Best Wishes

Many thanks to friends who sent me best wishes when I was ill last month. I’m recovering quite well and being more careful about how I exert myself: It’s time for me to remember that I’ve entered my sixth, not third, decade of life. Thanks again! — Vin Crosbie

Ongoing Redesign of this Site

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We’re slowly updating this website’s design, work that we’ve been postponing for nearly a year.

The old site’s was created using Dreamweaver MX but the site’s blog portion was created using Moveable Type 2.6, and the two applications t didn’t match or interoperate well. Moreover, the Comment function of MT 2.6 became irreparably broken last summer when we added some third-party anti-blogspam software that didn’t work as promised (it did stop the blogspams and trackback spams — which had been arriving at a rate of about one per minute &#151 but also stopped the Comment functionality).

We’re happy with Dearmweaver MX, but know that MT 2.6 is out-of-date. So, the first step in this redesign has been to upgrade to MT 3.2. But that has taken a while because

  1. MT manufacturer Sixapart rather radically redesigned that software’s templates and stylesheets for MT 3.2 (the new default stylesheet is more than 700 lines long). We almost had to relearn MT almost from scratch.
  2. We work on the site — including bogging — only during our spare time between client assignments. Business has been good, so haven’t had much spare time.
  3. Most of all, the spring weather here in Connecticut has been spectacular (above is a camera phone picture from our office window this past weekend), so we’ve been loathe to stay indoors and work on this.

The upgrade to MT 3.2 has immediately restored all formerly disable blog functions (including Comments) and much better lets us battle blog spammers and trackback spammers. The new design, while narrow (we might adjust that), also cascades well when viewed on wireless PDAs and mobile phones

However, we’ve still a long way to go: This webpage needs to be restyled, as do the blog’s archives pages. The Staff, Clients, Speeches & Presentations pages and other site sections that were created with Dreamweaver MX are temporarily offline until we finalize and import the MT 3.2 styles into DMX. We’ll also then move this blog page from its current postion as Home page to being an internal webpage and we’ll replace it with a more commercial Home page for Digital Deliverance.

So, if you can’t find something here, let us know and we’ll send you some older hyperlinks in the interim. Sorry about an inconvenience. We plan to have everything redesigned and online by the end of the month. My thanks to Ron Currier, who acts as the company’s Chief Technology Officer, for doing the heavy lifting.

What is 'New Media' (redux)


[I earlier this week wrote that:

    The radical changes the newspaper industry needs to implement arise from a more true understanding by that industry of why newspaper readership began declining well before the Internet was opened to the public; about why one billion people worldwide have gone onto the Internet after it was opened to the public (they didn’t do it to read traditional media on computer screens), and about why all that plus the misnamed and illusionary ‘fracturing’ of media audiences requires semantic solutions.

At the root of that problem is a misunderstanding about what the New Medium actually is; a misunderstanding by almost all companies that broadcast programs or that publish newspapers or magazines.

I’ve long been reluctant to explain this misunderstanding only because I’ll need a long post to explain it. This is that post, a new version of my 1998 essay What is New Media? (which is currently being taught in the journalism, film, technology, and game design courses at several universities in North America and Europe). It’s 3,200-words long, but I consider it the most important thing I have ever written except for the original essay. I need to have this new version online because I plan to refer to it in future postings, specifically those about what radical changes that media companies need to implement.]

Misunderstanding ‘New Media’

A newspaper isn’t a medium, nor are newspapers media. Magazines aren’t media nor is a magazine a medium. Television isn’t a medium nor is radio nor are radio or television stations media. A website isn’t a medium nor is the Internet media.

Companies that broadcast programs or that publish newspapers or magazines are having problems understanding and adapting to why and how one billion consumers are now using Internet-based technologies to receive news, information, and entertainment.

Those companies have the problems simply because they misunderstand the meaning of media or medium. It is that starkly simple. Their misunderstanding of these terms– not the new technologies that consumers use — is the root of the companies’ problems.

Ask their executives if they work in the ‘Mass Media‘ (the Mass Medium) and they will be correct if they reply yes. But almost all will take that a step further — a misstep — and say that their broadcast, newspaper, or magazine is a medium.

Rhetoricians and cognitive linguists refer to that extra step as metonymy: the use of a well-understood or easy-to-perceive characteristic of something to stand for either a much more complex whole or for some aspect or part of it. (Another example of metonymy is use of the name Hollywood to describe the entire film industry worldwide)

Broadcast and publishing executives mistake Mass Media as a catchall phrase for all possible media, as if no other medium can exist except as a Mass Medium. Moreover, they extend this mistaken meaning of medium to cover their own broadcasts or publications.

So entrenched has the contemporary misunderstanding of the terms media and medium become that the mistake limits the abilities of most publishing or broadcasting executives to comprehend what exactly is a medium or the media in which they work.

So, what are media, what is a medium?

Continue reading What is 'New Media' (redux)

Raise a Web Banner for World Press Freedom Day (May 3)

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I call for each newspaper website worldwide to create and display a banner ad on May 3rd for World Press Freedom Day.

During the past seven years, the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) has freely provided printed newspapers with photos, graphics, and texts about jailed or killed journalists, including essays by world notables denouncing the jailings or killings of journalists, that newspapers can publish on May 3rd.

Why shouldn’t newspapers’ online editions also campaign for world press freedom?

Online editions get their news from the same journalists. Plus, if online editions are to succeed print and become the dominant source of news during this century, then online editions must raise the banner for world press freedom. Let’s start now!

WAN has no World Press Freedom Day campaign materials specifically for online editions, a forgivable oversight. Moreover, my guess is that WAN might not have staff time or budget to create such materials between today and May 3rd.

Yet, online newspaper staffs are creative. I propose that online newspapers editions adapt the World Press Freedom Day infographics, photos, and texts that WAN offers online for printed edition use. Shrink the printed banners to banner ad size, etc.

Can your online newspaper afford to give one banner ad space on its home page?

It’s only for one day. If you don’t want to give us that advertising space, then just add another space for this campaign. (Or perhaps create a separate web page about World Press Freedom.) Can’t your online edition do that as a public service in honor of the thousands of journalists who risk their lives each day, some of whose work you might be publishing? Or for the more than 500 journalists who have been arrested and imprisoned this year? Or for the more than 50 who have been murdered this year?

What should news sites not operated by newspapers do?

WAN offers these campaign materials specifically to newspapers for use on May 3rd. I believe that prohibits use by other types of media organizations. However, this shouldn’t mean that other types of organizations can’t craft from their own campaign materials from other sources, notably from news stories about imprisoned or killed journalists. Do so!

Many newspaper publishers this year have declared that online is no longer subsidiary but core to their news efforts. Let’s make World Press Freedom Day core online, too!