Sunday, February 27, 2011

Two years later, stories of survival from 'The Rocky'

It's a video that still leaves me choked up: the farewell to the Rocky Mountain News:

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

It's now two years since the Denver paper closed -- a casualty of the Great Recession and the demise of publishing's traditional revenue model (ads on a printed page to reach the masses). To mark the anniversary, John Temple, who was The Rocky's editor and publisher, offers a couple of surveys on what his former colleagues are up to.

He found that many remain in journalism; others went into different fields, chose to retire or are still unemployed. All miss the "family" they had at the paper, and most worry about what the newspaper industry has lost as companies responded to the recession and media turmoil by cutting people and pages or closing operations.

You should read through the respondents' comments -- they're easy to relate to, especially if you were cut loose from a newspaper career, too (for me, via layoff). Take former sports columnist Bernie Lincicome, who decided to retire: "The daily feeling I have is one of irrelevance," she says. YES! I say out loud.

She continues: "I tried blogging for a while, mostly out of habit, partly from denial. It was just calisthenics with no game to play. ... I have done some freelance work, but, to be honest, have not worked very hard at finding more." YES! I say again.

The journey wasn't any easier for some of those who landed back in journalism. Kathy Bogan, who now works in Kenya as a design editor, says she battled "a sense of worthlessness" as résumé after résumé sent to prospective new employers went unanswered. (Yup, I can relate.)

Still, "I am fortunate to be working full-time, to be working in a newsroom again," she says. And, as an added bonus, in a place where newspapers are appreciated: "Here, hawkers tout at least four dailies in the traffic jams all day, there's a newsstand on every sidewalk, the news seems to be part of the daily diet, and print still dominates."

I'm not ready to become an ex-pat, but I'll look to take a smidgen of hope from their stories and soldier on.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Weekend reading: Experiments in journalism

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
Let's get right to it:

"As TBD Staff Tweet News of their Layoffs, a Look at the Rise & Fall of Innovative D.C. News Site" (Poynter): Poynter's Mallary Jean Tenore offers a timeline on the unexpected and surprising reorganization of TBD, a Web-only news site in Washington, D.C., that had been hailed as a new-models-for-journalism experiment. Launched by the folks who successfully founded Politico, the site was seen as way to up the ante on local coverage in much the same way as Politico focused intensely on politics. But six months into the experiment, parent Allbritton Communications pulled the plug. Some say Allbritton wasn't up to the task; others say the experiment was flawed from the get-go.

"Rockville Central: Set to Become a Facebook-Only Outlet" (Nieman Journalism Lab): Here's another new-model experiment worth watching: making Facebook the platform for a hyperlocal news site, rather than putting time, energy and money into a separate online address. Nieman offers a look at some of the pros and cons of this idea.

Video interlude: Beware of "churnalism," or the overuse of press releases in news stories. A new website offers to uncover the problem.

"New Yorker, Harper's, NYRB and TNR Editors on the Dearth of Female Bylines" (The Sisterhood): Occasionally, concern will surface that women aren't widely represented in the media: as guests on the Sunday news shows, as commentators or experts in public radio stories, as executives in media organizations. The latest discussion is on female bylines in national journals of opinion, which a handful of magazine editors acknowledge here is lacking. A writer at The New Republic has another idea, though: that opinion journalism "disproportionately attracts men."

"The Fast-Finger Twitter Dilemma: A Small Confession" (George Brock): Given the fast-paced events in Libya, Egypt and the rest of North Africa and the Middle East, here's a reminder from London journalism professor George Brock that you still should think before you (re)tweet:  "It’s so simple ... to bypass the usual check in your head. Do I know that this is true?"

Musical interlude: Blast from the past.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Weekend read: looking back, ahead on journalism

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

"Historic Changes in the News Business" (The Atlantic): Former foreign affairs journalist Peter Osnos uses the announcement of the Aol-Huffington Post merger to take inventory of the past couple of years in journalism -- the bankruptcies, the nonprofit initiatives, the "fire sales" -- and concludes that "history, I predict, may well be as much about what has been added in this era as about what has been lost."

"Eight Trends for Journalism in 2011" (Nieman Journalism Lab): In a talk in Toronto, lab director Joshua Benton offers predictions not only for the year but also for the evolution of journalism -- such as the loss, perhaps, of some of the new nonprofit news models as foundation money wanes and is not replaced by memberships, donations or subscriptions. "I think we will see a thinning out that will be difficult, because it will counterbalance the optimism that these organizations brought with them," he says.

Video interlude: A spot-on take on aggregation by cartoonist Mark Fiore. (Love the announcer's "newsreel" voice!)

"Print Newspapers Have a Place in a Tablet-Heavy Future" (Nieman Journalism Lab): Jason Klein, head of the Newspaper National Network, defends newspapers (as you'd expect) against the claim that their days are numbered in the era of tablets. Rather than being driven by Gen Y's love of technology, he says, the tipping point for print will come when significant numbers of older, loyal print readers make the switch -- and that could take decades, not just a few years.

"Speed-Reading The New Mary Meeker Deck about Mobile" (PaidContent): Former Wall Street analyst Mary Meeker made a name for herself at Morgan Stanley for her tech stock calls. One well-watched analysis was her annual call on The Mobile Internet, an exercise she continues in her new gig at a big Silicon Valley venture capital firm. The bottom line: mobile has hit critical mass.

Musical interlude from "Tommy".

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Weekend read: Are newspapers too, too slow?

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)

Even though it's been a busy week for news, here are some not-to-be-missed items:

"When the News Gets Old" (Recovering Journalist): To Mark Potts, a former print and online journalist, the breakneck speed of events in Egypt once again made newspapers seem so yesterday: " ... the advent of the Web, Twitter, mobile news apps, multiple cable news channels and any number of other new competitors is more and more rendering print newspapers, in their traditional form, obsolete." His suggestion: lose the "newspaper of record" mentality -- analysis is fine, though -- and "double down on their quicker digital news-delivery products." It's an echo of the "digital first, print last" credo being championed by Journal Register Co.'s John Paton.

(Note that Potts is more charitable than MG Siegler at TechCrunch, who'd rather that the print newspaper just disappear: "It’s a waste of paper, ink, and time. R.I.P.")

And speaking of Egypt and Twitter:

"Curating the Revolution: Building a Real-Time News Feed About Egypt" (The Atlantic): This is a really interesting how-to interview with NPR's Andy Carvin, who took to Twitter to create a running stream of tweets about the protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo that helped topple Hosni Mubarak. Because he's been tweeting and live-blogging for years and knows bloggers in North Africa, Carvin (@acarvin on Twitter) was able to become "a personal news wire for Egypt," says Atlantic writer Phoebe Connelly.

Time for a musical interlude.

"Our Disappointing Journalism" (Yelvington): Steve Yelvington, another former print and online journalist, laments the failure to fully utilize the Web in the news that is posted there: no links, no multimedia, no interaction with the audience. Technology offers tools, but they aren't being put to use, he says. (The concept of "contextualized journalism" mentioned in the intro is explained here.)

"Consolidation Seen as Inevitable for Southern California's Newspapers" (Los Angeles Times): This James Rainey column takes a close look at what could become the next chapter for newspapers post-recession, as likely to play out in the Southern California market: that hedge fund, which bailed out a number of big media companies during the downturn, look to consolidate properties to achieve some of the efficiencies of scale that will make those holdings more profitable -- and attractive for resale.

"My Eureka Moment" (Knight Garage):  Beth Duff-Brown, a former newspaper and Associated Press writer and editor who became a Knight Fellow at Stanford University, writes here about her decision to step away from a 25+-year career in journalism to create a digital storytelling platform to advocate for a better life for women and girls in developing countries. It's a commendable action.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Weekend theme: Are readers being served?

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
Unintentionally, here's a themed weekend read that revolves around this question: How can publishers create the best digital experience for customers?

" CEO: Centralized Subscription Removes ‘High Frustration Walls’ Between Readers & News" (Ask the Recruiter): Joe Grimm steps away from his usual column of career advice to dive into Ongo, the so-called "one-stop shop" for managing digital news. (Here's its intro video.) Funded by some of the biggest Old Media players, it's supposed to help us survive the constant barrage of online news by channeling the best of the output being offered. So rather than my having to surf various sites for the news, someone else is doing that and depositing it in one place for me -- at a cost of $6.99 a month.

" 'You Are What You Read': NYT CTO Marc Frons on the Paper's New Article Recommendation Engine" (Nieman Journalism Lab): The New York Times, one of the money players behind Ongo, debuted a story-recommendation service that offers other articles -- Times articles, that is -- you might like to peruse, based on your pattern(s) of interest at (Think of Amazon's "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought..." way of recommending subject-related books.) This doesn't get you the best-of-the-best coverage on a topic -- as is the goal with Ongo -- but pushes Times content at you to build loyalty to the brand.

Video interlude: The Brits' sharp humor takes aim at digital devices.

"@Themediaisdying: The Brutal Truth From Two Years In The Twitterverse" (paidContent): Paul Armstrong, a social media strategist in London, uses the provocative Twitter handle The Media Is Dying to draw attention to FAILs (in the Twitter vernacular) by the media. Here he opines that publishers still haven't learned how to service readers in ways that make sense to them, not the media companies. "Stop trying to refine and redefine journalism and/or the written and spoken word and just serve the reader, not the business model," he says.

"The Daily Debut Flops: What Went Wrong?" (Reflections of a Newsosaur): Alan Mutter wasn't impressed with The Daily, News Corp.'s long-awaited digital newspaper built specifically for the iPad. While the mechanics of The Daily have received good marks (aside from the widely criticized download time), the content hasn't. From Mutter: "The lack of intellectual heft makes The Daily feel more like the Etch A Sketch edition of Us Magazine than the ground-breaking news platform it purports to be." Ouch!

Musical interlude: It's Super Bowl Sunday, so ...

Bonus: Here's a useful tool from The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Open Government Guide to state Freedom of Information statutes.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ink on paper: Remember me when I'm gone

My daughter cried when she saw a forlorn can of Bud Lite on a shelf at the back of the refrigerator, the favorite of a friend who died too young.

The incident came to mind when I stumbled on mixed media daily, a blog by Erik Shveima, a West Coast animator and 3-D artist, who vows to draw the front page of his daily paper 365 days this year as a tribute to the medium:

      "   I love this quaint, old-timey news and coupon delivery system, and although I do get much of my news online like everybody else, I still enjoy the newspaper as a physical object --- the smell of it, the weight of it, the inky residue left on your hands from holding it. It's a small pleasure, but it's the small pleasures you'll miss the most when they're no longer available to you.   "    

You should read the whole explanation for yourself on why he's doing what he's doing; it's quite touching.

And his words ring true: any little reminder -- like a beer in the fridge -- can return the sting of losing someone or something held dear. Will this be the reaction to newspapers sometime in the future?