Monday, March 30, 2009

blodder fog

In a somewhat refreshing, if not just a little bit cranky, twist, Slate's Jack Shafer proposes that it's time to lose the idea that newspapers are "essential for democracy". He also points out the irony in the fact that, suddenly, newspapers' impassioned champions are some of the same folks who formerly wrung their hands in despair over the industry's failings. He writes:

The insistence on coupling newspapering to democracy irritates me not just because it overstates the quality and urgency of most of the work done by newspapers but because it inflates the capacity of newspapers to make us better citizens, wiser voters, and more enlightened taxpayers. I love news on newsprint, believe me, I do. But I hate seeing newspapers reduced to a compulsory cheat sheet for democracy. All this lovey-dovey about how essential newspapers are to civic life and the political process makes me nostalgic for the days, not all that long ago, when everybody hated them.

And, somewhat related, but not really: Today's Chron has a review, by Saul Austerlitz, of a collection of pieces by the late A. J. Leibling, who wrote for The New Yorker for several decades. Austerlitz finds Liebling's "The Wayward Press" columns especially timely right now. From the review (yep, the Chron still prints them...):

Astute readers will find much to enjoy here, but it is "The Press," Liebling's collection of pieces written for the New Yorker's "Wayward Press" column between the late 1940s and early 1960s, that is of the utmost interest in this time of media uncertainty. "The Press" is a reminder, above all, that the purported Golden Age of journalism was never all that golden. Liebling bemoans the state of his profession, ridden with money-hungry publishers, newspapers providing everything except news, and journalists living in mortal fear of losing their jobs. (If any of this sounds remotely familiar, by all means stop me.) Publishers, in Liebling's estimation, are like saloon-keepers, thinking of news as "a costly and uneconomic frill, like the free lunch that saloons used to furnish to induce customers to buy beer."

Ever the master of the pungent metaphor, Liebling cunningly defines the media as an industry poised halfway between the gleaming future and the creaky past. "The American press makes me think of a gigantic, super-modern fish cannery, a hundred floors high, capitalized at eleven billion dollars, and with tens of thousands of workers standing ready at the canning machines, but relying for its raw material on an inadequate number of handline fishermen in leaky rowboats."

Today, the fish cannery has been repossessed, and the machines are every bit as leaky as the rowboats, but the fundamental principle remains the same. Newspapers - the media - are our first resource, and our last line of defense.

"A large number of competing newspapers," Liebling observes, "permitting representation of various shades of thought, are a country's best defense against being stampeded into barbarism." Having only recently returned from covering the North African front, where American soldiers fought Nazis, Liebling did not use the term "barbarism" lightly.

arianna steps up

Huffington Post announced yesterday that it is launching an investigative journalism project, similar to ProPublica, that will be funded by several philanthropic entities. The initial budget of $1.75 million "should be enough for 10 staff journalists who will primarily coordinate stories with freelancers, said Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief."

Stories produced by the project would be available for free to any news media once the pieces have been posted on HuffPo.

From the article:

Huffington said she hoped to encourage others to fund similar ventures. Foundation spending to support journalists is a promising trend, although the money set aside for such ventures represents far less than what a newspaper would spend to thoroughly cover a community, said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Foundation-based journalism will also require organizations to prove that situations are being looked at with a truly open mind, a larger burden than that faced by newspapers, he said.

The Huffington Post skews liberal, but its founder promised that the work done by the investigative fund would be nonpartisan. The group would be discredited quickly if it puts out faulty information, said Nick Penniman, the fund's executive director.

"We care about democracy, not Democrats," he said.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

meanwhile ...

... I came across this piece on journalism education by Dan Gilmor, director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship and Kauffman Professor of Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication.

Writing on PBS' MediaShift, Gilmor finds that journalism education needs to educate both the practioner as well as the consumer, and to teach principles as the foundation -- and practice as an "evolving superstructure," in an increasingly digital world.

The Cronkite School, where I'm teaching, is one of many journalism programs aiming to be part of the 21st Century. The school understands at its core that digital technology has transformed the practice, though we hope not the principles, of the craft. This is welcome, if overdue; if newspapers have adapted fitfully to the collision of technology and media, journalism schools as a group may have been even slower.

But that recognition, while valuable, isn't nearly enough. Journalism educators should be in the vanguard of an absolutely essential shift for society at large: helping our students, and people in our larger communities, to navigate and manage the myriad information streams of a media-saturated world.

We need to help them understand why they need to become activists as consumers -- by taking more responsibility for the quality of what they consume, in large part by becoming more critical thinkers. And they need to understand their emerging role as creators of media.

In both cases, as consumers and creators, we start with principles.

For media consumers:

• Be Skeptical
• Exercise Judgement
• Open Your Mind
• Keep Asking Questions
• Learn Media Techniques

For media creators (after incorporating the above):

• Be Thorough
• Get it Right
• Insist on Fairness
• Think Independently
• Be Transparent, Demand Transparency

The principles underpin everything I believe about modern media consumption in general -- entertainment being the major exception -- and journalism in particular. Especially for the creators of media, they add up to being honorable.

If the principles are the foundation, the practices and tactics are an evolving superstructure. Journalism education needs to deal with both.

theory vs skills for the new millenium

Take a trip in the way-back machine to visit the debate about journalism education a few decades ago. According to the progressives, j-schools that focused too much on skills, rather than theory, were nothing more than trade schools, grooming students for entry level jobs. Those who hammered on basic skills in the classroom were considered the dinosaurs.

Then came the so-called crisis in journalism (looking back, that seems ridiculous) close to ten years ago when many thinkers got together and revisited the debate. Most all agreed that the progressives were on the right track. Sure, technique is important, but it's the mission and purpose of journalism that needs to be front and center in the classroom. The purpose -- beyond knowing how to craft a lede in snappy prose and figuring out what belongs in that sacred real estate between the quotation marks -- should be to interrogate the profession itself, to paraphrase Mitchell Stephens, to question all that journalism could and should be.

But now it appears from this piece in New York Magazine -- cleverly titled "Columbia J-School's Existential Crisis" -- the debate has been upended. Those who cling to the fundamentals of journalism that can translate, ultimately, to most any platform are considered the dinosaurs. (Why is it that when j-profs focus on journalism itself, they are assumed to be pied pipers leading students off the cliff we used to know as newspapers?)

Those considered on the cutting edge are the profs who emphasize technique, who teach students how to blog and twitter and learn multi-media skills.

The article itself is just the jump-off point. Go to the comments, especially from the Columbia J-School students, to get a handle on the debate and see how it rages from those on the front lines.

My two cents? If you can't do the reporting, and learn why it matters, sound slides and tweets and 90 second videos probably don't matter much more than deliciously clever 30-word ledes. Getting the story comes first. How you deliver it, that's the gravy.

And p.s., you really don't need a class to learn how to blog. bk

Friday, March 27, 2009

three quick hits...

Again with the three dot bloggery...

But all good stuff, tho only connected by a slim thread. Anyhow...

Go here for a good laugh, re making a career out of the newspaper deathwatch, from Paul Dalling, who writes on Huff Po that he has decided to become a "Death of Newspapers" blogger:

I'll join the ranks of Jeff Jarvis, Paul Gillin, Jay Rosen and Clay Shirky in competing to see who can use the most jargon to describe something everyone knows is happening.

Apparently, it's very simple. The more you self-reference, pick feuds and talk about the failure of TimesSelect, the better you're doing. If you make it sound like you're the one who figured out newspapers are dying, you win.

I mean, the point's not to fix anything. It's to describe the problem more dramatically than the next guy. If Steve Outing says newspapers have a "death spiral" and Clay Shirky predicts "a bloodbath," the point goes to Shirky.

Thus prepped, go here for something more serious: A reading list from Jay Rosen on the future of news (or death of news, whichever), featuring links to thoughtful pieces by many of the names you may remember from Dalling's piece.

Finally, go here for an op-ed in today's Chron by David Sirota on "newspapers' self-inflicted blows". He makes many good points, which you will have to read for yourself, but what really caught me was his lead:
At Northwestern University in the mid-1990s, the journalism professor with the most devoted student following was an understated teacher who said that substantive writing and reporting isn't everything, it's the only thing. Alternately despondent and sanguine, he reminded me of Grady from the book "Wonder Boys" when he told us that he spent weekends drinking in his closet and that he corrected papers in green ink because "green is the color of hope."

I love it: ".... it isn't everything, it's the only thing." And that's why, all evidence to the contrary, I could never become a "death of newspapers" blogger.

Unless of course, there was money in it. bk

The Christian Science Monitor: Treeless

Today marks the last day of The Christian Science Monitor's daily print edition. Starting Monday, the Monitor will publish online only, with the exception of one weekly print edition. Go here to read a letter from John Yemma, the editor. Go here for reminiscences from many Monitor staffers, past and present.

Go here for an interview between Yemma and NPR's Terry Gross.

Unlike other papers that depend primarily on advertising to pay the bills, the Monitor should be able to make the transition without resorting to massive cuts in the newsroom -- the dreaded 12 percent solution -- or a decrease in the quality or scope of the journalism. Or so we hope.

I got my first clip -- and first paycheck -- from the Monitor for a feature on pidgin and creole languages, pegged to the work of two Stanford professors. bk

Thursday, March 26, 2009

obama and the news

Connect the dots (or the linx) on President Obama's press conference on Tuesday night, and the subsequent chatter. May tell us something we do -- or don't -- want to know regarding the news media deathwatch -- and suggest where we might go from here.

First, go here to read a piece from politico's Michael Calderon on how the president snubbed the print prom queens at Tuesday's conference.

Then, go here to read a piece in The Nation by Leslie Savan, who writes that, on the night of forementioned conference, "Barack Obama was up there playing ping-pong by himself." The point: dumb questions.

And finally, go here to see how the press gets bypassed altogether: the online town hall. bk

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

a stimulus package to save the news?

In this week's The Nation, Robert McChesney and John Nichols make a good case for government intervention to bail out a collapsing news industry. What's more, they offer concrete solutions. They call it a "free press 'infrastructure project' that is necessary to maintain an informed citizenry, and democracy itself. I like it.

Read the article -- it's long, but worth the time investment -- here.

From the piece:
... When French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently engineered a $765 million bailout of French newspapers, free marketeers rushed to the barricades to declare, "No, no, not in the land of the free press." Conventional wisdom says that the founders intended the press to be entirely independent of the state, to preserve the integrity of the press. Bree Nordenson notes that when she informed famed journalist Tom Rosenstiel that her visionary 2007 Columbia Journalism Review article concerned the ways government could support the press, Rosenstiel "responded brusquely, 'Well, I'm not a big fan of government support.' I explained that I just wanted to put the possibility on the table. 'Well, I'd take it off the table,' he said."
We are sympathetic to that position. As writers, we have been routinely critical of government--Democratic and Republican--over the past three decades and antagonistic to those in power. Policies that would allow politicians to exercise even the slightest control over the news are, in our view, not only frightening but unacceptable. Fortunately, the rude calculus that says government intervention equals government control is inaccurate and does not reflect our past or present, or what enlightened policies and subsidies could entail.


We begin with the notion that journalism is a public good, that it has broad social benefits far beyond that between buyer and seller. Like all public goods, we need the resources to get it produced. This is the role of the state and public policy. It will require a subsidy and should be regarded as similar to the education system or the military in that regard. Only a nihilist would consider it sufficient to rely on profit-seeking commercial interests or philanthropy to educate our youth or defend the nation from attack. With the collapse of the commercial news system, the same logic applies. Just as there came a moment when policy-makers recognized the necessity of investing tax dollars to create a public education system to teach our children, so a moment has arrived at which we must recognize the need to invest tax dollars to create and maintain news gathering, reporting and writing with the purpose of informing all our citizens.

So, if we can accept the need for government intervention to save American journalism, what form should it take? In the near term, we need to think about an immediate journalism economic stimulus, to be revisited after three years, and we need to think big. Let's eliminate postal rates for periodicals that garner less than 20 percent of their revenues from advertising. This keeps alive all sorts of magazines and journals of opinion that are being devastated by distribution costs. It is these publications that often do investigative, cutting-edge, politically provocative journalism.

What to do about newspapers? Let's give all Americans an annual tax credit for the first $200 they spend on daily newspapers. The newspapers would have to publish at least five times per week and maintain a substantial "news hole," say at least twenty-four broad pages each day, with less than 50 percent advertising. In effect, this means the government will pay for every citizen who so desires to get a free daily newspaper subscription, but the taxpayer gets to pick the newspaper--this is an indirect subsidy, because the government does not control who gets the money. This will buy time for our old media newsrooms--and for us citizens--to develop a plan to establish journalism in the digital era. We could see this evolving into a system to provide tax credits for online subscriptions as well.

None of these proposed subsidies favor or censor any particular viewpoint. The primary condition on media recipients of this stimulus subsidy would be a mild one: that they make at least 90 percent of their content immediately available free online. In this way, the subsidies would benefit citizens and taxpayers, expanding the public domain and providing the Internet with a rich vein of material available to all.
The above are just quick hits. Much more... bk

more for the spank tank

According to this piece in Advertising Age, Jon Stewart's next target for an on-air spanking should be Sumner Redstone, who runs not only Comedy Central's parent company, Viacom, but CBS Corp as well.

(Can't remember Stewart's blistering attack on CNBC's Cramer? Go here.)

The story, by Simon Dumenco, does a great job of skewering the news media execs who with one hand still rake in the big bucks -- much like our friends at AIG -- while with the other, they continue to decimate the ranks of journalists who are the one who actually produce the product.

From Dumenco's piece:

... I'd like to see something a bit more courageous than, say, Jon Stewart bitch-slapping Jim Cramer and CNBC. Shooting fish in a barrel -- another media company's fish -- is great sport and even better TV, but what I'd really like to see, now that the media has collectively consecrated the fake news of the "Daily Show" as realer and more truthful than the real news, is Stewart going ballistic on, say, the guys upstairs: Sumner Redstone and the clowns who have been helping him "run" his media companies.

Redstone, after all, is the ultimate boss of not only the fake news but some real news, too. His ironically named National Amusements controls both Viacom (Comedy Central's parent company) and CBS Corp. Ask the gang at nickel-and-dimed CBS News how they feel about Redstone's leadership.

And let's do the arithmetic on how billionaire Redstone has further enriched himself and his executive ranks while making value-destroying decisions. In its most recent report on Sumner's compensation, covering 2007, BusinessWeek calculated that he pulled in nearly $10 mil; I can't wait for the 2008 numbers to get tallied. Go back a couple years to 2005, when Redstone was still sticking with his brilliant plan to have Les Moonves and Tom Freston co-run Viacom as co-prezzies/co-COOs (before he split the company in two). In that year Redstone pulled down $56 million, and Moonves and Freston pulled down $52 million each. And let's not forget that when Freston got iced out in 2006, he scored a $59 million severance package.

In the bizarro world of American big media, it's no wonder there's no money left for journalism anymore.

Monday, March 23, 2009

don't forget the WWW's

"Rhymes with Orange" by hilary price

Hmmmm. I wonder if this is fair use? Should it be? bk

and suppose the choice is oreos?

The newspaper death march continues. The Ann Arbor News announced today that it will close up shop in July to be replaced by, a digital site for daily news. Read the press release from the editor, who admits that lay-offs are inevitable, here.

Go here to watch a talk from the "Content Director" of

He says that the new site is not the "death of journalism" in Ann Arbor, but the future of it as local bloggers and community members will end up sharing the venue with professionals. (Possibly a consequence of the 12 percent solution?) He goes on to say that, in order to shape the site, "We're not going to tell you what's important in your life -- you're going to tell us what's important to you."

Really? I thought that was part of the journalist's job. Consider what gets lost, especially if no one opts for the broccoli. bk

whose use is fair use?

GeeWhy forwards this link to an NYT article on copyright wars between Google-owned YouTube and users who post home videos that, for example, may include a cover of a copyrighted hit. The story suggests that in the digital age, the definition of "fair use" is in flux.

From the article:

The situation has raised anew questions about the meaning of fair use under copyright law in the context of the digital age, when anyone can easily excerpt copyrighted works and distribute the result in a manner that is sometimes hard to identify as being a commercial product.

Last year Dustin McLean, who works as an animator on Current TV’s comedy show “Super News,” posted a video of A-Ha’s 1980s hit “Take On Me.” But it was Mr. McLean singing, not the real lyrics but about what was actually happening in the video. He got two million views in three months, and a new genre was born, called “literal videos.”

“It was just a silly idea,” he said. When the video was removed, he said, “fans started e-mailing me and asking, ‘why did you take down your video?’”

His videos can now been seen on or his own site,, and so far he has been free from the copyright police.

The law provides a four-point test for the fair use of copyrighted works, taking into account things like the purpose, the size of an excerpt and the effect the use might have on the commercial value of the actual work.

The body of law is ever-evolving, and each era and technology seems to force new interpretations. In the 1960s, for example, the Zapruder film, the home movie that captured the Kennedy assassination, was bought and copyrighted by Time magazine. But a judge denied that it could be a copyrighted work because of its value to the public interest.

But GeeWhy sees this particular clash in a different light, suggesting it gets close to the crux of the problem responsible for the current newspaper death march. He writes:
This story is often framed as the old fossils in the music
not understanding the digital age and attacking innocent kids
who post their singing on youtube with no desire to make money off it.
But it's really an issue between the industry and google/youtube, which
makes an estimated $500 million off ads connected to the youtube
uploads. The record industry is trying to come to some sort of financial
arrangement with google, just as the newspaper industry should be trying to come to some sort of agreement with them. As I've said many times, Google is making a fortune off free content from the music industry and journalism. They then cleverly try to make this an issue of innocent bloggers/youtubers getting harassed by big industries. (Groups like the Electronic Freedom Foundation play right along with their dubious claims that everyone will make money if only everything were free; they use the lame argument that people viewing or reading something somehow magically translates into ad dollars.) But google just doesn't want to pay for their free content. The press is not doing a good job of framing this issue. Take this starts with an anecdotal lede about a cute 14 year old getting threatened with a lawsuit. It's not until the end of the article that the real issue is touched on — google making money off content they get for free and don't want to pay for.

From a PR standpoint, this is a horrible situation for newspapers and
the music industry. Both have enjoyed near monopoly status. Both have
made horrible business decisions. And nearly all consumers now have much better alternatives than the old days. (This nostalgia for the old days of corporate newspapers is a bit much; most papers were/are pretty awful.) But this should really be framed as a battle between artists and writers, most of whom make very little money, versus Google. Not corporate media versus 14 year olds singing songs on youtube.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

three quick linx..

...on the future of journalism:

1. Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker (with whom I rarely agree) offers the following insight on the implosion of journalism as we once knew it. Read the whole column, where she castigates Rush Limbaugh and others, here.
The biggest challenge facing America's struggling newspaper industry may not be the high cost of newsprint or lost ad revenue, but ignorance stoked by drive-by punditry.
2. Go here to read San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll's reflections on the hangover from Saturday's vote on the new union contract. Call it melancholy:

I try to view this without nostalgia. Of course I grew up with newspapers; of course I romanticized them. My first day in the city room of The Chronicle, I felt like a prince of the realm, even though I was editing the crossword puzzle. But it seems to me that the death of newspapers would rapidly contract the world, even as the Internet is supposed to be expanding it.

Yes, we'll know about something cool that happened in Bangalore, but will we know about something uncool? Will we know about the problem with the sewer system? Would you click on that? No, but you might read it. And if you read a lot, then maybe you'd begin to have a visceral sense of the problems with the world's water supply, and what we might to do to help.

I know that if Britney Spears takes her shirt off in South Africa, I'll know about it. I am not at all sure that if four young protesters in Cape Town have their shirts ripped to shreds by bullets from police rifles, I'll ever know about it. That's what newspapers do: They connect, using the most accessible technology of all. People who do not have electricity can still have a newspaper.

And 3. Finally, go here to read about Nancy Pelosi's suggestion to the DOJ antitrust division "to look at the 'market realities' of competition in the digital age when reviewing mergers or 'other arrangements' of competing newspapers. The local angle? A collaborative venture that merges the Chron with the Merc, something that I've heard whispered more than once. Years ago, such consolidation would have sent shivers up and down the spines of anyone even tangentially related to journalism. Today, it's just one more sign of desperate -- and changing -- times.

From the story:

The Justice Department has traditionally been concerned that a merger of papers in the same market would give the surviving entity too much power to set prices for advertising.

Newspapers, however, have argued that the market for advertising is much broader, including online news and advertising competitors such as Craigslist, Google and Yahoo.

Antitrust regulators' other concern has been with preserving the number of editorial voices in a community. For that reason, when newspapers have combined operations in the past, they have been restricted to back office, printing, circulation and other non-news functions.

near and far

Just when you get to thinking that blogs are senseless, the following comment blows in, illustrating, if nothing else, the far reach of information. I do not know who "F" is -- but thank you. You can find the article "F" references here.
Blogger F said...

Hi,I am an english senior from China. I have just read your article - College:Time for passionate pursuits - on an old magazine.I guess the article was written five years ago.However, the scene exactly depicts what we experience at class now.As senior students, many of my classmates are busy seeking for jobs or just sleeping in their dorms. Once there are only three students attending the class. Our teacher said he liked small class but I can feel his disappointment. I hope I can meet people who are passionate with their own ideas instead of majority followers but I feel it is not very likely especially when the reality push us to be realists.

I like the ending of this articles very much.

Thanks for your articles.

bloggers anonymous

Editorial Comment: Filling those empty retirement hours, when you don't have a 'real' community anymore...

courtesy Ted Pease, journalism prof, Utah State University.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

will the kids please stand up


First I read this: A piece in entitled "why teach journalism". What I liked about Cary Tennis' reply to the query from a long-time J-teacher was the following:

As to the conventions of story form and lingo that are often taught in journalism school, and as to the many artifacts and customs that make up our lore, we are tradespeople and we are proud of what we know how to do. We like our tools and our lingo. But we must be smart and nimble, and if we remain sentimentally attached to the artifacts of our trade in the face of massive technological change, then we are no better than GM.

So I do not think it is such a terrible thing that your journalism students are entering an uncertain world. It's the kind of world that is ripe for enterprising journalists. It is the kind of world that needs to be reported on and explained.

Where information is kept hasn't changed all that much. The information is still in people's heads and in official records. How to get it remains much the same.

Leave it to your students to create new modes for the buying and selling of this information. Their generation will do this. I feel confident about that.

Teach them how to find out what is true and what is hidden, and how to say it so others can understand what it means and why it is important. Then you will have done your job and given them the gift of a lifetime.

It parallels what I have long thought about teaching j classes: it's about the values, the principles, the news judgment, the ethics, the reporting. While inverted pyramids and podcasts and sound slides and 60-second videos go in and out of vogue, it's the mission rather than the razzle-dazzle that matters most. And that's what we teach. Or should. Kids end up going into journalism because they believe in it -- not because they like to write or shoot video. They will be the ones to redefine the business of it. I wrote about this in a long research review several years ago -- before the industry began to implode. My point:
Indeed, as the mediascape morphs at breakneck speed, what's state-of-the-art technique today may well be obsolete tomorrow. Clearly, the journalists who will succeed amidst the swirling change as well as assert leadership in taking their institution forward will be those whose journalism education taught them to think critically about journalism

And so then I read this: A piece from on the future of journalism via the latest Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism report. The report is nothing if not pessimistic. It starts with this: "If the news agenda was narrow in 2007, it constricted considerably more in 2008..." summarizes the highlights (no irony intended) of the report, all of it dismal, but ends on a somewhat positive note:
... as the authors of this report make clear, there is no magic bullet. But if the solutions aren't obvious, the report's overall message is: Will the future leaders of journalism please, please stand up.
It's all about the kids. See above. bk


Another heartbreak: The last edition of Seattle's Post-Intelligencer.

The paper is not exactly gone for good. It will start publishing online only, with a staff of twenty, down from one hundred seventy (violation of AP Style rules for emphasis) whose reporting will be supplemented with blogs, features from Hearst magazines and, more than likely, "citizen journalists" attempting to cover what the reporters will no longer have time or be paid to do. No doubt there will be plenty of multi-media to bedazzle the readers along with regular dispatches from Susie from Wedgewood. Whether or not these will be enough to not only attract readers -- but distract them from what they've lost -- only time will tell.

Hear all about it, via NPR, here. For more, type Seattle Post-Intelligencer into the search box, above. bk

Monday, March 16, 2009

quick link, on seattle

j.linx is rapidly morphing into a newspaper deathwatch. hideous.

, on the possibility of Seattle, one of the most literate cities in the U.S., becoming a no-newspaper town, if the Seattle Times folds on the heels of the Post-Intelligencer.

I can't imagine it will happen -- all may be part of the Times' owner's tax rant. But still. Scary stuff. bk

Sunday, March 15, 2009

the guy who killed newspapers

Go here for a comprehensive and insightful look at the demise of American journalism via a long piece in Canada's Globe and Mail, which gets it right.

The story is pegged to the near-death of the SF Chron and includes an interview with Phil Bronstein, who sees himself -- almost facetiously -- as the guy who killed newspapers.

BTW, the Chron reports that its guild agreed last night to concessions in a new contract that "clear the way for cutting at least 150 union jobs and eliminating certain benefits and rights, measures the company says are essential to save the newspaper." Most of those cuts would come from editorial.

Sad, actually. The new contract, which may save the paper, was approved by a 10 - 1 majority. Though the concessions may save the paper, a year ago, agreeing to those same provisions would have been unheard of. From the Chron's story:

Carl Hall, lead negotiator for the Guild, said the outcome demonstrates a "clear-eyed attitude" among members hoping to protect workers and their families from a worse fate.

"This is the start of the real battle," he said in a statement. "We have to find a solution, a real solution, to save what we really care about here - quality journalism and quality jobs."

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Phil Bronstein, former executive editor of the SF Chronicle and now vice-president and Editor-at-large, weighs in on the Stewart-Cramer inquisition (see my previous post, below). He writes that Stewart is no Edward R. Murrow (to whom The Atlantic's James Fallows had compared him).

From the post:

I didn't know Edward R. Murrow. I didn't serve with Edward R. Murrow. Edward R. Murrow was not a friend of mine. But I do know that Jon Stewart is not Edward R. Murrow. But neither is he Carrot Top. He is more like Jonathan Swift, the brilliant 17th/18th century satirist and author of "Gulliver's Travels." Only Mr. Stewart uses all sorts of contemporary visual and electronic tricks to enhance the effect.

I think Fallows might have been conflating Murrow, whose courageous and probing reporting and broadcasting stemmed the ferocious bullying by Senator Joe McCarthy, and Boston lawyer Joseph Welch, who famously asked the anti-commie crusader during a hearing, "Have you no sense of decency, sir?"

Jon Stewart did both: he pressed Cramer, using the CNBC host's own video interviews to trap him (just like Tim Russert used to do), and then relentlessly called him out on the contradictions. The full quote from 1954 was: "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness... You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

That's pretty much what Jon Stewart said to Jim Cramer, only it took him longer.

Joe Garofoli, the Chron's media critic, also chimed in. He writes:

Stewart regularly uses the steady stream of overheated, underreported stories coming from the 24-hour cable news networks as comedic fodder. But Thursday's interview was another example of the passion for good governance and aggressive journalism that informs his satire. In 2004, he went on CNN's "Crossfire" and told the hosts that they were "hurting America" with hackneyed, partisan banter, which he found long on opinion and short on reporting. Three months later, when CNN canceled the program, network president Jonathan Klein said, "I agree wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart's overall premise."

Last summer at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Stewart gathered a dozen national political reporters for breakfast. He scolded them for letting the 24-hour cable networks set the nation's political agenda and for being so cuddly with the people they cover. Rosenstiel said Stewart helped reshape the opinion of the Iraq war (through his ongoing segment dubbed "Mess O'Potamia") and helped highlight the foibles of the Bush presidency.

Stewart: 1, Cramer: 0

When fake-news is more real than real news:

Friday, March 13, 2009

says who?

We all talk a lot about the dangers of anonymity, especially when it comes to using anonymous sources to report on major issues. There's little accountability, problems with credibility.

In an updated piece on "the distorting effect of anonymity" posted yesterday on, Glenn Greenwald gets closer to the real damage that can be done when journalists are too quick to grant anonymity: manipulation -- and outright distortion -- of the message. In order to get the story, to look like an insider, journalists get used. The public gets deceived.

From his piece:

But the most important point is that journalists are not required to serve as message-carriers. The mere fact that you agree to a "background" discussion doesn't obligate you to then go forth and obediently publish whatever the person on background utters. If all they're doing is trying to inject claims (or "spin") into the public discussion in order to be able to influence or manipulate the debate without accountability (because they're allowed by the journalist to do so anonymously), then the journalist can -- and should -- simply refrain from allowing themselves to be used in that way. There's no value, and there is often great harm, when a journalist passes on false claims or even just "spin" on behalf of a political figure whose identity the journalist is shielding from the public.

There are very narrow circumstances in which, virtually everyone agrees, anonymity is warranted -- when genuinely secret information is being revealed or someone is risking something in order to disclose matters of public interest. But far more often than not, that isn't how anonymity is used. Instead, it's typically a weapon wielded by government officials and other politically influential people to use the journalist to disseminate information -- often dubious or outright false information -- to the public while cowardly hiding behind the accountability-free protective shield erected for them by the journalist.

And more:

Justified anonymity is a vital tool for exposing government secrets and other forms of wrongdoing, but baseless grants of anonymity by journalists -- as the Bush era conclusively proved -- is the bond that keeps reporters and the politically powerful working in sync rather than adversarially, often with highly misleading and deceitful effects. That sort of anonymity is just another instrument used to shield the operations of the Beltway from scrutiny and public disclosure, and is the fuel that drives the incestuous, cooperative government-media monster.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

hesitation cuts

Aggregation or aggrevation:

Re the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Reuters reports that Hearst will make a decision next week whether to "name a buyer for the daily newspaper, close its print edition or shut it down entirely."

Re the SF Chronicle: WaPo and others have reported that the union has agreed to concessions that "will allow the Chronicle to lay off union employees without considering seniority, which means it can more easily cut higher-paid employees." The union ratification is set for today.

Re MediaNews and Gannett: The same site reports that "unions at Gannett and MediaNews may eventually have to decide on whether to accept unpaid furloughs next quarter."

Re McClatchy: HuffPo reports that "about 175 employees at the Miami Herald will lose their jobs, and most of the remaining full-time staff will see their salaries reduced as the newspaper tries to cut costs amid plunging advertising revenue."

Molly Ivins had it so right. bk

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

more on the chron

The SF Chronicle reports that management and the paper's largest union are closed to an agreement that might save the paper.

The cynic in me wonders if forcing union concessions was the plan all along. Or -- if the pact is approved -- what, if anything, will remain of the Chron as we know it today. Despite losing bags of money on a weekly basis, the paper maintained bureaus outside SF, kept a stable of talented writers who chronicled the life of the city itself with style and voice, wrote its own arts reviews and obituaries, and held onto not only a (monthly) Sunday magazine, but a book review section as well.

From the story:

The Media Workers Guild represents 483 Chronicle employees, including 218 in editorial and 265 in advertising, circulation, finance, ad production and other functions. The company said it expects to eliminate about 150 of those jobs.

"The terms reached late Monday include expanded management ability to lay off employees without regard to seniority," the Guild said in a statement. "All employees who are discharged in a layoff or who accept voluntary buyouts are guaranteed two weeks' pay per year of service up to a maximum of one year, plus company-paid health care for the severance term, even in the event of a shutdown."

Other concessions include reductions in vacation time, sick leave and maternity/paternity leave; expansion of the work week from 37.5 hours to 40; and the right for the company to subcontract any work.

death of the dream

The front section of today's San Jose Mercury News was eight pages. One of them was a full-page ad for Fry's electronics. Another was the (singular) op-ed page.

Not hard to do the math: six pages of front section news, minus ads. bk

Sunday, March 8, 2009

wanted: writers of independent means.

Is writing for the rich? That's the question Francis Wilkinson, one of the original writing recruiters for the Huffington Post, poses in this essay from this week's The Week.

If not for the rich, certainly for folks with day jobs. You wonder what that tells us -- about the industry itself, and the value we readers/viewers place on thoughtful and responsible journalism.

From his essay:

The Internet has brought the newspaper business to its knees. Some serious magazines are undergoing stress tests of their own. Maybe a certain kind of writing about the world, informed by underdog experience and lower-class perspective, will also prove to be a relic of the dead-tree era. Such writing wasn’t in great supply before. But movie stars, business executives, even accomplished authors all write for free these days. Why should some kid nobody’s ever heard of get paid?

Friday, March 6, 2009

the 12 percent solution?

no, not at all...

but. been thinking.

if news orgs migrate completely online, and online means staffs reduce to some 12 percent of normal, then I'm thinking there are three quick alternatives:

1. reduced amount of news (pardon again: content)
2. rely on pro-am reporting
3. employ a ****load of freelance journalists (many of them newly unemployed) who know how to do the job and why it matters, and who are willing to do it for peanuts. why they would, i do not know. but more power to them. and the purpose might survive.

it's the 12 percent that's the killer. would love to see comments. but as those of us out here in blogo-land know (at least if our stat counters are cranking accurately), no one reads this stuff on weekends. :) bk

22 is a lonely number

Really, it's all about the money.

As word comes down that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer may be the first major American daily to go online only, Ken Doctor of Content Bridges does the math, confirming what we all suspected, that based on revenues, digital news sites can only support very small news staffs.

Where will the reporting (pardon: content) come from? Bloggers? Citizen J's? Some TBD hybrid? And how much time will all the digital extras (video, sound slides, tweets, fast-break updates) suck from out-of-the-building reporting by that skeleton crew?

From Doctor's blog:

Now 22 is an interesting number. Let's do the math. The PI starts with 170 newsroom staffers. Online-only, it moves to 22, which would be 12.9% of its print staff. That's a number worth remembering.

As the Christian Science Monitor, the Capital Times, the East Valley Times and the Detroit papers, among others, all engaging in one form or another of flipping the switch (going from print to digital) or dayscrapping (reducing the days of print publication or delivery), I've often gotten this question from the press: "Why don't papers just go online-only?" We talk about the economics of print vs. online vs. hybrid, and I've guesstimated that if metro dailies indeed flipped the switch, they'd be able to "afford" about 15% of their newsroom staffs. So that 12.9% number confirms my guess. With metros taking in 10%-plus of their revenues from digital advertising now, that's about all the current business will support.

It's a sobering number.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

advancing the story

Melissa forwards the following links:

The first is to a story by Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman, who used the recent tragedy of the athletes recently lost in the Gulf of Mexico as the newshook for an elegant story that remembers Anthony Latham, who drowned under similar circumstances in 1983. Pay special attention to the way in which the story develops, its fluid structure, and most importantly, the ending.

As all good endings should, it lingers. As Melissa wrote, "I would kill to have written that last line."

But equally worth a read, especially for any enterprising reporters, is this link to Pearlman's blog in which he outlines his development of the story, step by step. bk

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

what's in a name?

An interesting debate is raging at Utah State over changing the name of the Journalism Department to Department of Communication. Read about it here in the Herald Journal.

Brings up some old issues: theory vs. professionalism; "blessing" one academic area over others; the value of branding. Hmmmmm. bk

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

points of connection

A few updates from some j-kids turned up in my inbox recently:

MELISSA SEGURA, '01, a reporter for Sports Illustrated, was interviewed by NPR's Robert Seagal on "All Things Considered" about the story she broke on baseball player Esmailyn "Smiley" Gonzalez, the former top prospect for the Washington Nationals, who faked his age and his name. It's all part of a story Melissa has been investigating in the Dominican Republic on money-skimming by international baseball scouts.

Listen to the NPR interview here. Read Melissa's story here. Read more about her investigation on this WaPo blog.

Also got an email from KEVIN GEMMELL, '98, one of the first students I ever taught. He is a sports writer for the San Diego Union Tribune, and forwards this link to a recent cover story.
And because I am an egregious self-promoter, I can't help including this part of his email:

"... I'm coming up on 10 years since graduating from SCU. I still get the thrill of seeing my byline, especially on cover stories, and I just wanted to take a minute to say thanks. So much of writing was influenced by you -- even 10 years later. It's been too long since I've said thank you. So, thank you."

I also heard from LIZ WEEKER, '07, who recently returned from a journalism workshop at the Knight Digital Media Center at UC Berkeley. She writes:
"There was a lot of talk about the future of newspapers and individual
journalists. A lot of us are just looking to survive. It made me wonder
about the kinds of discussions you and your students must be having right
now, so I checked out your blog. Your most recent posting about the business
model of newspapers was a major theme throughout the workshop. I thought you
might be interested in checking out this person: Lauren Rich Fine. She used
to work for Merrill Lynch as an analyst for publishing, advertising and
online industries. I tried to post an article she wrote today on your blog,
but it didn't quite work and I didn't want to accidentally double post.
Here it is."

JEREMY HERB, '08, now at Columbia Journalism School, just forwarded this link to a new digital journalism project he's working on at the New York Times. It just launched today.

And finally, JACK GILLUM, '06, turned up in my classroom yesterday. He's now a database editor at USA Today, and did a great job of showing -- as well as telling -- my students why reporters love what they do. bk

mag class: crunch time

To rev up your engines as you head into the home-stretch:

1. Put your notes in the drawer.
2. Read thru your first draft -- and my comments -- then lock that up too
3. Read thru some of these essays on craft from the Neiman Narrative Digest
4. Read this essay by on voice by Mark Kramer. Long, but worth it. To tweak some Strunk and white, voice is the sound of the words hitting the paper. It's personality. Yours.
5. Let it all percolate, then while you're still inspired, hit the keyboard. bk

more on the Rocky Mountain News

Back in the day, when i was first writing for Pacific News Service, one of my first PNS clips came from the Rocky Mountain News. The name of the paper always stuck with me, maybe for sentimental reasons, maybe because I always found "Rocky Mountain News" such a colorful name for a newspaper. The name itself said spunk; it said "West", with all that implies. It told the reader the newspaper had a voice all its own.

But. Read this eloquent good-bye to the Rocky Mountain News, writen by Nancy Mitchell and published today in Salon. I especially like the last graf:

"Most of us journalists at the Rocky ignored all the marketing efforts that were meant to save the paper. We shrugged off the "Ford" brand, Convergence and the rest of the gimmicks, even those annoying folding tables. If there is a "brand" that we embraced, it was embodied in the instructions that were once posted in our managing editor's office. Three simple rules, not produced by a focus group: Get the news. Tell the truth. Don't be dull. I'd like to believe we did all three."

just shoot me. again

When the printed word is getting harder and harder to find.... And the people who write them and print them are going broke: this just in.

According to PR NewsChannel, Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich -- you remember him? the guy who got booted from offfice for trying to sell Obama's senate seat -- just signed a six-figure deal with Phoenix Books, one of the largest independent publishing companies, to write his, er, memoirs? confession? apology?

Hideous. How much won't get written, published or read -- because this will?

From the story:
"The governor chose to go with a large independent company because he wanted to tell his story without any restrictions over content that might've come with a major publishing house," says Glenn Selig, Blagojevich's publicist and founder of The Publicity Agency. "He simply did not want to accept constraints or conditions on what he could say in this book."