Wednesday, June 25, 2008

OK, Jeremiah, You're Back

I was going to lay off the jeremiads. But this is Bloody Wednesday 2008. The ax at Baltimore. The ax at Hartford. The ax coming for the rest of Tribune, we know. And 130 newsroom jobs at West Palm. One-hundred-thirty newsroom jobs. Estimates are, around 35 percent of the newsroom. In one swoop. At a really strong, solid newspaper.

Good lord. Outsourcing copy editing to India in Santa Ana was bad enough. By the end of the day it was almost a minor annoyance.

At Follow the Media, Philip Stone weighs in on the Orlando redesign. He quotes his son, who lives in Orlando. (Well, why not. I'd quote my son, except he lives in D.C.) His son doesn't dislike the redesign (almost no one in Orlando seems to have, which is good); he finds some of it attractive; he just says, well, who cares.

"... 3) The newspaper is still outdated about 5 minutes after it is dropped off the delivery truck.

“Unfortunately, issue number 3 remains the real problem. The Sentinel has obviously tried to boost its reader base with a new format. The format is not the problem, it never has been. The problem, not just with the Sentinel, but with newspapers in general, is that they cannot compete in a world that is fast paced, information rich, and saturated in opinion. ... My generation, as well as future generations, will be able to access information literally on demand, in full color, and then be able to, just as easily, get as many different viewpoints on that in a span of minutes. How on earth does a newspaper, printed hours before, compete with that?

“Today’s society is not one that relies on their city paper to educate them on what happened yesterday; we are a generation that insists upon immediate and detailed media that allows us to know news as it is happening. It is for these reasons that the Sentinel, and papers everywhere, can give themselves all the makeovers they wish to give, but at the end of the day the makeover will suffer the same result as the content within it -- it will be old news.”

Stone concludes: "So, still no sale to the 30-something!"

OK, pick up your morning newspaper. Look at the stories in it. Ask yourself: By 9 a.m., how many of these stories have advanced in any significant way, if at all, beyond what was in the newspaper?

Not many, particularly on the local level, but that misses the question perhaps, so here's another: How many stories have happened between the start of the press run and the time you read the newspaper, that because they happened during that time then were not included in the newspaper?

Probably even fewer, unless Mugabe killed himself at night or something. So maybe the newspaper should just cede that arena and concentrate on things that don't change much. Many have tried to. The younger Mr. Stone is saying two things, though:
1) I don't care what happened then. Tell me what's happening now. Even if it's the same thing as what happened then.
2) Tell me what people think now about what happened.

Maybe that's the point of "the conversation." At the mid-point of the day today it was about outsourcing copy editing to India. By the end of the day it was that and newspapers making drastic cutbacks. By tomorrow morning it will be about groups like ACES protesting what's happening by starting the site "Why Editing Matters" and ACES co-founder Pam Robinson's eloquent plea at And perhaps Alan Mutter will have posted something. And Romenesko will have posted something. And the conversation will go on and on in my social network, which is largely journalism junkies and copy editing advocates.

And what newspapers have sold as their strength in this new world -- their ability to analyze, to look deeply at an issue -- well, maybe Joe Blo said that when the newspaper came out in his breathtaking analysis, but by this time Jane Smith has already reacted to Joe Blo's comments, so the story is Jane Smith and then what Jack Frack thinks of Jane's comments, and someone will have a statement on that soon. So your analysis is old news! Why should I read it in print? Hell, why should I read it at all? I might as well read Jack Frack. But the conversation shifts with the wind. It's so full of so much of which so much is so little. Including this blog. If the conversation takes the place of the newspaper, the newspaper has very little place in the conversation. The newspaper is not the same as the conversation, because the newspaper is finite and the conversation is endless. We can't compete with infinity.

But the cuts at Baltimore and West Palm and Hartford are not coming because of the conversation. They're not coming because Philip Stone's son doesn't buy the Orlando Sentinel, redesign or not. They're coming because we lost help wanted and real estate classifieds and competing department stores, and papers can barely meet payroll. And we didn't lose those because our journalistic content was out of date. We lost them because they were cheaper and easier to use online and we used classified as a cash cow. People like Keven Stone will simply not be our readers. Not everyone is Keven Stone. Let's figure out who our readers and advertisers will be.

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