Thursday, December 18, 2008

Moderately interesting report of the day

This today out of The Bivings Group.

It's a survey of what the big newspaper sites are doing, which by definition means it isn't the bleeding edge. But I am curious about the 10% of newspapers sites that have social networking tools. I need to find some examples of news sites that do this kind of thing well. Or, I suppose, badly.

I spend too much time on Facebook at the moment, and I'm interested in the social networking phenomenon overall. But I'm suspicious the MSM will get the culture of the whole thing wrong, and end up hurting itself more than it helps.

J schools

Last week, I sat in on a class with a group of juniors and seniors studying journalism at a college that shall remain nameless. (To protect the guilty, as it turns out.) I expected them to grill me on why organizations like mine have been so slow to get with the times. I expected them to surprise me with the breadth and depth of the digital media they consume.

Instead, this group of 21- and 22-year-olds turned out to be remarkably traditional. They look occasionally at the print versions of my paper and others provided by the communications department, if only because professors force them. But it was the Web sites they regularly visit that floored me. Their answers:,, Web sites for the Seattle papers, a smattering of TV station sites.

Huh? That's it? I pressed them for more, but came away with nothing. The idea of an increasing convergence between print, TV, radio and the Web -- and that they could no longer expect to work in one medium exclusively -- seemed to catch them off guard.

Granted, this was only one college and I spent only one evening with a handful of students. They may not be representative of the next generation of American journalists. But I fear, in fact, that they are. I fear that many of the nation's communications professors may be farther behind the curve than we are. And that scares me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The AP

This afternoon, I was reminded why big newsrooms like ours might want to consider ending -- or drastically altering -- our relationship with AP. Our Washington correspondent wrote a story that AP immediately picked up, which began running on the sites of the local TV stations with no attribution or credit.

So we're paying a fair amount of money to gather, write and edit the news. In this case, from a bureau we fund 3,000 miles away. We're also paying quite a bit of money to AP, and then allowing it to take our story and distribute to other sites that use it against us. Within hours of the time it appears in our paper, if not sooner, we're matched by a number of local competitors.

It's the free-rider problem. Many places that pay little or nothing for newsgathering (beyond their AP fees) are nonetheless in the business of news dissemination. Newspaper newsrooms are having their throats cut by sites that don't have to pay for journalists of their own.

There are a variety of solutions to this problem, of course. The MSM needs to get creative and aggressive in implementing a few.

Knight Foundation grants

More cash announced today for MinnPost,, Chi-town Daily News and St. Louis Beacon. That's a good thing, even for those of us deep inside the MSM.

Experimenting with local-news models is a necessary step, and these guys are at the front end of it. So watch and learn. I assume Portland will have one or more outfits like these guys before long.

We ignore them at our peril.

First things first

A friend this week suggested that we each come up with a list of the characteristics that will define the local newspaper of 2012. Or maybe 2015. In any case, I'm more partial to the idea of coming up with characteristics likely to define the country's professional news organizations three to five years from now. (Parsing "newspaper" and "news org," assuming the distinction will fade.)

Nothing too complicated. Just a starting point for the conversation.

So I'll begin at the beginning. Expect my list here soon. Offer your own in the meantime, if you like.