Sunday, December 12, 2010

What's old is new again: a Facebook 'newspaper'

World events stored in my basement.
(photo by me)

I'm more of an ink-on-dead-trees reader than a digital one: I like the feel and smell of newspapers; to study the typography and photos and story placement; to peruse the display ads as well as the bylines. I'll read the New York Times or Washington Post online, but I'm happier feasting on their printed editions.

Newspapers were with me growing up, and they still inhabit my house: yellowed pages in boxes in the basement shouting out horrific events; random titles in a bedroom closet acquired at airport newsstands; special sections filed away for -- well, I don't remember exactly what, but there they sit in a filing cabinet drawer.

But neither nature nor nurture seemed capable of passing along a love of newspapers to my children. Not even guilt worked: "If you don't read the paper, I could lose my job," I used to say. (It was offered in jest at the time, but turned out to be prophetic.)

So allow me a self-satisfied chuckle at PostPost, the "personal, real-time Facebook newspaper" (emphasis added).

Don't get me wrong: It's a cool idea and one of several services for use alone or on Facebook to organize news feeds coming to you via social media. (For example, I get a "newspaper" daily in my inbox with tweets shared on the topic of "journalism.")

Mashable, which offers a technical analysis of PostPost (isn't that nameplate reminiscent of the New York Post's?), sees it as a next step in sharing: "As more of us use social networks like Facebook and Twitter to find and share news, the traditional RSS reader is slowly getting replaced with these types of solutions."

Come Christmas break, I'll have to see whether either of my Facebook-focused Gen Y kids now "reads" a "newspaper."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sales, hyperlocal, social media: Read!

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
Time to catch up on some reading:

"Robust Ad Recovery Bypassed Newspapers" (Reflections of a Newsosaur): Alan Mutter offers his latest take on quarterly ad sales, noting that while results have turned positive for all other media, newspapers still had a stinky Q3. What's more, he says, the other media generally went from red to black by the second quarter, while newspaper ad sales continued to drop -- although industry executives contend the rate of decline has slowed. Be sure to take a look at the chart Mutter includes on various newspaper ad categories (auto, real estate, help wanted) that compares third-quarter numbers today with those of five years ago. The decline in ad revenue is striking.

"McClatchy CEO: Death of Newspaper Classifieds Greatly Exaggerated" (Poynter): As a bit of counterpoint to the above, McClatchy's Gary Pruitt indicated at a UBS investors' conference that he sees growth at his chain in classified ad sales, one segment of newspaper revenue punched repeatedly by the Internet and the likes of Monster and Craigslist. Interestingly, he credits much of the reversal to the shift to online classifieds.

Video interlude No. 1: Clever (and oh-so-discouraging) commentary on the state of freelancing.

"Determining Paths to Financial Sustainability: The Release of Our ‘Cookbook’" (Local Fourth): A class of graduate students at the Medill School of Journalism was given the assignment of figuring out how to make online hyperlocal news financially viable. As one of those students said in this post:
After 10 weeks of researching the subject, interviewing academics, residents, hyperlocal journalists and editors, one thing is for certain: there is no “secret” to making money in this space.


But the students did come up with a "cookbook" -- what they call "a step-by-step process that can be used to create a business out of a hyperlocal news website." Also take a look at other entries about the project on their class blog.

"Aron Pilhofer and Jennifer Preston on the New Shape of Social in The New York Times' Newsroom" (Nieman Journalism Lab): Not that long ago, it seemed that every media outlet was appointing a social media editor. Now, though, the thinking goes, there's less need for one individual to prod legacy newspapers toward social media (Facebook, Twitter, et al.) and engagement with readers because they're rapidly coming around. Key evidence in the about-face: the New York Times returning its former social media editor to a reporter's role. (News of the change originally broke on Poynter; another discussion on audience engagement is here.)

Also recommended:
  • "The Foreign Correspondent is Dead. Long Live the Foreign Correspondent" ( An appreciation of journalists' work in far-flung, often-dangerous places and why it's still important. 
  • "Survey: iPad Newspaper Apps Could Slash Print Subscriptions" (paidContent): Could it be that the iPad is not the manna from heaven that newspaper publishers had hoped it would/could be?
  • "J-Schools Shift from Learning Labs to Major Media Players" (MediaShift): Geneva Overholser, director of the journalism school at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, says the media revolution/evolution has offered new roles to j-schools. 
Video interlude No. 2: Confused about WikiLeaks' cable leaks? Here's a 3-minute summary.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Layoffs ebb, but job-hunting has gotten no easier

Edward Scissorhands
From the looks of the numbers posted on the Paper Cuts blog, layoffs and buyouts at U.S. newspapers this year are well off the torrid pace seen in 2008 and 2009.

For 2010, says the blog, newspapers have cut loose some 2,800 employees -- which during the depths of the recession came close to the numbers it was posting for individual months. The job-loss total compiled so far this year compares with close to 16,000 layoffs/ buyouts in 2008 and just under 15,000 in 2009.

But while the blood-letting in newspapers may have abated, we're not close to replacing all of the jobs lost -- just ask any of us journalists laid off then and still not back in a newsroom.

And I've got to tell you the environment for job-hunters hasn't improved very much -- in the news business or elsewhere. All along, there's been a rushed and rude overtone that just hasn't gone away. Here are my latest gripes:
  • Left dangling: I happened to land two job nibbles in the same afternoon: w00t! I thought. I interviewed for both jobs (one in person, one via conference call with two top editors) and did editing/writing for each newspaper/website. But here it is, two months later, and I still don't know where on I stand on either position, despite several attempts at follow-up. Yes, the silence speaks volumes, but actual closure would be nice.
  • Little acknowledgement: What is it with academia? Granted, my exposure there is limited, but twice I've sent résumés in response to postings by colleges and both times the only acknowledgement of my application was a form to fill out that will help the college show it is complying with equal opportunity hiring laws. Months later, in both cases, a polite letter arrived saying I was an unsuccessful candidate -- with no communication in between.
  • No acknowledgement: More often than not, the response is no response at all -- ever. Not to your application, not to any inquiries you make (if you're lucky enough to find an actual person to make an inquiry to), not on their final decision on the position. (You usually discover the position has been filled when the successful candidate announces his/her new job.)
This -- how shall I phrase it? -- SUCKS!

Thankfully, the so-called candidate experience seems to be an ongoing topic in HR circles, judging from postings I've seen occasionally and, more recently, the discussion at a recruiting conference (video below). And it appears that development of a Candidate Bill of Rights (process, status, confidentiality) has been discussed, although not everyone sees a need for it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

C'mon in! Grab some coffee, write some news

The Register Citizen in Torrington, Conn., posted this rendering
of its new "open newsroom" project.

Once upon a time, when I worked for a niche weekly, I delivered a camera-ready help-wanted ad to the big local daily. I walked in the front door of the daily's building, inquired at the information desk on where to go, then almost rode the elevator upstairs with the paper's editor and publisher.

I would have enjoyed eavesdropping on their conversation (Hey, fellas, got any news I can poach?), but they, alas, stayed behind after we exchanged some pleasantries.

I delivered my ad, took the elevator back to the ground floor, then returned to my own newsroom.

Fast forward a few years and I was working at that daily, and no one  -- employee or outsider -- got anywhere in the building without a company-issued swipe card. Security concerns post-9/11 were the immediate cause of the installation of new electronic door locks everywhere, but I'm sure there was some peace of mind that no one -- foreign or domestic -- with a gripe against the paper might wander in.

That's why it seemed so radical that The Register Citizen in Torrington, Conn., decided to move its newsroom to new, coffeehouse-like space and invite the public in. It's all part of an effort by Journal Register Co., parent company to 19 daily and 150 weekly newspapers and affiliated websites, to remake itself as an open system in which readers are encouraged to participate -- as tipsters, barometers of coverage, even writers.

"Bringing the audience into the physical space and providing a welcoming area for readers and staff to interact will continue to foster greater engagement," says John Paton, Journal Register CEO, who began to champion openness soon after joining the company earlier this year, just as it emerged from bankruptcy reorganization.

Newspapers talk a good game of audience engagement. We invite readers to attend editors' daily meetings on coverage and story placement, then are surprised when anyone wants to. And look at how the New York Times' TimesCast morphed from a videotaped peek at the morning news meeting to a high-quality broadcast more akin to a five-minute TV-headlines show.

So throwing the doors wide open in Torrington -- "With no walls, literally, between the Newsroom Café and The Register Citizen newsroom where reporters and editors work," says its publisher -- will be an experiment worth watching.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lying, analyzing, breaking up: Read!

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
For your rest-of-the-weekend reading pleasure:

"Newspaper Execs: Still Denying, Still Crying and Still Lying to Themselves" (SimsBlog): Judy Sims, once an executive with the Toronto Star Media Group, writes about the same old same old she sees in mainstream media: "very smart people repeatedly do remarkably dumb things, killing their businesses in the process." The Internet is a disrupter, she says, and because history shows that disrupters eventually win, news execs need to convince themselves that
... their survival rests on becoming of the Internet, not merely residing on the Internet. That means becoming a platform. That means being open. The Internet is not just another content distribution method. It is social. It is collaborative. That means accepting that they are no longer publishers or broadcasters having a one-way “Gutenberg era” conversation with the masses.
Instead, newspapers talk about finding ways -- through pay walls, iPads, subscription models -- to re-create the scarcity they enjoyed until recently. "It’s a colossal waste of time," says Sims.

"‘Objective’ Journalism is Over. Let’s Move on." (Reflections of a Newsosaur): More and more it seems, the calls grow louder to shift away from some of the old conventions of journalism: Make journalists disclose any financial, political or other interests they might have in what they write, and allow them to show their own expertise/informed opinion in their work. The argument for both is that readers are better served: in the former, they're forewarned of any biases; in the latter, they benefit from years of accumulated knowledge in subject areas.

Music interlude.

"Analysing Data Is the Future for Journalists, Says Tim Berners-Lee" (The Guardian): Journalists may be more than scribes nowadays -- many can shoot video and many can code websites -- but among the most essential skills going forward will be mining data sets to find stories, says Berners-Lee. The Freedom of Information Law may be a journalist's best friend, but once you have access to reams of government data, can you make sense of them? That's where database skills come into play, a course of study few present-day journalists have mastered.

"Breaking up with Hotmail" (Slate): In this clever piece, Jack Shafer writes about his "promiscuous relationships" with various e-mail services as you suspect he would about women he has dated: some were easy to get along with, some were more difficult. And while Hotmail once had his eye, now it's Gmail:
Who do you think you're fooling, Hotmail? We all know you're the same broad we met back in 1996.

Lightning-round reads:

  • "Financial Times Proves Better Read than Dead" (Crain's New York Business): The salmon-colored financial paper's "stick-to-its-knitting strategy" (staying niche) seems to have kept the big bad Murdoch machine at bay.
  • "Unemployed, and Likely to Stay That Way" (New York Times): One badge of dishonor for the Great Recession is a record number of people out of work for longer periods of time. Could that be creating a new permanent "idle class" of unemployed in the U.S.?
  • "Remember when Newspapers Gave Bonuses around the Holidays?" (Poynter): Here's a new money-saving idea: recalculate the formula for vacation time to the company's advantage.
Bonus video: This was where you landed from a link in the provocative tweet "Did you hug a journalist today?"