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Archive for December, 2012

This was my busiest blogging year ever.

I’m quite sure my 247 posts this year (well, 248 now) are my most ever in a single year. I had my highest traffic ever for a single day (April 6) and in April and October I set records for a single month. In fact, seven months in 2012 exceeded the single-month record I set in December 2011.

My best-read 2012 post (by more than 2,000 views) was my letter to newsroom curmudgeons, published April 6, the day I set that single-day record with 4,882 views. I’m not sure what that says about newsrooms or curmudgeons or my blog. But I hope it helped some curmudgeons find some comfort and be more productive in their newsrooms. With more than 9,000 views, it’s my fourth most-read blog post of all time. And the other three have had far longer to accumulate views. I think it got more views faster than anything I’ve ever blogged.

I touched on similar themes — advising journalists on thriving in journalism’s turbulent, changing times — in a couple other 2012 blog posts: one on trying to recapture the joy of journalism and one telling angry journalists that bitterness is like wreaking revenge on yourself. I addressed some of the same themes in keynote addresses to press associations in Pennsylvania and Arizona that also worked well as blog posts. Though none of those posts resonated the way the curmudgeon post did, each received more than 1,000 views.

Social media remains a popular topic with people who read my blog. My second most-read post tried to help newsrooms figure out how to engage better from branded Facebook pages after Facebook adjusted its algorithm, making it harder for our posts to appear in our followers’ news feeds. That got nearly 7,000 views. A couple of other posts about Facebook topped 800 views — one noting that Bill Keller wrote about it without understanding it and one clarifying whether newsrooms are allowed to post Associated Press photos on Facebook or other social media (we’re not). (more…)

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I really liked John Robinson’s blog post about fixing local news, so I tweeted about it:

Since I was tweeting after midnight, I figured my tweet might go unnoticed. But 20 people retweeted it and 17 favorited it (not all the same people). And a couple people responded. Cory Bergman, general manager of Breaking News, offered a valid criticism:

Then Lisa P. White, a Digital First Media colleague who covers the communities of Martinez and Pleasant Hill, Calif., for the Contra Costa Times, responded with several tweets.

While I still think John raised some valid observations about the need to rethink how we cover local news, the questions and criticisms were also valid. So I’m going to encourage John to share some specific suggestions to improve local news. (Update: John has responded.) But I’ll also note that I shared some suggestions earlier this month, asking what newsrooms should stop doing and earlier this year, I posted about how Digital First reporters on any beat should change their work and about beat blogs.

I’ll continue here with some more thoughts on how a newsroom might change some or  all of its beats: (more…)

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I am working with representatives of several journalism groups on recommendations to help news organizations prevent plagiarism and fabrications. We’d like to know what policies your newsrooms or organizations have relating to these issues.

We’re interested not just in policies that say what the penalties are for ripping stuff off or making it up, but whether you have policies explaining how journalists should attribute the facts and quotes they use (including linking). We’re interested in any policies related to fact-checking, running stories through plagiarism-checking software or random Google checks.

The presidents of the American Copy Editors Society and the Society of Professional Journalists committed to a plagiarism “summit” next spring, after a summer when offenses were so plentiful that Craig Silverman called it journalism’s “summer of sin.” Several other journalism organizations have joined the discussions: Associated Press Media EditorsOnline News AssociationAmerican Society of News EditorsCanadian Association of JournalistsRadio-Television Digital News AssociationCollege Media AdvisersLocal Independent Online News Publishers and perhaps others (I’ll update the list if I learn of others).

I am representing ONA and Digital First Media in the discussions. I am pleased that we’re focusing not just on plagiarism and fabrication, but on proper attribution. We have divided the work into three topics: defining plagiarism and fabrication, prevention and response. I am in the group focusing on prevention. (more…)

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One of the most important questions news organizations and journalists need to decide now and in the years ahead is: What should we stop doing?

This was the question that lingered with me most after reading Post-Industrial Journalism, the outstanding report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism by C.W. AndersonEmily Bell and Clay Shirky.

When the report came out, my first reaction was to drop everything, read it right away and comment in detail to its many points. But I found I couldn’t do that. The report came out just as I was trying to get back up to speed after an extended distraction from work as I helped my brother’s family deal with the death of my nephew Brandon. Work tasks beckoned urgently, so I couldn’t drop everything again. And when I found some time to read PIJ, I found my concentration weak, partly due to fatigue, partly because the next work task was always beckoning.

Meanwhile other people weighed in with more insightful things than I had to say yet (but often along the same lines, which would have made my points redundant):  Josh Benton of the Nieman LabJeff Sonderman of Poynter and Mathew Ingram of GigaOm.

Besides, what I wanted to say on about every page was, “Right on!” It’s much easier (and feels more urgent) to blog about something you disagree with (see my posts about recent CJR posts by Dean Starkman and Ryan Chittum or my response to an earlier Columbia report by Len Downie and Michael Schudson, calling for government subsidies for journalism). But I agreed a lot with PIJ. (I did blog about two disagreements with a particular passage, about whether journalism is in decline and whether smaller communities will feel this decline more acutely).

Post-Industrial Journalism makes a lot of important points journalists and news organizations should consider — about the importance of data literacy in journalism, about the importance of solving mysteries (rather than just learning secrets), about the importance of journalists developing computer coding skills, about the importance of sharing lessons from startup news organizations, about shifting our work away from finished news products and toward the continuous flow of a news stream, about developing more flexible “hackable” content management systems. I encourage reading the whole report if you haven’t yet. Journalists should especially read the section targeted at individual journalists.

When I finally finished the report on my fourth or fifth or sixth sitting, one point stuck out, and it wasn’t something they said, but my reaction to what they said: What should we stop doing? (more…)

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For the past few months, I have been leading a discussion of several matters of opinion journalism by a group of Digital First Media journalists. We have posted our guidance for colleagues (and that’s all these posts are: guidance, not rules or policies) on the Inside Thunderdome blog this week:

We’ll be addressing a few more topics after the first of the year.

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I can hardly believe I’m ready to write a second blog post about a single paragraph in a 122-page report. But I question the notion that the quality of news coverage in the United States has been declining and will get worse before it gets better.

Here’s passage in question, from the Post-Industrial Journalism report by the Tow Center for Digital Media:

The effect of the current changes in the news ecosystem has already been a reduction in the quality of news in the United States. On present evidence, we are convinced that journalism in this country will get worse before it gets better, and, in some places (principally midsize and small cities with no daily paper) it will get markedly worse.

I blogged Monday about the community-size issue. Now I want to address the issue of whether news coverage has been declining and will get worse before it gets better.

I absolutely disagreed with the contention that community size is the primary factor affecting the quality of a community’s journalism. I’m less certain of the question of declining quality, past and present. I’m not going to say they’re wrong, but I can’t agree with their statement of the reduction in quality as a fact and with their conviction that journalism is going to get worse. (more…)

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I found myself agreeing again and again with Post-Industrial Journalism, a report by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism. But I disagree with this statement, which received lots of attention when the report was released last month:

The effect of the current changes in the news ecosystem has already been a reduction in the quality of news in the United States. On present evidence, we are convinced that journalism in this country will get worse before it gets better, and, in some places (principally midsize and small cities with no daily paper) it will get markedly worse.

I just Googled the part of the second sentence before the comma and got 321 hits, so lots of commentators have repeated this point in their responses to the report.

First, I must praise the report’s authors, C.W. Anderson, Emily Bell and Clay Shirky. They have written one of the most insightful reports about journalism that I have ever read. One of the reasons I have taken so long in responding is that I am in large agreement with them and didn’t want to write a post just summarizing and echoing.

I will deal separately with the questions of whether the quality of news has fallen and whether it will get worse before it gets better. And I will also address a broader question that the report raised. But first, I want to dispute the notion that the quality is more vulnerable in midsize and small cities with no daily paper.

I have worked in cities of varying sizes, from the small town of Shenandoah, Iowa (current population just over 5,000), to the big town of Minot, N.D. (42,000), to the small city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa (metro population 258,000) to the largest metro areas in two states, Des Moines (570K) and Omaha (865K) to two major metro areas, Kansas City (2 million) and Washington (5.6 million).

I have trained and consulted in newsrooms all along that spectrum of community sizes in 44 U.S. states and nine Canadian provinces as well as several other countries. I have judged journalism awards recognizing work from large and small newspapers. My current company, Digital First Media, operates in a similar range of communities and I have visited most of our daily newsrooms and several weeklies.

Of all the journalism topics I have addressed in this blog, I may be most qualified to address the question of how the size of a community relates to the quality of the journalism. And I can say emphatically that the size of the community and frequency of print publication do not dictate the quality of the journalism. (more…)

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I am leading a group of Digital First Media journalists who are discussing issues relating to opinion journalism. We have agreed on several recommendations to our colleagues. On the Inside Thunderdome blog, I have published our recommendations for using social media to engage the community in discussion of opinions about important issues.

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What if we denied mass killers the attention they crave?

I’ve covered too many mass murders in my career, and I wasn’t even involved in yesterday’s coverage. I want it to stop. Like lots of people, I felt helpless and frustrated at our inability as a nation to prevent this mass-killing madness that strikes more often in this nation than anywhere and that this year has struck again and again.

I don’t feel that I have any great insight on the gun-control debate that inevitably swirls around these incidents. But I always agonize about journalism’s role in these stories. Clearly this is attention-seeking behavior, and we give these killers what they want. (more…)

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I truly meant it more than three years ago when I said in this blog that I wanted to move on from the paywall argument. This issue and the attention it commands are perhaps the most consistent sign I see that the newspaper industry is stuck in the past.

But I keep getting sucked in. People continue making the same points on both sides and I keep joining the discussion.

Most recently Ryan Chittum of CJR has posted a detailed response to my post that criticized his ridiculous claim that the “war” was over.

This will not be a detailed response. I believe my argument stands on its merit and that it’s stronger than his original argument and his second argument and arguments no doubt to come. And I have better things to do with my time than persuading people who will never agree.

One point of his response deserves mention here: I faulted Chittum for not showing the work behind his estimate that the New York Times paywall is bringing in $100 million in revenue. I should note that he responded by providing a link in this piece to a more detailed analysis of the Times paywall. It’s not an explanation of the $100 million figure, and I disagree with his analysis, but I should update that he is now providing more explanation of the number.

I hope paywalls are successful for everyone who’s trying them. But I hope even more that someone (preferably my company, Digital First Media) develops a forward-looking model that will support healthy media in the future. If Digital First makes a significant move relating to paywalls sometime, I guess that might prompt me to blog on this topic again.

But otherwise, I’m leaving this argument to people who aren’t tired of it. I mean it this time. I think.

Update: Two comments say they are seeing a video on this post. I didn’t put it there and I can’t see it on my Mac on either Safari or Chrome. If you see it, can you tell me where it is and what computer or browser you’re using. I’m not sure I can fix it, but if you know how to fix it, I’d appreciate any help. And I don’t recommend clicking it. But if you do, please let me know if it’s related. Thanks!

Update 2: Apparently WordPress has started dropping ads into free WP blogs (probably notified me and I didn’t read it?). Anyway, I just paid to be ad-free. And yes, I appreciate that irony.

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I blogged on the Inside Thunderdome blog about Digital First Media’s best work in October.

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Update: Ryan Chittum has responded to this piece in detail. He’s wrong on lots of points, but I am tired of the argument and think this piece holds up well.

An editor shared some paywall results with me yesterday. I don’t use unnamed sources lightly, but I understand why this editor can’t use his or her name or organization. It’s someone I’ve known and respected for a few years. Here’s what this editor of a small regional daily newspaper said:

We have had a digital subscription plan in place for a few months. We don’t even have 300 subscribers yet. It’s a failure. Even at the corporate level we’ve stopped hearing about paywalls. They know they aren’t working either.

I will be clear about one thing: This is not a Digital First Media editor and I will not disclose here the results of any of the MediaNews paywalls that launched shortly before Digital First took over operation of MediaNews last year. I don’t have those results and wouldn’t be the right person to disclose them.

The editor who emailed me is not the only person outside Digital First I’ve heard from who’s worried about weak results of a paywall, just the most specific and the one who contacted me this week. I’m not about to say that the current wave of paywalls will all be failures, based on this one email from an editor who won’t be named and less-specific comments from some other people.

I am willing to say that anyone who thinks the matter of whether paywalls will help news organizations find a prosperous future is settled is completely lacking in credibility. Specifically, the paywall cheerleading by Ryan Chittum and Dean Starkman of CJR is mystifyingly lacking of thoughtful analysis and skepticism. (more…)

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