John McCann

Archive for the ‘Newspapers’ Category

Internet … a centrifugal force

In Internet, Newspapers, Television, Video on March 26, 2007 at 12:39 pm

An article in Wired describes Joost, a new Internet-based TV application, and discusses its implications for the television industry. At the end of the article, the author describes how the Internet has impacted the traditional media model of keeping everything central and bundling shows into schedules, stories into magazines, etc.

“The Net in particular is brutally centrifugal, fragmenting newspapers into articles, movies into clips, and CDs into songs, all dispersed to servers across the earth. It has never been kind to enterprises that try to gather everything under one roof. Google’s $140 billion value derives not from some comprehensive offering but from simply showing people where the fragments can be found.”

This fragmentation seems very natural to me. When I read a newspaper, I do not read all the articles but focus on topics that are of interest to me. And I only skim some of the articles that I do read, looking for the key points that let me understand the essence of the article. When I talk with a friend about an article or a movie, I rarely tell the whole story but simply relate the point of the article.

Students do the same thing when taking notes in a class. Our photographs are fragments of what we have seen.

Blogs such as this one are fragment based. I usually insert a fragment from something I have read, as I did with the quote at the top of this post, and then write about the content of that fragment.

It is common today to read that many newspapers are suffering because of this fragmentation. Just today I read in Tim O’Reilly’s blog (a blog, no less) that a major city newspaper is in trouble.

“I’m hearing rumors that the San Francisco Chronicle is in big trouble. Apparently, Phil Bronstein, the editor-in-chief, told staff in a recent ’emergency meeting’ that the news business ‘is broken, and no one knows how to fix it.'”

The really interesting part of this blog is a comment by Michael Schrage, who has a long association with the Media Lab and other organizations at MIT.

“i love print; i love [good] journalism; and i love healthy, vibrant and innovative marketplaces…alas, the real reasons so many newspapers are suffering is that they are not very good as reporting media, journalistic media and advertising media…competition of the web has made them – on average -worse, not better…they’ve done an even worse job than detroit in rising to meet the competition…but why should we be surprised? the big three were an oligopoly for decades and most newspapers have been de facto monopolies in their smsas…they don’t know how to compete; they don’t know how to innovate…the decline in their quality is obvious; their economic decline is deserved. “

I have seen this problem in my own teaching in executive education programs. Managers in firms that had a monopoly (or near monopoly) simply have a very hard time learning how to compete on a daily basis when their firm loses its market dominance. They try everything possible to hang onto the old structures and strategies, and when it becomes obvious that they must change, it is too late and/or they do not have the skills and mental models that are necessary in a competitive world.

I read newspapers every day, subscribing to my local paper and USA Today. While the latter seems to remain vibrant, my local paper is shrinking and I fear for its future. If you are interested in a discussion of how to save newspapers, as I am, read Doc Searls’ recent blog post.

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Newspaper as social network

In Citizen Journalism, Newspapers, social network on March 8, 2007 at 9:04 pm

I read several related articles and blog posts in the last few days that pertain to the changing nature of newspaper to become, as blogger Steve Rubel notes, a social network. He was referring to changes at usatoday.com, which are presented in an editorial in USA Today. These changes allow people to do the following:

•” See how readers are reacting to stories;
• Recommend stories and comments to other readers;
• Comment directly on stories;
• Participate in discussion forums;
• Write reviews (of movies, music and more);
• Contribute photos;”

These features seem to be a first-step in a transformation that Mark Glaser called for in a blog post on his Mediashift blog. Glaser asks his readers to imagine how newspapers can enter the new age, and then presents several future scenarios that contrasts today’s practices with what he believes they should start doing. Here are a couple of examples:

“The way it is: Editors assign stories to reporters.
The way it will be: The community helps with story generation through special online forums, blogs and other interactive mechanisms.

The way it is: Editors choose which letters to print in the Letters to the Editor section.
The way it will be: An online forum allows all letters to be posted in full.”

There are 19 such pairs in his blog post. A careful reading reveals that Glaser seems to have provided a script that usatoday.com is following. When I read his piece, I think of it as a guide for newspapers to enter the Participation Age.

Future of Newspapers: One View

In Blogging, Citizen Journalism, Listen to the Dawn, Newspapers on February 20, 2006 at 8:44 pm

Diane Rehm holds conversations with authors, politicians, industry experts, thought leaders, etc. on her daily radio show from WAMU in Boston. On her January 3, 2006 show, she talked to several people about the future of newspapers. The guests: Michael Massing, Journalist, press critic; John Morton, Newspaper industry consultant; Rem Rieder, Editor, American Journalism Review. It is worth listening to the streaming audio of the show.

At around the 29 minute mark in the show, a caller (who identified himself as the former managing director of the LA Times syndicate in Europe) states that citizen journalists and bloggers are destroying the future of news “papers” and that business models of traditional news gathering organizations will be challenged by a huge number of bloggers using citizen journalists all over the world. He said that the news paper model and the accompanying news gathering model will go away.

The sad thing was the response of John Morton (as I transcribed from the broadcast).

“I envision this bloggers world as sort of analogous to what civilization was like in the Middle Ages when everybody had opinions; we were full of all sorts of witch hunts and mysteries; it was before the Enlightenment. And really, civilization has advanced because of information. I don’t care how many opinions you spread around the world, it’s only going to be news coverage that provides information that makes a difference.”

Morton, who was introduced as a newspaper industry analyst, is clearly out of tune with the new media world. It appears from his response that he is totally unaware of the roles played by citizen journalists and has a view of bloggers that is commonly expressed in newspaper articles. A lot of the traditional media writers have put blogs into two camps: vanity blogs in which people write about their daily lives and opinion blogs in which people express opinions about articles they read in the traditional media.

These two types are, indeed, very common in the blogosphere. But just consider the number of bloggers at work. Dave Sifry reports that “Technorati currently tracks 27.2 million weblogs, and the blogosphere we track continues to double about every 5.5 months.” These 27 million bloggers include people who are generating the news, as well as people writing about that news.

If Morton is representative of that traditional world, the conquest described by the caller to the show will occur with very little opposition. If you do not understand what is happening to your business model, you cannot respond adequately.