Saturday, April 18, 2009

Twitter's impact on media only beginning

Posted by Craig on 4/18/2009 0 comments
There's been quite a debate among journalism circles whether Twitter is just a fad or if it will be around for the long haul. I believe the latter.

If not Twitter itself, a service near identical to it - one based on microblogging - will influence the media for years to come.

Part of the reason for Twitter's success is that its relationship with media is reciprocal. It helps the media by providing story leads, "breaking tweets" (had to get a plug in there), and a real-world stream of what people are saying all over the world. Meanwhile, the media is using it to get its own message out and it is covering the site constantly, oftentimes for its own marketing purposes.

One really interesting aspect of this all is that more and more people are leaving traditional news sources for Twitter. It may sound silly, but as Jimmy Fallon said on Larry King Live tonight, Twitter in itself is a lot "like a newspaper," with a real-time stream of only the headlines you want to see.

Also today, Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter, said on Oprah that his service "democratizes media," giving everyone a chance to participate. It's all about the ground-up, grassroots, and the people first, rather than big corporations spinning the news and disseminating it.

This is nothing against traditional media - at all. It has an important role. I'm just saying I think Twitter's here for the long haul, so media needs to continue to adapt and utilize it as frequently as possible to stay in the game. If it lets up, Twitter can fill the void by providing news fast from all over the world all by itself. There are plenty of blogs doing that already (albeit some are not credible), and they're popping up across the site.

You know, I have to end with the whole Ashton Kutcher-CNN "Twitter race" to 1 million followers. I followed it closely -- how could I not? - everyone was talking about it. As far as Kutcher goes, I used to never think much of the guy. Most of my opinion was based on Punk'd, and I just thought the guy was really immature. But I have to give him props. He did his homework and his speech after he reached 1 million followers first said it all - the guy knows where media is going:

"We have shown the world that the new wave is here, it is present, and it is ready to explode. You guys are all of it because I can't follow me, so I don't even count."

"We can and will create our media. We can and will edit our media. We can and will broadcast our media. We can and will censor our own media ourselves. We are over a million. CNN is still trying to get there, and that's just the way that goes."

Kutcher also said something very interesting in a previous Web address - that gatekeeping is still necessary, only it's all headed to the Web, no longer on the television screen or in the newspaper.

It's also worth noting that in his one millionth follower speech, he called Ted Turner "a pioneer in media," saying, "You had the foresight to see digital media was going to be the future even before all of us could see that."

To Twitter, he said, "You guys have created a platform that I believe will change the face of media."

He gave credit where credit is due. And he made a major statement on where the media in general is going.

It's going 140 characters at a time.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The gap between young and old

Posted by Craig on 2/23/2009 4 comments
I attended the "Chicago Journalism Town Hall" today at Hotel Allegro downtown.

An esteemed panel of professionals from outlets such as the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, Chi-Town Daily News, Huffington Post, Gaper's Block, CLTV, WTTW, and NBC were there, as well as professors and experts in digital media.

The crowd of 400+ (expected attendance about 50-100 originally according to organizer/moderator Ken Davis) included journalists, students, bloggers, publishers, advertisers, and public relations professionals. It was a great meeting of the minds to discuss the shift from traditional journalism to online and how to save local journalism.

A topic such as this, in the current economic climate, can be highly sensitive. It was. Emotions got the best of people at times, and conversation really heated up in the third and final hour of the discussion. Some people said things they later regretted and some people went really over the top.

One thing was more apparent than anything else. One thing. It was glaringly obvious.

The gap between the young and the old. The new media, Web-savvy folks and the old-school journalist folks.

This is not meant to be an insult to the professionals there I classify "old-school" and traditionalists, many of them understand the Web well enough to get by, but they simply don't "get" it. And the young people did.

Andrew Huff of Gaper's Block, Ben Goldenberg of Huffington Post, Geoff Dougherty of Chi-Town Daily News -- they all get it. They see where the industry is going. They see where the opportunities are. They've all plugged in those holes with innovative ideas which will likely be a major part of the future of this industry.

Hearing some of the "old-school" folks talk about the need to fund this, or the need to fund that, I just shook my head. No one CARES about much of the content they were talking about! Start writing with young people in mind, the future of your organizations. Start channeling your content to areas most in need, write stories that people are most interested in reading - please.

And do your homework when it comes to the opportunities that online offers. Understand there are ways to monetize the Web. There are huge opportunities out there. And micro-payments, while a good idea in theory, may not be the best way to do it. What are some alternatives? One person at the event, Kiyoshi Martinez, put up this blog afterward on ideas he has to generate revenue on the Web. Some solid ideas.

The saddest part is how tight some of the old-school journalists were clinging on to the past. They showed no interest in even having a dialogue about change. They were so wrapped up in their own ways. Attitudes like that will get the industry nowhere.

It's time to be innovative, to pull out all the stops, to try new things. Because there's no question anymore where the future lies. And that's the Web.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Tribune Co. continues to cut back

Posted by Craig on 1/30/2009 0 comments
It makes no sense to me. These major companies want to make more money, yet they are slashing what is vital to their product existing in the first place - personnel...and...the news! This may be a temporary fix but it's just compounding problems for down the road.

Here's what caused my latest rant on this final weekday of January.

The Los Angeles Times announced today they are laying off 300 jobs, including 70 in the newsroom, according to Bloomberg.

The explanation from corporate is that the cuts are necessary "to tackle record print advertising declines and $12.5 billion in debt."

But what really has people buzzing is the fact the Times announced today it is getting rid of its daily California Section (previously known as Metro), per LA Weekly. Content for the section will get moved to A Section, and inevitably it will be cut back.

Said Times reporter Howard Blume on the news: "I don't really know how this is going to work. The discussions have taken place well above my pay grade. There will still be a newspaper, and some of us will still be working here. And those folks will still do their darndest to put out a quality, relevant newspaper. And the rest of us will be looking for alternative employment. This is Journalism 2009."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

College papers not immune to economic crunch

Posted by Craig on 1/28/2009 1 comments
College newspapers are being hurt by the state of the economy, according to Bryan Murley in a PBS MediaShift article published today.

Some had assumed "college newspapers would weather the storms of the changing media environment better than their peers in the wider industry," according to Murley.

I've heard this assumption in the past as part of the campus newspaper staff at St. John Fisher College and now DePaul University. The thought is that college papers are so "niche" that they are more likely to succeed, and also that the young people running these newspapers are more likely to be plugged into social networks like Facebook to help promote their work.

The problem goes back to advertising. Like other print publications, college newspapers are now suffering from "a decline in advertising revenue" per the article. Free classifieds online and businesses' reluctance to transfer their print accounts to the Web are part of the problem.

General manager of the Daily Pennsylvanian Eric Jacobs said "the drop in national advertising was like falling off a cliff." He also expects declines in local advertising in the coming months.

Murley states that college papers are cutting back costs to deal with the advertising decline. For example, the Daily Orange at Syracuse University and Daily Californian at University of California at Berkeley both dropped a publication day last fall.

It will be interesting to monitor long-term affects of the economic crunch on college newspapers and how the conditions improve as the economy recovers.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Minneapolis Star Tribune files for bankruptcy

Posted by Craig on 1/16/2009 0 comments
News of the Star Tribune's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy broke late this evening on the ST Web site.

The article says that "Minnesota's largest newspaper will try to use bankruptcy to restructure its debt and lower its labor costs."

Most interesting was Publisher Chris Harte's statement: "'We intend to use the Chapter 11 process to make this great Twin Cities institution stronger, leaner and more efficient so that it is well positioned to benefit when economic conditions begin to improve,' Harte said in a statement."

Leaner? We all know what that means.

This comes off news that my former employer Gannett is implementing a furlough program. Nearly all of its employees will lose a week's time without pay, according to the Editor & Publisher.

What will happen next?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Uncertainty in Seattle

Posted by Craig on 1/10/2009 0 comments
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has served its community for 146 years, but right now the publication is on pins and needles.

Yesterday, a painful countdown began for Seattle P-I and its 170 staffers. Sixty days. Its parent company Hearst announced Friday that it is putting P-I up for sale, and if there is no buyer after 60 days, the publication will either go Web-only or it will cease to exist, according to the Associated Press.

P-I reporters Dan Richman and Andrea James wrote about the developments for the paper's Web site. They say that "[e]conomic reasons have forced the state's oldest morning newspaper into a sale," according to Steven Swartz, president of the Hearst Corp.'s newspaper division, and that the publication lost about $14 million in 2008.

Richman and James continued: "Today's dismal climate for newspapers means no buyer is likely to emerge, several sources said."

They painted a picture of the grim atmosphere: "P-I employees were silent as they listened to the announcement, which lasted about 10 minutes. Some shed tears. Others held up cell phones or voice recorders in news-conference fashion. Phones rang unanswered and the police scanner buzzed on."

The blog Newspaper Death Watch called the unfolding events the "Seattle Surprise," noting that rumors had been "floating around for months" that another paper, the Seattle Times would shut down. The Times apparently has been having its own trouble in recent years, and its future is also very uncertain.

I can't help but hope on this that somehow, someway, the Seattle situation turns out OK. While I'm well aware a buyer is unlikely to emerge, I'm a guy who loves to fight the odds until the absolute last second. Wouldn't it be great for an independent business owner to step up and save this critical piece of history in the Seattle community? If not, here's hoping P-I can at least restructure to have an on-line only product, so that it can at least survive in some form.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Some optimism for 2009

Posted by Craig on 1/06/2009 0 comments
The new year is here and John Morton provided a new way of looking at the newspaper industry now that 2008 is behind us: "It Could Be Worse."

That was the name of his article in the Dec. 2008/Jan. 2009 American Journalism Review, fresh off the press and in my mailbox when I got back to Chicago just a few hours ago.

Morton writes that the print industry's numbers for 2008 "sparkle compared with the staggering losses reported by, say, the domestic automobile companies and the airline industry."

He adds that, "the newspaper industry as a whole remains profitable" and that the average operating profit margin "is still above what is typical for most non-media businesses."

Morton concludes, "the beleaguered newspaper industry's financial health has been weakened but remains healthy by most measures. In this environment, that is an achievement."

Perhaps it's not something to celebrate, but it's a much more optimistic way of looking at the media's recent woes, headlined by the fall 2008 wave of newspaper layoffs. What better way to start 2009 than with hope that this could be the year things will turn around?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Saving the newspaper industry

Posted by Craig on 12/22/2008 0 comments
Just about everybody in newspapers readily admits that the current business model isn't working, but few seem to have solutions.

A few alternative models are gaining steam in recent months, such as not-for-profit and crowd-funding, but they're tough to get going with Big Boys like Gannett and the Tribune Co. still running the show.

Then, there was this: Just a few hours ago, Stanford University professor and former New York Times foreign correspondent Joel Brinkley offered up a way out of this mess, with the current corporate structure in place, that just might work. It's at least something that really makes you go "Hmmm" and there hasn't been enough of that yet.

He outlined a really compelling argument in a San Francisco Chronicle editorial yesterday. Yes, newspaper Web content to date has been overwhelmingly free. One reason publishers have been reluctant to charge for Web content, he says, is that such a move would likely just lose customers to other, competing papers.

But what if the newspaper industry as a whole went to the Justice Department "for an antitrust exemption that would allow publishers to collaborate on a decision to begin charging for their Web sites"? He says the price could be debated, and that's not really the issue. The point is getting enough people to the table, and consent from the government, to begin instituting sweeping changes across the board.

It might just work. The most intriguing scenario I've seen tossed out there yet. I hope Brinkley gets his column to the right people who can get the wheels in at least explore this very interesting idea.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Breaking News on the Web: Mats Sundin Timeline

Posted by Craig on 12/18/2008 11 comments
As most know, I'm a huge hockey fan. Here's how news of the biggest hockey story of the year spread on the Web.

3:01 Pacific Time: NHL Director of Corporate Communications Michael DiLorenzo posts on Twitter: @umassdilo "sundin to canucks"

3:01 Pacific Time: Radio personality Buzz Bishop posts on Twitter: @buzzbishop "just got the press release. it's official SUNDIN IS A CANUCK"

3:06 Pacific Time: TSN posted a story saying Mats Sundin is a Vancouver Canuck

3:06 Pacific Time: Alanah McGinley of Kukla's Korner posts the news in the blog Canucks & Beyond

3:11 Pacific Time: Popular hockey site posts an update stating Sundin is a Canuck

3:12 Pacific Time: Vancouver online news site reports the news

3:14 Pacific Time: posts the story on its site

3:23 Pacific Time: posts the story on its site

The first official media outlet to break the news seems to be 95Crave in Vancouver. Buzz Bishop told me on Twitter that he announced the news on the station "seconds after presser was dropped, before twitter."

It would appear that the press release was officially sent out by the club at 3:00 Pacific Time (that is the time stamp for the story at as well). Just one minute later by Twitter, not bad. Certainly beat the big boys on the Web.

This is yet more evidence that Twitter is becoming a viable way to break news to a niche audience.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Déjà vu

Posted by Craig on 12/17/2008 3 comments
Our friends north of the border are now experiencing what thousands of Gannett employees went through just a few weeks ago.

Sun Media, Canada's largest newspaper publisher with operations in Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton and elsewhere, announced Tuesday that it is cutting 10 percent of its workforce as a result of "harsh economic conditions," per the Canadian Press.

That amounts to some 600 layoffs, proving that the newspaper industry's troubles are not just limited to the United States.

The CP quoted Sun Media CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau as saying in a release: "The news industry is being revolutionized and we have to adapt if we want to remain an industry leader."

Similar to the independent Gannett Blog, which chronicled the Gannett cuts, the Toronto Sun Family blog is telling the story of these latest media layoffs.

According to the Toronto blog, President of the Southern Ontario Newsmedia Guild Brad Honywill said of the layoffs: "I don't think Toronto's, or, for that matter, North America's, media landscape will look the same after this recession. We're going through a fundamental shift that will result in fewer sources of news and less and less depth."

Honywill continued, "Increasingly, stories will be shared across chains, diminishing local voices [...] So these cutbacks represent a real loss to the community and to our democracy."

It's so sad to see the newspaper industry come to all of this, and I feel deeply for all Canadians affected by these cuts. I have a particularly close eye on all things Canada with my paternal grandfather's family being from there, and having many cousins in the country still. This hurts.

Once again, we can blame the economy in terms of how rapid this media collapse has been. However, this was bound to happen eventually - the economy is just speeding up the process. It's a new world out there with the Internet, and so much free content available to consumers online. The need for a new business model is more urgent now than ever before. Now is the time for the news industry to act.

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