Changing the rules of the game

I was catching up on some reading over the Christmas weekend and came across a fascinating post over at Reflections of a Newsosaur about Panorama — a fascinating project from McSweeney’s that puts a ton of new journalism out into the world… in print.

But what was just as interesting as the project was the reaction on the blog. Immediately the news pros out there ragged on the effort as “just a magazine” and derided the project’s ability to produce so much (admittedly great) content on a daily basis. Harumph! they cried out.

But thankfully one commenter had the right idea — who says all “real” news has to be daily? Who wrote these rules, and what if they don’t apply anymore, or shouldn’t apply?


If you goal is to change the world (for the better), then you have to… well… change the world. That means some things in your world will change.

Even amidst all the change in the media world, newspaper leaders and supporters would rather dump on an innovative new project on not meeting their imaginary “standards” than consider how they might change to do insanely great journalism. We don’t need daily print publications, we need engaging stories and information that help us solve problems in our lives and communities. Maybe you do that every day, maybe every other day, maybe weekly, monthly — whatever is the right process to fit your economic and storytelling capacity.

The worst thing we can do, if we want to make impacts as public service media companies, is to keep doing what public broadcasters have always done, without modification, without experimentation, without considering the needs of the community today, not the community’s needs from 1979.

Shirky on the collapse of newspapers

This is, hands down, the most important piece on the collapse of the newspaper industry that will be written all year:

Clay Shirky succinctly wraps up the last 20+ years of media history in just a few pages and explains how and why the newspaper industry will ultimately disintegrate.

He points to a future for journalism, but admits it will be a messy future, much as the world of information control and dissemination was utterly upended in the 16th century with the application of the printing press.

This piece reminded me of a speech given by Michael Rosenblum at the IMA conference in 2007. I have a whole hour of his storytelling and exhortations to take action on video, but here’s a brief (3:30) clip of just one story of technological innovation:

For those still clinging to news-on-paper notions: prepare your eulogies. Technology transforms society, whether you like it or not. Your horses are dead. The bowmen are here.

Huge citizen journalism win in Detroit

Man, I wish I was in the Detroit area now, despite the auto manufacturing disaster. This looks promising.

By the way, don’t dismiss The Oakland Press as some tiny suburban paper. It’s a pretty big paper, given the size of the communities they cover. Detroit is “big,” but the areas north and northwest of the city proper are huge.

Don’t miss it. Thanks to Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) for the find.

Another nail in the AP coffin

There have been so many great news services popping up in the last few years in the online space. has been one of the big success stories. They make most of their money on a print edition distributed on Capitol Hill and K Street in DC, but their web property is followed nationally and their writers and pundits regularly appear on talking-head shows.

Now they’re undermining the Associated Press. Good for them.

At the rate things are changing for the AP and the news business in general, you’d think the AP would unleash a new plan to get folks interested in their services again. But I think not. The AP is still a juggernaut in the news business with a long way to go before their execs begin to freak out over lost customers and revenue. It sure is interesting to watch, though.

Back from the dead / digital collaboration

It’s has been — and remains — insane at the office these days. We’re in the midst of a pledge period for TV, we’re preparing for another one in FM, and for the most part it’s my first run-through these events as the person ultimately in charge of our streams, so there’s a learning curve. I’m finding it easy to pick things up — it just takes time. Plus, the company is still shaking out some of the changes from about a month ago as we radically redesigned the management structure. So far, so good.

I’ve been neglecting Twitter and Facebook and this site for nearly a month as these events have played out. Luckily, it’s kind of a quiet period in public media as folks work through pledge drives and just get back into the non-summer swing of things.

Yet this past week a critical post went up from Dennis Haarsager that’s required reading for pubradio folks and I think for public TV folks as well:

It makes a good deal of sense to me, as it gives a revitalized reason/purpose for national/local collaboration, as opposed to simple distribution. I’m not quite convinced it can be successful, but it’s got a shot if a critical mass of system leaders get on board. I know I’m paying attention.

That said, I’m concerned about future collaborations of all kinds, especially in the wake of a semi-private discussion in which I participated recently.

It seems public media’s chief difficulty today is not one of distribution, but one of mission. Why are we here, really? And do we all share the same response to that question? “Public service,” is not a real answer. We need a product, a specific service that can bind all of us together.

Personally, I think that’s news. I’ve railed against the national TV news media before for their lack of real public service, and I’ve suggested that public media’s greatest strength comes from news.  Not music, not arts and culture, not high society, but news. (Those other things are nice-to-haves, but they aren’t core things around which we can easily collaborate on various geographic or business scales.)

What does news, as a primary mission for public, have going for it?

  • The Associated Press is breaking down as newspapers and stations — including my own — tell the AP to take a flying leap with their high costs and their regurgitated stories
  • Newspapers are distracted as their profits crumble and they seem unable to find a way forward
  • TV news is an abysmal, rancid landfill of time-wasters and poor information
  • New low-cost journalism methods (not necessarily bad stuff, by the way) is on the rise, both in video and print, offering us new opportunities
  • Digital exchange of information and finished media products has never been faster, cheaper or easier
  • We have a public service mission unparalleled in the commercial world — a world setup to distribute commercials, not thoughtful information

NPR grew as media consumers discovered that quality news and information was, in fact, a good thing to have around. It grew in an otherwise toxic radio environment.

We have a chance, now, I think, to develop this shared mission and build collaborative structures around that. At the moment, Haarsager’s initial diagram (PDF) speaks to a broader service set than news alone. But keep the mission focused and the distribution / collaboration system begins to make sense.

Anything new that proposes to simplify collaboration in an ecosystem of diverse and often competing missions probably won’t get us very far.

How people behave as their ivory tower collapses

I have no vested interest the “old order” of journalism, be it at newspapers, in public radio or elsewhere. I don’t have a journalism degree (though I do have the kissing cousin degree: English). I’ve collected a paycheck from the media world for less than 4 years now, having spent many years before that in a variety of businesses.

But I would hope that even if I had studied journalism in college, spent a 20+ year career in the field, won awards and so on that I would show a hell of a lot more professionalism and simple human decency than the ugly curs trolling one newspaper intern’s blog this week.

Admittedly, it’s a volatile situation as people are losing their jobs at the Tampa Tribune and the newspaper company is confronting the facts: if they change nothing they’re definitely dead, and even if they change everything they might still be dead. That’s a tough situation for everyone.

It’s terrible to be laid off (it’s happened to me). Layoffs cast all reason out the window in favor of pain and fear. But come on. That doesn’t give you either the right or the moral authority to attack an intern as your personal scapegoat for everything that’s “wrong” with the media industry (in your eyes).

It’s been nearly 24 hours now since I read the post — a fascinating insider look that most journalists wouldn’t share with the public (oh, the delicious irony!) — and I’m still floored by the nasty and even threatening comments made in response to the post.

If your ivory tower is collapsing, shouldn’t you be looking for a safe way out or a safe place to land?

If 'newspapers' can die, then 'public broadcasting' can die, too

I’m so glad the newspaper industry is blazing the trail to either self-transformation or self-immolation in this new media world. Public media companies are being given a very close look at an industry in gut-wrenching transformation just before our own will undergo the same. The trail before us has been blazed, and we should be thankful.

Recently in Online Journalism Review, Robert Niles wrote a great link-bait article — It’s time for the newspaper industry to die — in which he explains why newspapers need to dump the word “newspaper” from their internal lexicon and psychology. He offers several reasons for this.

But the best reason centers on that favorite word of mine: Community. And the reason applies to public media, too.

Niles recognizes a fundamental shift in newspapers over the last decade: they’ve cut back on real community service while maximizing shareholder profits.

Great content and great tools are not enough to build the large, habitual audience that content publishers will need to maximize their opportunities to make money online, through advertising and sales. Even more than those two things, a website needs great engagement with its readers. And engagement with the public is something that’s been budgeted out of too many newsrooms over the past generation.

It’s time to bring that back. It’s time to do that online. And if a beloved label needs to be sacrificed to inspire the innovation that will enable this effort, so be it. It’s time for the “newspaper” industry to die. Because we all need the news industry to survive.

I would submit the term “public broadcasting” can take the same route to oblivion. One-way broadcasting can no longer be the point, even if that’s the most comfortable thing to do. Community engagement, public service, gathering, convening, whatever — that’s got to be the goal. Broadcasting is a tool, a means to an end of public service.

What we want from a “newspaper” isn’t fish wrapping or bird cage lining, it’s news, information, connection to events. What we want from broadcasting is pretty similar. But let’s not confuse the delivery system with the purpose. And let’s not believe for a moment that retransmitting someone else’s non-local, marginally-relevant content is something worth preserving in a world of on-demand access to all content anywhere.

Since entering the public media world professionally almost four years ago, I’ve always thought the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) was ripe for transformation (and not because of that Bush administration weasel Kenneth Tomlinson). Why? Because they need a name change and a mission reevaluation. It’s too bad the purpose of the CPB — funding and fostering public Broadcasting — has its instructions enshrined in law.  It’s making it difficult, if not impossible, to fund new projects. Consider this Q&A between IMA’s Mark Fuerst and CPB’s current president, Pat Harrison, at the recent IMA 2008 conference in Los Angeles (audio clip, about 1 minute):


Harrison gets it. Sure, she’s referring to reauthorization for CPB in Congress, but that’s just cover for avoiding talk about shifting funding out of pure broadcasting and into community engagement. (In fairness, the CPB has spent millions over the past several years on new media research and projects, but as I’ve noted before, we haven’t really seen any transformations.)

This is really too bad. Because while newspapers are stuck with an old term and a psychology that’s hard to shake, we have those challenges plus actual laws that govern a significant portion of our funding. To change the laws or create new ones to foster and fund community building and interaction via all available media may be politically impossible.

TWiT tackles news, blogs, NPR, podcasting, new media

This Week in Tech (TWiT) is a great little tech-oriented podcast with a broad international following (somwhere north of 200,000 weekly listeners). But on the March 31 show they went off the tech industry track and tackled issues related to news, newspapers, news radio, NPR, podcasts, blogs, Twitter, reporting and more.

Public media folks may be interested to hear how folks that work in media — but outside our industry niche — talk about what we’re doing and the major trends affecting everyone publishing everything.

You can listen to and/or download this week’s episode here.

WaPo cage match

Great article over at the PBS-hosted MediaShift Idea Lab on the battle for attention, resources and respect between the completely separated online and traditional newsrooms at the Washington Post companies. The money quote:

The entertaining part of the drama lies in the pronouns. …the finger-pointing always targets “those people,” “those folks,” and other, less polite, designations. …”we” generally takes a breather.

Sound familiar? I hope not, but alas it’s still all too common.