Media stories of note for Friday, March 22, 2013:
Earlier this week, Slate's economics writer Matt Yglesias wrote
on these being the glory days of American journalism, what with such abundant sources and platforms of content. Conor Friedersdorf, writing for The Atlantic Online,
takes issue with an element of that assertion in his essay. He argues that local coverage is suffering, no matter the breadth of new resources to understand the world. He says citizen journalism hasn't filled any breech opened by local newspaper cuts. "Until some entity is doing the work that local journalists aren't doing anymore, we're likely to see more instances of government waste and corruption, citizens who are more poorly informed about the government closest to them, and all the unpredictable dysfunction that entails," he writes. "Much is better --- and much is worse."
The Economist adds its voice
against measures to impose press regulation in Britain. A royal charter passed in the Commons this week provides a simplified defamation process for those who enlist in the regulator and leaves others open to more severe penalties. The Economist says that in a choice between regulation and expression, it is far better to have expression. Even though tabloids have on occasion broken laws and victimized innocent people, they have also exposed lies and corruption in high places.
In the new edition of Nieman Reports,
filmmaker and author Errol Mendes discusses truth in journalism.
Mendes' new book examines the four-decade-old case of convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald, whom Mendes has concluded was innocent. But Mendes, a former detective, says the truth isn't about what a majority of people believe. "We are constantly creating narratives, but we should remember that narratives can be shown to be false," he says. "The world always trumps whatever story we can concoct for ourselves."
Media stories of note for Wednesday, March 20, 2013:
Set aside the dire picture of the news business, says Matthew Yglesias in Slate
. People have never been better served as consumers of news. While this week's State of the News Media report painted a troubled industry, Yglesias says that is only the problem of the producer and not the consumer, who has more and better ways of acquiring information than ever.
The British move to create a new press regulator has settled very little. Newspaper and magazine editors fear the new entity could cripple their publications and The Guardian says
major companies are considering their own breakaway body to deal with standards and practices.
Wonder why Warren Buffett is buying certain types of newspapers? Peter Beller and Sarah Erickson, writing for The News Hook,
have a look at the criteria he appears to select and the equation he has established for survivability of papers.
The conventional wisdom is that digital journalism doesn't linger; it delivers data swiftly, starts a conversation, invites interaction, but gets out of the way of the busily-clicking audience. Other conventional wisdom: People won't spend time online to read long-form journalism. Maybe they'll print it out, but you're better to reserve the depth for the newspaper or magazine.
Along has come Slate.com
to prove the pack wrong. Nieman Journalism Lab profiles
its success in commissioning long-form pieces that have proven highly successful in securing readership.
Not just any readership, of course. A long-form journalism readership is --- conventional wisdom you can more readily bank on --- a smart readership. With that smart readership comes higher-end advertising support. In other words, it's just the sort of model one needs upon which to build a business.
Slate hasn't spent a lot of money on the pieces, but it has afforded them time. It has each of its staff writers identify a theme about which he/she is passionate and encourages four to six weeks of research and writing. Not many newsrooms can afford that luxury in one bite, but for Slate, it is yielding very strong stories that differ from its daily digest of reporting and commentary.
Jack Shafer, writing for Slate, strikes a different note in the media-are-dying chorus. His view is that the arrival of technology to enable a wider range of participants in the profession/craft means the arrival of a new, golden age.
"If the downside of the battered-down barriers to entry is less pay and lower status, the potential upside is that a flood of new entrants into the field could portend a journalistic renaissance," he writes.
Now, he admits this isn't going to mean every newcomer takes on exalted status and audience. "But journalism has generally benefited by increases in the number of competitors, the entry of new and once-marginalized players, and the creation of new approaches to cracking stories."
His conclusion: "Just because the journalism business is going to hell and it may no longer make economic sense to maintain mega-news bureaus at the center of war zones doesn't mean that journalism isn't thriving."
Jack Shafer, in his latest media column for Slate, says the problem with newspapers isn't that they took to the Web too late --- it's that they took to it early and failed to reinvent it.
Shafer correctly points out that papers spawned sites a decade ago and more, have poured immense resources into the Web, but make all of their sites simply a repurposed ink-on-paper content platform, with all the same values and temperment. Their failure has been in not defining a new identity, he argues.
I'd argue back that, until recently, the tools for robust innovation (the social media tools in particular) weren't readily available. Give news organizations more time and they'll adopt them and adapt their digital enterprises. While it's true that too many papers made their sites --- and can still make their sites --- brochures for the print edition, many are developing more innovative ways of creating and distributing content. It's not time to conclude anything, despite the uneven results to date.
Newspapers are now newsrooms and in some cases newscentres. Their steady momentum to the end of the day and the print deadline has been replaced by an incessant humming of the 24/7 digital priority.
It is a news manager's challenge to help reshape the culture, and one of those cultures is the layered editing that often improves and occasionally blandizes the reporter's copy.
The Washington Post has done as much as any North American media to operate across platforms in the last decade. Its washingtonpost.com functions separately from the newspaper, in a different state, and while the two complement each other, they have distinctive qualities that make for a slightly different content organization and hierarchy --- and thus a different consumer experience.
In recent days the Post's executive editor, Leonard Downie, has outlined changes to the production of the newspaper to put it on a more aggressive footing in the new environment. His memo (available through Slate.com) is an insightful elegy to different days and a clear signal that times have forever changed. In particular it is instructive to read how some non-local desks are being merged, how the rhythm of the newsroom will change to adapt to earlier consumer expectations in the day, and how the newsroom will reduce the number of "touches" on a story (they found as many as 12 editors --- yikes --- had handled a story in one instance).