Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How to save the newspaper industry

Imagine a company that sells you a product each day - while at the same time that company produces an enhanced version of the same product and gives it away, hours earlier, for free. How long would you continue buying that product?

That's the newspaper industry's business model - even the paper you are reading right now. Charge for the printed paper; give free access to the Web version. Is it any surprise that newspapers are in terrible trouble? The New York Times and the Washington Post both lost money in the most recent quarter. Last week, the Tribune Co., publisher of 12 newspapers, filed for bankruptcy protection.

Among the first things to go as the industry cuts back has been foreign correspondents. Only a handful of newspapers still staff foreign bureaus - at a time when world news holds extraordinary importance, especially during a worldwide recession.

Today, only the New York Times employs a full complement of correspondents around the world - and provides adequate space in the newspaper to print their work. As much as I respect the Times, my employer for almost 25 years, should we rely primarily on one newspaper, with its own quirks and unique points of view, to provide this coverage?

Newspaper publishers are certainly not complacent about the industry's paradoxical business model. But no one seems to know how to fix it. I have an idea. But first, the context.

In about 1995, as newspapers discovered the Internet, they began putting up Web sites - as an experiment. Publishers then generally believed that people interested in technology would read a newspaper online. That view held for years. In 1999 and 2000, I was covering the Microsoft antitrust trial in Washington - the biggest technology story of the day. The Times asked me to come back to the office at midday to file a story for the Web site. Reporters covering the White House, Congress and the rest weren't filing just for the Web. Those weren't technology stories.

In 2003 and 2004, publishers began to realize that the Web was taking over the business. In fact, readers and advertisers were abandoning the printed newspaper and reading it online - for free. In the years since, this trend has worsened. Industry experts say they expect several newspapers to go out of business next year.

The newspapers' biggest problem is their inability to make much money from their Web sites. Web advertising generally pays 10 cents for every $1 earned from print ads. And, of course, there is no circulation income.

When the sites were regarded as technology curiosities, there was no thought of charging people to use them. By the time papers realized that they should be charging, it was too late. No one wanted to be the first paper to charge, given that nearly all of the other papers, and other online news sources worldwide, were free. Several papers tried charging, but most backed off.

Now, here's my idea: The newspaper industry should ask the Justice Department for an antitrust exemption that would allow publishers to collaborate on a decision to begin charging for their Web sites. No paper would have to charge, and each paper could determine its own price. But if most papers in a region - San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, for example - began charging for Web access at more or less the same time, many readers would likely subscribe.

"It's an intriguing idea," John Sturm, president of the Newspaper Association of America, told me. "I do not recall hearing that notion before."

Certainly, as Sturm noted, readers could find some of what the newspaper offers elsewhere. Sports scores at espn.com. Political news at politico.com. But then, the onus on each paper would be the same one that has prevailed since the first newspapers were published in Germany 500 years ago: to provide unique, exclusive content that readers crave and cannot get anywhere else.

Still, as Sturm put it, "it's not an easy putt, by any means." Perhaps. To gain an antitrust exemption, an industry most prove that the decision would serve the public interest. But a healthy newspaper industry could not be more central to the public interest. A democracy cannot function without an assertive news media. And there's a precedent.

Over the years, the Justice Department has issued numerous antitrust exemptions allowing two newspapers in a community to combine their business operations so both newsrooms could survive. Newspaper competition, the department found, is in the public's interest.

Now, more than ever.

source : http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/12/20/IN6C14PEOM.DTL

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New business models for news are not that new

With online ad revenue down for the second quarter in a row and newspaper industry indicators suggesting that 2008 is going be the worst year yet, the frenzy continues for a new business model for news publishing that will magically boost revenue and stop the financial bloodletting.

But innovation is sorely lacking in the new business models proposed; the truth is that many of them have been around since the early 1900s.

In 1923, historian James Melvin Lee outlined in his History of American Journalism alternative business models that newspapers had tried to remove themselves from dependence on advertisers and circulation growth and that now seem strangely prescient: the endowment model, the municipal news model, an adless newspaper, religious news, and what can only be called the "bazooka gum" approach to circulation.

Even before Pro-Publica could be imagined, our predecessors were strategizing how to create an endowment-supported newspaper. Hamilton Hold, editor of the New York City Independent outlined what such a model would look like to other newsmen at the first National Newspaper Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1912.

The endowment model immediately had its critics – with much the same response we hear today. James Kelley of the Chicago Herald argued that an endowment newspaper was an "impossibility" for only the "people" could truly endow journalism without it being disinterested. In other words, whoever provided the cash was likely to have the dominant influence.

Lee worried that the endowment model was championed by academics and was unlikely to work because no one was willing to front the cash. He wrote, "The nearest that the endowed newspaper has come to a realization in America was a promise of Andrew Carnegie to be one of 10 men to finance such a venture. It would take just about ten men of Mr. Carnegie's wealth to establish successfully an endowed daily newspaper." Looking around in today's news environment, the St. Petersburg Times stands alone as an independent, endowed print newspaper.

Lee mentions another curious model that seems strangely reminiscent of the turn toward hyperlocal blogging: the municipal newspaper model.

Los Angeles in 1912 had evening and daily newspapers, but it also had the first, and possibly only Municipal News. Financed by the city of Los Angeles, 60,000 copies were distributed by newsboys and to homes. It was under the control of a municipal newspaper commission, composed of three citizens who served without pay and who were appointed by the mayor. They were to hold office for four years and were subject to recall and removal by referendum.

The mayor, the city council, and political party that had more than 3% of the vote were guaranteed column space. Financial support came from an appropriation of $36,000 set aside by the city of LA. Ad revenue was a second stream of income, but the newspaper did not support any major department store ads. Civic minded, it had a special student section.

The Municipal News was truly hyperlocal - it didn't truly compete with any LA papers because it didn't cover national or state news or carry wires. Lee is unclear on how long it actually lasted, but was voted down by the city council due to cost.

Some newspapers in the early 20th century tried to do without ads entirely. On September 28, 1911 the Day Book, an adless daily newspaper appeared in Chicago. It began with only 200 copies and sent personal agents of the paper to subscribers to generate revenue. Eventually, circulation got up to 22,938, but when the price was raised from one to two cents and the cost of paper increased due to World War I, it died a few short months later. A major downfall – the lack of department store ads failed to attract women readers.

Still, Lee suggested that people ought to be willing to pay for quality and that adless papers could be a reality: "The adless newspaper may possibly be a part of the journalism of to-morrow, if fifty thousand people will be willing to pay ten cents per copy for their daily paper and will agree not to cancel their subscription orders even through displeased with the presentation of the news or offended at the editorial policy adopted by the editors."

One form of news that was increasingly popular was a turn toward news financed by religious organizations. Lee dismisses most of these for being too narrowly focused on spreading religion to attract a broad audience, with one exception – the Christian Science Monitor, which kept its religious news to the back and even then was noted for its international outlook. Other religious newspapers are still running strong: The Desert News, affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, acts as a competitor to the Salt Lake Tribune. And the Washington Times' conservative stance pursues its agenda from the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.

The Christian Science Monitor is reinventing itself as we speak as one of the first major dailies to switch from print first to an online daily with a print weekly. Lee's refinement of religious newspapers as a distinct model may be reflected in the Monitor's bravado: perhaps religious newspapers are hotbeds of innovation.

The final model Lee proposes and dismisses is what can only be called the Bazooka Gum Model and reeks of the gimmicks and cereal box circulation efforts ad departments have tried for years to boost revenue.

For Lee, these efforts were a lost cause. He told the sorry tale of the 1905 United States Daily of Detroit, which offered people little trading stamps that they could exchange for things like bicycles if they collected enough. Coupons failed to bring in enough circulation - and the newspaper died after 68 days.

A return to our history books provides a useful warning and reminder: we don't have the answers yet. We didn't have them in the 1920s, and we're still searching for them now.

But even without answers, news innovators of times past were willing to experiment. We should take our cues from the past, and consider new business models as opportunities for our industry rather than signs of its failure.


© Knight Digital Media Center

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Convergence has transformed the journalist from `a lonely wolf' into a (multimedia) team player

Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, Vol. 15, No. 1, 75-87 (2009)
DOI: 10.1177/1354856508097020

Making Convergence Work in the Newsroom

A Case Study of Convergence of Print, Radio, Television and Online Newsrooms at the African Media Matrix in South Africa During the National Arts Festival

Peter Verweij

School of Journalism, Utrecht, The Netherlands, peter.verweij@hu.nl

The process of convergence has had significant effects on and consequences for the working habits and roles of journalists. This article, based on observations at The Times and Die Burger, and on a convergence experiment at The School of Journalism at Rhodes University, will focus on this impact. Convergence has transformed the journalist from `a lonely wolf' into a (multimedia) team player. Enhancing at the same time the limits of decision making in the production of news by reporters and editors. The success of this transformation is more related to the social structure and organization of the newsroom, than to technology. Converged newsrooms offer more opportunities for the public to be informed and involved in a story, and offer the reporter and editor more integrated tools to tell the story.

Key Words: convergence • journalism education • multi-media team • newsroom structure • multi-platform • repurposing • workflow system


Internet Explorer security alert

Users of the world's most common web browser have been advised to switch to another browser until a serious security flaw has been fixed.

The flaw in Microsoft's Internet Explorer could allow criminals to take control of people's computers and steal their passwords, internet experts say.

Microsoft is investigating the problem and preparing an emergency software patch to resolve it, it says.

Internet Explorer is used by the vast majority of the world's computer users.

"Microsoft is continuing its investigation of public reports of attacks against a new vulnerability in Internet Explorer," said the firm in a security advisory alert about the flaw.

Microsoft says it has detected attacks against version seven of the browser - its most widely used edition.

But the company warned that other versions were also potentially vulnerable.

source : BBC 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Twittering the Ghanaian Elections

While the use of Twitter has become increasingly familiar in North America, Europe and many parts of Asia, it is still a very new and relatively unknown tool in other regions of the world such as Sub-Saharan Africa. However, it has proven to be an efficient way to quickly share information in times of political changes such as yesterday's [1] Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Ghana.

The Mobile Active blog [2] commented on the importance of sms for election monitoring, especially after the instances of fraud of violence experienced in the last months in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria:

Each of the 4,000 trained observers-mostly members of the 34-organization strong CODEO coalition–are deployed all over Ghana are using their phones to report on incidences at the polls and how well the polls are conducted, using a coded checklist. As we have reported before, systematic SMS reporting by trained local citizen observers about how well an election is conducted can prevent rumors, and is an independent and reliable indicator about the quality of the election process.

One of the Twitter users that twittered the vote and the subsequent results almost minute by minute was [3] Ghanaelections, a Twitter account set up by the African Elections project, aimed at developing the capacity of the media in ICTs in order for them to use it as a tool for election coverage in Ghana, Cote d'lvoire and Guinea from 2008 to 2009.

Other twitterers had more modest intentions and simply wanted to [4] share their joy as [5] first time voters, such as [6] Kwabena, who the day before the election [7] had announced "I'm hopin to see long queues on Sunday. Kill the apathy, Ghana".

[8] AfricaTalks also [9] reported his vote, that took him only 15 minutes since arriving at the polling station in spite of the long lines that in some places started [10] as early as 2am.

Although [11] some [12] incidents [13] were reported by observers and twitterers, overall the voting went well and the day passed [14] calmly and [15] smoothly.

Once the polls closed, twitterers were excited to start reporting on the vote counting:

A few hours later, the first provisional results were also posted on Twitter as they were being announced. For example, chrisdof announced that the winning of a seat in Parliament by the daughter of [16] Kwame Nkrumah who led Ghana to independence in 1957. Another Twitter user, ghanablogger, not only he liveblogged about voting but he also [17] linked to a video of it, as well as to [18] several photos that he took of the polling stations and that he posted on his blog.

As of Monday morning the results of the Presidential elections are not yet clear, only that it was a [19] very close race. Most international media reported on the big turnout and smoothness of the voting day.

While waiting for the official results, blogger Oluniyi David Ajao complains about the lack of attention to good news from Africa such as peaceful elections in his home country in a post titled "[20] Does Ghana exist?"

The Ghana 2008 Presidential/Parliamentary elections has been over since about 12 hours ago and I find it interesting that many of the leading Western media outlets have not made a mention of Ghana 2008 Elections. Perhaps, Ghana does not exist on their radar screen. Ghana, like the rest of black Africa will only pop-up on their monitoring screens when over 1,000 people have butchered themselves or over 300,000 people are dying of starvation, or over 500,000 people are displaced by a civil war.

From Global Voices Online: http://globalvoicesonline.org