Friday, August 27, 2010

It's the weekend: Time to read

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
For your reading (and listening) pleasure this weekend:

"Americans Are Dumping Cable TV, but Execs Say Economics to Blame" (Advertising Age): This article caught my eye because of something I had read earlier from DigiDave, the twentysomething new-media thinker who says he favors online options like Hulu to a "giant box in the corner collecting dust." When you think about it, TV watching (cable or broadcast) is pretty passive -- accepting the programming someone else has determined will be shown at a particular point in time. TV execs apparently fear the revolution playing out in print media that has destroyed the business model as it has given voice to "the people formerly known as the audience." So they're creating new online video options, available through subscription, to stay relevant. Interesting statistic quoted: that just 42 percent of Americans see landline phones and TV sets as "essential," according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. And only 30 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds would agree.

"Newspapers Gone by 2022 Says Futurist" (The Australian): Ross Dawson, a speaker, author and futurist on business and technology, previewed for the newspaper the proclamation he promised to deliver in his closing talk at the Newspaper Publishers Association Future Forum conference in Sydney. (I haven't found a copy of the talk, but here's his blog with "pre-talk primer notes" or talking points.) The story is similar to the one here in the U.S.: Newspapers have been slow to adapt to the now-online world and will become more and more irrelevant unless they move quickly to digital and mobile platforms. An interesting prediction: "By 2020 entry-level devices to read the news will cost less than $10 and often be given away." Cool.

Time for a musical interlude.

"SEO Makes It Too Late for Truth for 'Ground Zero Mosque' " (Poynter Online): Here's a riddle for the Google-ized world: Once a concept has gained momentum online and the search engines are pumping, how do you remake the SEO (search engine optimization) if the concept itself has been debunked? As Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at The Poynter Institute, writes, you can't because Google won't let you. In the case of the Islamic center in Manhattan that raised a stir when news reports mischaracterized it as a mosque at the site of the fallen Twin Towers ("ground zero"), a story can set the record straight. "But what about ongoing coverage? Must you keep using the inaccurate term? Sadly, the answer is yes, according to people familiar with SEO practices," McBride says. "That's because accurate or not, people are searching for the term 'ground zero mosque.' So if you want to reach people who are looking for information, you have to use that term."

"In Battle of the Weeklies, Local Focus Is the Key" (The Bay Citizen): Jonathan Weber, editor in chief of San Francisco's media newcomer, The Bay Citizen, the nonprofit online operation started in May and backed by billionaire financier Warren Hellman, profiles one of the granddaddies in town -- the San Francisco Bay Guardian, an alternative weekly. It's a finely written profile of the alt-weekly's founder and publisher, Bruce Brugmann, a self-described "newspaper guy" who vows never to give up print -- even after 44 years. "We're a valuable resource, kind of irreplaceable," he tells Weber.

"The Economic Outlook and Monetary Policy" (Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System): OK. Set this one aside for a time when you're wide awake. But with all the talk this week of a slowed recovery and a double-dip recession, you might as well get a bird's-eye view of things from Ben Bernanke himself. The Fed chairman, at the group's annual economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyo., says that while financial conditions "are generally much improved " from a year ago, "growth ... has been too slow and joblessness remains too high." But while the economy is not out of the woods yet, the Fed continues to stand ready to do what it takes to guide the economy forward.

And if you want a look back at an event that signaled the start of everything unwinding, listen here to the NPR Morning Edition story on "How Wall Street Made the Mortgage Crisis Worse."

The report, a collaboration by NPR's Planet Money and the investigative nonprofit ProPublica, is in written form here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Starbucks as public library

Starbucks' cinnamon dolce latte:
Espresso with steamed milk and cinnamon
dolce flavored syrup, topped with sweetened
whipped cream and cinnamon dolce topping.
Remember when public libraries worried they were losing patrons to the chain book- stores and chain coffeehouses and so began experimenting with adding coffee and pastry? Now, it seems, Starbucks is returning the favor: its Starbucks Digital Network, due in the fall, is library-like in some of the online services it promises.

Want to vault that Wall Street Journal paywall? You'll be able to do so while sipping a grande cinnamon dolce latte at your local Starbucks.

When the Seattle-based company announced it was making its wi-fi service free, many wondered why. Wireless Internet access already was available, but at a fee ($3.99 per two hours) to most customers. Starting July 1, though, the service became free and unlimited at company-owned stores.

Then the company began to fill out the "why": the Starbucks Digital Network, which would offer a collection of premium digital content -- iTunes, The New York Times, Patch, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo!, Zagat, Rodale, Nick Jr. Boost and

It's all part of what Starbucks long has called the "third place experience": a location beyond home and work where people choose to gather -- with Starbucks recommending music, books and movies to help them start a conversation. “We’re creating an online destination that will be true to, and expand upon, the Starbucks experience by delivering free, premium offerings that are selected specifically for our customers and localized for increased personal and community relevance,” Stephen Gillett, general manager of the company's digital unit, said in the Aug. 12 announcement.

And listen to this library-like description: "The Starbucks Digital Network will offer ... customers access to a one-of-a-kind destination featuring free access to various paid sites and services, exclusive content and previews, free downloads, career tools and local community news."

Alert the reference desk!

The content will be available to wi-fi-enabled laptops, tablets and smartphones through six "channels": news, entertainment, wellness, business and careers, My Neighborhood, and Starbucks. The news and "My Neighborhood" channels could be interesting for media companies, the former for the giants that will be part of the network (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today) and the latter for the online operations of smaller papers and local websites that might be able to elbow their way in alongside a hyperlocal like Patch.

Because as it has done with music, books and movies, Starbucks plans to "aggregate and compile the best content that [customers] can’t get any where else," Adam Brotman, another executive in the company's digital ventures unit, told Mashable.

And in music at least, that has meant a boost for newbie and legacy artist alike.

UPDATE: The service launched Oct. 19, according to cnet news. One thing I didn't realize was that Starbucks' network would be available only on wi-fi in its stores.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

How long will journalism wander?

Remember this classic?

It came to mind after reading a blog post by a smart young entrepreneur, then seeing that view expanded upon by a career newspaperman who has turned away from print.

The entrepreneur, David Cohn, founded Spot.Us, a website that brings together reporters wanting to do stories and readers willing to contribute money to see that the stories get done. He's a young new voice getting a lot of mic time as he's invited to make presentations at journalism and new-media conferences.

It was in connection with an appearance last week at the annual Aspen Institute Forum on Communications and Society that Cohn says he began to see what is happening in journalism today in terms of Jews wandering the desert for 40 years before gaining entry to the promised land. That is, journalism's old business model is broken and a new one hasn't yet taken hold, but the generation that has been in charge of news-gathering these past few decades is holding on to what it has known and is resisting calls for a change in "faith."

As a result, journalism as it has been practiced is doomed to continue losing readers and relevance until these geezers retire, die or just leave the field and a new generation can take the lead and put the news on a robust path again.

The salient part of Cohn's blog is under the heading "Generations In The Desert – Journalism" (and the picture of the camel); make sure you read the first comment posted on the piece, too.

Steve Buttry, the career newspaperman, soon took up the Cohn analogy, responding on his blog: "I have to say that I am embarrassed at the outlook, performance and leadership I have seen from much of my generation when it comes to journalism innovation. Dave may be right that we need to wander around in the desert and die off ... or at least retire before we can see a rebirth of journalism -- or whatever we will call it then."

Buttry left newspapers behind when he joined, a site in Washington, D.C., that is experimenting with a new journalism model as it delivers news and community information via TV and the Web. It launched Aug. 9.

Buttry also writes, "I think, though, that the wandering won’t take a full generation. I think right now organizations such as ... and TBD are already taking the first steps toward a prosperous, meaningful future. Dave and his generation may not have to wander as long as he fears."

As to the Boomers now in charge, though, "We might make it out of the desert, but I think our generation has blown our chance to lead the way."

Friday, August 20, 2010

It's that time again: the weekend read

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
For your reading pleasure this weekend:

"The End of Wishful Thinking" (The American Spectator): Ben Stein has had a good life -- government lawyer, presidential speechwriter, actor ("Ferris Bueller's Day Off") and award-winning game show host ("Win Ben Stein's Money") -- so what's he doing here characterizing me and other unemployed Americans as "generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities"? He starts out expressing dismay that so many formerly successfully people he knows have seen their lives turned upside down by the Great Recession. Then he goes on to slap the unemployed as "people who create either little utility or negative utility on the job." Jeez! Doesn't he know that long-term unemployment is at record levels and that employers are still hesitant to add to payrolls?

But Joe Grimm gets a Huzzah! for ripping Stein and coming to the defense of downsized journalists like me in his Ask the Recruiter column at Poynter Online: "They were laid off because the industry is rapidly changing. In several cases, whole newspapers were shuttered. It was not because the journalists lived imprudently."

So there, Ben Stein!

"To Create Jobs, Cut Everyone's Pay 10%" (MarketWatch): Here's another wacky essay, this one suggesting "EVERYBODY -- from the president down to the chambermaid" take a cut in pay in order to redirect that money to efforts to re-employ about 8 percent of the unemployed. Why 8 percent? It's what would be needed to get the unemployment rate to 4.5 percent, or so-called full employment. (Interestingly, author Ken Mayland is working off a number for unemployed American of 19.2 million, not the 14.6 million represented in the current 9.5 percent unemployment rate. The difference? The underemployed, or people who are working part-time when they really want a full-time job, whom he thinks are being undercounted.)

Mayland realizes his proposal is a bit "whimsical": "Can you imagine union workers acceding to the plan?" he asks.

"In U.S., Confidence in Newspapers, TV News Remains a Rarity" (Gallup): Sigh! It's never good to hear that you're losing the confidence of the citizens you're supposedly serving, but the Fourth Estate didn't make a good showing in this year's Confidence in Institutions poll by Gallup. Of 16 institutions rated, the military did best and Congress did worst, according to the survey. "Americans' confidence in newspapers and television news is on par with Americans' lackluster confidence in banks and slightly better than their dismal rating of health management organizations and big business," say the folks at Gallup.

One ironic twist in the findings: "While 18- to 29-year-olds express more trust in newspapers than most older Americans, Gallup polling has found they read national newspapers the least."

"Your Online Presence Says a Lot More About You than a Resume Can" (The Business Insider): I've always hated the use of sports terminology in business ("hail mary," "heavy hitter," "power play"), so I'm thankful we don't yet have to worry about this one: "Roll the game tape." Or do we?

Author Keith Cowing writes that rather than static résumés, jobseekers now can present more three-dimensional portraits of themselves through blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube/Vimeo, etc. His advice is to leave these kinds of bread crumbs lying around to give "a slightly raw view" of who you are.

"Don’t wait until you need a game tape to make one," he says. "Make it as you go. Tell the world who you are and how you think. Share some thoughts, take part in discussions, and let your game tape represent you truthfully as you go through your career."

But it's probably a good idea to Google yourself occasionally to see just how "raw" you might be coming across.

Finally, there was an interesting discussion this afternoon at an online Poynter Institute chat about women being underrepresented at journalism technology conferences and how to remedy it. That led back to this archived article:

"Revenge of the Nerds: Fighting Sexism at Tech Events" (Wendy Norris blog), which is, sadly, a hoot on bad taste: female crotch shots on the big screen, scantily clad sirens at trade show booths. In trying to discourage the latter, one tech event co-organizer offered, "At last year’s conference, someone had a bunch of stripper types in hot pants and absurdly tight t-shirts. It was totally cheap, cheesy and lame. It’s 2009, people, really."

Really, indeed.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

For your (not-yet-ended) weekend reading

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
A few hours still are left in the weekend, so technically I didn't miss this deadline. (My excuse: the unbelievable amount of prep time it takes to get organized for a neighborhood-wide garage sale!) So for your end-of-weekend reading pleasure:

"For four out of five unemployed workers, there are no jobs" (Economic Policy Institute): As she does each month, Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, looks at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey -- better known as JOLTS. It's released soon after the government, on the first Friday of the month, puts out the official report on employment/unemployment for the just-concluded month. JOLTS lags by an additional month, so the latest one is for the month ended June 30.

Using JOLTS and other U.S. Department of Labor numbers, Shierholz comes up with a ratio of unemployed workers to available jobs -- which has been as high as 6.2-to-1 in this recession. For June, the ratio was 5-to-1 -- to which she gives this twist: "The 5-to-1 ratio means that ... for every four out of five unemployed workers there simply are no jobs." That's sobering.

Even more sobering: The ratio doesn't say anything about the number of applicants per job, which Shierholz says could measure in the "throngs."

"The Evolution of the Journalism Job Market" (Mandel on Innovation and Growth): Until late last year, Michael Mandel was the chief economist at BusinessWeek magazine, where he had worked for 20 years. He left with the sale of the magazine to Bloomberg L.P., the well-known financial news powerhouse. Now, he's an entrepreneur, founding a company called Visible Economy that is described as combining news and education via "streams of lively news stories and videos that cover today's events with clear and correct explanations."

He also writes about innovation and growth on a blog, where this discussion of a "Golden Age of Journalism" occurs (that is, that "the combination of the falling cost of communications and the high demand for news just opens up all sorts of possibilities for doing journalism in different ways.")

Well, yippee! I have a future after all. Oh, but wait a minute: "In terms of jobs, journalistic occupations are outperforming the overall economy. However, many of the journalistic jobs are not being created in conventional journalism industries," he says, which means I still could be out of luck unless I become an entrepreneur, too. (Shudder!)

"Carl Bernstein: The 'Golden Age' of Investigative Journalism Never Existed" (Big Think): You can't have a Nixon resignation anniversary go by without some mention of Watergate, right? So Big Think obliges by posting interviews conducted last month with Carl Bernstein, the former Washington Post reporter who with Bob Woodward uncovered the link between the bugging of the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., and the administration of Richard Nixon. Their reporting won a Pulitzer Prize for public service for the Post.

In the interviews, Bernstein covers many topics, including whether a story as complex and politically charged as Watergate could be reported today. He thinks the Fourth Estate is up to the task, but that the legislative and judiciary branches of government -- which played vital roles in Watergate -- might not be. Congress, in particular, is dysfunctional, Bernstein says. "I’m not nearly as worried about the press as I am about the political system," he tells Big Think.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Let's digest this food for thought

It's the title that first caught my attention, "What have you got to lose?", on an interview with Adam Westbrook, a multimedia journalist from the UK who thinks, lectures and writes about the new age of journalism.

He thinks there's no better time than the present for journalists to become entrepreneurs:

And, to be sure, he's right that the kind of job security that used to exist in journalism, as it did in so many fields, is gone -- as it has disappeared in other industries, too.

Other short YouTube conversations with Westbrook on journalism can be seen here:
It's all food for thought if you're trying to figure out how you want to continue in journalism (or even whether you want to).

Friday, August 6, 2010

More weekend reading

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
Set aside time this weekend for these worthwhile reads:

"Analysis: Why did 1.2 million U.S. workers leave job force?" (Reuters): The U.S. Department of Labor today posted job statistics for July that showed nonfarm payroll falling by 131,000, but -- as occurred in June too -- the unemployment rate not bouncing higher. One possible explanation is that more people are moving to the sidelines, discouraged after many months of looking and so giving up their search. According to Reuters, the labor force participation rate "dropped to 64.6 percent in July, matching the lowest level since 1985." Remember that the ratio of jobless worker to available opening is still close to 5-to-1.

And speaking of the long-term unemployed:

"99 weeks later, jobless have only desperation" (New York Times): Left in the cold when unemployment benefits were extended in July were people who already had claimed as many weeks of benefits as is currently allowed: 99. Although there have been attempts to change that maximum, the concern now is the growing deficit -- matched by a growing belief that the longer the benefits, the greater the disincentive to search for work. But as the Times story recounts, for the 99ers, "The last vestiges of their former working-class or middle-class lives are gone; it is inescapable now that they are indigent."

"Hard times working the Patch" (Media Nation blog): Dan Kennedy, assistant professor at the School of Journalism at Northeastern University in Boston (and no relation to me), publishes on his blog an email he received from a local editor at Patch, the fast-growing network of online community news sites owned by AOL. Just as Associated Content (now owned by Yahoo) and Demand Media (which today filed its long-expected prospectus to sell stock to the public) are seen as experiments in revenue-generation in journalism, so too is Patch, which helps put in business individuals interested in reporting on their towns and neighborhoods. AC and Demand have been criticized for their pay models; Patch for its one-guy-does-it-all design. The email confirms that work at what might be the next iteration of local-news coverage can be all-consuming: "Basically, the job is 24/7 with so far little support in getting any kind of time off."

"For Communication grads, a tough job market" (Project for Excellence in Journalism): Each year, the University of Georgia surveys journalism and mass communication graduates to see how they're doing in the real world, and the picture for the Class of 2009 was downright ugly: just over half of the graduates were able to find full-time work in a year's time, a record low in the history of the 24-year-old study. And if not getting a job was bad, worse still was the lower salaries and benefit seen by those who did land a job, the study said.

Finally, there's this gem, which I was alerted to via Twitter the other day:

"The Confessions of Bob Greene" (Esquire, from 2003): It's a loooooooong article about the fall of the former Chicago Tribune columnist. Tweeting a link to it was, a group that loves "great long-form reads" and a product it thinks displays them well. I can't speak for the product, but the article is worth every minute of your time.