It’s Alive!!!

Check out this interesting article from Columbia Journalism Review touting the resiliency of print newspapers.

This adds to the piling evidence (including a recent study conducted by the Nieman Journalism Lab) that print newspaper readership is long from dead. It also lends some credence to the argument that newspapers, like most other American industries, are victims of the recession.

Most assuredly, there is some truth to that. If someone loses his or her job, the newspaper subscription would probably be high up on the list of non-essentials fingered for cancellation. Also, when everyone is affected, businesses can’t afford to advertise.

Newspaper shareholders, like John Rogers Jr., seem to think the end of the recession will signal renewed life at newspapers. Others, like Alan Mutter, aren’t so optimistic.

I think the author of the CJR piece, Ryan Chittum, makes several excellent points. This quote is probably the article’s central thesis:

But this is fifteen years into the age of the online newspaper—and going on a decade into the high-speed Internet era—and you can spin it a couple of ways: It points to the surprising resiliency of print, or it signals the pitiful job newspapers have done online.

Editor & Publisher regularly publishes statistics regarding online newspaper readership. June was a tough month for online newspapers, with year-to-year readership at some prominent papers (New York Times, Chicago Tribune, etc.) either down or stagnant.

My feelings about all this are bittersweet. Part of me is cheering the continued, albeit more modest, success of print products. The other part of me knows that online journalism is the future, and we are already screwing it up (in ways outlined in this UMass Journalism Professors Blog post).

I take solace in the fact that, if nothing else, this is proof that a legacy print product of some kind will be around for awhile. As one of my readers posted in a comment last week, “Sunday morning with coffee and a paper sounds good to me.” (Thanks, Melissa!)

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Non-Profit Articles

I have so many thoughts about non-profit journalism, but I’d like to dole them out in smaller chunks.

However, if you want to read (practically) all there is to say on the topic, check this out.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of reading to do…

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Adieu, Ann Arbor

When I was reporting my last series of stories for the Naples Daily News before heading off to get my master’s degree at the University of Alabama, I was put on a plane to Ann Arbor, Mich., to report on the closing of Ave Maria’s Law School.

I fell in love.

The city is green and beautiful, filled with rolling hills, pathways, lakes and one of the coolest, most unique downtowns I’ve ever seen. And of course, the University of Michigan is no slouch of a school (unless they’re facing Appalachian State!).

After picking up daily copies of the Ann Arbor News, I was sure I’d found my new dream home. I’d graduate from Alabama, and my husband and I would get great jobs at the newspaper with a cool adjunct teaching gig on the side.

Alas, those dreams were dashed today as the Ann Arbor News put out its final paper.

From the AP

From the AP

This is yet another in a string of good newspaper substantially reducing staff and heading online only. (The brand new AnnArbor.com will launch tomorrow.)

Laurel Champion, the now-former publisher of The News, uttered the harsh truth: “Putting out a daily print newspaper in this market is not a sustainable business.”

As I sat here attempting to wade through what must be a 40- or 50-inch story on the computer, I experienced a quick run-through of the stages of grief.

Denial: No, this cannot be the end of print journalism; the end of the long investigative piece; the end of long, lazy mornings in bed sifting through a bulging paper. SOMEONE will put a stop to this madness. It can’t be too late!

Anger: How lazy is our society that we have allowed this to happen? What is wrong with my generation? Are we too busy and self-absorbed to care about what is going on in the world?

Bargaining: Can’t we just have a little more time? My parents and grandparents got to grow old with the newspaper. Why can’t it be the same for me?

Depression: It’s the beginning of the end of intelligent society. Soon we will have corrupt officials running amok, those in need of justice denied and a generation of ill-informed idiots running the country.

Acceptance: Journalism will survive. Different doesn’t mean dead. We need the news, and we’ll make it through, even when all the printing presses are put to bed.

It’ll be okay.

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Turning the Virtual Page

David Weir posted an interesting diatribe about the inability of media to innovate. This is hardly news to any of us, but the following is a good reminder: 

Those open to change, who embrace change, those who apply their own creative thinking to changing circumstances will adapt and survive, and — if they are very lucky — even thrive.

I’ve been harping about non-profits lately and how I believe they might be the key to the survival of journalism in this evolving technology age. But this post reminded me that I should make a few things clear.

1) I do not believe non-profits will take over the industry soon.

I was reminded by a fellow journalist the other day that innovations rarely overlap. The bottom often needs to drop out before someone will take the time to build a new platform on which to stand.

I think journalism, as we know it, will have to fail colossally before newspaper people abandon the for-profit model. But when the public realizes what it has lost, and born journalists are twiddling their fingers in public relations offices, the demand will be realized, and a new era of journalism will be born.

2) Non-profits must innovate, too.

The traditional non-profit model used by media outlets, such as NPR, PBS and the St. Petersburg Times, likely won’t be the models used in the future. Perhaps it will be some kind of blend, where a corporate sponsor agrees to sponsor some regular feature on the news site and donors contribute for the rest.

If we learn nothing else from this disaster journalism is encountering, let it be this: nothing is set in stone. Everyone must innovate, or, sooner or later, they will fail.

3) Non-profit does not automatically mean success.

One needs look no further than IWantMyRocky.com to see that switching to a non-profit model isn’t always a recipe for success. Like with any business, nothing is a sure thing. News sites must be able to garner a niche audience that isn’t being satisfied by another outlet.

I don’t know exactly why IWantMyRocky failed, but I have some theories. Perhaps people weren’t willing to pay for online news in Denver when The Denver Post is giving it to them for free. Perhaps people were not as loyal to the Rocky Mountain News as they led us to believe.

Perhaps they simply tried to move horizontally when they should have turned the whole damn thing upside down and inside out.

Whatever the case, newspapers and news sites are not going to make any headway until they discard the old ideas and start coming up with new, innovative concepts.

And, speaking of innovation, I would encourage you to check out Scooping the News’ evaluation of innovation among the top newspaper Web sites. Each week, they evaluate newspaper Web sites based on five categories to determine how much the site has innovated during the past five years. They also link to samples of what the site used to look like and what it looks like now.

Some notable innovators: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune 

And the notable laggards: The Oregonian, Chicago Tribune and The Florida Times-Union

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Innovation = Moving On

Lending some credence to my non-profit argument from yesterday: NYT considers foundation funding for news.

From the Poynter article:

Whatever you call it, what’s happening spotlights an important step in how we’ll pay for the news: finding some workable alternatives to news organizations shelling out big bucks required to cover important news in far-away places.

They’re thinking of borrowing ideas from Spot.us, a unique new site that is raising money from readers to send its reporters overseas to cover important stories.

There are so many experts who don’t believe people will pay for the news, like this one criticizing micropayments and this one featuring complete disbelief that people will ever pay for news.

I agree, to a certain extent, that newspaper subscribership will not work the same online as it did with a print product. However, I think people are willing to fork over money for news if the newspaper includes the reader in the product.

For instance, news sites like Voice of San Diego ask readers to contribute money for specific items. For instance, $1,000 buys a reporter a laptop. And, clearly, Spot.us is having luck asking readers to pay for the stories they want done.

Newspaper editors need to take innovation seriously. It doesn’t mean the recycling of old ideas (subscribing to newspapers); it means the generation of new ideas for a new, evolving audience.

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HuffPost Pay Plan

This week, The Huffington Post blogger Michelle Haimoff proposed a plan to pay Huff Post bloggers for their work.

Here are a few of her best points:

“The Huffington Post has a responsibility as a new media pioneer to set a payment precedent that values content providers.”

“The voices of the passionate amateurs that The Huffington Post showcases are becoming increasingly homogenous and, in the long-term, a blog dominated by rich people and celebrities will alienate readers that aren’t a part of this demographic.”

Haimoff proposed a pay scale, which, I believe, has some merit. In short, she proposes that not all contributors be paid; just the ones who, each month, garner the most page views, produce the best content, and spend the most time on the site. The plan in complicated, but achievable.

Still, I don’t think this is the answer to Web journalism’s woes.

I had an interesting conversation over lunch yesterday with a group of print journalists. I argued that the non-profit Web-only model will likely be the biggest success in this evolving industry.

My thoughts are this: non-profit publications don’t have to be concerned with turning huge profits. They can keep their staffs small and their readership high by publishing niche sites geared toward smaller communities of people with shared interests. They can make money to pay their staffs because advertisers will like their targeted audience and fair prices.

This solution also helps mitigate the problem (often harped about on sites like Save The News) of hard-working newspaper reporters getting laid off from their jobs because the parent company lost money on some other venture. In the non-profit world, the news is the first, and only, priority.

One of the authors of TravelingMom.com commented on Haimoff’s post. She said their site uses a “revenue sharing plan” to pay bloggers equally while maintaining overhead costs. It appears to be working for them.

This site really speaks to, what I believe, works. They have found their niche audience with, not just moms, but, specifically, “traveling moms.” Although they don’t appear to advertise (at least not in the traditional “banner ad” sense), what advertiser for car seats and kids’ hiking boots wouldn’t want to advertise on that site?

A new Web site, Journalism Online, is attempting to help newspapers figure out what the best way to be profitable is for them. The Daily Finance called the site a “would-be newspaper savior.”

Their mission is “to address the urgent need for a comprehensive, immediate plan to address this downward spiral [of people not paying for news content] in the business of publishing original, quality journalism.”

Amen!

I think bloggers like Haimoff and sites like TravelingMom are taking steps in the right direction. Hopefully, profit greed won’t be allowed to swallow the industry (again).

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Slate Scoop

Check out this great interview with former Slate Editor Jacob Weisberg from Economist.com. In it, Weisberg gives his perspective on the future of print and online journalism, his competitors and making news sites profitable.

My favorite quote from the interview:

Ten years is a century on the internet…

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