Journalism

In just a decade, ‘content’ trumped ‘news’ (and those who reported it)

 Ten years has seen the evisceration of newsrooms; the alteration of form, function, and distribution of information; and the emergence of a distorted public discourse. Oh, joy.

Since 2007, I’ve written about the stark reductions in numbers of reporters and editors in America’s daily print newsrooms. During that time, I’ve witnessed more than 20,000 newsroom jobs vanish. Now, it seems, only about 30,000 men and women toil in those newsrooms.

MediaI chose toil deliberately. First, those who remain have had to meet the continued and unchanged corporate demand for product or content once produced by twice their number. Second, the job has changed: In addition to the still-present demand for print content, those 20,000 face the imposition of onerous digital deadlines and unbelievable expectations of quantity. Post so many stories a day, or an hour, they’re told. That, of course, has impacts on the quality of those stories.

For many, those who remain even have different titles — they are no longer reporters or editors. They have become “community content editors,” “content coaches,” “presentation team members,” “engagement editors,” “headline optimizers,” “story scientists,” or “curators in chief.”

Yes, the operations of those places once known as “newsrooms” are rapidly and radically changing. But that obvious observation obscures a few emerging realities about how information (once known as “news”) is crafted and distributed.

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Journalism

So you want a ‘robust, independent press’? Good luck with that.

Given fragmentation of audiences, diversity of media platforms, frequently clueless ownership, and devaluation of journalism by the public, what should journalism schools be teaching today?

From time to time, especially during election seasons, this phrase is often uttered:

America needs a robust, independent press.

Examine the critical words. A robust press? Meaning a press “strong, healthy; vigorous … able to withstand or overcome adverse conditions”? An independent press, one “free from outside control, not depending on another’s authority”?

CATEGORY: JournalismIf reasoned people are calling for a robust, independent press, then they must be arguing that America does not have one.

The press, defined by me as journalism practiced primarily by the nation’s daily newspapers, has been eviscerated by changes in technology and ownership over the past few decades — as well as by the erosion of display advertising, its principal revenue machine for more than a century. The press’s robustness and independence are challenged by those fiscal and executive realities.

To paraphrase Bob Garfield, “The future of the journalism we actually consume hinges on the ability to somehow underwrite it.” It’s clear, sadly, and has been for at least two decades, that mass-market advertising will no longer pay the bills as well as allow for investment. Worse, news companies have been giving away news for free. Consumers expect that now. They resist attempts to charge them for news.

So what about this “robust, independent press?”

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Journalism

Newspapers’ big problem: failure to distinguish meaningful from meaningless

Warren Buffett, the newspaper-loving Oracle of Omaha, isn’t loving newspapers quite as much these days. Speaking of the industry’s attempts to create a viable business plan, he told USA Today’s Rem Rieder, “We haven’t cracked the code yet.”

Said Buffett:

Circulation continues to decline at a significant pace, advertising at an even faster pace. The easy cutting has taken place. There’s no indication that anyone besides the national papers has found a way.

JournalismWell, duh, Mr. Buffett. We’ve known about your first two sentences for a decade. And the third? The New York Times is the only “national paper” I pay to read, as a digital subscriber. But I routinely read stories in The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal — as I’m doing this morning over breakfast. The Times gets a ten spot from me every month. Everyone else gets squat.

Unlike millennials, for whom all information must be free, I’m willing to pay. That’s because at my age, I have a long history of paying for news. That’s how newspapers operated: Pay us and read our ads, and we’ll provide you the news you want and need. That was the fair exchange under the previous, and now failed, business model newspapers rode to riches (well, at least their owners) for more than a century.

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The author, ever analog ...

What cute baby picture posts may lead to …

You know them — the social media parents.

They learn she’s pregnant with her first child. Joy consumes them. The announcement hits Twitter with abdominal photo or sonogram: “I’m preggers! #thefirst #babybump #joyful”

The author, ever analog ...

The author, ever analog …

Husband and wife create an email account for the unborn child. They send a book’s worth of loving messages for her to read years from now. Husband or wife (usually wife) creates a WordPress blog to chronicle the family journey.

Delivery room photos of happy husband and sweat-soaked wife holding the minutes-old child hit Facebook. Baby clothes choices choke Instagram.

The predictable follows, mostly with photos. Cute baby eating in high chair, face smeared with mushed peas. Cute baby’s bare butt. Cute baby sleeping blissfully. Cute baby in cute baby holder. Selfies (usually by mom) holding cute baby smiling, regurgitating, sleeping, crying (don’t bother to pick one; you’ll eventually see them all). Cute baby with family puppy or kitten.

Then it’s toddler toddling. Kid taking her first steps. First play date. First day of pre-school. Pre-school graduation. First day of kindergarten. Kindergarten graduation. Various religious functions (baptism, bris, first communion, bar mitzvah, aqiqah, etc.)

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CATEGORY: Sports

Wilmer Flores debacle: Mets should look in mirror, not blame social media

Wilmer Flores

Social media is not to blame for the latest Mets’ debacle. Instead, Mets’ management just needs to look at itself in the mirror.

For those unfamiliar with the story, a report broke during Wednesday night’s game indicating the Mets had traded Wilmer Flores  and Zack Wheeler and to the Milwaukee Brewers for Carlos Gomez.

While news of the blockbuster trade spread quickly on social media, Flores remained in the game and became so emotional he actually cried on the field – not all that surprising since the Mets have been family to Flores ever since they signed him as an international free agent out of Venezuela when he was just 16 years old.

Although the Internet was buzzing about the trade during the game, Continue reading

Journalism

You, too, can be a journalist (or a corporate message control specialist)

I asked my students as the semester ended: “How many of you do not want to be journalists?”

Most raised a hand, albeit timidly. (I am, after all, a professor of journalism.)

“How many of you wish to work in PR or advertising?”

Several raised their hands. I smiled – in the evil way they say I do when I’m setting them up for the kill.

“If you plan to work in PR and advertising, then I’ll bet you’re going to be working as a journalist,” I said.

Confused looks ensued.

Suppose they take jobs with a mattress company, thinking they’ll be pushing sleep products — writing ads, doing media buys, all the sorts of things PR and advertising flacks do.

But at Casper, a start-up company, they’ll likely be working as journalists. Continue reading

Say Ello to the Great Firewall

ellnoThere’s a cyberwar on and we’re losing. The New York Times reports 10 financial institutions including JP Morgan Chase are compromised and we don’t know the extent of the damage. Home Depot, Target (asking for it), Ebay, P.F. Chang’s, the Montana Health Department, and Domino’s Pizza (Belgium and France), have all been attacked in 2014, more than 1,000 businesses in total.

Meanwhile the hot new social network startup Ello is capturing 20,000 users per day, despite grave warnings that their business model doesn’t make sense unless there’s something we don’t know about it. One rave review mentions the total lack of political content. Do you believe that all those creative free-thinking American citizens suddenly tacitly agreed to stop discussing politics when they joined this site? I joined up to ask them that very question. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Sports

The LeBron James story is the future of sports journalism

“Journalism-as-process” is here, for good or for bad, and whether you like it or not

SANDOMIR-master675It’s going on nearly two weeks now since LeBron James announced he was returning to Cleveland.

So who broke the story?

Well, Chris Sheridan was the first journalist to report that James was going back to Cleveland, reporting it on his website. But Lee Jenkins and Sports Illustrated had the actual story, “written” by James and posted online. Continue reading

Facebook - Unshare

The UNSHARE button: Can we all just step away from the propaganda?

Our social media activities would benefit from a dose of critical thinking.

A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on. – Terry Pratchett

I had an exchange with my sister earlier about something she had shared on Facebook. If you haven’t seen it, it’s the one alleging that 11 US states now have “More People on Welfare than they do Employed.” Hint number one: cluelessness regarding the mysteries of punctuation. And no, I won’t link to it. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Journalism

Building my own news machine, whether I like it or not

I didn’t realize it until this morning. I have not watched CNN in more than five weeks. Since Ted Turner set loose the Chicken Noodle Network in June 1980, I have watched it daily — in the morning as I stumble through waking up, at the office, and in the evening when I return home. It has been a staple in how I gathered information I need for more than three decades.

But no more. It’s not CNN’s wall-to-wall Zimmerman coverage or the Zuckerization of the network that turned me away. Maybe it was the departure of Howard Kurtz from Reliable Sources. CNN has simply failed to help me address the two questions that matter most to me: How does the world work? Why does it work that way?

It’s not just CNN, either. As I reflect on how I used to gather news (instead of the content proferred today), I realized that as little as a few years ago, I still heavily depended on mainstream staples I grew up with — The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe (I’m a native New Englander). Add in the local newspaper in the places I’ve lived.

Like many people, I have come to look askance at the ability of these long-time sources of news to tell me what I need to know. As their ability to generate reliable profit sufficient to sustain credible news gathering has declined, I am left with a diet of what they believe I want to know.

And they are so wrong: I do not want false equivalence or false balance in reporting, or one-source stories, or anonymous-source stories, or government or corporate flack-based stories. I do not want geographically limited stories, either: Bring me the floods in Bangladesh, the difficulties facing Greece and Spain in managing their debt, the urgency of fighting malaria in Africa. And I do not want happy talk, celebrity journalism, or shoutfests on air or in print.

I grew up in a media world in which each day what I needed to know was decided for me in New York City at the budget meeting at The Times. Those decision informed the national and international news budgets of The Associated Press. In my newsroom days, that’s the slate of meaningful information from which I selected a diet for the readers of my hometown paper.

No more. First, the nation’s roughly 1,400 daily newspapers — down more than a sixth from just 20 years ago — no longer deliver what they once did reliably. The loss of thousands of newsroom editorial posts have deprived the industry of the ability to produce well-considered news stories in reliable quantity and quality. (Yet every corporate press release following the layoffs of journalists promises “the quality of our journalism, so very important to us, will not suffer.”)

That has a democratic cost: The moral imperative of newspapers to hold government accountable has been terribly weakened. In the coverage of government, access to “official” sources has trumped penetrating reporting. In the coverage of large, multinational corporations — which have become governments unto themselves — business reporting falters before the weight of corporate lobbying, advertising, and image-management budgets.

And now, two of my mainstays of information have been sold to corporate titans: The Post to billionaire Jeff Bezos of Amazon and The Globe to the billionaire owner of the Boston Red Sox, John Henry.

Billionaires now own two of America’s once-great newspapers. Billionaires now routinely represent the money that best elects candidates to national office. How can we not view such developments as worrisome?

How are we to assess, now, how the world works and why it works that way? How can we do this, given that the newspapers of the past have morphed into “content providers” owned by entities that, frankly, I’ve always wanted news organizations to empower their journalists to probe at much greater depth?

I can only reflect on what I’ve done: I have evolved into my own wire editor. I still read The Times; I still read The Post; I still read The Globe. But so much less. Now, like many of you, I read Twitter, and, to a lesser extent, Facebook. I follow certain YouTube channels.

We’ve all been on these social media sites for years now. We have pruned our friends and followers to those we find useful.

We have constructed a web of people who routinely post either news they themselves have reported or links to information that we, over time, have come to find credible. Among the people I follow are former reporters and editors now running foundation-supported or non-profit journalism startups; brilliant people (like the “Newsosaur,” Alan Mutter) who assess the news industry; people who write books about subjects that interest me; people who travel and write blogs about places I’ve never been; students and former students who blog about the nature of being young today and the challenges they face; and, yes, politicians and lobbyists (you learn to sort the wheat from the chaff).

Most of this I do on my phone, usually in the morning and evening. Virtually all my “content consumption” is on my phone. CNN won’t be getting me back on a routine basis. Neither will these three major newspapers. As much as I like the smell of newsprint in the morning at a diner, those days are finito for me. My Kindle has breakfast with me.

I do not like this. It takes time to recreate a viable information system for myself. But the industry I toiled in for 20 years, and that I have now taught undergraduates about for nearly another 20 years, has lost its ability to reliably perform for me as needed.

Now, if I could only do something about my tendency toward confirmation bias …That’s the real problem in building your own news budget: You tend to lean toward intellectual agreement rather than challenge.

A final but important note: Only The Times gets money from me for a digital subscription. Frankly, we’re all screwed in terms of getting good journalism unless the “content provision” industry figures out how to get money out of me and you — so it can pay journalists sufficiently well and in sufficient numbers to do their jobs well on our behalf.

CATEGORY: InternetTelecomSocialMedia

Can somebody ‘splain to me how the heck Klout works?

I have a Klout account. If you don’t know about Klout, it’s basically a new, high-tech way of stroking your ego and keeping track of how important you are. And I am all about that.

Problem is, I can’t figure out how it works. Oh, I get the basic concept: the more people like and follow and share your stuff on major social networks, the better. Especially Facebook and Twitter. But it professes to also count WordPress, YouTube, LinkedIn, G+, Foursquare, Instagram, Tumblr, Blogger, Last.FM and Flickr. I don’t use all these services, but I have connected all the accounts that I do have.

My first issue arises with the fact that they’ll only let you link one account with each service. See, I run four Twitter accounts – one personal, one for Black Dog Strategic (my business site), one for S&R and another for 5280 Lens Mafia, the awesome new photoblog. I also have the bridge for my personal and business Facebooks as well as a few others, including the S&R page. And I host several blogs at WordPress, including Scholars & Rogues, my business site and Lullaby Pit, my personal site. There is some overlap here and there, but we’re talking about very different audiences in most cases.

Which means that you cannot conceivably measure my influence, such as it is, if you limit me to one account per network. You can’t get close. As I see it, this is a problem in the methodology. Not that I’m vain or anything. I just care about services getting it right.

Even if I accept the one account rule, though, the results I get still make no sense. You can change from one connected account to another and the results either don’t change or they change in the wrong direction. For instance, the S&R Twitter feed has more followers and gets more retweets than my personal account, so if I unhitch Klout from the docslammy account and hook it up to the S&R account, my Klout score should go up, right? Nope.

An even more baffling example: up until a few days ago I had Klout linked to my Lullaby Pit WordPress site. But I figured that if I’m using Klout, I might as well maximize it, because my future hangs in the balance. So I switched the connection from the Pit to the Scholars & Rogues site, which does massively more traffic. Heck, I might get less than 100 looks a week at Lullaby Pit, but S&R has been blowing the lid off lately. My recent life on Mars post drove significantly more traffic in a few days than the Pit did in the last year.

So this change should have caused my Klout score to go up, right? Like, by a lot. Nope. It actually went DOWN a point.

There are two messages in this for the folks at Klout. First, I’m whiny and I want everybody to pay attention to me.

Second, and more important, is that your service is of no value if people don’t know what the scores mean. You want recruiters and managers to employ your results in things like hiring decisions, but only a chimp is going to do that if the methodology is this unreliable. At an elementary level, if you’re measuring X, and X is good, when X goes up the score should go up.

Right now you have a useless metric that confuses and disappoints us hapless vanity seekers and provides no meaningful value whatsoever to that business community you really need to buy in.

Might want to look into it….

Obama administration needs to take on Facebook and Google: cybersecurity under the COPPA cabana

It came to my attention looking through my own Facebook Timeline that children being born right now could very well have their entire lives documented online – from birth, if their parents have accounts and upload photos of them. And it brought up a few thoughts: one, what a colossal bummer it would be to have your awkward stage documented for hundreds of people to see; and two, how children are growing up online now and need security.

The Obama administration made its mark as a campaign of technology, and as such they’ve made it a point to take on issues of broadband coverage and cybersecurity in legislation. But their latest set of changes has a hurdle to jump – and it’s not Congressional gridlock or stubborn Republicans. For maybe the first time, the Obama administration has to take on a force that helped win the election in the first place.

They have to take on Facebook and Twitter. Continue reading

Facebook's bad year just got worse

It’s an interesting time to be Facebook. You know, as in the old Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times.”

They’ve been the target of freedom and privacy advocates for some time. All the way back in 2008 I was talking about the company’s anti-privacy tendencies and arguing that things were only going to get worse for the citizenry. More recently, I called them the most congenitally dishonest company in America, and I’m waiting for evidence that proves me wrong.

But these days, us privacy ankle-biters are the least of Mr. Zuckerberg’s concerns. You’re no doubt aware of the debacle surrounding the company’s IPO. They opened at 38, then all hell broke loose, and as I type they’re trading at 20 and change. Continue reading

The real #NBCFail

by Brian Moritz

If you’ve spent any time on Twitter this weekend, you know about #nbcfail.

NBC has been so roundly and soundly (and rightfully) criticized for its coverage of the London Olympics – primarily its decision to run the marquee events on tape-delay rather than live.

In previous Olympics, tape delay was less of a big deal. I can sort of understand tape delay if the time difference is so great that running events live would put them on in the middle of the night. But London is just five hours ahead of the east coast. There’s no excuse except for greed (and if NBC continues to pull strong ratings like it did over the weekend, what incentive does it have to change?). Continue reading

Facebook: the most congenitally dishonest company in America

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”

Did you know you have a Facebook email address? Maybe you did and maybe you didn’t. But if you have a Facebook account you have a Facebook email. And that email is now your default email on FB.

WTF? You didn’t do that. NOBODY would do that. As Kashmir Hill writes at Forbes, it’s a lame attempt by our friends at Facebook to force their service on you. Gervais Markham is even more pointed:

In other words, Facebook silently inserted themselves into the path of formerly-direct unencrypted communications from people who want to email me. Continue reading

An important life lesson, courtesy of Facebook and Amendment One

Facebook reminded me of an important lesson this morning.

When I was young, I was an idiot. A well-intentioned idiot, to be sure. And in my defense, it must be said that I was probably less of an idiot than most kids my age. But still, I look back on the things I did, the things I believed, the insecurities and the ignorance and the utter five-alarm cluelessness that once ruled my life like a petulant child emperor and I can’t help being embarrassed. I know, kids will be kids, and it’s true that there were moments of rampant joy that I will likely never equal again. Still.

Through the years I have learned. Lots. I’ve seen more of my country and even a bit of the world beyond, although not enough. I’ve met people from just about everywhere and gotten to know them a little. Continue reading

The Tech Curmudgeon – hell no, you don't get my Facebook password, Mr. Interviewer


Image credit: Scientific American

In one of the Tech Curmudgeon’s favorite movies, Winston Zeddmore (played by Ernie Hudson) told Ray Stantz (played by Dan Aykroyd) “When someone asks if you’re a god, you say ‘YES!'” In that same spirit, if a prospective employer asks for your Facebook password, you say “NO!” Actually, the Tech Curmudgeon initially thought that “fuck off!” was a better response, but you may not want to get a reputation for having an attitude problem.

Then again, having an attitude about refusing to bare your private life to an employer who has no legitimate interest in said private life isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That’s why it’s called “your private life,” after all.

The Tech Curmudgeon also feels that any company who demands access to your private information via social networking sites as a condition of employment is a company that desperately needs to go out of business yesterday, if not sooner. Continue reading

Of Wikipedia, revisionism, serial killers, The Duke and Michelle Bachmann: the past is the present, the future is the present, and the present is fucked

In case you missed it, America’s newest official candidate for the presidency, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, kicked off her campaign in her hometown of Waterloo, IA yesterday by confusing John Wayne with John Wayne Gacy. Honest mistake. Anybody could have made it.

I mean, it’s still odd. I know first-hand how attuned Iowans can be to their own local histories. Iowans by god know who was born in their town, and for Bachmann to mix up The Duke with a serial killer, to somehow mistake Waterloo for Winterset, well, that’s unusual.

Still, to her credit, Bachmann has offered up the most profoundly true statement we’re likely to hear from any candidate between now and November 2012 when she acknowledged that she’s not perfect. Which is true. She once explained that the founding fathers eliminated slavery. Continue reading