Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Do what you do best. Link to the rest..."

In this thoughtful essay, published on the net in advance of the winter edition of Neiman Reports, John A. Byrne, executive editor of Business Week, explores where we should go -- and where we shouldn't -- as the news media transition from analog to digital. (The entire issue is devoted to essays on the future of journalism.)

Byrne ends the essay with what he hopes never to see, but in the where-we-should-go category, he outlines a digital venture launched by Business Week last fall that not only takes advantage of all technology has to offer, but also keeps the title current. He writes:

"In early September, we launched one of the most ambitious efforts ever to both stretch the BusinessWeek brand and to reinvent ourselves. We call it the Business Exchange. It allows our readers to create and organize around their own topics of interest, from active investors to youth advertising. The moment a topic is created by any user at bx.businessweek.com, a Web page pops up with links to stories and blog posts on that subject from all over the Web. No preference is given to BusinessWeek editorials. A story by one of our journalists is treated no differently than one from Forbes, Fortune, or The Economist or, for that matter, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or The Washington Post. A blog post by a BusinessWeek blogger, moreover, gets the same treatment as one from Henry Blodget at Silicon Alley Insider or John Battelle at Federated Media.

"The 'front page' or 'cover' of each of these topic sites is not determined by an editor but by the community of readers. Whenever a user adds, reads, saves, shares or comments on a story or blog post, that activity is noted by a software algorithm that then places the content on what is essentially the front page. That way, only stories and blogs deemed the most active or useful are shown to the reader, who benefits from the wisdom of the crowd.

"All the members of each topic community are recognized—by photo, profile and their contributions to the network. Indeed, if you admire a member of your community, you can peer over his shoulder to see what stories he is reading, saving, adding or commenting on—if he chooses to keep that activity public.

"Our reporters and editors do not report, write and edit for the Exchange. But they do help to curate the content, adding relevant stories, blog posts, white papers, academic reports, and other reference materials to each topic. If you cover the stock market and an important story breaks on the New York Stock Exchange, you’re expected to immediately search the Web for the best coverage and add it to our topic on Wall Street. A journalist might pose a question or make a comment to help fuel a conversation on the latest news and analysis rather than pick up the phone and start calling his or her sources.

"Of course, this is no replacement for original explanatory journalism that remains at the core of what we do at BusinessWeek. It follows the dictum by Jeff Jarvis, the CUNY journalism professor and blogger, who advises media to 'Do what you do best. Link to the rest.' In a world where time-constrained professionals are trying to keep up with an overabundance of information in their specific fields, the Exchange serves a highly valuable purpose. No less important, it connects like-minded people from every corner of the world in an online community that enriches the journalism at the center."

rekindling the news biz?

This, according to Mediabistro's Mobile Blog Network: USA Today will soon be available via Amazon's Kindle for download, at a monthly price of $11.99.

Other newspapers that are Kindle-ready include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

I'm not sure how to think about this. Will this help to keep newspapers in business? Hasten their demise? I guess it all depends on how many readers -- ostensibly commuters? -- would pay to read the news on a Kindle when they can read it online on a considerably larger flat screen for free.

Intriguing. bk

Monday, December 29, 2008

choices, redux

This time to do with j-school. The timing of which may be appropriate since many of you are considering applications that are due, uh, next month?

Mayka forwarded this post from The Editorialiste that contains many pro/con linx. If you are seriously debating, read them all, especially the post itself. And click on the linx on the linx. and read the comments.

Among the best points by the anonymous author, who indeed went to j-school at Columbia, and who may inspire a deluge of last minute letter of rec requests for yours truly (but whatever...):

"...If there are things you want to do journalistically that you haven't had time to do elsewhere -- write a 3,000-word magazine feature, or craft a book proposal, or spend time practicing at pitching freelance pieces -- j-school is that safety net. It's a safety net made of your tuition dollars, of course, but the way I look at it, those tends of thousands of dollars are you buying yourself time to learn what you didn't know before.

Journalism school might teach you a little, but those who succeed in it are the ones that teach themselves even more. In other words: what you directly learn from classes is 33 percent of your journalism education.

The other 66 percent is getting a freelance pitch accepted or rejected, working all night against deadline, blowing a deadline, misquoting a source, quoting a source correctly and having that person remain unhappy with what they said, blowing past a word limit, being assigned the task of editing your own story, working with another reporter as green as you are on an assignment, and so on. J-school is one or two years of you buying yourself the time to do all of this. You're effectively putting a price tag on that experience, and last time I checked, it can run as high as $65,000."

should i(t) stay or should i(t) go...

Maybe you can discern a pattern here, re the magazine industry. I can't. Nonetheless, here's a bit of good news, bad news and something in-between:

Go to Magazinedeathpool.com to wallow in the dark side of the magazine industry.

Go here for some predictions from Folio Magazine.

And finally, to bask in a little bit of a rosy glow, go here to find out what "Mr. Magazine" (University of Mississippi journalism-department chairman Samir Husni) has to say about magazine launches through November of 2008: only two fewer new titles than last year with the second half of the year, when the economy was in the tank, the strongest.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Devilishly delicious

My nephew Michael Kelley, who may be itching for a gig at The Onion, made his first foray into journalism yesterday by penning the following devilishly sardonic news article:

Clinton Global Initiative Donor List Sparks Controversy
by Michael D. Kelley

The release of the list of donors to former President Bill Clinton's latest philanthropic effort is proving problematic to the incoming Obama Administration.

Among the major contributors is Mephistopheles, the infamous protagonist of Goethe's greatest literary work. The immortal demon has developed a poor reputation, as the driving force behind every human calamity since the dawn of time.

Still, the former president stands behind his philanthropic partner. "Mephisto's a good guy," says Clinton, "just misunderstood. He and I go way back."

Those in Obama's transition team are debating whether the intensely unpopular Ruler of the Underworld might negatively influence the decisions of the incoming administration. Obama addressed the issue Friday, speaking of a recent meeting with Secretary of State Clinton and her husband.

"I have spoken with Hillary and Bill, and I am now confident that Mr. Beelzebub will not be a problem."

Still, doubts linger as to whether That Old Serpent will have an insidious effect on domestic policy, perhaps leading to societal problems such as dancing or the breaking of the Sabbath.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

two linx

Jack Shafer got it right on Slate yesterday, outlining in quick form why digital news is eating the heart out of news papers. He also has a long list of all the jobs -- from pimps to travel agents -- that have been rendered obsolete by the growing ability to do just about everything online. He calls it a "digital slay-ride."

But just because print is terminally ill -- he doesn't give up on news. Nor should we.

Which leads to number two: Politico's Michael Calderone reports that the ASNE (The American Society of Newspaper Editors) is debating taking "paper" out of its name. Which puts the focus where it should be -- on the news itself, rather than the way it's delivered. It's a symbolic move, but optimistic in its own way, possibly shifting the debate to what really matters: journalism, in all its many forms.

Whaddya think? bk

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

slash and burn optimism

Jack forwarded this piece from the NYT on Dean Singleton, owner of MediaNews, which bought our hometown Mercury News from Knight Ridder a few years back. The results have been disastrous for local news junkies -- but a boon for local PR firms, local university journalism programs and Stanford University, all of which have been flooded with solid-gold resumes from veteran staffers who were either bought out or laid off.

But I digress. You've read about Singleton on jlinx before.

In the story, Richard Perez-Pena writes that while MediaNews' timing in buying the Merc and several other dailies couldn't have been worse, Singleton remains optimistic, predicting that "the Mercury News’s revenue base will perform better when things turn around than almost any newspaper in the country.”

Really?! Let's hope that when "things turn around" there will more than a few pages of newsprint left. Counter point from the story:

"Others are not so sure. 'The Bay Area has been the canary in the newspaper coal mine, and that was recognized a long time ago by a lot of people,' said Ken Doctor, a newspaper analyst at the firm Outsell. “The impact of the Internet has been heavier here and earlier here than anywhere else in the country.”

"Sites like Craigslist and eBay, which have long fueled the migration of advertising to the Internet, began in the Bay Area, and are more entrenched there than in any other part of the country.

"Already known for squeezing costs as hard as anyone in the industry, Mr. Singleton and his team have cut spending at a furious pace, trying to keep pace with tumbling revenue. His detractors among analysts and journalists concede that in this market, any owner would have to make deep cuts. But they say that he was already inclined to a slash-and-burn approach that is little more than a prescription for having the papers do steadily less, and do it less well.

“'There’s no newspaper in the country that I know of that’s not suffering,'” said John McManus, a journalism professor at San Jose State University. “'But Dean Singleton has hollowed out The Mercury News.'”

"The Mercury News, the Silicon Valley paper that was long considered one of the nation’s best, began shrinking years before MediaNews took over, under the now-dissolved Knight Ridder chain. The news staff, from a high of more than 400 people early in this decade, has fallen below 150, producing a much slimmer, more locally focused paper.

"It no longer has a movie reviewer. The science and book sections are gone. Most national and international news comes from wire services.

"A business section that was one of the nation’s biggest has shrunk by about two-thirds in the face of competition in its bread-and-butter field — technology — from Web sites like CNet and TechCrunch. Matt Marshall, a reporter covering Silicon Valley’s venture capital scene, left The Mercury News and has his own Web site, VentureBeat, covering much the same ground.

“'My philosophy on pretty much everything these days is born of pure necessity,'” said Bud Geracie, the acting sports editor. “'There’s no grand plan; it’s how we get through today.'”

"Dave Butler, the executive editor, acknowledged that the paper no longer had the ambitions it once did. Now, he said, “'we’re protecting the core mission, which is good, hard local news and information.'”

"Ownership changes and disputes over the direction of the paper have contributed to rapid turnover in the top ranks. The Mercury News has had six publishers and four executive editors in this decade."

There's more. Read it and weep. We do every morning. bk

shoe-leather democracy

By now we've all heard about the notorious shoe-throwing incident on Monday when Iraqi reporter Muntadar al-Zeidi hurled his size 10 at America's lame duck president at a news conference in Baghdad.

As we assuredly know by now as well, a shoe is considered the lowest of the low in Iraq, as the NYT reports, "calling someone the “son of a shoe” is one of the worst insults in Iraq." Here in the U.S., many of us think the whole incident was pretty funny. Cartoonists, late-nighters, and digital funnymen have had a field day. (Check out this series of doctored videos from HuffPo)

But as that same article in the Times reports, al-Zeidi is now being regarded by some as a hero, whose act has unleashed a torrent of sentiment against the U.S. presence in Iraq. From the Times:

"In street-corner conversations, on television and in Internet chat rooms, the subject of shoes was inescapable throughout much of the Middle East on Monday, as was the defiant act that inspired the interest: a huge and spontaneous eruption of anger at President Bush on Sunday in his final visit here. Some deplored Mr. Zaidi’s act as a breach of respect or of traditional Arab hospitality toward guests, even if they shared the sentiment. (Mr. Bush, having demonstrated his quick reflexes, then brushed it off as an expression of democracy.)

“Although that action was not expressed in a civilized manner, it showed the Iraqi feelings, which is to object to the American occupation,” said Qutaiba Rajaa, a 58-year-old physician in Samarra, a Sunni stronghold north of Baghdad.

But many more expressed undiluted pleasure. “I swear by God that all Iraqis with their different nationalities are glad about this act,” said Yaareb Yousif Matti, a 45-year-old teacher from Mosul, in northern Iraq."

But the lowly shoe and the Iraqi who threw both of his at President Bush, with widely admired aim, were embraced around the Arab world on Monday as symbols of rage at a still unpopular war."

Most relevant to me, however -- despite the entertainment factor of it all -- is this piece by Mark Sandalow, formerly Washington bureau chief for the San Francisco Chronicle, who reminds us why reporters need to keep their shoes on their feet and their opinions to themselves.

He writes: "
There is a reason for the "no cheering in the press box" axiom. The public is entitled to information, and journalists have a responsibility to both elicit and broadcast it. Displays of anger, repulsion or even devotion - no matter how righteous - deny the public that information."

He continues later in the piece: "What did al-Zeidi accomplish? Bush ducked, made a few jokes, and said nothing of substance on the atrocities in Iraq. Access to political figures is a gift that should not be squandered.

"What if al-Zeidi had kept his shoes on, and instead lobbed verbally pointed questions about how Bush reconciles the agony of millions of Iraqis with the upbeat assessment of the war he had just given to American troops? Putting the ball in play does not mean asking softball questions. An earnest response would have made news, and a nonanswer would have been illuminating.

"Instead, Bush was asked what he thought about having shoes thrown at him.

"Al-Zeidi is no hero - certainly not as a journalist. Disgust is a satisfying and often entertaining emotion (ever watched Geraldo Rivera or Bill O'Reilly?). But a journalist's job is to educate, not pontificate."

Friday, December 12, 2008

bad day for detroit

On top of everything else, the WSJ is reporting that the Detroit Free Press and its partner paper, The Detroit News, may stop home delivery everyday but Thursday, Friday and Saturday. An abbreviated print edition would be available at newsstands on the other days. Readers would be directed to an expanded digital version.

The Free Press is owned by Gannett. The News, by MediaNews. Possibly the shape of things to come in other cities across the nation? I get it that saving paper and delivery costs would save money for a strapped news org. But not sure it would necessarily build an audience for the paper's website. For example, if you were to go directly online to read the paper while you eat your Cheerios, with all the options out there, would you really log onto the hometown press for anything other than a quick hit of local stories? Don't think I would.

From the article:

"The Free Press and News would be the first dailies in a major metropolitan market to curtail home delivery and drastically scale back the print edition. More newspapers are contemplating similar moves as the erosion of advertising and rising costs of print and delivery have brought publishers to their knees. In October, the Christian Science Monitor said it will stop printing a daily newspaper in April and move instead to an online version with a weekly print product.

Newspaper groups have taken drastic steps lately to align costs with shrinking revenues, including massive staff cuts as well as efforts to consolidate functions through partnerships like the JOA in Detroit. As many of those measures have proven insufficient, publishers have taken a harder look at shifting away from print or abandoning it altogether to save on printing and distribution."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Newsweek: soon just a clever name?

The WSJ reports that Newsweek will soon be a slimmer, less-read version of its former self. It will also be less newsy.

Apparently -- perhaps an attempt to appease readers conditioned by cable TV and the web to expect their news to come with a heavy dose of editorializing as well as color visuals -- the weekly will devote more of the scaled down book to photos and opinion.

It's also a way to save money. Going out and finding the news costs much more than yakking about it -- or for that matter, linking to it. It also takes far more time.

According to the WSJ: "Newsweek is seeking in part to mirror publications like the Economist, which has thrived in a tough market by focusing less on costly news gathering than on driving discussion of the day's issues.

"Mr. Meacham said recently that Newsweek has never been an objective summarizer of the week's events, or 'AP on nicer paper,' though he acknowledged a greater emphasis lately on editorializing. 'We are trying to be more provocative,' he said."

Provocative, good. Fewer pages devoted to actual news, not so much.

In addition to shedding pages, Newsweek may also try to shed readers, which seems counterproductive, but is not necessarily. Again from the WSJ: "Newsweek could benefit from targeting a smaller group of readers for reasons beyond reducing its printing and delivery costs. Some industry veterans think news weeklies must shed even more readers -- and charge more for remaining copies -- to garner an audience for which advertisers will pay a premium."

The magazine will also announce this afternoon that it is cutting staff. bk

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

you can't afford the ticket

In the face of all the bad news lately: a little something to rev up the engines. Don't try to find a connection. There is none.

I just like the song. Have a good holiday and enjoy your break! bk

not this business model, either

At least, not in this economy.

Washington Post, and others, report that NPR is facing the same fiscal woes as its for-profit brethren. According to the piece, 64 employees will be laid off this afternoon. In addition, two shows, aimed at younger listeners, will be killed. The layoffs (7 percent of the workforce) are in response to a recent $23 million shortfall.

NPR was doing fine financially until recently. But the economy finally caught up with the network as the recession began to hammer all its funding sources.

Apparently, this business model isn't the fix we need, either. bk

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

tribune co. fall-out

According to LA Observed, among those who are likely to suffer from the Trib's file for bankruptcy are freelancers and those who recently got severance packages. Read all about it here. bk

News 2.0: what journalism isn't

Josh Korr of Publishing 2.0 offers this advice on deciding what NOT to write when it comes to digital journalism or what Jeff Jarvis calls the "link economy."

In addition to telling stories in new ways that take advantage of all the bells and whistles out there on the web, Korr suggests that we should also avoid fillers.

He writes:

Once newsrooms better define their idea of filler, it’ll be easier to stop those stories before they start. It’ll also make it easier to come up with better ways of treating certain subjects.

For example, “scrapbook news” — county fairs, local events, awards — could be a place to start experimenting with crowdsourcing. National or world news that has become filler because of the nature of wire coverage could be made relevant through linking. Local political coverage could focus more on how policies will affect readers and less on news-free campaign events. And crime coverage could become more data-driven and be integrated “into a health & safety site, because violence is a public health issue,” as Jane Stevens suggests.

Monday, December 8, 2008

more looks forward?

A few bright spots on a black day:

During the week that some of us were in a tryptophan and beaujolais noveau coma (okay, just our family), I collected a few spots of hope re journalism as we may know it. Click and learn:

From Jeremy:

From Alice:

From Chad:

Meanwhile, got this email from Jack today, who wrote: " Just wanted to pass along a link of an investigation my fellow database colleague was working on for 8 months, a project that runs today and tomorrow. Lots of data to pinpoint specific problems. Makes me wonder if partnering with universities to assist with high-level data would be good for newspapers as they find their post-modern Internet niche.

Which is interesting, considering this.

And finally, let's look at this about politico.

Yes, I'm making you work. Linx: not just a clever name. bk

a look forward?

On a bad day for journalism:

CNet's Greg Sandoval reports today that the Pullitzer committee has decided to consider entries from online-only publications for the 14 journalism categories.

Sandoval writes:

Why the change of heart? The board has turned up its nose at online journalism for a decade, but not even the guardians of newspaper-journalism's highest honor can ignore that many readers now favor getting information from online sources more than newspapers.

Thanks, Andrea. bk

it began

Update from this morning: According to the WSJ and many others, The Tribune Co. has just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. bk

the medium: once again, the message?

The founder of an online writer's group that i belong to forwarded a link to this article by Virginia Heffernan in yesterday's NYT Magazine on the disconnect between the work of traditional media folks and the new digital forms of delivery.

She writes:

"We have to develop content that metamorphoses in sync with new ways of experiencing it, disseminating it and monetizing it. This argument concedes that it’s not possible to translate or extend traditional analog content like news reports and soap operas into pixels without fundamentally changing them. So we have to invent new forms. All of the fascinating, particular, sometimes beautiful and already quaint ways of organizing words and images that evolved in the previous centuries — music reviews, fashion spreads, page-one news reports, action movies, late-night talk shows — are designed for a world that no longer exists. They fail to address existing desires, while conscientiously responding to desires people no longer have."

Some interesting ideas in the 1000-word piece (which in itself is not exactly a digital-friendly presentation), most especially in the comments that follow. What I wonder is if these new modes of delivery will enhance the values that make journalism relevant -- or distract from them. Or whether in the land of Web 3.0, too much of the burden of keeping current will fall on the backs of the news consumers themselves. We will become our own watchdogs?

And what about the emergence of product-oriented "content" on company websites? I am grown-up enough to know that cosmetics ads support much of the content in women's magazines. Still, I'd rather read about the best under-eye cream in Vogue than on Oil of Olay's website. I think. bk

now it begins?

Multiple sources are reporting this morning that the Tribune Co. -- which owns the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, two of the largest newspapers in the country -- is considering filing for bankruptcy. Read all abut it here, here and here.

Whether or not owner Sam Zell, a real estate magnate who also owns the Chicago Cubs, can pull his company through his current financial crisis is not as important in the big picture as what the impending Chapter 11 says about the future of daily journalism. If nothing else, it points to the urgency of coming up with a new financial model for supporting the daily press -- whether it comes to us on paper, the net or Blackberry.

Maybe the journalism industry needs a hit of that bail-out money. Seriously. At the very least, we could use a cash infusion to support some smart folks to think through a new way of doing business -- before the whole business implodes.

This quarter, I had my intro students come up with blueprints for the news organization of the future, based on the principles outlined in Kovach and Rosenstiel's Elements of Journalism. One group came up with an idealistic financial model: support the news organization through something similar to a university endowment, based on donations from the community itself, which has the most interest in a vital daily press, and keeping the funds in a blind trust so that the donors could not influence the news.

I was once asked by a student what it would take to encourage more students to go into journalism rather than, say, public relations -- given the disparities of starting salaries. Caught off-guard, I shot off my mouth, suggesting that maybe there should be some sort of government program that offers student loan forgiveness (similar to the Peace Corps) to those kids who are willing move to the the middle of the country to work for small papers for slave wages.

Mark I. Pinsky, writing in The New Republic, has this idea: Barack Obama should resurrect the Federal Writers Project (one of FDR's programs during the Great Depression) and bail out laid-off journalists, paying them to document, among other things, "the ground-level impact of the Great Recession; chronicling the transition to a green economy; or capturing the experiences of the thousands of immigrants who are changing the American complexion. Like the original FWP, the new version would focus in particular on those segments of society largely ignored by commercial and even public media. At the same time, the multimedia fruits of this research would be open-sourced to all media, as well as to academics."

He also writes: "Like Detroit's troubled Big Three automakers, federal intervention to save the newspaper and magazine industries are highly problematic, at best. Ink-on-paper periodicals are never coming back, and it may be some time before the web can provide well-paying jobs with health benefits--if it ever will. Until then, providing some way to provide young journalists a way to get started, or displaced media workers a way to transition to new occupations, or to retirement, might help--and serve the nation in the process."

More ideas later. (Maybe the first one ought to be to delete "newspaper" from the discussion and use "press" as a generic, rather than a specific, so the conversation can focus on journalism rather than modes of delivery.) Stay tuned. bk

P.S. More dismal news. According to the New York Times, McClatchy has put the Miami Herald, once Knight-Ridder's flagship paper, up for sale.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

CNN - AP = X

So there's this. CNN is in the process of setting up a wire service to compete with AP and is currently courting newspapers to sign on.

Interesting on many levels, not the least of which is the fact that, for those papers that are successfully wooed, CNN would morph from competitor to partner. What's more, CNN would be a cheaper alternative to AP, which can cost midsize newspapers up to a million a year to receive everything that's on the AP wire.

In a piece in Saturday's SF Chronicle, Joe Garofoli suggests the fact that several newspapers attended a meet-and-greet in Atlanta this week to consider switching to CNN's service once it is up and running is yet another sign of the deepening financial crisis that is hastening the death of newspaper journalism across the country.

(According to Editor and Publisher, Fitch ratings, a Chicago based credit-rating firm, reports that several cities could have no daily newspaper by 2010.)

From Garofoli's piece:

While the Atlanta gathering was largely a low-key, get-to-know-you affair according to some who attended, it illustrates how dwindling revenues - and shrinking staffs - are forcing many newspapers to forget longtime allegiances and competitors as they confront their own limits.

"Readers should be concerned about the deterioration of the American newspaper," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. "Most of what they read - be it on blogs or aggregators or elsewhere - comes from newspaper or newspaper wire services.

"There is no way that citizen media, online media or TV can compensate for those losses. If the number of reporters continues to shrink, it would add to the lengthening shadow that falls over American culture," he said. "What is not covered is not known."

Like AP, CNN's service will offer wire access to national and international reports, something fewer and fewer newspapers can sport on their own. And because CNN's service will cost less than AP's, the switch might free up more resources for local reporting.

But there's also this: As more and more dailies give up reporting outside their city limits, you have to wonder if those folks who don't have the time to troll the web each day for alternate, and sometimes obscure, sources of information will be left with the sights from a single watchdog when it comes to national and international affairs. Scary stuff, especially if Fido gets it wrong. bk

Thursday, December 4, 2008

so not news

In case you missed it, read this piece by Maureen Dowd on James Macpherson, who puts out Pasadena Now -- an online daily -- that is completely outsourced, as in reported and written, by writers in India. FYI: Pasadena is in California.

Words fail.

Writes Dowd:

He said he got the idea to outsource about a year ago, sitting in his Pasadena home, where he puts out Pasadena Now with his wife, Candice Merrill. Macpherson had worked in the ’90s for designers like Richard Tyler and Alan Flusser, and had outsourced some of his clothing manufacturing to Vietnam.

So, he thought, “Where can I get people who can write the word for less?” In a move that sounded so preposterous it became a Stephen Colbert skit, he put an ad on Craigslist for Indian reporters and got a flood of responses.

He fired his seven Pasadena staffers — including five reporters — who were making $600 to $800 a week, and now he and his wife direct six employees all over India on how to write news and features, using telephones, e-mail, press releases, Web harvesting and live video streaming from a cellphone at City Hall.
“I pay per piece, just the way it was in the garment business,” he says. “A thousand words pays $7.50.”

does the exception prove the rule?

Or does it refute it?

The conventional wisdom when it comes to journalism is that corporate-owned media is the great Satan. Certainly, you can find some truth there.

But the dirty little secret is that independent, or family-owned, media is not always the antidote.

One case in point: Wendy McCaw, uber-rich owner and publisher of the Santa Barbara News Press, who has proven yet again that a news organization that is owned by someone who answers to no one can be its own version of journalism hell.

Back in 2006, McCaw drew the wrath of journalists all over the world when she breached the church-state wall by, among other things, interfering in editorial decisions and showing the door to folks who disagreed with her. Many others simply walked.

Read all about in American Journalism Review.

And now, three weeks before Christmas, she has summarily shut down the Goleta Valley Voice, a sattelite paper that covered the nearby town of Goleta, as well as Valley Living, which covered the Santa Ynez Valley, another nearby community. It was a cost-cutting move. In a piece for the Santa Barbara Independent, Matt Kettman writes: "By closing the two papers, the News-Press was able to lay off 17 employees. The two papers will be 'incorporated and expanded' into the daily newspaper under this 'new operational structure.'”

Those 17 employees, however, will not be part of it. bk

life follows capstone ... again

Back in spring of 2006, capstoner Katie Dooling (clearly, a playwright in journalist's clothing) chose to do her capstone as a narrative piece on the folks who live in mobile home communities in the Bay Area.

Who thinks of that?

It was well-reported and beautifully written, loaded with detail, a sense of place, and fascinating characters. More importantly, she uncovered a lot of the inherent insecurity of residents who owned their homes -- but not the patch of land they sat on.

Apparently she jumped the Merc -- and life itself -- by a couple of years. Mercury News photograher Dai Sugano won an Emmy Award Monday for his video of mobile home residents in Sunnyvale, who had been uprooted when their mobile home park recently closed.

You can see Sugano's piece here: thoroughly compelling video that immediately engages you and reminds you why visuals are an important piece of news websites. Still, Katie was able to achieve that same sense of engagement -- with words on paper. bk

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

write that on the blackboard

Some 200 hours of former president Richard Nixon's tapes were released yesterday, revealing even more examples of the creepy paranoia that marked his presidency. Case in point, this admonition to his staff after he had won his second election, by a landslide:

"Never forget, the press is the enemy. The press is the enemy. The press is the enemy. The establishment is the enemy. The professors are the enemy. The professors are the enemy. Write that on the blackboard 100 times and never forget it."

A badge of honor, times two. bk

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

youtube politics

In an attempt to do I-don't-know-what, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to go directly to the masses with his State of the City speech this week. Read all about it right here.

Was the point to feed democracy? Provide direct access to constituents? Bypass the press?

His speech logged in at some seven-and-a-half hours, kid you not, and has been posted in webisodes on his own youtube channel in blocks of up to an hour. Sounds like a fun way to spend the day, yeah?

Is anyone watching? Not really, when you compare the number of hits he has gotten so far with the circulation, measly as it has become, of the hometown newspaper, which has spent more ink on his manner of delivery than on what he actually said.

Columnist C.W. Nevius, for example, wrote about the whole exercise in today's Chronicle, bringing up a bunch of questions that echo my own, some of which I noted here a few weeks ago when I posted a link to the WaPo article on president-elect Obama's plan to use the web to communicate directly with his supporters, again bypassing the press. Nevius, of course, was funny. You can read his piece here.

And so you gotta wonder. Is this the way of the future? Has the news media not only lost its readers -- but its talking heads? In theory, speaking directly to the people, with access for all, is good. But then there's that little nag, even if that politician happens to be your guy. Don't we want someone to vet what s/he has to say? The journalists' job is to provide the whole pix, and sometimes speechification doesn't quite get it done.

Pallin' around with a terrorist, for example, might be nothing more than serving on a committee with a college professor. bk