Friday, May 19, 2017

The media has but selective support for the First Amendment

I've been at a number of rodeos, with different companies in different places. Some were newspaper-only, others were combination media in some way, shape or form.

But, in general, at least among old media, support for the First Amendment is selective.

And, that means we need to first look at exactly what the First Amendment says — including ALL FIVE different phrases for different "intellectual expression freedoms" it supports.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Most people know only the first three, and know them imperfectly, like the Religious Right claiming America is a Christian nation.

The media is established on the third freedom.

Over the past decades, this has become problematic in several ways.

First, "old media," especially old print media, was slow to accept blogs, or even full online-only news websites, as "journalism." Shamefully slow. Parochially slow.

And, ultimately, capitalistically slow.

That leads to what I'm really getting at here.

At various media organizations, I've been asked to sign papers about personnel policies, etc. Invariably, part of this involves social media.

Some companies are less hinky on this, others more so. The more hinky ones basically want you the media employee to throw away your First Amendment free speech rights — just because you work for a media company.

Now, to some degree, I'll bet other businesses try this, at least if you're a rung or two up their white-collar ladder. (Does the trash company make its pick-up people sign such policies?)

But, it's more egregious with media companies for several reasons.

One is that, per the header, they're being selective about the First Amendment.

Another is that, when they get into image management, they're now getting into public relations. Oh, sure, any company has to do that somewhat, but when a media company wants its employees to be tohu w'vohu (Google it) on opinions, then, no, we're at PR at the expense of journalism.

The third is when said media companies extend the spirit of this idea to employees being asked to write columns, do opinion-like podcasts, do opinion-like takeout videos — but actually say as little as possible.

And, of course, the hardness of said media stances are going to be doubled down upon in right to work get fired states.

In a sidebar, at least in the media world, it's easy to tell exactly how a company has been burned by its employees in the past, by looking at two things:
1. Their personnel policies and
2. Their access restrictions on what can or cannot be on computers, what server portions are accessible by whom, etc.

Let's get back to the First Amendment, though, as months or years from now, that may become its own post.

Media at the national level are also selective in their defense of the last two clauses of the First Amendment.

Unions get shorter and shorter shrift, even from allegedly liberal newspapers. That includes said newspapers overlooking national Democrats cutting them shorter and shorter shrift.

Well, part of the power of organized labor has traditionally come from a robust interpretation of what "peaceably assemble" covers.

But, that's just one problem.

The mainstream media has remained silent for more than a decade as presidents and presidential candidates have used "security" as a claim, especially at political conventions, to herd peaceably assembled protestors a half a mile or more away from them.

Boycotts, too, are a form of peaceable assembly. Yet, the mainstream media, when confronted with a New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo talking about criminalizing the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement against Israel, has managed to keep its collective mouth totally shut.

The real bottom line on this issue IS "the bottom line."

When the First Amendment meets capitalism, the media bread will always have capitalist butter on it.

Of course, this is one small chip in why media is dying, in my opinion. And, it's a big boulder in why "old media" SHOULD die more.

Friday, May 05, 2017

We're a print-first newspaper ...

Except when we're NOT!

Yep, yep, have heard those words more than once in the past three months. Heard them again on Monday, when a new change came within my southern world of newspapers.

And then, two days later ...

"Oh, we need an Instagram account as well as Facebook and Twitter."

Dunno if that's the publisher's own initiative, or a "suggestion" from the new sheriffs.

But, I don't think I've seen the Instagram Times or the Instagram Daily News printed anywhere.

Personally, I think Instagram may be an even higher level of potential Internet addiction crack cocaine than Facebook.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Newspapers as marketing consultants

I bring this up because, at least at one community newspaper, my previous employer, the idea of newspapers levering their expertise (like The Dallas Morning News), or alleged expertise, in advertising and news coverage combined, to offer marketing services to businesses, has trickled down.

In a sense, if a pitch (which is what The Light and Champion is offering) of digital marketing services is nothing more than a spiel about, "Hey, small-town biz, here is why you should buy our online ads," then, to riff on the gospel of Bubba, this is just the same old pig stuffed in a new poke. Or worse yet, "Hey, small-town biz, we're ready to start doing some advertorial work for you," then it's a new pig, albeit one with a bad case of foot in mouth disease, in a new, turd-polished shiny, poke.

There are no advertising agencies in most small towns.

But, on the other hand, community newspapers have long, long offered ad-building services. So, digital marketing has to be more than that.

But, the typical community-sized business isn't selling outside local boundaries, so what really can digital marketing be besides old pig in new poke, or the advertorial spinoff? (And, yes, community papers, despite years of blather from publishers and owners, between special sections and pulling punches in regular issues, have already engaged in plenty of semi-advertorial.)

As for the big boys? They've long had competition from advertising, marketing and public relations firms. I'm sure the Dallas Snooze can't compete with any of the top shops there, much as it would claim to do so, unless it shatters the editorial-advertising wall far more fatally than what I'm talking about with my previous newspaper owner.

And, if THAT is the case, then just remove the title of "reporter" or "staff writer" from your remaining editor people. Call them "marketing writer" or whatever instead, and be honest about it.

I definitely don't expect that to happen at magazines. Their websites are already drowning in "sponsored stories" clickbait plus advertorial clickbait. Newspapers, so far, have resisted much of the sponsored story stuff, and still run more advertorial in print than online, it seems, but how long will that stay that way? Both are seeing programmatic ads vampirize ever more revenue, which is why, as I've said before, if we look at "devices," digital dimes (on computers) will eventually become mobile nickels.

As for non-daily papers, other than that being a rebranding phrase, I have no idea what else it could be.

Meanwhile, how does the AP stay afloat as papers stretch budgets tighter?

Actually, it's because most dailies continue to slash in-house staff, rather than force AP, AFP, and Reuters, along with anybody else, to bid against one another.


All of this ignores that with more fake websites, like ESPN knockoffs, and other "sponsored story" sites running fake news (almost ALWAYS with a model shot of a humongous-breasted woman doing something or another as the thumbnail image), then legit websites paying for their stories to run as sponsored stories elsewhere, plus that fact now going meta to sponsored stories, and Americans having just a finite amount of ad spending dollars, and total spending dollars, that much of this is crapping one's own newspaper pants for diminishing returns. The above is true almost totally of the bigger dailies; not everything directly compares to community papers. But they should still take note.


Note 2: On the other hand, being semi-addicted to Facebook Live videos, for which a publisher should know FB pays just pennies on the dollar to big dailies, and fractions of mills on the dollar to small non-dailies, may mean that perhaps your digital marketing advice may not be perfect.


Note 3: Both before and after Craigslist started poaching their classifieds, alt-weeklies claimed to be harder-hitting on local investigative news than traditional metro dailies. Well now, at least one alt-weekly is going down this same road — and very explicitly, it's doing business PR mini-magazines.

This isn't even the small community paper doing a "buy an ad, get a story" deal for special sections like women in business or whatever. This appears to be producing straight, commissioned special projects.

Speaking of, when in the Metroplex on Saturday, I took a look at the latest issue of the Dallas Observer. It's probably down to about 60 percent of the size it was in 2009, when I moved out of there, and 75 percent of the size just four years ago, the last time I remember looking in detail.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

From the doghouse to the GateHouse

Not sure why a small newspaper company would hire someone away from Gatehouse. Not sure how said person's mindset will translate from a big corporate chain to a small family-owned one. Not sure how much she expects other people at the the new site to translate or Borg-meld their mindsets to hers.

But, the hiring appears to be carved in stone somewhere in Texas.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Newspapers are dying, reasons 641, 722 and 816

Sleeping with the Internet enemy, which is becoming sleeping with Google as well as Facebook, is never a good sign. Not only are you letting them control how your  stories get disseminated, you're doing this while continuing to maintain all your legal liability yourself.

Here’s the bottom lines, and PR flak, on Google’s side:
The growing pact between large publishers of news and large platforms for social media is an alliance born out of desperation on the part of publishers and opportunity on the part of technology companies.  … 
 Google has been exploring the benefits and drawbacks of publishing for some time; being an entity protected by the First Amendment and freed from the obligations of utilities can be useful. Taking on expensive publishing risk is less convenient. However, just as the temperature of regulation in Europe heats up, with the government always trying to rein in the giant search company, Google has maneuvered its friendly tanks up the drive and into the garage of publishing houses. … 
 First of all, this is a clear signal of Google saying explicitly that while it might not employ many journalists (yet) it sees itself as being in the news business—not an accidental platform through which news moves, but an active ingredient in shaping how journalism is formulated and consumed. 
Sounds like a publisher in all but name.

And, here’s Facebook’s spiel:
Last month, Facebook disclosed it was negotiating with a number of news companies in the US to embed video and text within its own site from major publishers including The New York Times,National Geographic, and Buzzfeed. … 
 Two weeks ago at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Andy Mitchell, head of Facebook’s news partnerships, held the line that Facebook itself was staying out of publishing, even though the evidence is very much to the contrary. George Brock, a professor at City University in London, asked Mitchell whether Facebook felt any responsibility for the integrity of its news feed. Mitchell gave the perfunctory Silicon Valley answer that the company cared about improving the “user experience.” Brock suggests that this denial of responsibility is insulting to audiences.
Also sounds like a publisher in all but name.

And, “legacy” newspapers, in addition to not getting control over story dispersal, are leaving the ad dollars more and more in Facebook’s and Google’s hands. Oh, I’m sure any such arrangements will give the newspapers a percentage of the cut on Facebook ads, or Google ads that appear with stories either in Google’s news feed or online to G+. Will that offset likely further loss of onsite online ads? Probably not.

And, if you’ve got a paywall, like the NYT, how’s that going to affect your online circulation revenue? Not well, I’d think.

I don't know if the smell of desperation in the morning is like that of napalm, but it can't be too good.

Meanwhile, newspapers, especially in mobile versions, are looking at following the social media world down another rabbit hole. Just as ads are becoming ever more "targeted," and per the top of this story, newspapers are looking at doing the same with stories.

So, do blacks in more impoverished portions of the city of Baltimore get a different version of the Freddie Gray story than whites in west-side suburbs? Do poor people get different versions of Wells Fargo marketing subprime credit cards and opening accounts in their name without authorization than do rich people?

If so, then the news industry is taking a major step backward; might as well let Google and Facebook have the keys.

Finally, I don't doubt that fear of social media magnifying mistakes is paralyzing or at least constricting reporting.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Newspapers are dying, part 461

When newspapers as big as the Dallas Morning Snooze and the Austin American Stateless (give me more time, I'll create a better riff) are running half-page house ads to tout a "master couponing special" they're sponsoring, you know they're struggling.

First, Americans use less than 1 percent of the coupons we're bombarded with. That's probably because of other factors, like more and more coupons requiring the purchase of multiple products.

This long listicle also notes that mobile couponing is on the rise. How much of that is NOT from mobile-formatted e-editions, or even from mobile editions of a newspaper's website in general is anybody's guess, but let's just say "a lot." Listicle point No. 17 — and this is from 2009, the Neolithic Era of mobile devices — says that mobile plus computer coupons were already then past traditional print ones. A 2014 listicle says print coupon usage has declined by 15 percentage points since just 2010.

In other words, the Snooze and Stateless are probably, once again, pursuing something about ... 5 years too late? (Hey, at least the Stateless has a paywall!) Or paying a third-party consultant to teach people how to use Groupon and such as much as newspaper coupons — unless you've put a gag order on the presenter.

That said, if Felix Salmon is right about how legacy print's bromance with Facebook will start backfiring this year, maybe legacy print's going to start getting more desperate.

Note to Dallas: It's called a paywall, before you do desperate stuff like this.

Note to Austin: If you can't sell ads above 15 percent of newshole on a TUESDAY, not just a Monday, it's called cutting pages in print.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Two years before the masthead, part 2

That's what I meant to title my original piece, instead of "Two Years a Publisher," with a hat tip to Richard Henry Dana.

But, I'll start that now.

A publishers' meeting in a small newspaper group.

An advance assignment of "10 challenges you face."

Look, we're small town papers. We probably don't have a list of 10. In a small town paper, you face the challenges of:
1. Postal Service getting crappier by the day, especially if you're in a definitely rural area; in turn, old folks born here but now moved away eventually get frustrated and stop subscriptions.
2. Old folks dying, and thus auto-stopping subscriptions.
3. Small towns still recovering from the Great Recession more slowly than cities.
3A. Double this if you're in a town or county with a static, even declining, population.

Asking for a full list of 10 almost sounds like an invitation to publishers to start self-flagellating. Because, anything below this, with the exception of "making sure my office manager/bookkeeper is doing her job," is small potatoes.

Maybe I'll find out differently at the actual conference. Maybe I'll be more optimistic after I get back.

And, maybe I'll vote Republican in 2016.

Re-reading the assignment sheet, I can include editorial as well as publishing issues, and it's called "goals," not "challenges." Maybe I'll think New Agey bright thoughts.