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.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Is the Austin American Statesman even more dying?

The latest sign in the decline of journalism? The Austin American Statesman offered $19.99 full-year online subscriptions yesterday as a real non-fools AprilFools presentation. Either some people "didn't get it," or Cox corporate has the Statesman under pressure for X number of new subscribers, because they're running it again today. And also did so on Friday, April 3.

Or maybe they're "counting" on people missing the apparent auto-renew of $8.99/month after that 1 year, per the link I clicked. Or else, since it's Cox of cable fame, they make you walk through hell to cancel the auto-renew.

That said, if I were a current subscriber and could switch to this, I would.

And then, I'd quit after a year until I got another special offer.

I mean, it's one thing for a biweekly magazine like High Country News to offer $12/year digital subscription (without — I think — auto-renew) but this is different.

If other people, see above, thought like me, the Statesman would be getting to digital only whether it's ready for it or not.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Are journalists about to meet their machine overlords?

According to the New York Times, it's possible.
Kristian Hammond, Narrative Science’s co-founder, estimates that 90 percent of news could be algorithmically generated by the mid-2020s, much of it without human intervention. If this projection is anywhere near accurate, we’re on a slippery slope.
And, if a bot can already write the lede graf in a pro sports story well enough to fool most humans, we're past the days of police blotter and quarterly financials. And, yes, there's an example of a bot doing just that on a sports story, about eight grafs about that pull quote. (And if that one example isn't enough, there's a quiz at the bottom of that link. I got five of eight correct, double crossing myself on one, but getting a gimme on another, per discussion in the story.)

Now, there will still be room for some time for sports columnists, but beat writers? You could be in trouble. Ditto for news writers.

Because of cost, and looking at this from a selfish personal angle, this is less likely to trickle down to the community level by 2020. Hyperlocal bots specialized to write about the police blotter and real estate deeds are one thing; general purpose bots writing about a contentious city council meeting are another.

Among other things, the bots have to be fed information. If a city secretary is slow in posting meeting minutes, at least the version she transcribes off audiotape, a human's going to knock that out. Ditto if a high school coach is slow on posting game stats.

But, community newspaper editors and writers shouldn't sleep too easily, especially in suburban or exurban vs. rural areas.

One editor who knows the lay of the land on the set of suburbs or exurbs, assuming a company has a group of such newspapers, can polish up the bots' writings easily enough, one would think.

And, one would think that one editor would be expected to do so by corporate hierarchy.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Two years a publisher

Just over two years ago, for the first time in my life, I became a newspaper publisher.

I've been an editor of multiple weekly and semiweekly papers, and at two of them, had either the actual title, or the essential duties, of a general manager, not just an editor.

But, I never had the thrills — and the responsibilities and chills — of overseeing operations. And finances. And finances.

It's not "Three Years before the Mast" or "Twelve Years a Slave." Nonetheless, on the whole, I wish I were in Philadelphia. (I think.)

That said, I have learned other things about the newspaper business, the structuring of newspaper companies and more.

One is that the smaller companies that primarily own "community" non-daily papers, while perhaps adapting more to the expansion of the online media, and "media," world, than their big daily cousins adapted to the traditional Internet, aren't perfect on that.

Facebook, especially, is a big competitor to small-town papers. Local government meetings and other "spot" news get "published right away. And, if the regular newspaper publishes online not just a fatal wreck or an attempted murder immediately, but too much information about a slightly contentious city council meeting, it's undercutting its print version, even with a paywall.

Otherwise, if the Net in general, and things being free, were a death knell for dailies, Facebook, or free blogging software plus Facebook, is a gut punch to community newspapers.

Oh, and e-editions are reaching the dead end stage. Community papers don't have the money or resources to emulate daily brethren and create reformatted e-editions for smartphones and tablets. (I personally think it's a money- and time-waster for big dailies to do that, but that's another issue.)

The biggie, though, is that community papers, like their larger brethren, have found a variety of ways to legally organize themselves. LPs, LLPs, LLCs, etc., aren't limited to the oil business. Nor is robbing Peter to pay Paul, if you own your own printing presses, or have centralized graphics shops, let alone pagebuilding, doubly let alone "content," whenever that hits the non-daily world.

Newspapers have always been a business, above all else. Doubly so at the community level, at least since we got past World War I and the image of newspapers got spiffed up and away from its yellow journalism past. Of course, there, too, newspapers were ultimately a business, just a bit more louche about it.

Meanwhile, as more daily papers shut their presses and get printed at other dailies, community newspapers that still have presses can charge other companies' community papers more. Or, per what I said two grafs above, have enforced rates on their own papers.

Of course, I have worked for a couple of larger chain newspapers, but not outside the newspaper business. Yet.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Columbia Journalism Review officially shark-jumps on IFLS

First, CJR senior writer Alexis Sobel Fitts writes a five-webpage cover story about "I Fucking Love Science" and its founder, Elise Andrew.

In doing so, she commits these cardinal errors:
1. Writing the story about herself as much as Andrew.
2. Ignoring Andrew's seeming very deliberate violation of not just journalistic ethics, but ethics in general through not honoring copyright of NUMEROUS science-related photos, including a number by Google+ friend of mine Alex Wild.
3. Not talking to anybody who could and would have told her about this. (Wild is among those commenting on the page.)

In other words, it's shoddy journalism for being:
1. Self-centered
2. Lazy
3. One-sided

And, other trade publications and blogs are weighing in, too. Here's Knight Science Journalism Tracker:

For starters, the profile appeared in a journalistic publication, written in an unjournalistic way, about a person whose work is not journalism. Go ahead and debate what that J-word actually means in the comments, but I’d argue that several of the fundamental tenets of journalism – such as accuracy and unbiased reporting – are missing from the CJR piece (which also happens to be this issue’s cover story).
 Instead of taking a measured, balanced look at the person behind a media phenomenon, the profile came off as an overly sunny PR puff piece. After all, Andrew is not journalism’s first self-made brand. And, oh, by the way, the profile mentions almost as an aside, there is a history of copyright infringement and plagiarism accusations being directed at IFLS.
That's about right. 

Meanwhile, doesn't CJR have a managing editor? Who let this crap be printed? Let alone, who decided this was the magazine version's cover story?

Well, these people let this crap be published:
Editor in Chief & Publisher
Elizabeth Spayd
Deputy Editor in Chief
Brent Cunningham
Associate Editor/Production Editor
Christie Chisholm
Associate Editor Kira Goldenberg

Click here to email them. Or here to suggest this, their own piece as a "dart" under the mag's "Darts and Laurels."

Worse, who made the decision to let Fitts double down on her indefensible writing with a follow-up that's even worse in some ways?

As for the claims that Andrew's not gotten any "boosts" or "helps," one of Fitts' new, additional claims? Uhh, wrong!

From a March announcement by former national late-night talk show host Craig Ferguson:
Science Channel greenlit new series “I F-ing Love Science,” executive produced by CBS’ “Late Late Show” host Craig Ferguson. Ferguson made the announcement via a videotaped message at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas on Saturday.
So, please, that's not even close to being true.

Just stop it.

Fitts is doubling down on being:
1. Self-centered
2. Lazy
3. One-sided

Hence my comment on the follow-up piece:
I'm a journalist who didn't study journalism in college, and I didn't train inside one of "legacy media's great institutions," but I still know ethics, including of attribution. So, Alexis, does Ms. Andrew deserve a "free pass" on ethics? Copyright issues apply across all streams of journalism, and communications beyond journalism, including public relations, non-journalistic book writing and more.
And, if Fitts likes the snarkiness of "new journalism," I added:
Can I copy your mugshot for for-profit use without attribution? How much of your original piece can I copy without attribution? 
So, in addition to that comment, I asked CJR on those pages to fire Fitts. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Newspapers are dying, at least in Austin

When I'm in the library in the big city, or nearest thing to one that's nearby, I like scanning metropolitan dailies to see just how they're faring on ad inches.

And, the Tuesday, Aug. 26 Austin American Statesman?

Not faring well at all.

Now, Tuesday's not a great day, but, it's not quite as slow as Monday.

But 12 percent? Four pages worth of paid ads in a 50-page paper? That's sad, and ugly.

(One week later, they were up to a full 15.5 percent for Tuesday, Sept. 3. That said, the paper had been cut to 32 pages. And, some of the paid ads were tax-and-budget season legals.) 

Add to it that, as fluff, the Statesman's copy staff (which aren't even in Austin, as all but the sports pages are built at a sister Cox paper, the Dayton Daily News) had two pages worth of house ads. That many house ads, compared to that few of paid ads, stand out like a sore thumb.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Social media, or social overkill?

My newspaper company (privately owned, one just-acquired small daily, and a couple of dozen or so nondailies) recently held a day-and-a-half seminar on social media and related website issues.

Other than the question of why it was more than one day in length, with lodging costs for staff from papers not close to the headquarters, as well as just the time length, I did learn some things about some of the "newer" social media, like Pinterest and Instagram. However, it was probably a fair amount of "bleah," and, it was bloated. Beyond larger issues, I know other reasons the timespan was bloated and don't need to comment more.

Here's, tentatively, the rest of my observations.

First, it’s “interesting” at least, but ironic at most, that a seminar about social media in particular and best Internet practices in general, is loaded with dead trees handouts.

Second, it’s also “interesting” that, as part of the seminar is about how all of us are getting busier, a lot of the presentation was about all of us doing “more” for our papers on social media. Related to that was the irony that other people are “ingesting” more and more social media how? By either becoming more addicted, or compulsive, about use, or else by “goofing off” on the job more even as “content provider” employees are expected to spend more time not goofing off and feeding that beast.

Third, as papers continue to age in readers, it’s “interesting” to have a presenter talk about some social media having users who are so young that “they’re not yet readers” of our newspapers or papers in general.

Fourth, the ways of getting around the worst of the social media world, or the worst of the commercialized online world, were not discussed. AdBlock Plus wasn’t discussed. A search-history free, and Google-free in general, search engine like Ixquick or DuckDuck Go, wasn’t discussed. Ghostery to block tracking cookies wasn’t discussed.

Fifth, the presenter noted that Instagram, Vine and Snapchat don’t support links. So, that makes them worse. However, doesn’t that challenge the blogging-era prime’s claim that “it’s all about the links”? Is this true or not? Should it be true or not?

Sixth, it seems that a small to medium-small media company with small-sized individual outlets should recognize that economies of scale would involve headquarters expanding its IT/web staff, for less commonly used social media, like Pinterest, setting up newspaper accounts and adding to them from stories on each paper’s website.

Seventh, none of the discussion covered the narcissism angle of some social media, especially ones that “trend” younger in user demographics. I mean, we all have some degree of selfishness, but selfishness is not the same as narcissism.

Eighth, is blogging social media or not?

Above and beyond all of this, is there a "narcissism bubble" in the world of social media that will burst someday? After all, a medium is a mode of interaction. Traditional media's interaction was weighted fairly in one direction, as in "Here's what we've decided you'll see/read/hear." Things like selfies/geeky videos seem to have the same mentality, even if coming from individuals, not companies.

This narcissism bubble has nothing to do with newspapers  in particular or media in general, of course. However, it does relate to their current and future decisions as to what to do with the world of social media.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

A day and a half to discuss social media? Uh, sure

Picture a small newspaper company. About 2 dozen papers. All non-daily community papers.

Having a day and a half seminar on social media use and "tactics." Yes.

Uh, yes.

Right. That's what I thought, too.

I'll remember to bring my laptop, so I can pretend to take notes. Maybe there will be some free or non-secure wireless I can pick up.

Beyond the day and a half being overkill on time, it's a waste of money.

At a group of small community papers worried about money wasting money, monitoring individual newspapers' spending, and now blowing spending on overnight lodging, too, or else a second day of travel costs for closer newspapers. And, it's the brainchild of a higher-up person, who expressed surprise two months ago at Facebook's increased "choke" on corporate page posts' reach.

Here's my partial starter list of the seminar:

1 p.m. Thursday -- get to know other participants purely by looking for their personal Facebook pages. (Since almost all my info is hidden to anyone but friends, that will make it harder for them.)

1:45 p.m. Thursday -- send friend requests. (I send none, refuse to accept those sent to me.)

2 p.m. Thursday -- "share" about our experiences. (I keep my mouth shut.)