Because we assume that our readers are, or should be, like us, or that we really in our hearts only want readers who are like us, we overemphasize the role of news junkies in today's media environment.
Who spends most of their day working on a computer -- not monitoring nuclear power plants or fixing problems with air reservations, but working free-form on a computer -- able to regularly, even somewhat obsessively, check various news sites for updates during the day?
Among the people who do are pundits, journalism professors and journalists. Does the typical American worker even have the ability to check in with CNN, USA, two, three, four times a day? Does the typical American worker even care that much? Doctors are seeing patients or operating. Lawyers are seeing clients or in court. Department-store workers are selling goods. Car dealers are selling cars. Linemen are fixing lines.
But how often do you, can you, check Romenesko?
People who make their living working in media have to obsessively monitor media -- to not miss something, but also, that's why they work in media. They have to know, right now. Are they the major component of newspapers' audience? Have they ever been?
How many "death of the newspaper" stories have begun with some variation of, "I used to begin my day with the print edition of the New York Times," or, even better, the Times and the Post. What percentage of the American population ever read the print edition of the New York Times? What percentage of the people writing about the problems of newspapers do or did? (It doesn't matter if they also read their local daily.) Nothing against the New York Times, I'm a media person, I find the New York Times fascinating. It's just that the vast majority of Americans do not read the New York Times.
Journalists and the newspaper business do have to accept that that portion of their audience that began, or wished it began, its day with the New York Times (except for the local audience in New York, which is still considerable) is never coming back to print. If you care that much about the news, you'll get RSS feeds of the Times and the Post and the L.A. Times and CNN and Time and on and on, or you'll spend the day going from one Web site to another.
Which segues in an odd way to this interview with personal finance columnist Scott Burns, who took the buyout in 2006 from the Dallas Morning News. Scott writes about how when he was business editor at the Baltimore News-American, he concluded that newsprint was a terrible way to present stock information. He wrote a code to allow this information to be gotten online.
Scott says this happened in the early 1980s; the News-American closed in 1986, so it was certainly early to mid-. In 1984 was the famous Apple Super Bowl ad. In 1986 there was no World Wide Web. There were barely graphic interfaces. Newspapers used Atex or SII or Hendrix. At home we used a second-generation IBM PC that still had an A drive and had to be booted up through disks. (Yes, we had a PC at our home in 1985. My father had one in 1979; you entered the data using dials. I really am not a technology Luddite.)
Scott was way ahead of the curve, and people who are lead progress. Scott's problem was that in the early 1980s, for the typical person, newsprint was still a wonderful way to give stock prices. It just wasn't for him. The typical person still saw computers as mystical behemoths that were going to take over the world ("Lead us, Landru!"). But for Scott print was already yesterday's outmoded technology.
But most of your media junkies and early technology adopters are not people who read the ads in the newspaper anyway. Some of them never read the B section or Features. (The same thing is true for absolute sports junkies.)
Print newspapers still have a pretty good market among the rest of the population. We can find a way to profitably serve them -- if we want to. But they are not us. And yes, it would be more fun if the audience was composed of people like us.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Because we assume that our readers are, or should be, like us, or that we really in our hearts only want readers who are like us, we overemphasize the role of news junkies in today's media environment.
Two caveats on this previous post:
There's nothing wrong with having a conversation or joining it. The Civic Journalism movement, of which the "join the conversation" emphasis seems to me an outgrowth, is a perfectly fine thing for newspapers to support. The problem is that Civic Journalism is often presented as if its major goals -- increasing public involvement in electoral politics and grappling with the issues of our time -- are, or at least are a major part of, the only true purpose of journalism. A newspaper is, once again, like a department store; it's not a boutique. Civic Journalism and the conversation are a department, maybe on the main floor or mezzanine, but if they are the main thing in the store, not many people are going to come in every day.
Even if those could be our only goals, Civic Journalism and joining the online conversation is not of itself a successful business model for newspapers, as is becoming clearer every month. To be fair, its advocates have never presented it as such. They present it as a civic good and assume therefore that it will find support; because it is in the public interest, the public will somehow arrange for it to work. This has always been a problem with Good Government initiatives.
Of course, if the conversation is about Miley Cyrus' photos, that might be a successful business model, but I doubt it's what Jay Rosen envisioned. But why a daily newspaper would believe that it would become in 2008 the major venue for a conversation about Miley is beyond me.
And the fact that a large number, possibly a third, of our paying print customers appear to use our online offerings as well is a wonderful thing. The seamless garment, to use a religious metaphor. We give it away online and they are still willing to pay for the print product, because they get added value from it. If we give them stuff exclusively in print and then give them other stuff online, instead of giving them the same stuff free, they might still be happy. Of course, they would still want the ability to e-mail to their friends a link to a story they read in the paper. This sort of stuff we can work out. But it seems that promoting print and then having online as added value to print is not a model being rejected by the newspaper marketplace.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Driving through Baltimore recently I passed a shopping center on Reisterstown Road that clearly had been a mall marvel at some point in the 1960s, and it brought to mind how many abandoned or destroyed suburban department stores there are. The death of downtown stores was evocative for those of us who grew up on them; but how many relics there are for the 1960s and 1970s now as well.
So from a 1965 Inquirer I made a list of the branches of Philadelphia department stores in that year. Very few are still occupied by Macy's, Penney's or Sears, although there were more than 40 locations at that time. It was a tendency of upscale stores to simply list branch names (usually in the order they were opened) and downscale ones to list locations, but here's where a shopper could have gone that year for department-store shopping. It's an amazing list when one thinks that within a few years, almost all of this had been replaced by malls such as Plymouth Meeting, Oxford Valley, Echelon and the like. Clearly at this time people went "to Sears" or "to Wanamakers" rather than "to the mall."
THE MAIN LINE
Wynnewood: John Wanamaker, as anchor store of a small plaza, and a Bonwit Teller somewhere.
Ardmore: Strawbridge & Clothier, in its earliest suburban location (from the 1920s) and still a Macy's, just up the road from Wynnewood.
St. Davids: Sears, Roebuck & Co. had its Main Line location here; B. Altman & Co. from New York was nearby.
Bala Cynwyd: Saks Fifth Avenue's Philadelphia outpost was here.
Jenkintown: Wanamaker, Strawbridge, Bonwits, all at separate locations.
Abington: Sears was on Old York Road, near Wanamakers' Jenkintown store.
Cheltenham: Gimbel Bros. at an early mall.
Willow Grove: Lit Bros.' Montco location at York and Easton Rds.
King of Prussia: Wanamakers and J.C. Penney Co. pioneered what is now the largest mall in the East, and where Macy's still holds court. Nearly every East Coast department store chain has been at King of Prussia at one time or another.
Springfield: Strawbridge, not the current Springfield Mall, however.
69th St., Upper Darby: The great middle-class suburban shopping area of Philadelphia before the mall boom, with Gimbels, Lits, Penney's, Sears.
Lawrence Park: Lits, with I think a branch of a Chester store, Weinberg Bros.
Moorestown, N.J.: Wanamaker and Gimbels at an early mall that still has Macy's, Sears and Boscov's. One of the country's oldest malls.
Cherry Hill, N.J.: The first enclosed mall in America had Strawbridge and L. Bamberger & Co. from Newark. Macy's and Penney's are still there.
Camden: Lits was downtown. Penneys had just moved out. Sears was on the Admiral Wilson Boulevard in what was its first purpose-built store in the nation.
Audubon, N.J.: Penneys had moved to the Black Horse Pike Shopping Center from Camden.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA
Great Northeast: Gimbels was here in 1965; others came later; Macy's is still here. A couple of blocks away was a Lit Bros. store at Cottman and Castor. Sears had a store with its huge Northeast catalog center down Roosevelt Boulevard.
South Philadelphia: Lits at 23rd and Oregon. Sears a block away.
Germantown: Penney's and Sears were here on Chelten Avenue, along with two local department stores, C.H. Rowell and George Allen Inc., also now gone.
Lits had a downtown store in Trenton and a branch in Morrisville, but Trenton was its own market to everyone else. Lits also was in Atlantic City.
Wanamakers and Strawbridge had made early incursions into Wilmington, Del. Penney's and Sears didn't consider Wilmington part of their Philadelphia markets, and Wilmington had its own department stores (Kennard-Pyle Co. and Wilmington Dry Goods) as well.
The Levittown developments had their own shopping centers (Levittown Shop-A-Rama and Willingboro Plaza); both had Sears, one had Penney's, and both also had outposts of the Reading-based Pomeroy's Inc., which Levitt & Sons apparently had invited in.
Sears advertised its Norristown and Chester locations as part of its Philadelphia operation, but those cities also had their own stores (B.E. Block & Bros. in Norristown, Speare Bros. in Chester).
What an amazing world of department stores it was.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Monday will bring the latest gloom-and-doom FastFax report, and E&P's coverage notes that once again we will see declines of 4 percent in average daily readership, more on Sundays. The article gets more gloomy when it turns to a Scarborough report.
"Gary Meo, senior vice president of print and digital media services at Scarborough Research [said]: 'In general, print [readership] is in a steady decline, and online readership is growing but the declines in print are not being offset by the increases in online readership,' he said. 'The integrated newspaper audience is declining.'
"It's not unlike what is happening with total online revenue where the online revenue growth, while steady, can't make up for the losses in print revenue. Print readership dwarfs online readership so a loss of one percentage point could mean thousands of readers. The percentage gains in online readership may be big, but it's coming off a small base...."
"Meo concedes that it will be difficult for a newspaper to grow its online audience fast enough to make up the loss for print readership. 'The numbers don't work at this point,' he said. But he also pointed out the enormous market penetration newspapers have -- 'more than any other media' he said. 'When you look at these numbers they are pretty staggering. Just the print alone in some markets you get 67% reach. Those are big numbers.'
That's right, newspapers in some markets just in print reach two-thirds of households. Nothing else does that. Yet they're toast, yesterday's technology.
And while online readership is growing, the total newspaper readership in print and online is declining. How much is online adding to print readership? I just defined the top half of the list:
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Print 48% of market; print and online together 54%
The Sun : 51% -- 54%
The Blade: 53% -- 55%
The Buffalo News: 64% -- 66%
The Charlotte Observer: 44% -- 47%
The Columbus Dispatch: 58% -- 60%
The Des Moines Register: 70% -- 71%
The Fresno Bee: 48% -- 49%
Houston Chronicle: 51% -- 55%
The Indianapolis Star: 51% -- 53%
In most markets listed in this story. newspapers online reach between 10 and 15 percent of their own market, by Scarborough's estimation. In most markets that reach went up by 1 or 2 percentage points between 2007 and 2008. In most of these markets print reach went down by 2 to 3 percentage points in the same period.
But in nearly every market -- assuming I am reading this correctly -- the addition of online added only 2 or 3 percentage points to the newspaper's total market reach. In those that had the greatest online penetration -- Atlanta, San Diego -- it added five or six.
Which seems to me to mean that the number of people who use online news sites in their own market exclusively -- not who use NYT or USA, not who visit Philly.com to find out about the Eagles -- but "the percentage of adults who have ... visited the Web site ... during the past seven days" in their own market and who didn't read their local print newspaper during the same time -- is about 3 to 4 percent of the market, on average, and that most of the people who knowingly visit our Web site already are our customers in print.
Tell me again why we need to give this away? Tell me again why this is the inevitable future? Tell me again that this is not about the product but simply about the march of technology? That the fact that print penetration rose or held steady in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Portland, Richmond, Syracuse is meaningless?
We've got to separate the future of the newspaper business from the future of Nytimes.com; from the future of political pundits and commentators and bloggers saying that the only purpose of news media is to "join the conversation." Most of that conversation seems to concern readers of the New York Times, not of the 1,300-plus other daily newspapers.
Back from a few days in Virginia, where the Miller & Rhoads department store building in downtown Richmond is being turned into a multi-use development (as is much of downtown Richmond, which has much more going on than I had realized); from reading the somewhat free-form Newport News Daily Press and the rather traditional Richmond Times-Dispatch; and from thinking that in an earlier era, the rapid growth around Williamsburg would have led to someone's starting a daily newspaper there. There is a prosperous twice-weekly (owned by Tribune Co., it appears, as is the Daily Press) but it made me wonder if we have seen, in Pikesville and Georgetown, Ky., the last conversions-to-daily-publication that we will see.
Back to the desk. Many, many years ago, an editor with whom I worked, with the wonderful name of Stanfield Gordon Gapper, pointed out two things about police reports: One, that people are always driving at a high rate of speed, as opposed to fast; and two, that people are redundantly reported as "treated and released." If John Smith was treated at Jones Hospital, Gordon said, then he clearly is not there anymore, and thus was released; otherwise it would be either that he "is being treated" or "was pronounced dead." So I have tried over the years to say "Smith was treated at Jones Hospital" and drop the "released" part, though this has caused some controversy.
Lately I've added my own nail to this pot on the construction "Smith was rushed to Jones University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead an hour later." This sentence is written a lot in a city with 400 homicides a year.
First off, people are always "rushed" to a hospital; that's what ambulances do. It would only be newsworthy were he not rushed. But more to the point, why would he be pronounced dead at Jones University Hospital if he had not been taken there? So I have been making it "Smith was pronounced dead an hour later at Jones University Hospital," and no one is complaining that we are implying that poor Smith lay bleeding on a manhole cover for an hour.
So much of police writing stems from the police report's need to account for every action in a court of law. We do not have that same need. With newsholes shrinking, economical writing is imperative.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Missed last week, so here is a double-header from Elizabeth, N.J.
At left, the gray building was officially Levy Bros. of Elizabeth, N.J., Inc., at 76 Broad St. Levy Bros. started as a women's-wear store and grew in the 1920s into a full-line fashionable department store. At right is the R.J. Goerke Co. building at 100 Broad St. Rudolph Goerke had a department store in Newark, which is six miles from Elizabeth. At the time Elizabeth had just small dry-goods stores, so Goerke and partner E.A. Kirch invaded booming Elizabeth with its first real department store. In the 1920s the Goerke family expanded, buying Lit Bros. in Philadelphia. The Depression put an end to that, the Newark store was closed, and the Goerkes were left with just the Elizabeth store, but soon they were back in an expansionist mode, buying the Rosenbaum Bros. store in Plainfield. Eventually it became part of the Steinbach-Howland-Genung's operation referred to earlier.
Elizabeth had quite a run as a shopping hub, but eventually its suburbs and Newark's and New York's all grew together, and Elizabeth's stores and its newspaper (the Daily Journal) all became irrelevant in the broader suburbs and disappeared.
Recently I drove by the old S.S. United States, which has come to a permanent home of abandonment in Philadelphia. This was once one of the fastest passenger liners afloat, favored on the transatlantic crossing business along with the Queen Mary, the Normandie, and other ships. You can drive by it on South Delaware Avenue near the Ikea store.
It made me think about the cruise-ship business. Before jet planes, crossing the ocean on a liner made perfect sense. Once you could get from New York to London in relative comfort in six hours instead of four days, the business shriveled. But passenger liners remain. People realized that it no longer made sense to run a boat from New York to Southampton because when crossing to Europe, what people wanted was to get to Europe. But if you were to make the ship itself the destination... and thus came Royal Caribbean and Carnival. The technology wasn't obsolete. It just had to find a different use.
With breaking news, what people want is to get the news quickly. That doesn't make the printed newspaper obsolete. That means the newspaper has to be a destination for something else. How little of what we publish is actually "breaking news." But it also means the newspaper has to hold itself to a higher standard of pleasing the customer. Think how awful those tales of steerage and lower-level cabins were. But White Star could get away with it when there was no other way across. Now think of a Caribbean cruise ship today. Yes, this means color on every page, and better paper instead of worse, and designing the paper to help the reader instead of simply quickly filling space. And whatever the newspaper equivalent of climbing walls is. Yes, it would be a better world if this wasn't necessary. Sorry.
Cunard and Matson aren't the leaders in cruise traffic today, as far as I know. It may take companies that are willing to re-invent the printed newspaper while established operators flounder.
As for "book," my colleage Inga Saffron, who normally goes after large-scale architectural game, wrote this week about a much smaller scale -- a cafe at the Free Library. In her discussion of the proposed addition to Philadelphia's central library, she noted:
"Because the same information will be available everywhere, the library will need the marketing skills of a P.T. Barnum to bring people -- especially teens -- into its building. Its architecture will have to borrow from the language of entertainment and commerce. The library can't merely promise exciting services, it has to look exciting..."
Gee, "the same information" available everywhere? Sounds like a problem facing newspapers. (Substitute "merchandise" and you had the problem facing department stores in the 1980s.)
Newspapers have to sell the sizzle and not just say, wow, we have good steak. They have to borrow from the language of entertainment because that is the real language of the 21st century. They have to look and act like there's something in them that you really, really need to read. Otherwise, why bother?
A final quote from Inga that applies to our city but speaks to a newspaper dilemma as well:
"Philadelphia is a city where a deep-rooted impulse for propriety is at odds with modern demands for visual stimulation." Substitute "Newspapers are a business..." and you get the idea.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Tony Davis' essay in American Journalism Review on the death of the Albuquerque Tribune encapsulates why the problems facing American newspapers aren't just problems about journalism.
Many people knew of the Tribune as a little paper that could; my ACES colleague Jim Montalbano worked there happily. The p.m. paper had been saved in a JOA and for years Scripps was happy enough to let it continue with a fully funded newsroom and reap the profits from the larger partner, the Albuquerque Journal, even as Tribune circulation fell toward its end point of 10,000 in a metro area of more than a million.
As Davis notes, the Tribune in its heyday was run like this:
"It was a simple management philosophy that carried power far beyond its words: Hire the best people you can and let them do their jobs.
"The brainchild of our editor Tim Gallagher, this mantra sounds like a cliché, but it made the Tribune a laboratory for innovation. One former Trib reporter, John Hill, said he was impressed 'by how much they let the inmates run the asylum.' Another, Pulitzer-winner Eileen Welsome, likened the atmosphere to anarchy.
"Sounds a bit much, but think about it. You're a crusader, wishing to bust heads and take prisoners, or you're intrigued by a quirky tale that nobody has told. What's the first thing you need? Not a fat salary or big staff, but an editor who will tell you to take a couple of weeks or months and don't come back without the story. Even in the best of times in the newspaper business, such editors were rare. But we had them.
"Today, attitudes like Gallagher's are seen as an anachronism in what's left of our business. Editors can't afford not to micromanage. They operate from fear: of continued circulation declines and ad losses to the Web, of offending readers or giving them more than they can handle."
Aux barricades! Over the next hill! Mount your steed, put your notebook in a case marked "This Machine Kills Fascists," and it's off to save America. We all grew up believing this. And as a result, the paper "won prestigious honors: the Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting, two George Polk Awards, the IRE Award, the National Headliners Award (three times), the Roy W. Howard Award for public service reporting (four times), the Edward J. Meeman Award for conservation writing and the Sigma Delta Chi public service award."
But there was a darker side as well:
"The cost of this experimentation was that we missed, briefed or buried the meat and potatoes: meetings, budget hearings and government pronouncements. Gallagher dismissed such material as 'agenda journalism.' We got away with it because we were in a joint operating agreement–the country's first–with the more traditional Albuquerque Journal, which had a staff of well over 100 and a circulation more than three times ours. We sneered at them, citing anecdotes like the day [reporter Dennis] Domrzalski was finishing a lengthy probe of the county assessor and walked into a meeting room where his competitor was sitting through a budget hearing. "I felt like I was in heaven," Domrzalski says.
"The Trib cost itself with other lapses, like the time a consultant persuaded the paper ... to junk the sports section. That move lost us 6,000 subscribers, many of whom never returned ..."
Nothing worked. But could anything have worked? The Tribune was a p.m. paper in an a.m. world.
The Tribune offered Albuquerque some stories of superior journalism, there's no doubt. It apparently didn't offer dependable day to day coverage. It didn't offer delivery when people wanted it. For a while it didn't even offer them sports. (One suspects it didn't offer them pet pictures.) Albuquerque increasingly said thanks but no thanks. The Journal may not have reached the journalistic peaks, but it was dependable, covered the bases, and was there in the morning.
We are always told that journalism is full of stories where superior journalistic quality trumped inferior rivals. These stories tend to be: the New York Times vs. the New York Herald Tribune in World War II; the Boston Globe vs. the Boston Post in the 1950s; Newsday in the 1950s and 1960s; in the 1970s, the Philadelphia Inquirer vs. the Bulletin and the Washington Post vs. the Washington Star.
We tend not to remember as well the failure of the Chicago Daily News, or the Chattanooga Times losing to the Chattanooga News-Free Press, or the Arkansas Gazette losing to the Arkansas Democrat, and a number of other occasions on which the product regarded as the greater journalistically did not prevail. Now we have Albuquerque as well. There are always reasons -- JOA imbalances or strikes or whatever -- but "special circumstances" apply in many cases where the winner was the higher-quality paper as well, such as the 1960s strike that ruined the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. I'm reminded that Roy McDonald said the key to his success in Chattanooga was to run everyone's name in the paper once a year. Journalists hooted. His paper won.
Editors like Tim Gallagher were rare then, and are rare now, because in the end it didn't matter to the owners if the Albuquerque Tribune made money or grew readership. Doing so would have been nice, but as long as the Journal was rolling in the bucks, everyone's wallet was filled. Having the Tribune around let the JOA charge a premium for morning-evening advertising over just what would have been charged for the Journal, until things got to the point that literally almost no one read the Tribune. That being the case, let the boys and girls at the Tribune have their fun. Had quality journalism been the sole answer, readers would have flocked to the Tribune. Instead, the Journal got its community to reward it through circulation dominance, and Tribune reporters sneered at its reporters for being drones. There really is a lesson here, no matter how much journalists don't want to hear it. A business model needs to support good journalism, but good journalism is not a business model.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
So USA Today reports that J.C. Penney Co. is first among mall stores among 13- to 16-year-old girls. Who knew? This is the same Penney's that was being written off as dead not many years ago.
Admittedly, the article goes on, Penney's loses them when they get to age 16 and then gets them back when they have their own children.
(Why newspapers are, or at least used to be, like department stores...)
But this line particularly struck me: "Department stores can feel too physically unwieldy for teenagers." When I was a kid, I never had that feeling -- but I can well understand having it. Teens are always onstage in their own minds, always self-conscious, and here you've got to walk in through the perfume counter and the gauntlet of women in their 20s and 30s and find your way to the juniors department, wherever they put it -- whereas at Hollister, you walk in and you're THERE.
Newspapers feel the same way for teens. They're in that weird size nothing else is, and the stuff that you want to read -- sports or comics or whatever -- is somewhere back in the back, but to get there you've got to wade through all that other stuff that you don't have a clue what it is.
Those of us who remember downtown department store shopping will know that if you went into a large store in another city, you had to look for the sign over the door saying "Washington Street" or whatever to know where you came in. It was disorienting. You "learned" the store through shopping there regularly. Similarly, people "learned" the newspaper by reading it, which may have been simpler when there were only two sections.
But on the Internet, you're THERE. Wherever you are. If you don't want to be there, you can leave easily. You don't need to look for Washington Street.
Sometimes I think one of our problems is that even journalists as parents don't teach their kids how to read the newspaper. They just think they'll pick it up through imitation. But it's not worth their effort unless they know there's something there that they want. If we offer almost nothing to younger readers, why should we be surprised that they don't read us? (Well, because we confuse the readers with us. All teens should be debate captains who are interested in state policies on wind power.)
Penney's knows its job. "With the teens, we have to capture them with a brand and a look," the chief marketing officer says. The story goes on: "Penney executives are stressing its brands' names -- not its company name." If, say, high school sports was marketed both print and online as not just a department of the newspaper but as something entirely different -- published as a tab with a completely changed layout and way of writing -- with links to "more photos and chat online,," but with some of the components available in print only -- could there be opportunity there?
Finally, one mother in the story says her children "'don't like to shop at the top department stores like Macy's and Dillard's, but they will shop at J.C. Penney,' because its styles seem trendy." If dowdy old Penney's can make itself more trendy than Macy's, newspapers can easily save themselves.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Getting back to the Indy Star's local-local sections:
One of the things that has struck me in the ongoing Death to Print debates is: A lot of the Death to Print people don't read the ads. I read them a lot less than I used to. As journalists, we look at the journalism. As a copy editor, I look at the headlines and layout. But we are not the readers. And as the NAA and others repeatedly point out, print advertising, when compared to radio, TV, and banner or floating Web ads, is the only type that is not an interruption. (Although click-through ads probably aren't either.) Journalist savants probably miss the role newspaper advertising plays for the general reader, even as they decry its loss.
So what does the Star offer in the North Indy Star? The display ads are an interesting mix, from J.C. Sipe Jewelers, which has been in Indianapolis forever, to a really gross ad for a shingles vaccine. There are a couple of pages of restaurant ads accompanied by an advertorial on one restaurant; but the Star has had this since I was in high school. These are zoned, but even so there are restaurants Downtown on the one hand and 20 miles away in Noblesville on the other.
No, what's remarkable is that even though, as we know, Classified is Dead, the Star is still trying to make it work with Community Classifieds. Dogs for Sale is a particularly hot one. And while generic real estate classifieds have largely disappeared, the weekend's Open Houses still work well in print -- you peruse Realtor.com to see what's available, but the newspaper, because of timeliness, still has a role in saying what you can walk though on Sunday.
What really strikes me, though, is "Jobs Close to Home." In the Friday issue there were eight tab pages. We've all been told that professional recruitment ads don't work in print anymore, and why: If you're an accountant looking for an accounting position, easier (and more professional) to look online. But blue-collar jobs still work effectively in print, because the person may not be looking for a specific position -- he or she is looking for a job.
"Jobs Close to Home" is a wonderful idea for a zoned edition whose focus, as noted before, seems to be largely on families with the parents in their late 20s and 30s. You don't want to work 30 miles away, because how will you pick up the kids? So there are a lot of medical, nursing and billing jobs on the North Side here, as well as retail. And there is a territory manager for a cigar company, welders, truck mechanics. utility locators.
A big company in my area, like Merck, probably won't find newspapers a good bet anymore for the sort of high-level jobs it used to advertise in papers like the Inquirer and the Star-Ledger, because it is trying to recruit highly trained people from throughout the Northeast. Why buy all those papers when you can just post online? If the Public Service company is looking for a lineman, though, the newspaper starts looking better. Finally, these classifieds have color ads scattered all through them, and it's a tab. Newspaper classifieds are usually so depressing because they are lines of small black and white type. These ads look like something you might actually want to answer.
Local-local success doesn't mean you have to open a bureau of 40 people. You just have to figure out what "local" really means.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Scott Butterworth and Bill Walsh of the Washington Post held a session at the ACES conference yesterday to speak about their new copy editing system. Scott passed out a handout which included this very blog as an "other views" item. I've never been a footnote before, and it's kind of cool. Thanks, Scott!
It's clear that a major aim of this is to get stories moved earlier in the day so that they can make the Web during the time when people actually read the Web, and also to avoid the late production bottleneck. Those are worthy aims. Another major aim is to save money, but these days there's nothing we can do about that.
Scott was asked directly if he thought the model was replicable at other newspapers. He said he thought it was, possibly, maybe probably, but that it would have to depend upon the circumstances of that newspaper. He took severe issue with Jack Shafer's overall characterization of the program, saying the "two-touch" idea was probably only going to happen with lesser stories and that A1 and major stories would still have five or six editors working on them. Shafer, he felt, had led much of the comment on this story (including, presumably, mine) down the wrong path.
Still, some of the program is smoke and mirrors -- for example, when the "assistant editors," who are largely former rim editors, are done with their normal work, they are to jump in to help copy edit. Some of it is directly related to the circumstances of the Post -- one aim is to give talented copy editors a new career path as assigning editors. At many newspapers, such as my own, making that leap does not appear to be as difficult as it is at the Post.
Part of this is just different cultures. Scott, for example, noted that copy editors who really wanted to delve into heavy lifting on stories would be able to move into the assistant editor role, whereas those who, as I think he put it, wanted to concentrate on grammar and headlines would still be able to move into the slot. Our paper has never had quite this dichotomy and I suspect many others do not. I don't know that much about how the Post does business, but what I picked up was that their expectation of copy editors was less about content and more about fact-checking and grammar than ours is. Our paper, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Dallas Morning News tend toward one model of what copy editors should do; the Post and the Boston Globe tend toward another. Let a hundred flowers blossom.
So is the model replicable? Perhaps, if a paper looks at the job in the same way as the Post. But there are still, to me, four strong reservations:
1. There is not a rim editor looking at the story who is independent of the assigning process and thus whose primary role is to look at it as a reader, and not as another internal editor.
2. The system is based on exceptional people doing exceptional work. That is certainly true of Scott Butterworth, Bill Walsh, and many of their colleagues. Not everyone is exceptional, even at the Post. Part of the role of a copy desk is to smooth out the different gaps that everyone brings to the process.
3. Bill noted that in his view, if I have it right, proofing was going to function more as what had been the slot's role in smoothing out wording and headlines. This is fine as long as you have a first edition that you can treat (along with its readers) as a throwaway.
4. This all seems to me totally story-driven, with less thought given to captions, pulled quotes and even headlines, although they are covered. It's a system set up to reflect a view based on reading a story budget and not the way readers come to the paper, which is display-type first. Editing the story is just one of the functions we do. A lot of the job of those rim editors is to make the headlines, readins, readouts, etc., work well and sing. And there never were multiple eyes on that.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Blogging at the ACES conference can be found here from my colleagues Jim Thomsen, Gerri Berendzen, Neil Holdway, Daniel Hunt and others.
A followup to Doug Fisher from yesterday's meeting: You said that the economic value of what we do is miminal, as in no one would pay much for "news" because it is so transitory. That what we sold was the package. My question is, does that apply just to "breaking news"? If one is talking about, oh, Sue Shellenbarger's columns on balancing work and family in the WSJ, things one might clip, would that be of a higher economic value? What sort of editorial content is worth more money than just stuff you might find on A1 or B1? Hope you can reply.
Doug Ward, Sara Hendricks and Kathy Schenck moderated a session this morning based on comments in the opening session, about what can raise the profile of copy editors and what can raise the value of ACES. One thing that keeps coming up is that ACES, which was founded to raise the profile of newspaper copy editors as a result of the early 1990s American Society of Newspaper Editors study, is still seen by many who come for the first time as being too much of a newspaper organization. Yet at the same time, the number of potential newspaper employees who have never heard of ACES is still huge.
ACES would seem to have a bright future as a broad-based organization for copy editors whether they are in newspapers, books, magazines, PR departments, organizational Web sites, online journalism, or whatever. On the other hand, given the efficiency with which the scythe reaps its harvest in newsrooms and what it cuts down first, does ACES still have its major work to do as a news-organization advocacy group based around newspapers and news magazines? Because time, resources and energy are limited.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Writing from the ACES national conference in Denver, which once again is proving to be the best training program in the journalism universe. In our stylebook, that would be an "undocumented superlative" and our copy editors would challenge it. What makes you say it's the best? What is your source? Have you examined all other training programs? Should we say that it is "among the best," or can we say that it has been "rated by journalism educators as among the best"?
And that's why a copy-edited newspaper is superlative in the quality and reliability of its information, except in this case the blogger just wants to say: But it's the best training program in the journalism universe, and that's because I say so.
The estimable Doug Fisher (his blog is in the link list) and the equally estimable Chuck Moozakis of Newspapers & Technology did an enlightening session today on the various tools that the Internet offers copy editors and all journalists for more easily checking information or getting ideas for stories. The universe of gadgets, devices, widgets, assimilators, etc. really is bewildering, particularly for those of us who grew up in an era when there was one phone company and your choices were desk, wall or Princess ("it's little, it's lovely, it lights").
There was a good bit of hesitation about using shared links as tips for a story, that struck me toward the end as a fear that newspaper people have about relying on "citizen" sources in general -- your usual sources may be biased, predictable and full of boring information, but you generally know their biases and you both know how the game is played. Crowdsourcing involves amateurs, and amateurs can make newspaper people nervous. But as Doug noted, "crowdsourcing" properly should be the starting point. If a bunch of shared links say "there's something going on in Poughkeepsie," that doesn't make a story of itself, but it probably does mean it's time to make a phone call rather than waiting for an official person or the AP to say, "There's something going on in Poughkeepsie."
One of my colleagues, who works in Features, asked if things such as RSS or Deli.ciou.us. could help her in her editing -- if she knew she was getting a story for that day on the Nobel Prize winner, she could set up a feed to get information from other sources during the day. A copy chief from the Chron said they already were doing that for their specialist copy editors. Great question and great advice. And Doug made the point that all this enables us to do in seconds the sort of checking that used to take a researcher minutes, if not an hour. This is good, except that the researchers lost their jobs. People are rightly concerned about this all taking time away from editing or shoe-leather reporting, but one doesn't need to spend every minute monitoring one's RSS feeds. A glance or two a day would be satisfactory in most cases. Information updates constantly, but significant information updates infrequently.
But Chuck and Doug, even though they are more plugged into current technology than most people in daily journalism, made the point again -- print isn't going away. Print is the base and the heart of a newspaper. What we need to do is to use the tools offered today to enhance journalism, whether it be print or online or whatever. And copy editing isn't going away -- except in places that wish to advertise their capacity to make poor decisions. It will be different, but it's different now than it was when we were hanging grafs on AP hard copy, or sizing wirephotos sent on explodable paper.
The week opened with an elegy from San Francisco. This writer from the bay is more sanguine about the whole Whither We Goest thing. Read it if you need a bracer. Read it if you don't, for that matter.
(Postscript: Chuck brought in two copies of one of our host papers, the Rocky Mountain News. On the back page of today's is a full-page Macy's ad. On the back of one from 1964 was a full-page ad for the Denver Dry Goods Co. The world has in some ways changed more than we could have imagined, and in other ways it has changed far less than we think, and it's important to keep both in mind.)
Monday, April 7, 2008
This story from sfgate by professor Peggy Drexler -- well, what to do? It is tinged with the sort of elegiac sadness over a vanished land that we seem to love these days. Yet her underlying point is -- don't let others define the playing field for us, let us play to our strengths. Some excerpts:
"Sure, the Internet is a wonderful place to be. But the digital newspaper shares space with those who post because they have a position to promote, a score to settle, a diet to sell or that voice in the microwave told them to.
"Newspapers are better than that. They are apart from that. No, they don't always get it right. But they are the only daily medium of depth that has the resources and the responsibility to try.
They are the alternative to wrapping our lives in the perspectives of those who believe exactly as we do - cheering as the Bill O'Reillys and Keith Obermanns lob rhetorical loogies at each from behind the battlements.
"Newspaper companies will try to keep eyeballs and advertisers by investing in the Web. But a medium that was born free and has been ingenious in staying that way may or may not ever make enough money to sustain the kind of journalism it would replace.
"As Sulzberger talked about this downward spiral in essentialness of the American newspaper, I realized there is nobody to blame because it is nobody's fault. You don't blame cell phones when you can't find a phone booth. It's simply the onslaught of technology and the inevitability of consumer choice."
I want to agree with her, but part of what she's saying is: Gee, wasn't it better before we had to think about all this stuff? Yeah, it was. But "Alas, what an artist is about to perish" is not the right answer, although we love to soak it up.
This week I'll be looking for the right answer at America's greatest journalism training program, the American Copy Editors Society conference. Hope to see you in Denver.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
Friday, April 4, 2008
So my former colleague Ehren writes from Fort Worth to say, in essence: OK, smarty pants. Readers don't want jumps and you say you're on their side. But how does one really do that? Is all you can put on the front, then, short, substanceless stories, what with photos, graphics, indexes, and a shrinking page width?
Ehren's right; saying "no jumps" is disingenuous on my part. As long as you have a broadsheet you will have jumps. The question to me is: Do you use known reader dislike for jumps to say, "Let's hold them to a minimum or at least make them more user-friendly"? Or do you use the impossibility of having a totally jumpless paper to say, "Well, we can't do anything about that, sorry?"
We're not just talking about A1 here. I get four papers home delivered, and this morning they have:
Paper 1: Five A1 jumps, six B1 jumps, three D1 jumps, four E1 jumps, three F1 jumps. One story (C1) does not jump. Jumps are on three A section pages, five in the B, two in the D, two in the E, two in the F.
Paper 2: Three A1 jumps, three B1 jumps, four C1 jumps. Two stories (A1, B1) do not jump. Jumps are on three A section pages, two in the B, three in the C.
Paper 3: Four A1 jumps, three B1 jumps, five C1 jumps. Two stories (B1) do not jump. Jumps are on one A section page, one B section page, three C section pages.
Paper 4: Four A1 jumps, four B1 jumps, four C1 jumps, three W1 jumps. Three stories (B1 and C1) do not jump. Jumps are on three A section pages, two in the B, two in the C, three in the W.
So that's 59 jumpers and seven that don't (I hope, I'm a journalist, I can't do math). Of the seven, two were columns. And this was held down by its being a Friday, when two of the normal broadsheet features sections are replaced by Weekend tabloids. This is how we respond to readers' asking for fewer jumps.
How does one respond? Something's got to give. We could respond to younger readers' preference for tabloid- or Berliner-size newspapers, but that involve spending money we don't have, not to mention plunging into the unknown (upset older readers, advertisers who want a full broadsheet page, no comparability to the New York Times). Why, you can't completely change your product line and image! It won't work. Look at Cadillac. Oops, it worked for them, but you know...
But we don't have the money for new iron anyway. So what can we do?
1. Assume, like USA Today, that the reader has time for one substantive story per page, and try your best to always jump it to the second page of the section. This is a good method on inside tabloid or Berliner pages as well.
2. Do like Waco and hold down the story count. As noted earlier, readers seem to like this, although you have to devise a new internal reward system for good staff-written stories that aren't on A1, lest the reporters stop writing in despair. Or, you could just do like Singleton in California and lay off all the reporters.
3. Do like Rockford or Fort Worth and make the front page a poster for inside.
4. Do like the Guardian and have one or two substantive stories on A1, which may jump or which may refer to more inside, and have three to four synopses of stories.
5. I can't tell if the Globe and Mail does that or just jumps every story on a break, which is at least more reader friendly than jumping the story and having the first line on the jump page consist of:
Various jump-friendly strategems have been tried, such as the Johnson City Press' jumping all stories to the back page of the section and printing it upside down, or the more popular trying to herd all the jumps onto one page. None of these have worked in the long run, for probable good reasons -- usually involving advertising's wanting to sell the back page because it has color, or not all of the jumps fitting. The "there will be no jumps" edict has also been tried, and it always fails as well. So as long as we use the broadsheet front page as our model, yes, there will be jumps. If Al Neuharth could have gotten rid of them all at USA Today, I suspect he would have. Even he could not crack that nut. And there is no absolute solution that will work every time. The point is that the way we do it now is for our convenience rather than the reader's, starting with the Times' jumping A1 stories into the C or D sections because "it's coming out of their space."
Ehren also notes that Fort Worth's no-jump poster front page draws criticism from people who don't like reading a paragraph of a story. Well, anything you do will draw criticism. I wonder if it's from the same people who don't like jumps? If so, maybe there is nothing we can do short of being a tab (which they wouldn't like either). There still are people who read the paper from front to back, and they may not like being told "Oh, why don't you look at B7 now" whether by jump or refer, because they will and then they go back to A1 and they get confused. But if we confine our audience to the people who find newspapers the way they are today user-friendly, we are really in trouble.
The other question is whether they're the "give me red meat" readers who are mad at the Times for starting the inside of the A section with three pages of refers. (They may be the same as the front-to-back readers for all I know.) We think of these as our core readers, but part of our problem in the Internet era is that our most involved readers -- the real "news junkies," particularly the political ones -- are going to get most of their news online whatever we do in print. Why read one story about Obama when you can read 15? Trying to put out a print newspaper simply to satisfy those readers is a dead end. More on this to come.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Online Journalism Review recently ran this piece on advice for "what smart journalists need to do to survive, and do great work, in the Internet era." It was directed at individuals. The first two items work just as well for newspapers, and indeed, if newspapers had been doing them for the last 30 years, Online Journalism Review would not be addressing an article to thousands of out-of-work journalists.
"Step One: You must create content that readers will value highly.
"Step Two: You must promote your content to individuals most likely to value it highly."
(The third step was: Make yourself the brand. Not applicable to an institution as much.)
A store my wife shops at sends her an e-mail coupon every week. An interview in the WSJ with the new head of Burger King said that they are turning the company around by asking their core customers what they want. Newspapers often don't even think they have core customers, and when those customers do ask for things, like "no jumps," they ignore them. Like the managers of wanna-be upscale department stores, they assume their core customers are people just like themselves.
Sam Zell's famous F-bomb came when an Orlando staffer challenged him on giving readers what they want. The interplay (I found it here):
"Fajardo told Zell that 'what readers want are puppy dogs,' presumably referring to soft feature stories. She added, 'We also need to inform the community.'
"Zell shot back: 'I’m sorry but you’re giving me the classic, what I would call, journalistic arrogance by deciding that puppies don’t count. . . . What I’m interested in is how can we generate additional interest in our products and additional revenue so we can make our product better and better and hopefully we get to the point where our revenue is so significant that we can do puppies and Iraq.'"
It's unfortunate that Zell didn't hear the "also" and reacted just to the disdain for puppies. Because actually they were not far apart, whereas in some newsrooms inserting the caveat of "also" would be nearly heretical. We need to inform the community, Sam, and you think puppies have any role in that, well, F- you too. You are not worthy to employ us.
Remember when Jonathan Franzen single-handedly put an end to Oprah's original book club? She picked "The Corrections" as her book of the month and Franzen was seemingly horrified that his piece of art would be read to hoi polloi and be put on the same bookstore tables as Dean Koontz and Janet Evanovich. Now, Farrar Straus may not have been horrified, but once Franzen was in high gear there was little they could do about it.
From the blog linked above: "One imagines he fears ... that if too many housewives and middle managers pick up his book, then Wallace and Antrim and Pynchon and DeLillo might shun him as too bourgeois." (Links in the original.) One also images that if one's journalism runs in a publication that spends a lot of space running photos of pets, one's sense of oneself as a high-media-culture professional could be sullied. If I work for you, and you do X, then I must be X by association. But I am Y.
The heck with whether anyone buys it.