Media stories of note for Wednesday, April 10, 2013:
The veteran news executive, Alan Mutter, argues in his latest post
that online paywalls are not the blessing they appear to be. While they are helping to staunch the revenue declines many newspapers are experiencing, their main impact is to extract revenue from loyal readers. In effect, they fail to broaden audience appeal, a necessary condition for media sustainability. Mutter believes a partial solution comes in the form of reinvesting subscription revenue into new technologies in mobile.
Curtis Brainard, writing for Columbia Journalism Review,
discusses seven rules to avoid gratuitous descriptions of female scientists. The rules are called the Finkbeiner Test, named after a science blogger, and they suggest no story mention a) that she is a woman, b) her husband's job, c) her child-care arrangements, d) how she nurtures underlings, e) how she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field, f) how she is a role model for other women, and g) how she is the "first woman to" do something.
The European has published much of a conversation
between its deputy executive editor Martin Eiermann and NYU media scholar Clay Shirky on the meaning of journalism in 2013. There are several threads of note, including the assertion that journalism has failed to comprehend the need for collaboration with the audience and some insight on why Shirky resists identifying a business model to help solve the economic challenges of the industry.
It is a tangled Web, indeed --- so finds the august
Columbia Journalism Review in investigating the practices of magazines online. With the help of a MacArthur Foundation grant, CJR editor Victor Navasky and seedmagazine.com editor Evan Lerner found the Wild West is alive and not so well.
If there is a method to the madness of online magazines, the researchers didn't find one. Instead they unfurled anything but best practices: dysfunctional editing techniques, relative apathy about standards of digital against print, and paltry measures to correct the mistakes.
When publishers are in charge of the sites, they tend to make better decisions and are more likely to be profitable. But that's a stretch in both cases. Mainly the study found a weak business rationale and a weaker journalistic rationale for the conduct of hundreds of magazine sites.
While the authors didn't find a recklessness about accuracy, they did note the speed rules "in a way that tends to undermine traditional journalistic standards."
In the latest issue, the editors of the venerable Columbia Journalism Review argue for government financial assistance to ensure public-minded reporting doesn't disappear in the economic transformation of journalism.
They take their contentious position --- to "treat journalism as an indispensable public good, on par with our transportation infrastructure, the social safety net, public universities, etc." --- out of fear that the rupturing of the media will make it impossible to sustain certain forms of reporting.
"If we don’t get beyond the rational but outdated fear of government help for accountability journalism—if we just let the market sort it out—this vital public good will continue to decline," the editorial argues.
"We are not in favor of a bailout for the newspaper business, and we certainly don’t support subsidies that would simply prop up the status quo. But it seems increasingly clear that, at least in the short term, sustaining the kind of accountability journalism that our society needs—and that newspapers have been the chief producers of—will require some creative help from Uncle Sam."
A new series is emerging online via the Columbia Journalism Review
on the future of news. Its first installments arrived today and they promise a deep dive into content, audience, economics and technology.
Megan Garber's essay on common knowledge
examines the tension between atomization and community. Justin Peters examines
the Internet as a communications tool. While the topics appear elementary, the writing is sophisticated.
Many other pieces are in the pipeline and the promise of the Press Forward series is to engage journalists in a discussion about their craft's evolution.
Ryan Chittum's essay
in the new Columbia Journalism Review suggests newspapers are by no means extinct or imminently heading that way.
"For those of us of a certain small-but-growing subset—the blogging, commenting, techno-savvy, early-adopting, extreme-news consumers—it’s sometimes easy to forget that most people don’t live like we do. They don’t use RSS. They don’t Twitter. They don’t read twenty blogs a day. They (some 100 million or so) still actually pick up the newspaper and read it."
Chittum argues that newspapers continue to outweigh Web readership of information and that even the most prosperous news sites are only fractionally as large as their print readership.
There is an underlying resiliency of print and shortfall in their effort to sell the Web to audiences, he concludes.
Columbia Journalism Review contributing editor Michael Shapiro provides a lament on the lost way of journalism. He sizes up its meanderings into potholes, then manholes, and he leaves little question of skepticism of its recent steps to find the right route.
His essay outlines the challenges of re-erecting a paywall after years of largely free access. In short, he asks, what can you charge for? Perhaps something grounded in vast reportage (he notes the Texas Longhorns' fan site, Orangebloods, as an example of fervent audience meeting fervent reporting).
What he searches for in the article is what people might pay for. Is it local news? Is it niche information? Is there a way to develop a hybrid of free and paid content that attracts advertising to one and subscribers to another?
Perhaps, he notes, the Washington Post's idea of selling itself as the idea of Washington might make sense. Rather than geography, tap into community of interest. There are also places like CQ.com, the Congressional Quarterly's aggregation of content widely available elsewhere but curated smartly by them.
"Niche sites succeed, in large measure, by staking out a line of coverage that represents precisely the kinds of stories that newspapers decided to abandon years ago because so many readers found them so tedious: process stories."
"So it is that journalism’s crisis offers an opportunity to transform the everyday work of journalism from a reactive and money-losing proposition into a more selective enterprise of reporting things that no one else knows. And choosing, quite deliberately, to ignore much of what can be found elsewhere.
"People will pay for news they deem essential, and depending on the depth and urgency of their need, they will pay a lot."
The venerable Columbia Journalism Review has arrived at a new understanding of old and new journalism, old and new models of journalists, old and new techniques to communicate. Its essay this month, The Bigger Tent, explores not only what is a journalist, but what is journalism in this new age. It's a reasoned, hopeful, not terribly edgy look at the dilemma of standards for the new brigade and the dilemma of rigidity for the old brigade. Author Ann Cooper doesn't particularly side and has insight on both approaches.
When CJR weighs in, it's always a sign of the shifted debate.