Wednesday, March 30, 2011

the state of the news media, 2011

The Project for Excellence in Journalism just released its State of the News Media Report for 2011, and what the authors found is that it's good -- and it's not. While revenues have increased for almost all media over the past two years, newspaper revenues are still on a decline -- though the authors report that in most cases, cutbacks have ended.

What's most interesting is this finding: While news organizations still produce the content (what we used to call news), it's the tech folks who control its distribution. Which may or may not be a little bit scary. Here's a taste:

In the digital space, the organizations that produce the news increasingly rely on independent networks to sell their ads. They depend on aggregators (such as Google) and social networks (such as Facebook) to bring them a substantial portion of their audience. And now, as news consumption becomes more mobile, news companies must follow the rules of device makers (such as Apple) and software developers (Google again) to deliver their content. Each new platform often requires a new software program. And the new players take a share of the revenue and in many cases also control the audience data.

That data may be the most important commodity of all. In a media world where consumers decide what news they want to get and how they want to get it, the future will belong to those who understand the public’s changing behavior and can target content and advertising to snugly fit the interests of each user. That knowledge — and the expertise in gathering it — increasingly resides with technology companies outside journalism.

In the 20th century, the news media thrived by being the intermediary others needed to reach customers. In the 21st, increasingly there is a new intermediary: Software programmers, content aggregators and device makers control access to the public. The news industry, late to adapt and culturally more tied to content creation than engineering, finds itself more a follower than leader shaping its business.

Meanwhile, the pace of change continues to accelerate. Mobile has already become an important factor in news. A new survey released with this year’s report, produced with Pew Internet and American Life Project in association with the Knight Foundation, finds that nearly half of all Americans (47%) now get some form of local news on a mobile device. What they turn to most there is news that serves immediate needs – weather, information about restaurants and other local businesses, and traffic. And the move to mobile is only likely to grow. By January 2011, 7% of Americans reported owning some kind of electronic tablet. That was nearly double the number just four months earlier.

The migration to the web also continued to gather speed. In 2010 every news platform saw audiences either stall or decline — except for the web. Cable news, one of the growth sectors of the last decade, is now shrinking, too. For the first time in at least a dozen years, the median audience declined at all three cable news channels.

For the first time, too, more people said they got news from the web than newspapers. The internet now trails only television among American adults as a destination for news, and the trend line shows the gap closing. Financially the tipping point also has come. When the final tally is in, online ad revenue in 2010 is projected to surpass print newspaper ad revenue for the first time. The problem for news is that by far the largest share of that online ad revenue goes to non-news sources, particularly to aggregators.

You can also go here to download a podcast of an interview with Tom Rosenstiel on Wednesday's Forum on San Francisco's NPR station, 88.5 FM. bk

Thursday, March 3, 2011


From Today's Word on Journalism:

“For journalists charged with feeding the digital news flow, life is a barely sustainable cycle of reporting, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and, in some cases, moderating the large volume of readers who comment online. I applaud these journalists for their commitment, but worry that the requirements of the digital age are translating into more errors and eventual burnout.”

—Arthur S. Brisbane, public editor, The New York Times, 1/10/2011
(Thanks to alert WORDster John McManus)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

in so many words: good ideas for making writing sing.

Check out this essay by Poynter's Roy Peter Clark that includes several tips for writing short stories that soar or making any writing rise above the ordinary. It's good advice for newspaper writing that can -- and should -- be applied to magazine writing, too.

Here's one tip to make will you hungry for more:

Thaw out the 5 Ws and H

This advice comes from editor Rick Zahler at The Seattle Times. The traditional version of the 5W’s freezes those story elements into informational ice cubes. If you thaw them out, the narrative begins to flow. Who becomes Character. What becomes Action. Where becomes Setting. When becomes Chronology. Why becomes Motive. How becomes Narrative. One of the great reporters of his day was Meyer Berger of The New York Times. He won a Pulitzer in the late 1940s for his narrative reconstruction of a multiple shooting. He wrote it on deadline and at great length. But he also was the master of the short human interest feature. Just before his death in 1959, he wrote a story, about 1,200 words on an old, poor, blind man who was once a classical musician. Then he wrote a sequel:

Eight violins were offered the other day to Laurence Stroetz, the 82-year-old, cataract-blinded violinist who was taken to St. Clare’s Hospital in East Seventy-first Street from a Bowery flophouse. The offers came from men and women who had read that though he had once played with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, he had been without a violin for more than 30 years.

The first instrument to reach the hospital was a gift from the Lighthouse, the institution for the sightless. It was delivered by a blind man. A nun took it to the octogenarian.

He played it a while, tenderly and softly, then gave it back. He said: ‘This is a fine old violin. Tell the owner to take good care of it.’ The white-clad nun said: ‘It is your violin, Mr. Stroetz. It is a gift.’ The old man bent his head over it. He wept.