Thursday, January 29, 2009

What They Said

Please take a few moments to read:

1. The esteemed John McIntyre's comments on how the problems confronting editors in the 21st century are in some ways those confronting theologians and leaders of the church in the 15th. And John raises an essential question that in some way explains the baby-boomer angst of these debates: Can those of us who in the 1960s and 1970s cut our teeth on the personal is political, off the pigs, trust no one over 25, suddenly turn about and say, wait a minute, that was our revolution but this Internet one isn't? As John notes: "I don’t have a badge and don’t want one. But I don’t see that self-policing is effective." (This follows a number of posts about Wikipedia, all of which are worth looking at.) I would like to think that when I marched around the Delaware County courthouse once in the early 1970s, that it was to protest unjust authority, not simply the idea of there being authority. Yet certainly the idea underlying Wikipedia is: We have met authority, and if it is not all of us, it is illegitimate. The idea of editing -- the idea of newspapers -- in the end rests upon, yes, dear reader, we do in fact know some things in more depth and detail than you do, and are better trained to judge them, just as you may be better trained to design a house or repair an electrical system. I believe this. Yet a voice in my head still says, yes, and Robert S. McNamara said he knew better than the American people did what needed to be done in Vietnam. Just as it can be hard for a parent who recreationally used drugs to draw a firm line for children, it can be hard to oppose proferred advances that aim to give all power to all the people. Yet standards cannot result from universal input on standards, because who then has the right to say, alas, it is your ox that shall be gored? But soon we would be into metaphysics instead of copy editing.

2. Robert Picard has been an infrequent poster on his blog "The Media Business," but January seems to have made him garrulous. Two posts worthy of mention. Here, he notes, as so many have, that the main problem facing newspapers is not that they are printed on paper, but that they produce a product that so often fails to distinguish itself. (Europeans call this the American newspaper business' failure to compete.) At the same time, he, like all heavy news junkies, has already read everything "newsy" on the Times and Post Web sites during the day, and wishes other papers (he uses the Globe as an example) to not simply use their print columns to regurgitate. Yet printed newspapers in the 21st century will never succeed if they consider news junkies their best customers, because 1) they will always have read it somewhere else first and 2) they probably don't read the ads anyway. At the same time, his essential point -- that there has to be a new model of what the product contains -- is true. And here, he makes an interesting forecast for the next year that is neither defeatist jeremiad nor utopian prophecy -- simply noting that for newspaper companies to survive, they are going to have to be run on the business side by people whose background was not in the leisurely, well-mannered, somewhat amateurish newspaper business, where, until two years ago, you could always put off the day of reckoning by publishing a progress edition. What this means for those in the newsroom is unclear.

3. One good link deserves another: Juan Giner, who posted a comment here about how the Spanish department store El Corte Ingles could save the newspaper business, elaborates. Juan notes that "El Corte Ingles" means "The English Cut," which is one of the strangest names ever for a department store, until you realize that it was started as a bespoke tailoring shop. Department stores in England, the U.S., Germany and the Nordic countries tend to use the family name or some relatively straightforward name like Stockholm's Nordiska Kompaniet (Northern Co.), although there are a raft of unique names such as City of Paris and Kaufhaus des Westens. Stores in cities using Romance or Slavic languages tend toward a title rather than the owner's name: La Rinascente (The Renaisance) in Rome, Bazar de l'Hotel de Ville in Paris, Bila Labut (White Swan) in Prague, El Fino de Siglo (The Turn of the Century, I believe) in Havana. But there are exceptions here too, such as Coin, the Italian department store named after the Coin family that started it in Venice, and stores in what were American colonies or pseudo-colonies, such as Rustan's in Manila and Madero's in Panama City.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Copy Editing: Questions of Identity

A couple of nights ago I was watching a program on the Kennedy assassination -- the point was to support the Warren report and the single-bullet theory, and this being TV today, I have no idea what the program name was or what channel it was on -- and I saw for the first time the video of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot. (Digression: Just like the NFL, a bowling tournament my father was in decided not to cancel on Nov. 24, 1963, and he would routinely take me along to the lanes, where I would amuse myself playing pinball, drinking Cokes and looking at the league standing sheets that used to line the halls of every bowling alley. Bored, I called my mother at home and she said, "I can't talk! Lee Harvey Oswald was just shot!" Relaying that information made the rest of that tournament irrelevant to most of the bowlers.)

The program had extensive interviews with Oswald's brother Robert, and it struck me, as he was talking about how Lee Harvey Oswald wanted to go down in history as a big shot, that Lee Harvey Oswald probably never expected to go down in history as Lee Harvey Oswald. He was just Lee Oswald to his friends and family. But Oswald became Lee Harvey, because no one knew who he was and reporters got the formal police identification when he was arrested for killing Officer Tibbett; yet his killer never became Jack Leon Ruby, because nearly everyone who saw him shoot Oswald already knew who he was -- the cries of "Jack!" start on the tape just a second after the shot -- and thus reporters simply identified him as Jack Ruby, not needing to wait for the formal police ID. (Also, "Lee Harvey" rolls off the tongue easier than "Jack Leon.")

Jimmy Carter certainly stopped the newspaper tradition of referring to political leaders by their full names with middle initial, although at first he was just an annoying exception to the rule. At my first job, which was a very old-school paper, I was taught to always use full legal names with middle initial because 1) it helped the morgue file the clips and 2) consistency equaled credibility. With arrests, you used the middle name because the person might be J. Wesley Wright to the public and thus John W. Wright would be meaningless -- and this also would make sure the clips got in the right file. Of course, this was also in the days when you had to identify women as "Miss" or "Mrs." because "readers would want to know if they are married."

But as a result of Carter's self-identification -- famously taking the oath as "Jimmy" instead of "James Earl Carter Jr." -- using legal names seemed as passe as wearing hats. Instead it became a matter of self-presentation. Pennsylvania Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh had been Richard L. Thornburgh in news stories throughout his long political career, but in running for the Senate in 1991 he asked to be known in news reports as "Dick Thornburgh." This puts the reporters covering the campaign in a bind -- do you risk being sent to Siberia by the candidate over his first name? No, you lobby the copy desk to change the rule. Similarly, the Philadelphia Flyers' Bobby Clarke wanted to be seen as more managerial when he went into team management and asked that he henceforth be known as Bob Clarke. We compromised, referring to him as Bob in the present tense and Bobby when remembering the Broad Street Bullies. The night Wilson Goode was elected mayor of Philadelphia in 1983, our sidebar referred to him by his legal name -- Willie Wilson Goode -- in the first edition but was changed to W. Wilson Goode by a very high ranking editor who felt that we might look like we were being disrespectful to the city's first black mayor by pointing out that his first name, which he did not publicly use, did not carry the same historical resonance as, say, Richardson or Thacher.

One local politician who recently moved from the district attorney's office to the county board of commissioners suddenly started losing his middle initial and "Jr." in news stories. We had no idea why but wondered if he wanted to lose the image of power he had and be seen now as a man of the people. Turns out he had simply moved into the domain of a different beat reporter, one who thinks people should be called in the paper the way they present themselves. We insisted that the county's Web page be used as a reference, assuming that would reflect how the person wished to be known, and got into a discussion about whether county Web pages are put together by low-paid functionaries who give such matters no thought. But I had never liked giving in on Dick Thornburgh very much. You don't get to change the rules in mid-stream just because you want to.

And, of course, all of this would have been simply an academic copy editor question had it not been for the controversy over the middle name of the current president, who took the oath of office with almost his full name -- the "2nd" was not intoned, perhaps because the chief justice would have said "Barack Hussein Obama faithfully 2nd" -- but who clearly identifies himself as Barack Obama, not Barack H. Obama, in his signature, his literary works, and among his friends -- yet whose mother and grandparents always called him "Barry." What's a poor copy editor to do? What if someone runs for office named "Richard Adolf Smith" and you go along with calling him "Dick Smith" and the opponent says it is a conspiracy to delude Jewish voters? Well, you cross that bridge when you come to it.

But at the same time, Google has become the universal newspaper morgue, and while "Jimmy Carter" or "James Earl Carter Jr." will bring you to many of the same places, "John W. Wright" vs. "J. Wesley Wright" now matters a great deal. And while Barack Obama may have put the "that doesn't sound American" name question to bed, "Bobby Jindal" still sounds different than "Piyush 'Bobby' Jindal" and you know some bloggers, and, yes, the occasional less-than-informed reporter, will somehow make the possible presidential candidate Robert Jindal at some point despite his having taken the nickname out of a childhood love for the "Brady Bunch" character.

So what is a copy editor to do? Use the official reference? Which official reference? Which Web page of the official reference? Insist on the legal name? Say it's a free-for-all? On the one hand, it's an academic question because Barack Hussein Obama II was elected instead of John Sidney McCain III; on the other hand, it wasn't an academic question to Ann Coulter during the campaign. Names still have power. What, in this time of less copy editing, should the beleaguered corps of copy editors insist upon?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Digital Youth, and Other Dramas

A previous post noted that college students are not all uniformly digital masters, noting that the use of, say, Twitter was a minority interest at the University of Kansas. Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies and law at Virginia, reports the same thing in an article summarized in the Winter Wilson Quarterly (behind a wall). He writes:

"I am in the constant company of 18-to-23-year-olds. I have taught at both public and private universities, and I have to report that the levels of comfort with, understanding of, and dexterity with digital technologies vary greatly within every class." The writer of the summary adds: "Overall, Vaidhyanathan finds, students' level of computer savvy hasn't budged in a decade." The professor adds: "Mystical talk about a generational shift and all the claims that kids won't read books are just not true... They all (I mean all) tell me that they prefer the technology of the bound book to the PDF or webpage."

To be honest, this sounds just as anecdotal as my report from Kansas. But it lines up with the anecdotes my son tells me -- that there are the super-technological savvy, then there are the ones like him who are heavy users of technology but not wishing at heart to download themselves into it, and then there is the other four-fifths of the university. At the same time, clearly they all use Facebook. The point, as the summary notes: "College students are more complicated than any 'imaginary generations' can portray." A snapshot of the heaviest technology users among them is not a predictor of the whole, even though newspapers seem to have become convinced that it is.


As noted before, when I get really depressed about the future I look forward to Newspapers & Technology. The January issue has three articles well worth one's time. Douglas Page, identified as a "media executive" -- wish we knew a little more -- writes about how "David is winning because Goliath either doesn't understand how to use all the tools available to him or is too lazy to do so." He quotes ad agency executive David Walker as saying of newspapers' audience, "You can't get to 120 million in virtually any audience, other than television, on a specific day and date like you can with newspapers. You certainly can't get there digitally." But the article also notes how newspapers are "still fighting the fight from 20 years ago -- frequency and reach." (We can't do anything special for you, Mr. Advertiser, but we have 600,000 circulation!)

Mark Johnson of the direct-mail firm Valassis says successful advertising sales come down to telling the advertiser how a consumer uses the print product. "Does it have a shelf life and is it used as a reference piece? Do they pass it on to others? Do they clip coupons, do the puzzles...?" The article ends by noting, "Executives see advertisers taking their business elsewhere and feel they have no choice than to be like everyone else on the Web. The problem with that solution is that newspapers risk being commoditized. No other Web site offers a print product.... newspaper executives should consider that a strength." Alas, it seems that Page's first point -- that newspapers are simply lazy -- is going to win out.

A story on newspapers' road to financial recovery shows that "Publishers are obsessed with the notion of monetizing their Web audience. To that end, they've launched dozens of sites, spanning the spectrum of interests. Those sites have attracted traffic, but they've also fueled an exponential increase in the amount of ad space to be sold. The result? Plummeting ad rates." (But we have 3.5 million unique visitors, which is the equivalent of -- 6oo,ooo circulation!) Newspapers need, as has been said here before, to concentrate on making money, not just on having big numbers. But the newspaper business has been based its entire life on circulation numbers, and it appears to be unable to wean itself.

Finally, the redoubtable Jim Chisholm of iMedia adds:
"Promote newspapers' selling card: Quality. During crises newspaper readership increases."
"Increase sales staff, don't sink it."
"Offer advertisers new solutions."
"All our staff losses are in part an inability of management to identify and pursue new product opportunities, and in part an internal aversion to change."
And he closes by saying: "We are now at the bottom of the cycle."


As with department stores, newspapers have to deal with the customers they have, not the customers they want. My hometown paper, the Indianapolis Star, decided to drop the daily prayer, which had been a staple of the paper for nearly 50 years. This was not done for space reasons or to save the $20 they were paying a retired minister per week to write it; it was done for the usual high-minded newsroom reasons, expressed by editor Dennis Ryerson as, essentially, why should a secular institution be offering prayers to a specific God? Well, they heard from the customers they have, and now the prayer is back.

Star religion writer Robert King puts the matter into perspective on his blog item. The editors of the Star, good people all, looked at it from a journalistic perspective. They did not look at it from the standpoint of, how do our customers use the product and what do they want from it? But now they have alienated those readers who thought the prayer was stupid but never would have bothered themselves about it. Those readers now will see the Star as having caved in to conservative Christians. This was not worth it for seven lines of type per day and $20 a week, but I'm sure the editors of the Star thought they were doing what was in the best interest of the People of Indiana, without asking the actual people of Indiana what they wanted from the Star.


Finally, Gottschalk's, the Fresno-based chain that has been one of the last independent department stores, filed for bankruptcy. It's hard to tell from the stories exactly what is going on, but this story from the Bakersfield Californian indicates that the store might end up in the hands of El Corte Ingles S.A., which is already a minority owner. El Corte Ingles is the incredibly successful Spanish department store that owned the Harris Co., a San Bernardino department store that Gottschalk's bought. In downtown department store days Harris' was the largest store between Los Angeles and Phoenix. This will be interesting to watch. Usually, what El Corte touches turns to gold.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Department Store Building of the Week, Vol. 23

William Laubach & Sons was the large department store in Easton, Pa., and for a long-lived department store it had a very placid life. Founded in 1860, it remained in the 300 block of Northampton Street for nearly its entire life, and remained in the hands of the Laubach family until 1947, when it was sold to Allied Stores. Allied operated it as a separate division up until the early 1960s, when it was merged into the Pomeroy's chain Allied operated throughout Eastern Pennsylvania.

A fuller biography of the Laubach store is here. Laubach's was the sort of successful community institution no one ever thought would just go away -- five or six generations shopped there.

Similarly, its building is representative of 19th-century commercial structures. The one oddity to note is the four-story tower at the back of the building -- was it warehousing, or does it date from the time when department stores made their own ready-to-wear clothing in house?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why This Could Be Good for Newspapers

In the 1980s newspapers started increasingly hearing from advertisers that they wanted to know who newspapers' readers were. This flummoxed them. Newspapers' readers were everybody. Merthe's and Vaughn-Ragsdale and Gold's had never asked them who their readers were. (A gold star to anyone who posts all three cities of those department stores.)

Breaking down circulation by county, newspapers had been doing for years. By zip code was harder. For smaller newspapers, zip codes had never mattered. In big cities it mattered to advertisers a great deal, but delivery routes were not by zip code. No one thought in those terms. Some newspapers had no idea who their customers were. One of the reasons for the Detroit newspaper strike of 1995 was that the drivers and distributors controlled the circulation lists and the newspapers couldn't say who was getting the paper. None of this had mattered when the newspaper said "We have 600,000 circulation!" and Hudson's said, "Great! We'll buy 15 pages on Sunday!"

But in the 1970s, advances in printing technology made it possible to produce a specialty publication for any interest, just as changes in the number of storefronts available, a more spread-out population, and a greater inventory of goods on offer made it impossible for a department store to offer a representative sample of everything. So you had Cat Litter Box Scoop World, and advertisers of litter box scoops and anti-furball medicines knew who was reading it and targeted their advertising.

Newspapers said: Everyone reads us! Advertisers said: We don't want everyone! Tell us why they read you. Newspapers said: Because they want to read the news! Advertisers said: Why is someone "reading the news" interested in my product? Newspapers said: Because we have 600,000 circulation! And things just drifted along, with newspapers raising rates and depending more on classified revenue to make up for their losses to advertisers, who felt that huge portions of their ad budget were being wasted on readers who had no interest in their product and would have none, ever.

Last week I noted three studies -- by Gallup, Pew, and Lee -- that seemed to indicate that at least at the moment, there is a floor of print-only readership somewhere in the area of 30 percent at bottom and 40 percent at top, even among 18-to-29-year-olds; add in print-and-online and it gets better.

The disadvantage to newspapers is that they can no longer shout: We have 600,000 circulation!

The advantage is: In an era of unlimited choice, these are people who have chosen to take your publication. Why? What are they looking for? How can that audience be marketed? They're no longer buying the paper to play the numbers based on Cha Ching or check whether AT&T went up .02. Among those readers, your newspaper has a niche of some sort. What is it? Who are they?

The median age of TV viewers is now 50. For newspapers, it is above 50. The median age of the U.S. population is 38. However, that includes people below 18. Readership studies always are of people 18 and above. What is the median age of people 18 and above? (Tell me if you can find this figure, I can't; but there are indications it's about 48.) But 75 percent of the U.S. population is above 18. To what degree does the age level of readership of newspapers match the average age of people 18 and up? (In other words, if you drop people under 18, if the average age is then 48, if the average age of newspaper readership is, say, 51, it would stack up nicely.) And are newspapers really trying to sell themselves to people under 18? Have they ever been? As the story on the age of TV viewers notes, the average age of Nickelodeon viewers is 10. It's useful in the TV world to know those figures; does including under-18s make any sense for newspapers?

People under 18 are not newspapers' target readership, in print or online. People over 65 skew the readership data because of their heavy reliance on print -- caused probably as much by not needing to waste time at work as their dislike of computers. Newspapers need to sell their reach, whatever it is, among people 18 to 65 and figure out a way to avoid having their penetration in this market be skewed out of recognition by both the absence of young people and the dominance of senior citizens, whose massive use of newspapers makes it too easy for people to dismiss the medium as simply Lawrence Welk on paper.

Newspapers' online strategy has been flawed by trying to reproduce on the Internet what they are in print, while not recognizing that while in print it makes sense to have a little bit of everything, the online world in itself is a little bit of everything. (Department stores had the same problem once malls became enclosed; an enclosed mall is in essence a department store, so what is the point of a department store in a department store?) But even so, newspapers can use declining readership as an opportunity to either define the readers they have, or increasingly try to market themselves to specific readers they have and forget others. This is happening with the geographic pullbacks but it doubtless needs to go further. And yes, it means trying to figure out who your target market is, instead of simply saying: It's everybody. Nobody wants everybody.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Copy Editor Should Never Assume

In a previous post I noted incredulity that the L.A. Times could be covering Web and print editorial costs from online revenue only. I said, surely this is a copy editing error, surely they meant online only costs.

Well, apparently not. As noted here, -- yes, by Jeff Jarvis -- the L.A. Times apparently can cover the payroll costs of 660 newsroom workers totally off online revenue.

Let's just assume that each worker comes attached to $100,000 in pay and benefits. That means that the L.A. Times pulled in $66 million last year in online revenue. By contrast, all the newspapers in the McClatchy group reported in October that they had $16.4 million in online revenue. That was a down month, but probably better than some of the summer; let's just assume that they have $16.4 million a month in online revenue. That would be $198 million in online revenue. That would mean that in the McClatchy company, the jobs of 1,980 newsroom workers would be covered by online revenue, assuming each was tied to $100,000 in compensation -- but I suspect the number for McClatchy is much lower. Using the old 1-per-thousand rule, McClatchy would have about 2,500 editorial employees. So there you go. If McClatchy fell down to, oh, 2,100 editorial jobs, they would all be covered out of online revenue.

If I remember, newsroom costs are 10 to 11 percent of total newspaper expenditures, or were before 2006. If you get online revenue to 10 percent, clearly you cover it. As Doug Fisher notes, none of this covers the cost of your ad and business staffs, real estate, promotion, etc., and some of it still has to be pass-through revenue. But the Times seems to have found an online lease on editorial life. And how has it done it? Blogs. Perhaps the Times is making the breakthrough in showing how the problem with newspapers on the Web is that the newspaper's style of writing and reporting does not work as well in an atmosphere of immediacy.

In any event, well, my previous post was wrong, and stupid, and I eat crow.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Department Store Building of the Week, Vol. 23

People in their 30s on up who grew up in the small cities of western Pennsylvania will probably remember The Troutman Co. Troutman's had stores in Butler, Connellsville, Greensburg, Indiana, Latrobe, New Castle and Washington, and there may have been later mall stores elsewhere. It was part of the Allied Stores chain and was historically linked in Connellsville to the group of stores in Uniontown and Warren run by the Wright brothers and Sankey Metzler.

The building at the right is the Butler store at 202 S. Main St., which as far as I can tell was the original Troutman operation, founded in the 1800s by Adam Troutman. At this point, records thin out and I am not sure what happened next, but the Troutman family in Butler kept control of that store, known as the A.E. Troutman Co., and Greensburg became home to the main Troutman business that people around Pittsburgh will remember, The Troutman Co., run by another Adam Troutman and the entertainingly named J. Lacosse Cote. In the 1940s, the Butler Troutman's was reunited with the Greensburg Troutman's and was operated as a branch thereafter. If anyone is reading this who knows from the history of Butler and Westmoreland Counties exactly what went down, please enlighten.

Pennsylvania lent itself to these early regional chain department stores -- ones before the mall era. It had a large number of medium-size cities within close proximity to each other, making it easy to supervise stores in the era of trains and interurbans as well as autos. But the same was true in southern Michigan and most of Indiana, and there each city had its own independent stores. It may just have been a matter of the aspirations of the owners. The Globe Warehouses from Scranton, Pomeroy's and Bowman's in the eastern part of the state, the waxing and waning Bon-Ton operation from York, even the Danks Co. in and around State College were all regional chains in Pennsylvania; the Bon-Ton survives even today.
The building at the left was a Montgomery Ward store, and its French-chateau facade may be familiar to people elsewhere. I have seen the same storefront in Meadville, I believe, and I know also somewhere else, where it had a brief other life as a Carroll House in the Interstate chain, but I can't put my finger on that one. And I suspect I have seen it elsewhere before I started to put together that this was a generic Ward's design. It's an odd design for a department store.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Who's Polling Who, Addendum

The December issue of Presstime had a chart from a Lee Enterprises survey -- OK, Lee may soon be known as the company that redefined the meaning of Junck bonds (sorry, cheap shot) -- but it showed the following readership on a seven-day basis:

Among 18-to-29-year-olds, print-only readership grew from 35 to 37 percent of the company's markets; print-and-online together from 13 to 18; online only from 6 to 9.

Among 30-to-39-year-olds, print-only readership stayed 37 percent; print and online from 18 to 20; online only 7 to 10.

Among 40 to 59s, 47 to 49, 15 to 19, 5 to 6.

So, among everyone younger than 60, online-only readership ranges around 8 percent of the markets; print readership, exclusive or in conjunction with online, somewhere around 60 percent.

And the floor on print-only readership seems to be around 35 to 40 percent -- which dovetails with the studies mentioned here the last two days. That floor holds up even among the youngest group.

What this says to me is that our view of newspapers is too dependent on using the habits of seniors as the norm. Yes, those over 65 love print newspapers to death. (And until death.) But using them as the control group is like saying that the 1950s were the last normal period in American history. Wait, that is what many people do say! (And today's seniors were the teens and young adults of the 1950s. So maybe it fits. It was, perhaps, the last period in which people felt overwhelming societal pressure to conform to normative, not normal, behavior.) Around 70 percent of those over 65 read a print newspaper. That will never happen again. So we need to treat that group as the anomaly now, and accept the new normal. (Perhaps amazingly to some, 8 percent also use print and online together in the Lee study. But essentially no one over 65 uses online as their only source of news from the Lee newsrooms.)

Next week -- why the new normal might actually be a good thing for ad sales. This does not mean I am recovering my optimism about printed newspapers.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Online Only in KCK

The move of the Kansas City Kansan to online-only in January is another example of a hail-Mary pass. The Kansan was founded in 1921 by Arthur Capper, the publisher and political leader. Capper was the Silvio Berlusconi of the Midlands; he used his newspapers (Capper's Weekly and the Topeka Daily Capital) to support his political interests, and vice versa. Kansas City, as a metropolis in two states, was blanketed by the Kansas City, Mo., Star and Times of William Rockhill Nelson; there was a second daily operation, the Journal Post, until World War II. I suspect the Kansan was to be Capper's voice in the Kansas City market, where his weekly, oriented to the rural population, would not circulate well. I suspect he also used the Kansan to tell politicians in KCK what he wanted done. But perhaps his aim was only to establish a Kansas identity for the Kansas side of the metropolis, as opposed to the then corrupt and wide-open Missouri side.

While the Kansan managed to punch its way up to around 25,000 daily circulation, that has to be put in the context of Wyandotte County, which is mostly Kansas City, Kan., having had a peak population of 185,000, and then there was Johnson County, Kan., to the south as well. The Star and Times each had around 350,000 circulation. As the suburbs of Johnson County grew to become the high-income district of metropolitan Kansas City, those people read the Star, not the Kansan. Wyandotte County and KCK began a decline that has brought the county population down to 155,000, and the city budget was only saved by a Cabela's store.

For its part, the Kansan became part of the Inland Newspapers chain, which, if an obscure memory serves, kept it alive in part as a test site for production machinery. Lately it has been printed at the Leavenworth Times as part of the GateHouse Media chain; there was probably some advertising overlap, as Leavenworth is becoming a northern suburb of Kansas City.

The Kansan was down to a daily circulation of about 8,000, and claims an online readership of 7,000. Perhaps they are the same people, in which case there is little risk here. It still covers Wyandotte County in the traditional manner, but apparently that will change as well. “This is not going to be a newspaper turned into an online product,” Kansan general manager Drew Savage was quoted as saying. “It’s going to have a completely different look.” The newspaper noted: "The format of the site will be more like a blog, making it easier for readers to scan through all the stories from a particular day and find the ones they wish to read more carefully." The estimable Howard Owens is in charge of this move, so I know it will be done creatively.

The story noted that "without the cumbersome tasks of page design and layout, and other duties associated with print, the online staff will be free to find more and varied stories to post online." The story also noted that "the Kansan staff is being reduced from eight people to four as a cost savings measure during the transition."

I wish no ill on any newspaper, but the Kansas City Kansan has been cooked for years. If they are eliminating their wire-service and paper and ink and fuel costs and still have to let go half the staff, their staff was probably going to be reduced to zero if they tried to run the presses. Online allows them a chance to reinvent themselves; but they long ago became a niche product, linked to a declining core city and a hold on the market that was marginal even in good times. Even the most diehard print believer would acknowledge that print is no longer the solution to all newspaper problems. And GateHouse is not putting any significant business at risk here.

As the always pointed Juan Giner recently said in a riposte to, who else, Jeff Jarvis:

"These are dead bodies in dead markets.
"Like the papers in Detroit.
"So, going online will not solve their problems.
"If you were not able to make money in print, how are you going to survive online?
"If you didn’t get enough readers and advertisers, how are you going to get them online?
"Only print newspapers making money, having readers and advertisers, and investing online will survive.
"If you were not innovative in print, how I can believe that you will be online?
"These newspapers are not casualties of the Internet, but print failures.
"These are not the papers of the future.
"They are the losers."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Who's Polling Who, Part Two

Yesterday's post looked at a Gallup poll on "where you get your news," its findings and implications. Similarly full of endless possibilities for interpretation is this Pew poll showing that in 2008, as the headline notes, "Internet Overtakes Newspapers as News Source." Howard Weaver has already noted that "the Internet IS NOT a source of news; it’s a delivery system." Howard does this in a post trashing a post by Jeff Jarvis. Why do the heathen rage around Jarvis? There is a reason.

Doug Fisher has added to this by noting that these polls really need to be more exact in asking the questions for the same reason. To summarize his points: "While newspapers are, yes, a 'medium,' generally a newspaper ... is merely the outward embodiment of a news organization -- the actual 'source.' Likewise 'television.' But the Internet is the outward embodiment of .... what? Well, news organizations, yes. But also aggregation sites, bloggers, pr agencies, ad agencies, corporations -- technically, anyone with a computer. To call the Internet a 'source' really does start to mangle the term. In this context, newspaper, television and online are all methods of distribution - media. ... If Pew is going to talk about sources, it needs to start breaking out what those specific sources are online, at least by type."

I would add the following notes:

1. Multiple answers were allowed. Thus, 145 percent of the American public uses the Internet, television and newspapers as its primary news source. In 2001, 132 percent used the Internet, television and newspapers as their primary news source. Yes, I know that's not what it means, and my field is not statistics and polling, but speaking as a copy editor, how can there be multiple answers allowed to the question "Where do you get most of your..."? "Most" means "the majority of." "I get most of my news from more than one source" means pretty much the same as "I get a lot of my news from a lot of sources" which is perilously close to "I get it from a bunch of places and maybe I don't really keep track."

2. "News" only means "national and foreign news." "News" in this context does not mean "local news." Since people are increasingly saying that they depend on newspapers for local news because they can get national and foreign news on the Internet, this makes sense; but then using "news" in the headline is oversimplification. Of course, every copy editor has written headlines that oversimplify.

3. The news, if you are publishing a printed newspaper, could be this: According to a Pew poll, in 2005, 35 percent of people said they got most of their news from newspapers. In 2008, 34 percent said they did so -- i.e., no real change, even as circulations were falling and ad dollars were disappearing. In 2008, 28 percent of people 18 to 29 said they got most of their news from newspapers. A year earlier, it had been 23 percent; two years earlier, 29 percent; in other words, whatever happened in 2007 was made up for in 2008. According to this survey, the Internet's gains have come at the expense of TV among younger people, not from newspapers. But since we have all been blasting holes in this survey, this may not mean much.

4. But here's an even more interesting thing. In 2005, the percentage of people who said they got most of their news from newspapers fell off the roof -- by 10 percentage points, to the level it has held pretty consistently since then. But the jump in Internet numbers did not happen until 2008. In fact, the Internet figure fell, by about the same percentage though smaller in percentage points, as newspapers in 2005. What happened from 2004 to 2005? Perhaps the rise in blogging at a time when it was not yet socially acceptable to say you got most of your news from the Internet. I have a suspicion those numbers spiked in 2008 because it was the first year in which you could say you got most of your news from the Internet and not be looked at as somewhat light. This also was part of Obamamania.

5. But if you put both these polls together, 1 out of every 3 Americans, and the numbers may or may not dip slightly for 18-to-29-year-olds, gets news daily from a print newspaper. In 2008. A lower floor in Pew than Gallup, but still a seeming floor.

The debate about online vs. print tends to be among those, many of them baby boomers, who see it as a Manichean struggle in which one must win to the utter defeat of the other, whereas for many younger people, it is just the world in which they live and the issue is not as emotionally weighted. Younger people may ignore newspapers in droves, but it's the boomer readers (I am talking about civilians rather than people in the industry) who seem to wish newspapers would just go away, perhaps so that they would feel they made the right decision in getting news online free -- no guilt, not my fault if newspapers go under, just the historical dialectic.

But this is also looked at as a zero-sum game because it was presented as a zero-sum win by early adopters and tech enthusiasts who saw the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven. Online must triumph, not just find its place, because otherwise its prophets are just ordinary blokes like the rest of us, proponents of a new technology that soon enough will be just another technology, and not visionaries of a universal solution, a Heaviside Layer unseen by hackneyed mortals. The various forms of the singularity are not here yet. They may come, although I figure Skynet has equal odds.

Anecdotally, what you read on posts whenever a paper does something to cut back seems to be baby boomers -- mostly men -- who exult that they had abandoned the print paper. I suspect these are the "give me red meat" readers -- the ones who see the news as giving them daily grist for their mill of how the world is all screwed up and let me tell you why. The Internet is a superior medium for making yourself feel good about being pissed off. If these polls have any validity, though, they would indicate this -- edit newspapers for the 30 percent who are truly interested, not for baby boomers per se.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Who's Polling Who, Part One

The site Newspaper Death Watch -- despite the name, Paul Gillin's summations of newspaper news are 90 percent of the time free from Internet-triumphalist cant, and in his heart he seems to wish print newspapers could be saved, he just doesn't think they can be (a view I have been holding in recent weeks), and thus it would be better for journalism to stop wasting money on them --

Well, that was an interminable sentence. Start over. Paul Gillin's Newspaper Death Watch recently linked to a Gallup Poll of how people "get their news" in which Gillin found that "the most striking finding is the percentage of people who say they consult the Internet for news every day: up 9% in two years to 31% today. The percentage has more than doubled in the last five years. Meanwhile, the percentage of people who consult a local newspaper every day has dropped from 54% in 1999 to 40% today."

He adds: "The statistics point to a continuing trend that has been hammering the newspaper industry: Young people don’t read newspapers. Meanwhile, Internet consumption is up across the board as people increasingly demand that news be delivered whenever they want it and wherever they happen to be."

Well, OK. Those are interesting statistics, although what has been hammering the newspaper industry is "advertisers don't use newspaper classifieds anymore." There are statistics Gillin does not mention that are also interesting. They are interesting even though I have no idea what they really mean. This will not stop me from theorizing.

"Got my news daily from a newspaper" declined by 7 percentage points from 1999 to 2003. That would be Internet 1.0. Between 2003 and 2007 the decline was 3 percentage points. From 2007 to 2008 the decline was 4. If you put it on a straight line, it's 7 percentage points in one four-year period and 7 more in one five-year period. But it wasn't a straight decline. It was a leveling, followed by a plunge. We can't see year by year from 1999 to 2003, so we don't know if there was a similar pattern.

The plunges were significant in two areas between 2007 and 2008 -- local TV news and local newspapers. Cable news jumped by 6 percentage points. The Internet by 9. National newspapers actually ROSE by 2 points. OK, the margin of error is 3 points, so that it could be a fluke.

But if it indicates a trend or a blip, what is it? One could posit that the cutbacks in news coverage on the local level are finally having an effect. Of course, most newspapers' Web sites are still largely reflections of their print operations. One could also posit that the changes in the economy left people with less money and so they gravitated toward free sources of news. Certainly both are logical explanations.

I would put my money, though, on the 2008 campaign. As was noted, this was the first campaign in which online news was a major driver (whether it was the major driver we will leave for online enthusiasts to put forward). It's the growth (or stability, if the 9-to-11 ranking is just margin of error) in national newspapers along with cable that is the clue to me. Yes, the Wall Street Journal has become more newsy. The Times and USA Today, though, are still the Times and USA Today. I doubt the Journal accounted for two percentage points. A large change happened in one year because what people wanted to read about -- in some cases, nearly all they wanted to read about -- was the campaign. Unlike past years, they did not look to their local newspaper for this coverage.

Was it because their local newspaper no longer had any of its own staff on the road? Because their local newspaper had come to believe that all readers wanted from it is local news? Because all they really do want from it is local news, which is bad for the paper when they are not interested in local news? Because "news from the Internet" is Drudge and Huffington and Kos and RealClear as well as 1,400 newspapers, but "news from newspapers" is those 1,400 newspapers, one or two per market? Because in politics more than in general news, what many people really want is a site on which you can post your two cents? (What is there to post about "two killed in traffic accident" other than "how awful"? But politics is a field of endless blather.) The mind reels.

Of course, people turn away and often do not come back. But here is an even more interesting matter. Between 2006 and 2008, readership of local print newspapers among people 18 to 29 remained at its anemic level of 22 to 23 percent -- which is still one out of five, a large number of people to do anything. Readership among 30- to 49-year-olds fell two percentage points; let's assume that is the people who became 30 and 31 in those two years. Readership among senior citizens actually grew by two percentage points. All of this either makes sense or doesn't matter much. Here is what does matter: Readership of print newspapers among 50-to-64-year-olds fell by EIGHT percentage points.

Go to national newspapers and the pattern is even more interesting. Readership of national newspapers increased for 18-to-29s and 30-to-49s. The rise for both was outside the margin of error, so this was a true increase, though probably part of Obamamania. National newspaper readership also grew among seniors. Again, the fall was 50-to-64-year-olds, a decline of 2 percentage points; a margin of error fall, but the only decline.

So if you put both local and national together -- a dangerous proposition admittedly, since Gallup did not ask it that way and thus a cumulative figure may be completely wrong, but, let's do it anyway: Newspaper readership EVERY DAY (not occasional) among 18-t0-29-year olds may have grown by 4 percentage points, outside the margin of error, to a combined 34 percent between 2006 and 2008; among 30-to-49-year-olds by 2 percentage points, within the margin, to a combined 42 percent; among seniors by 3 percentage points, right at the margin, to a combined 80 percent; and among boomers it apparently fell by an amazing 10 percentage points, to a combined 50 percent. So the headline here is not "young people turn away from newspapers" but "baby boomers turn away from newspapers."

Again, there are so many problems in interpreting this from what Gallup posted -- what does "get your news" mean? The question did not appear to ask: Do you get your news "mainly" or "exclusively" from this source? Also, does "newspaper" mean print-only or do people who read newspapers online-only answer that question affirmatively, and if they did, what does "Internet" mean to them as a separate category from newspapers? A 22-year-old might view as a newspaper; a 50-year-old might see one as the newspaper and one as the Internet. So one might shoot this thing full of holes. (Perhaps if Gallup is reading this, they can enlighten.)

Even so, if "newspaper" actually means "newspaper," this poll would tell this tale, which other polls might challenge: Baby boomers, the group for which newspapers are increasingly edited and who are alleged to still love them, were the ones deserting them en masse in 2008. And there seems to be a floor of daily newspaper readership somewhere around 30 to 40 percent regardless of age. And 10 percent of this seems to be based on national newspapers, as it has been for a decade. The decline is in local newspapers. Does this mean that all these people in focus groups have been lying when they say that what they want from newspapers is all-local? Or that the group that wants all-local is not getting it and thus giving up?

More tomorrow. Literally tomorrow.