Thursday, January 28, 2010

Will Web take legals too?

My slap-to-the-forehead, Homer Simpson "D'oh!" moment occurred this morning at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The realization was this: that newspapers could lose their lucrative legal notices to the Web, just as classified advertising sales have been siphoned off by the likes of Craigslist and Monster.

The occasion was a news conference at which Geoffrey Cowan and David Westphal released a report from the University of Southern California's Center on Communication Leadership & Policy detailing government's long role in subsidizing commercial news.

Titled "Public Policy and Funding the News," the report traced back to Colonial times the postal and tax breaks that still benefit newspapers and magazines. "Government has always been deeply involved in journalism," said Cowan, director of the center and dean emeritus of USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, which hosts the center.

The report grew from a desire to dispel the myth of a separation of press and state, in order to encourage debate on whether new forms of assistance should be considered now, a time Westphal characterized as "this critical moment for the news industry." A longtime journalist with the McClatchy chain, he is an Annenberg executive in residence.

But government support is declining. And while the loss of the subsidies isn't the primary problem faced by newspapers -- loss of circulation and advertising revenue is -- "government support represents a critical element of economic survival," according to the report.

Take legal notices.

They're the ugly-to-the-eye, hard-to-read ads that by law must be put out for all to see: foreclosures, zoning board meetings, divorces, requests for proposals, invitations to bid. For small community newspapers, they represent 5 percent to 10 percent of annual revenue; for larger papers, perhaps 1 percent. But they are a nearly guaranteed stream of advertising sales that makes papers jockey for the business.

Indeed, according to the USC report, they pitted the likes of The Wall Street Journal against Virginia regional newspapers last year in a fight to print local legal notices, a battle that wound up in the courts.

(Today's classified section of The Washington Post also provided ample evidence of their value: most of the 14-page section was legal notices, the bulk of them notices of foreclosure sales. The Post charges a per-line rate for the ads that can range from $7 to $11 daily, depending on frequency. Ka-ching!)

But the newspapers' hold on legal notices is waning as bills pending in 40 states would allow the government and private entities required to post them to shift their business to the Web.

Newspapers are fighting the push online with editorials and informational campaigns organized through the Public Notice Resource Center, which many of the state newspaper associations have joined. They see the loss of legals as a hit not only to revenue, but also to the public's right to know.

"D'oh!" I say to that, too.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ouch! That $400,000 sure stings

I've mentioned before the peek I've had into my likely post-layoff salary: less than I had been earning but by how much is the big question.

So it's hard not to join the noisy reaction (see the comment sections here and here) on the money going to the chief executives of new nonprofit news organizations.

We just learned, for instance, that Lisa Frasier, named last week as CEO of the Bay Area News Project in San Francisco, will be paid $400,000. Paul Steiger, who heads the nearly 3-year-old New York City-based ProPublica, received compensation of $570,000 in 2008. And TexasTribune, launched last fall in Austin, pays chief Evan Smith $315,000.

Steiger, of course, once served as managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. Frasier was a partner at the San Francisco office of McKinsey & Co. (Yes, the same consulting firm that reviewed the operations of magazine publisher Condé Nast just before Gourmet and a handful of other titles were shuttered last fall.) And Smith had a career in magazines, most recently leading Texas Monthly for nearly two decades.

All of which is to say the three are long on credentials that can command an executive salary.

The organizations they're leading are different in scope and focus but share the model of seeking donations from foundations, philanthropists and John Q. Public to keep alive the civic and investigative journalism that has been wilting under the pressure of newspaper layoffs, buyouts and closings.

To be a nonprofit is not to take a vow of poverty. Rather, an organization must petition the Internal Revenue Service for an exemption from taxes after proving it meets certain criteria and pledging that no one person will benefit from any earnings.

Nonprofits compete for talent as vigorously as for-profit businesses, and they often will cite the need to pay comparable head-honcho salaries in order to capture attention.

And, indeed, the $400,000 going to the Bay Area News Project's Frasier is the same as the base salary paid to Donald Graham, chairman and CEO of The Washington Post Co., a for-profit publisher.

Now I'll freely admit this is an apples-to-football comparison: Graham's total annual compensation actually is doubled by the awarding of so-called performance units based on overall company performance in four-year cycles. And the Post Co.'s latest proxy statement says the board of directors believes Graham should be paid more, when compared to peer CEOs (the base salary of The New York Times' Arthur Sulzberger Jr., for example, was $1.09 million in 2008), but that he declined.

Putting on my former business editor's cap, I can see that a supply-demand or what-the-market-will-bear case can be made for paying these nonprofit CEOs like their for-profit brethren.

But as one among many still-unemployed journalists, the six-figure salaries sting nonetheless.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I'm channeling Archie Bunker

Remember Edith, wife of Archie Bunker in the 1970s TV sitcom "All in the Family"?

I decided today I'm as over-the-top exasperated with journalism as Archie was with Edith when she seesawed her way through "The Change" (menopause).

Here's the money quote in that episode, about 3:25 into the YouTube clip below: "Edith, if you're gonna have a change of life, you gotta do it right now. I'm gonna give you just 30 seconds. Now c'mon, change!" (Sorry, but it appears that episode has been scrubbed by YouTube. Too bad.)

I'd like to say that to the news business: If you're gonna change, do it already!

Paywall or no paywall? Ad-supported or not-for-profit? Career journalists or citizen journalistsMulti-media or overwhelmed?

There's no question the established newspaper model is changing. (Note, though, that at least a majority of regular readers would miss their newspaper if it were to disappear.)

But while we journalists can feel the base shifting beneath us, we don't yet know how to regain our footing. That leaves some of us yelling, like Archie, "C'mon, change!"

Where's our rock, our Edith?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

We need newspapers' deep reads

Will newspapers disappear?

Newsosaur Alan Mutter thinks that could happen. In a two-part analysis, he sees newspapers' older, loyal readers naturally dying off -- and not being replaced by younger ones -- which would bleed circulation revenue and affect the papers' value to advertisers. Meanwhile, if ad revenue continues to decline, newspaper publishers could just decide the product is so costly to produce, they "may not be able to sustain print products for as long as demand holds out," he reasons.

I recalled Mutter's posts today as I read this article in the Columbia Journalism Review. It talks of the pleasure of reading a print newspaper even as it recognizes the many time pressures that, as much as the Internet, blogs and 24/7 news cycles, have come to undermine readership.

The author, a former editor at The Washington Post who appears to be a 2009 buyout/layoff refugee, articulates the split that many see developing: online sites for breaking news and routine information, and print products for depth in words and graphics. The latter might not tip the scales like the San Francisco Panorama (pdf here), but would still provide a satisfying read.

"The only future I can see clearly is one in which newspapers cater to their loyal core," says author Jill Drew. "In my future they serve up superior journalism and charge readers the full freight, no longer relying so heavily on advertisers that are deserting in droves. If people pay more, perhaps they’ll place a higher value on what’s delivered, and spend more time with it. There is a market—I hope, I pray—and I’ll bet it’s larger than just me."

We fellow journalists share that hope. First, however, someone has to find the revenue model that will make these deep reads available. (Remember, even at the $16 list price, the one-time-only Panorama wasn't covering its costs.)

Otherwise, our future will be full of breezy blogs as publishers fulfill Mutter's Newsosaur prediction and give up on print before we do.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Beware the new staffing models

Once upon a time, we knew the lingo.

If you were a reporter, you were on a newspaper's payroll, and received a salary, vacation time, and health and retirement benefits for your 40-hour workweek. If you were an intern, you were an unpaid reporter-in-training, likely a college student earning academic credit while you learned the ropes. If you were a freelancer, you weren't on the payroll, but worked on a per-story basis for the paper.

There were permutations, of course -- a unionized reporter might work just 37.5 hours a week; an intern might be paid -- but the jobs had generally recognized definitions.

These days, you need a playbook to figure it out.

For instance, one New York City business newspaper advertised this week for a real estate reporter. The beat is deemed "important" by the paper and is targeted for expanded coverage, but the job is listed as "full-time freelance" and "offered on a contract basis, with some health insurance benefits," according to the job board posting.

Wait. How's that? You want to beef up your real estate coverage, but you aren't willing to add to your permanent payroll to do it?

Here's another: A New York City electronics trade magazine advertises for an "assistant editor," but come to find out, it's a 12-hour-a-week unpaid internship for the spring semester. "Duties will include the writing of daily news stories, including byline opportunities, copy editing of staff-written features, and posting material to our newly redesigned Web site," says the ad.

Whew! That sounds like a lot of work and responsibility for a college student over just 1½ days a week.

Sure, the economy is pulling out of a recession that started in December 2007. Newspapers laid off thousands last year as they grappled with declining revenue, and magazines lost a quarter of their ad pages. But businesses that have begun to feel at least a little optimistic are adding temporary workers before they commit to permanent hires.

So perhaps that's what the New York City newspaper is doing: adding a freelancer now who might get an on-staff gig later. (Many times, though, employers will state that: "This is a six-month position with the potential to extend the relationship to a permanent position based on the performance of the candidate and client need," according to an ad for a marketing post I saw.)

But what about the many intern postings on job boards lately? Yes, it's the season to line up spring or summer interns. But, then again, there have been instances when it appeared budget-conscious papers used college students to augment their decimated staffs.

And then there are the experiments involving new online news platforms and two graduate schools of journalism, at the City University of New York and at the University of California at Berkeley.

Next week, the CUNY graduate school will take a lead role in The Local, the New York Times' community news site for Brooklyn, which has been affected by buyouts and layoffs at the newspaper. Students are expected to be involved through a hyperlocal news course new to the curriculum this semester.

On the West Coast, the UC Berkeley school is involved in the Bay Area News Project, a nonprofit collaboration among the school, KQED Public Media and philanthropist Warren Hellman to supplement news coverage thinned by cuts to San Francisco's reporter ranks. Students will work there, too, an aspect of the project that has raised some hackles. The effort has yet to launch, but is staffing up.

Let's be clear that internships are an important real-life experience for students interested in journalism, and over the years many reporters have been hired by the newspapers where they interned. And let's recognize that freelancers fill a valued role for many publications -- especially when special supplements or new ancillary products are piled on in an attempt to improve revenue.

But let's be careful that neither interns nor freelancers takes the place of the full-time reporters who make their living as journalists.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mobile-to-Web adoption in a word: faster

Here's an update to a post earlier this month:

While Morgan Stanley sees mobile devices surpassing desktop PCs within five years as the preferred method to connect to the Internet, Gartner is laying bets on just three years.

The Stamford, Conn.-based information technology research firm released its 2010 IT predictions, including this one: "By 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web-access device worldwide."

Gartner crunched the numbers and sees 1.78 billion PCs in use by 2013, vs. 1.82 billion units of smartphones and browser-equipped "enhanced" phones. What's more, the company says, that surpremacy will continue "thereafter."

The predicted adoption rate "does change everything," says Steve Smith, writing in minonline, a media industry watcher. "Mobile users do not click as often on sites from a mobile browser," he says. "Publishers without a credible mobile presence will lose that mobile traffic."

And then there's this Gartner finding cited by Smith: "Web sites not optimized for the smaller-screen formats will become a market barrier for their owners."

But Smith says some early adopters have found a financial benefit to fee-based apps: In the last month, The Guardian, a U.K-based newspaper and website, saw its $3.99 iPhone app downloaded almost 69,000 times. (It gets about 30 percent of the sales revenue, Smith says.)

It's just more evidence that newspapers that haven't gone mobile better hurry up and get with the app.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In multimedia, 'journalist' still important

I was viewing a "career chat" on the Poynter Institute website the other day when a sense of déjà vu came over me.

I was back at my first daily newspaper learning to operate a then-state-of-the-art camera to take pictures to go with my stories.

The paper was small and family-owned; it may have been between photographers. (We had only one and he died of a heart attack on assignment.) But word went out that we city desk reporters would learn to take pictures and would be assigned cameras for stories.

I suppose at that point I became the equivalent of today's multimedia journalist, although at the time it seemed more like I was being asked to do my job and another's. (But I did get a "money shot" one election night as I covered Democratic headquarters and caught the dejected incumbent being consoled by a supporter.)

These days, there's more to being multimedia (video, audio, Flash, Twitter, Facebook, blog, etc.), but it still feels like a big pile-on. And where do you begin to choose what to learn and how much of an expert to become?

That's not sacrilege from a digital dinosaur; the Poynter chat brought it home:

Question: "How do young journalists know what skills we should learn and from where should we learn them? I don't think we're afraid of learning new things. It's more of a matter of: where do we go from here? How do we stay competitive so we can be one of the few who get future j jobs?"

Answer (from a Poynter faculty member): "In addition to the standard skill set (writing, reporting, story-telling), I'd advise journalists to develop programming skills as well as video and audio gathering and editing. If I were an editor, I wouldn't hire someone who couldn't do one or the other, in addition to solid reporting."

Then later, other participants pitch in:
  • "I would also take a MySQL, php and/or programming classes at your local community college."
  • "Any programming language you can get up to speed on will be useful, and it's a lot easier to learn your second language than your first. If you've got design skills, then I'd recommend action script for Flash. Otherwise, plenty of online newsrooms are using Ruby on Rails or Django, and it's mostly personal preference."
  • "I'd also recommend, if you haven't already, sitting down and doing some video editing. You don't have to know Final Cut Pro; use iMovie. Just have the experience and the willingness to try."
It's enough to make your head spin.

College programs, too, seem to be trying to figure out how to allocate resources for the new media landscape, judging from the comments to this blog, which put online course descriptions through Wordle to create "word clouds" -- a visual depiction of the most frequently appearing phrases -- to show what the journalism schools were emphasizing.

A saving grace of the Poynter chat -- as well as the word clouds -- is this: an emphasis remains on basic writing and reporting skills. After all, the new job description is multimedia journalist.

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's a buyers' market for wages

It was the first time I had run into the question in an online job applica- tion, and so I hesitated.

"Current salary" (fill in the blank); "Desired salary" (fill in the blank). What numbers should I offer, particularly to the latter?

Online forms are the rage these days. They ask the usual kinds of questions like name, address and past employer(s), and allow you to upload or cut and paste a resume and cover letter. Hit "send," and off it goes. In return, you usually receive an emailed acknowledgement of your effort -- something often lacking when employers seek a paper or email package in response to a job posting.

But the online forms can be frustrating. On one, I was asked to supply the names of five previous employers when I only had four -- without reaching back to my time bartending in college. And the program would not let me submit my application without the required five.

Same with supplying a number for "Current salary": If I try to answer "NA," since I'm unemployed, I get an error message. So what do I say to "Desired salary"?

Recruiters and human resources professionals will advise you not to talk salary if at all possible, although it's generally recognized that if no mention of money is made, you and the prospective employer both may be wasting time.

But should you low-ball yourself when it appears the labor market is already doing that for you?

An Associated Press story that ran in many newspapers Sunday recounts the tales of laid-off workers who, when they finally returned to work, found themselves earning less than they had before. It's what happens with economic calamities like the Great Recession, according to labor experts.

Even more troubling, though, is that it will take these workers years to get back to their previous salary levels.

In a study last year published by the Connecticut Department of Labor, researchers found that workers who lost their jobs during a recession were still suffering lower-wage effects years later. “What it shows is that if workers who have held a job for at least three years lose that job during a recession, they still have earnings losses of 20 percent or more six years afterwards,” said Kenneth Couch, an associate professor of economics at the University of Connecticut and lead author of the study.

These days, though, lower pay seems to be a given -- especially in journalism, where so many have been laid off or bought out. A lot of candidates are competing for the same jobs -- even freelance ones -- and the media companies that are hiring are doing so cautiously and watching their pennies.

One prospective employer I spoke to informally tested my interest in a job that would pay 20 percent less than I had been making before I was laid off; another quoted me a salary that I had started my last job at a decade ago.

It's discouraging and demoralizing, but apparently it's the new normal.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The club you don't want to join

Apparently, I'm in good company.

Those of us severed from our jobs by the Great Recession now are spending a longer time out of work: 29.1 weeks, according to today's December jobs report from the U.S. Department of Labor. That's up from 28.6 weeks in November.

And the Labor Department said the percentage of workers who found themselves unemployed for six months or more also was up last month -- to 39.8 percent, vs. 38.7 percent in November. These so-called long-term unemployed -- 4 in 10 jobless workers -- numbered 6.1 million in December. (The total number of unemployed workers last month was 15.3 million.)

Meantime, for those of us in the job category known as "information," which includes newspapers hammered by buyouts and layoffs over the past year, our time out of work averaged 30.4 weeks in December, according to a separate report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's more than seven months without a job.

The Labor Department report -- showing another 85,000 jobs lost -- was seen as disappointing after some improvement in November: "U.S. Job Losses in December Dim Hopes for Quick Upswing," said a New York Times headline; "Economy Still Bleeding Jobs," said the Wall Street Journal.

And the talking heads on CNBC's "Squawk Box" this morning sounded concerned as they cited some of the data deep in the report: that the labor force was declining rather than growing; that the U6 rate -- the broadest measure of unemployment that includes workers discouraged by few job prospects and part-timers who'd rather be working full time -- "ticked up for the first time in awhile." (Listen in particular to Mark Zandi at about 5:20 into the segment and Steve Liesman at 5:42.)

Yesterday, I hit the six-month mark in my unemployment. The shock and embarrassment of being laid off has been replaced by the shock and embarrassment of not being hired.

I bet I'm in good company there, too.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Can't we all just get along?

File this under head-scratching.

The editor of an online news site in New York City has a post on a group blog known as the Idea Lab that seems to chastise fellow online news site Politico for its advertising success -- in print.

"Politico, of course, is fortunate enough to have both a print and Web presence. Those of us at Web-only publications ... cannot help but be frustrated by seeing ads -- and revenue -- going to print publications that may have fewer readers and weaker content," says Gail Robinson of, a site that covers in the Big Apple what Politico covers in Washington, D.C.: policy, politics and personalities.

Whether by "fewer readers and weaker content" she means Politico specifically or is just blowing off steam at the current wild and wooly media market isn't clear. But it sure sounds like sour grapes.

The post, titled "Advertisers Still Prefer Print to Online," recounts the news, reported earlier this week by, that Politico showed a profit in fiscal 2009, ended Sept. 30, for owner Allbritton Communications Co. of suburban D.C.

The family-owned Allbritton, which operates television stations from Virginia to Oklahoma affiliated with the ABC network, is closely held and not subject to the financial reporting rules that govern publicly traded companies. But it filed an annual report with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission "under the terms of certain long-term debt."

For fiscal '09, Allbritton shows a loss of $5.6 million on revenue of $200 million -- vs. a profit of $12.9 million on revenue of $216.4 million in fiscal 2008 -- primarily due to the recession. Auto advertising, for instance, which accounted for about 14 percent of broadcast revenue last year, was down 41 percent from fiscal 2008, according to the filing.

Politico was a bright spot, though.

Founded in January 2007, it employs about 100 in Arlington, Va., in online and print operations. The four-color, tabloid-sized newspaper circulates about 30,000 copies five days a week while Congress is in session (only once a week during recesses) and targets Capitol Hill, D.C.'s K Street lobby corridor and government agencies. It's also free in honor boxes outside the Metro (subway).

Allbritton's SEC filing shows Politico made about $901,000 in fiscal '09 on revenue of $18.6 million. In its first year of operation, revenue was about $4 million.

The revenue from print advertising comes in large part from full-page ads, many of them advocacy or issue-oriented. When I was in D.C. just after Thanksgiving, I was amazed by the number.

In the 28-page Monday paper, I counted 10 full-page ads. In the 36-page Tuesday paper, there were 17, several of them by the same companies or groups (General Electric, EADS North America, Georgetown University, the Republic of Kosovo) that had advertised Monday. Tuesday's paper also had two "double trucks" -- a single ad running across two adjacent pages (Northrup Grumman, Chevron). On Wednesday, by the time I got to the Metro, no papers were left in the honor boxes.

Sure, the GothamGazette's Robinson may opine of Politico's results: "A rare bit of good financial news for journalism points once again to the difficulty of financing online media." But you've got to offer a big Huzzah! to the D.C. folks for finding a workable hybrid for these times: a multimedia Web site with in-the-know immediacy for Beltway wonks and an ink-on-paper platform for advertisers to pitch their message to power brokers.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What price better-paid journalists?

Leonard Witt, founder and executive director of the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, has posted a video interview on YouTube in which Lisa George, an assistant professor and empirical economist at Hunter College in New York City, talks about her belief that there will be fewer but better paid journalists in the future.

Did you catch her point about "superstar" journalists? That "some of the best reporters, and the most insightful commentary, will come from fewer and fewer sources. But," she says, "these reporters will have national reputations, and those reputations will be well-financed, both from media itself and also from books and speaking engagements."

A shiver just ran down my spine.

George spoke about the same thing last month in a workshop held in Washington, D.C., by the Federal Trade Commission on the future of journalism in the Internet age. (You can see a webcast of her presentation here, at about 1:12:43 into the afternoon session on the second day of the program. Read the pdf transcript here.)

Her argument is that technology has given newspaper readers many more choices than they had with traditional ink on paper, and that will push journeyman scribes out of the marketplace as papers disappear. But it will elevate to superstar status those with expertise offering analysis and commentary.

At the FTC workshop, George seemed to suggest there will be no market in the future for local news -- "hyperlocal" coverage (news at the neighborhood level) most recently was the lifeline at which many ad-revenue-starved newspapers grasped -- so the reporters who become expert at big-picture national and international issues will see their stock (and paychecks) rise.

(The lesser reporters, I guess, will make their living in the future earning micropayments as freelancers. George told the FTC she was "a big proponent of micropayments -- penny per click," which is one business model now being tried by an ever-growing number of online-only media companies that use free-lanced copy to fill their sites.)

Witt, George's YouTube interviewer, also is chief blogger at, site of the Public Journalism Network, which is described as "a virtual global network of journalists, educators and lay people interested in exploring and strengthening the relationship between journalism and democracy."

You'll note Witt's interjection asking George whether the creation of superstars is "a good thing or a bad thing for the public square?" -- with "public square" generally meaning the place in a democracy where the exchange of ideas occurs. (Some say that role is shifting to blogs and the Internet.)

"It’s generally a very good thing because people can read more and better stuff," responds George.

The "more" I can understand, but I still need convincing about the "better."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Another tough year for newspapers

Erica Smith, the unofficial keeper of vital statistics for the Fourth Estate in this country, has published some eye-opening 2009 data at her Paper Cuts blog:
  • 14,875+ jobs were lost through layoff and buyout at U.S. newspapers last year;
  • 143 papers stopped publishing print editions in 2009, although 13 stilll remain available online;
  • 34 newspapers tallied layoffs of 100 or more workers last year;
  • 40.7 newspaper folks, on average, lost their jobs each day last year.
The good news? The carnage wasn't as bad as Smith had expected. "The year started off with a lot of layoff announcements — so many that I was sure the 2009 total would easily top the 2008 layoff total ...," she says. But the final quarter of the year didn't see the same "onslaught" that 2008 did, which had pushed that year's total to 15,984.

(To put some of the numbers in perspective, using figures from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, the workforce in American newsrooms ended 2008 at 46,700; the country had some 1,422 daily newspapers in 2007. Smith's numbers, though, also include weeklies.)

But, of course, there's bad news, too: Smith's layoff/buyout tracker already stands at 321+ just five days into 2010. (She says that's mostly due to her not counting a layoff or buyout until it takes effect.) Others also see some clouds on the horizon for the new year.

Rick Edmonds, a veteran print journalist who now follows the industry for The Poynter Institute at The Biz Blog, told in November that he expects layoffs to continue this year. "The math is that when you cut a bunch of reporters from your newsroom in June, that continues to show up as a savings in January," he said. "But if advertising revenues continue to fall, you will have to cut again. My prediction is that in the coming six to nine months, ad revenues will continue to fall and newspapers will be forced to cut yet again."

Alan Mutter, a former newspaperman who blogs at Reflections of a Newsosaur, also worries about newspaper ad revenue going forward, despite some publisher optimism and the recovery seen in stock prices last year. He's concerned papers may begin to outsource whole departments to keep their books in balance.

So we'd best buckle up for another bumpy ride this year.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Time to get (iPhone) mobile

If you're a newspaper publisher and haven't thought yet about a mobile strategy, go sit in the corner.

Mobile is where it's at (or will be soon). Consider this prediction last month from Morgan Stanley in The Mobile Internet Report: "The mobile Internet is ramping faster than desktop Internet did, and we believe more users may connect to the Internet via mobile devices than desktop PCs within five years."

That is, more people will access the Internet through things like smartphones, rather than waiting until they can get their hands on a computer keyboard.

So what does that mean for newspapers? The possibility of more eyeballs on their Web sites, which then could possibly be sold to advertisers to bolster a revenue stream that hasn't yet come close to matching the sales seen from traditional ads on newsprint.

Morgan Stanley credits the convergence of five factors for the "dramatic growth" it foresees in mobile Internet usage: 3G adoption, social networking (aided by Facebook), video (YouTube had 466 million global users in October, up 35 percent from the same month in 2008), VoIP and "impressive mobile devices."

Of the latter, the report says, "Apple’s iPhone, iTouch and App Store launches over (the) past 2.5 years created the spark for mobile Internet liftoff, as Microsoft’s launch of Windows 3.0 did for the PC in 1990 and the Netscape browser (and its IPO) did for the desktop Internet in 1995." (Report's pdf here.)

To be sure, news organizations like the New York Times and Reuters are actively pushing their product to mobile devices, and others are hiring to follow suit. But far more operations haven't taken the plunge, leading one newspaperman-turned-deep-thinker to plead for a mobile-first strategy.

He's worried, though, the response will be reminiscent of the "Web-first" rally cry that caused so much indigestion in newsrooms, where the concern was that pushing stories to the website as they were filed would scoop the print product. Yet one comment included in his mobile-first manifesto (Scribd here) offers some hope: "The only way you can do this wrong is to not do anything at all. Let's try SOMETHING other than talk about it."

To which those of us who want to make a living in newspapers say "Amen!"