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.

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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.

Digital Media Management Syllabus

For the next three weeks, I’ll be lecturing on Digital Media Management at the Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership, at Rhodes University‘s School of Journalism and Media Studies, in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa. These lectures will be based upon the New Media Business graduate school course that I teach at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, in the United States.

Here is the syllabus for these lectures:

Continue reading Digital Media Management Syllabus

Training Journalists for the 21st Century

Ryan Sholin guest-lecturing in my New Media Business class at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications
Ryan Scholin guest-lecturing in my New Media Business class at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communicatinos

My biweekly Digital Publishing column at ClickZ.com is about the skills that journalism schools need to teach their students to prepare them for this century. The advice in it is true for retraining professional journalists, too.

New Media Business Syllabus for Spring 2009

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

I’m introducing each classes by telling students:

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

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

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

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

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

Why Should Newspapers Offer Online Video News?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abel Girón Morales (1979-2008)

Abel Giron Morales
Abel Giron Morales

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more stories about the assassination of Abel Girón Morales:

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

Ian Davies
Ian Davies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multimedia Newspaper Professorship Opening at Syracuse

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

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

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

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

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

How to Apply: Candidates should visit http:www.sujobopps.com to read the detailed faculty postings and apply electronically. All positions require a cover letter, CV or resume and a list of four professional references. If you have any questions about the opening please contact Steve Davis, chair, Newspaper Department, at jsdavi02@syr.edu.

Life Aboard an Academic Supercarrier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Life Aboard an Academic Supercarrier

Why Mass Media Content is Dumbing Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 14, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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