Get your Rapture hats ready, kiddies! The sky is falling, and our wise gift of nuclear winter will propel us all into the loving arms of the all-knowing and all-everywhere G-d.

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  1. Mike G Says: Three disconnected responses:

    You suggest a lot of stuff should be national pickup stuff, not locally generated. Jeez, it is already and if that’s all available online, why do I need the Booneville Hick-Redneck to read George Will or Roger Ebert? Localness and developing individual voices are the only hopes, it seems to me, not least because of the farm team role in developing talent. You’re looking at one real world aspect of it (much local writing is terrible) and deriving a universal principle from it (therefore no one should even try).
    I am always come back to how much more interesting and individual a writer and personality James Lileks is on his blog than in the Star-Tribune. How much more relevant he is to MY life when he’s just writing for himself, rather than for every imaginable reader all at once. (It’s eerie sometimes– we’ll turn out to have watched the same DVD or had the same experience with our kids on the same day.) There are a lot of writers out there being forced to write to an industry mold, I suspect. Don’t terminate them, liberate them! Instead of making one writer write for everybody, give everybody a different writer to read!
    Each represents a reader who blames the local paper for wrenching away a part of their lives they’ve come to depend on.
    I remember how someone in the symphony orchestra business phrased this. He suggested a program of new music– Philip Glass, say. (Or maybe new music just meant 20th century.) The board said “Our audience doesn’t like that kind of music.” To which the guy replied, “By audience, do you mean the one third that stayed, or the two thirds that stopped coming?”
    You have to get past the fact that you’re messing with the product some vocal people will love, or else you’re doomed to never change. Which they are, at the moment…
    Oh, and if you’re keeping a TV critic to report on new general managers at local TV stations nobody knew anyway, you’re wasting that money.
    A lot of that stuff exists to kiss up to local advertisers, though. It has nothing to do with readers per se.

  2. Bob Wyman Says:

    .../... Convenience is an extraordinarily powerful driver. The idea is that if the local “newspaper” site is the primary and best provider of local and hyper-local news *as well as* the portal to or aggregator of non-local information, then you’ll find it more convenient to go to the local paper for all your information needs. The local “newspaper” would draw you in with the local and specialized news that you need and package the non-local news.       .... local papers don’t have the resources to do this — but they do since many of them are owned by organizations that have the financial resources to build systems functionally equivelant to even the biggest “pure play” online systems. For those that don’t have the resources, there is always the possiblity of industry group cooperation on developing common systems and technology to make this stuff happen. (i.e. what “New Century Network” should have done. — Only the newspaper people will understand that comment… Or, what AP does for data distribution.)

    Local news is massively more “actionable” than non-local news. As such it is a fantastically powerful hook that can draw people into a “catch and feed” system that leads readers to shared non-local resources and away from the general services like Google, Yahoo!, MSN, etc.

  3. chartreuse Says:

    The problem is that the things you are talking about doing have already been done to local radio and look at the results.

    If the idea is for newspapers to replace content with syndicated alternatives we will be looking at problems down the road.

    I think the future is in becoming ‘hyper-local’. Newspapers should be divided by neighborhoods with maybe a national section in the front.

  4. Gerald A Davis Says:

    I am sure you have given many good suggestions. The main reason I stopped reading the newspaper was their spin.
    I will never forget how night after night the MSM harrassed Richard Nixon when he decided to go after North Vietnam. “Oh my God now he is bombing N Vietnam.” Night after night they kept it up.
    Then they reported a loss in the Tet offensive, absolutely inexcuseable.
    And it hasn’t stopped. They now feel that they were right to encourage the withdrawl from Vietnam. In spite of the loss of 58,000 men, and the death of millions of other people when we left. [what? is her pro-War, a neo-Conned? /js] Even the considerable loss of political power the left has sustained seems not to be considered.
    Now this carries through in the Iraq struggle. The left has maintained that Bush lied. In spite of the fact that most of their leaders are on the record [afraid of Antrax and illegal-eavesdropping obtained ammunition, NO DOUBT/js] to the contrary. The only way one hears those recordings is by listening to talk radio or other conservative outlets. If the Republicans had tried this in reverse, imagine how the MSM would have shot it down.
    You have many good suggesstions for improved profitability but the main problem is the lack of balance in reporting the news. They have alienated too many of us. The problems at the New York Times and CBS only exemplify this.
    I prefer to get my news from, where I can easily see 'both' sides of the arguement. [Wow-True? I'll see!]

  5. Mike Phillips Says:

    I’ve just retired from one of the larger media companies, but I spent the last couple of years trying to get 21 newspapers to do much of what you’re proposing.

    To those who disagree with you, here’s some data to chew on: Only 30-35% of the newshole in American newspapers (all sizes) is local. Some 50-70% is commodity news — usually wire but not always, and always information that is readily available elsewhere for free. From proprietary research that I know well: The subjects that are most important to most Americans are health, kids/schools, family issues, community/local and religion/spirituality. Except for general community/local, less than 2% of newshole is the typical allotment for each of those subjects. And oh, by the way, the high-interest audience for sports is only about 25%.

    Conclusion: The fundamental challenge for newspapers is not print-to-web migration (although that’s an important operational strategy). It’s filling print and digital news products with relevant content. And that simply isn’t happening.

  6. BuzzMachine » Blog Archive » Get me rewrite Says:   

    […] Yes, and I’ve also looked at what happens when editors and publishers waste editorial budgets on commodity news, fluff, and egos. Do we need to send 15,000 journalists to the political conventions where nothing happens, which we can all watch on C-SPAN? No. Why do we do it? Ego: to have our people there, our bylines. That is a sinful waste of editorial budgets. Ditto golf columnists going to golf tournaments. Ditto movie critics. Ditto stock tables. I made a few humble suggestions for prioritizing a newspaper budget here. I argue that local newspapers should, indeed, concentrate on what makes them valuable, on what they can do specially: local reporting and investigations. But that takes the strategic courage to get rid of a golf columnist and use the wires and damn the egos and cancel that convention boondoggle so you can have a local reporter truly provide value to your community. Where big papers are reducing staff and closing bureaus, small dailies in those areas are expanding to fill the void. […]

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Unpopular culture

September 26th, 2006 Read More:

I’m at a PBS panel at Reuters on news and the tabloid culture. It starts on a snotty note: a commercial for PBS from its head and sniffing about popular culture, which I find rather disingenuous from an institution that has to exploit Yanni to get money. When people look down on popular culture — aka tabloid culture — they are looking down on the public they supposedly want to serve.

Carl Bernstein argues that “journalism is part of popular culture and we cannot get away from that.” He goes on to say that “I don’t believe that the reporting on the war is as bad as some people, particularly people on the left, say. . . . During Watergate, it took a long time for people to believe in our stories.” The country is turning on the war because they do not believe it’s working and he says they come to that belief because journalists have been dogging coverage of the war.” Yet he turns around to argue that we operate with an “idiot culture” that was once a subculture “but now it is more menacing because it is starting to drown out the process by which people previously have been able to absorb serious information.”

Michael Wolff of Vanity Fair says the problem is that what we in media do is boring. “The form has died.” He also says the economic basis of news is falling apart and that one cannot name a news industry and organization that is not in turmoil.

Poor Janice Min, editor of US Weekly, is being held up as the devil: Ms. Tabloid. She, in turn, holds up TV news as the devil. “I would just rather go online and read the news.”

Todd Gitlin blamed everything on the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, until he was cut off.

Brooke Gladstone of On the Media tells a whining Bernstein that the relationship with media is fundamentally changing. “You can’t use media as a conduit anymore… you have to use it as a conversation.”

Wolff says to Bernstein and Gladstone that “this is all about condescension…. people are reading our news and saying it is full of sheet.”

Gitlin launches off on a lecture on Watergate. Wolff jokes that we should get off this Watergate thing. Gitlin explodes and tells Wolff he’s rude. “Gitlin part of the fucking problem with media” is shouting, he shouts. Wolff: “Part of the problem is is a lack of a sense of humor.” Gitlin, red-faced, proves the point, accusing Wolff of “a lack of grace.”

Bernstein asks the room who voted for Bush. Not a single person raises a hand. “This tells us something about we who are producing this,” he says.

A student from NYU says that between Frontline and US is Jon Stewart. I wish some journalism students — someone under 50 — were on this panel (and there are plenty here from NYU and CUNY). That’s the perspective we’re not hearing. Indeed, we heard some sniffing about having the follow the demographic advertisers want: namely, young people. After saying, with admiration, that Stewart should be nominated by his school for a “fake Pulitzer,” Gitlin — looking at media the old, mass way — says that Jon Stewart’s number[s] are “very low” and that “he is not the voice of a generation.”

I do my predictable rant arguing that this is about respect for the people and about listening. When we dismiss popular culture we dismiss the population. We do see Fanning of PBS and Gladstone of NPR making good use of new media to present news but I argue that is less than half the battle (and the head of PBS says that PBS — particularly Frontline — is looking to use new media to open up to new talent and new reporting): It’s about listening to the people.

Killer local advertising

September 25th, 2006 Read More: , ,

The Journal writes a good primer on marketing online via blogs and search and such. Buried in there is a gem of an anecdote that shows why newspapers and yellow pages are in deep trouble with local advertising — unless they find new ways to serve them and compete with Google:

It’s hard to engage in any public relations, of course, if the public doesn’t know you exist. In early 2004, Kenny Kormendy says he was on welfare and struggling to make ends meet as a taxi driver in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. He had tried to reach the public through typical means,  .../...

The sun sets on Hollywood

September 25th, 2006

Peter Preston writes in the Observer:

. . . Professor Jeremy Tunstall has just written a successor to his magisterial 1977 study, The Media Are American. It is called The Media Were American.

Tunstall’s thesis is simple, but jolting. Of course America still floods the world with movies, music and TV shows. And, of course, their combined value climbs higher and higher. But if we’re talking something different - market share - then the US is in headlong decline, and has been for nearly 50 years. Discount around 100 annual hours of bigbudget movies and the residue is a pitiful, shrivelled thing.  .../...

Who’s afraid of the big, bad mogul?

September 22nd, 2006 Read More:

In light of the Knight Ridder and Tribune fiascos, I have to laugh at all the mewling about big, bad, media consolidation. The mewlers needn’t waste their breathy angst on media companies getting bigger. The big ones are toppling of their own weight, weighed down by their heritage, habits, and huge costs. Others are forced to open up — see the networks taking their shows to the internet. The irony of the parallel falls of the Tribune and Knight empires is that regulation against consolidation is what stopped Knight from diversifying, at least within media, and finding efficiencies with media cross-ownership within its markets. But the fact that Tribune was grandfathered in, owning one of every medium in Chicago, wasn’t enough to save it.

To those who celebrate that some newspapers will be freed from the yoke of remote corporate parents as they are bought up by local egotists, beware: New cash from would-be moguls and kingmakers in local markets will only stave off the inevitable. To those who want to regulate big media into extinction: Relax. They will die of their own weight.

: SEE ALSO: Jack Shafer, who says that trading the big, bad media conglomerate for the local mogul is not such an enticing prospect.

Everybody’s still avoiding the real necessity: restructing the news industry and its products and services. More later.

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