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Brady CJRI am late reading Jim Brady‘s Columbia Journalism Review piece on local media. But it’s outstanding and worth catching up on. If you care about local news and also missed it initially, take the time to read it now. It’s long but well worth the time.

Just a few highlights:

Jim absolutely nails the brutal user experience at most local newspaper sites:

Slow load times? Check. Pop-up ads? Yes sir! Auto-play video? Of course! Forty-page slide shows? Why not? User experience? Sorry, not familiar with that term.

A good friend, who has been doing some excellent work, works for a Gannett newsroom. I see a link to some of his work on social media and click on the link. And Gannett tries to push me away with horrible load times (I give up on my iPad before it even loads) and with a question (or a few) I need to answer before I read the story. More often than not, I leave in frustration. And I’m earnestly and patiently trying to read the work of a good friend. How many readers who aren’t trying to read friends’ work give up even sooner?

Jim, founder of the Philadelphia local news site Billy Penn, also explains why he’s optimistic (I am, too) for local news startups:

I think now is the perfect time to start a local digital news operation. There are few greater gifts in journalism than a blank sheet of paper. Billy Penn started with nothing. We had no history, but no baggage. We had no brand recognition, but no brand fatigue. We didn’t cover everything, but we didn’t have to cover everything. Every disadvantage is an opportunity to create an advantage.

I get sick and tired of people dismissing local news as a place of failure for digital startups because of the failure of Patch, the abandonment of TBD‘s strategy (see disclaimer below) and other local ventures that didn’t last. I sent Ken Doctor an email last month, taking him for task for erroneously describing local news as “a sector that’s all but been left for dead.

Actually, local news is a sector with dozens, if not hundreds, of success stories. They’re mostly small success stories that escape the notice of most big-picture analysts, and the sector needs thousands of success stories, but Jim’s optimism is justified, and he lists some of the successes:

That’s why it’s so encouraging to see so many entrepreneurs out there trying their hands at local. On the for-profit side, there’s Billy Penn and The Incline, its soon-to-be sister site in Pittsburgh, plus Berkeleyside, Charlotte Agenda, Mission Local, ARLnowBaristanet, the Watershed Post, the upcoming Denverite, and many others. On the nonprofit side, there are early pioneers like Texas Tribune, Voice of San Diego, and MinnPost, plus new sites popping up seemingly every week. Spanning both models are members of the Local Independent Online News Publishers group (LION), including sites such as The Batavian, Richland Source, The Lens, and many more. Journalism consultant Michele McLellan tracks the growth of local sites at Michele’s List.

But there’s room for so much more—unlike in national, the local digital field remains relatively wide open.

If you care about local news, read through Jim’s piece. He captures the excitement and potential of local news.

Disclaimer that won’t be necessary for longtime readers of this blog: Jim and I are friends and he hired me twice, to work at TBD and Digital First Media. And I’d gladly take a third round with him.

I’m leading a workshop today for the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference on using unnamed sources.

I’ll discuss points made in posts about using unnamed sources, including one on persuading people to talk for the record about difficult topics (and my 20-years-later CJR piece about one of the sources) and another on using information from unnamed sources to persuade other sources to talk for the record. I also will talk about the importance of power and eagerness in granting confidentiality, and suggest we should not quote spokespeople for powerful people and organizations without using their names.

I also mention a couple of posts by others about email encryption for journalists.

Here are my slides for the workshop:

And here are some tweets from the session:

If you care about the state of newspapers, I encourage you to read the Newspaper Fact Sheet in the State of the News Media 2016 report published today by the Pew Research Center.

But if  you want to get a quick sense of the report, just read the headlines for the graphics:

  • Newspaper circulation declines for second consecutive year in 2015
  • Print-only still most common way of reading newspapers
  • Advertising revenue sees biggest drop since 2009
  • A quarter of advertising revenue comes from digital
  • As many newspaper companies saw a loss as saw profit in 2015
  • Newsroom employment continues to fall
  • The number of daily newspapers has decreased by more than 100 since 2004
  • Newspapers gain in mobile traffic but fall in mobile minutes per visit

That’s a pretty grim state of newspapers. Read the details if you want, but the headlines capture them pretty well.

Those advertising figures didn’t come from the Newspaper Association of America’s annual reports. Those reports stopped two years ago, when report on 2013 numbers showed print advertising at $17.3 billion, a collapse from $47.4 billion in 2005. That’s a 64 percent drop in raw dollars in eight years, 69 percent after adjusting for inflation. I wonder why NAA stopped releasing its annual figures?

Since the NAA stopped issuing its bleak reports, Pew has calculated its newspaper revenue figures from the Securities and Exchange Commission filings of publicly held newspaper companies. For those companies at least (and more, I can assure you), the bleeding continues.

A mantra repeated by newspaper executives during this collapse was that we could never replace print advertising revenues with digital ads, that we were trading print dollars for digital dimes (and eventually digital pennies). Well, they’re right, newspapers haven’t been able to replace print ads with digital (in fact, newspaper companies’ digital advertising revenue actually declines in 2015, just not as sharply as print ad revenue). But digitally focused companies, not distracted by trying to protect a declining product, have scooped up all that advertising cash, dollar for dollar: Digital ad revenue last years totaled $59.6 billion, more than print ad revenue (even adjusted for inflation) in 2005, the last year newspapers’ ad revenues grew.

Despite all the hope and effort newspapers have poured into paywalls, digital subscriptions are mentioned just once in the newspaper fact sheet (and not with a revenue figure attached). The report says digital circulation increased by 2 percent (do I hear champagne corks popping?).

The digital news fact sheet not surprisingly reports that mobile advertising revenue has surpassed desktop ad revenue. Back in 2009, when the collapse of print advertising was accelerating, I called for a mobile-first strategy. I’m not aware of any newspaper organization that has made such a shift yet.

Newspapers used to comfort themselves in the face of grim numbers showing that young people weren’t reading newspapers, saying that they would start reading when they started having children and getting involved in their communities. Check out the daily newspaper readership by age: In the 45-54 age group, people whose children are in college, daily newspaper readership has fallen to 28 percent, half what it was a decade earlier.

When I first clicked on the newspaper fact sheet, I got an error message:

Newspapers fact sheet

The folks at Pew quickly fixed the bad link. But I think the error page might how shown a brighter outlook for newspapers.

Correction note: I originally wrote “million” instead of “billion” in one of the numbers  here. Wish I could say that’s the first time I’d made that mistake.

Donald Trump’s revocation of credentials for the Washington Post and other critical media is reprehensible and cowardly. And it’s really stupid.

The appearance is that Trump is bullying the media, and that certainly is Trump’s intent. But access to candidate events is a punishment, not a privilege.

The best watchdog journalism doesn’t happen in the pack following candidates and reporting every ridiculous and racist statement Trump makes. Besides, Trump is as likely to make news in his tweets (which are available to anyone) as he is when he speaks (and it’s not tough to find out what he’s said; lot’s of media cover that).

In fact the Post story that set Trump off didn’t result from access to a candidate event. It came from watching an interview on TV and accurately reporting the candidate’s obvious implication (he hates that).

Watchdog journalism doesn’t require access. That’s for mouthpiece journalism. The least significant part of the New York Times story about Trump’s plundering and blundering in Atlantic City was the interviews with Trump. The candidate’s refusal to do an interview had no impact on the Post’s story on Trump collecting huge bonuses as his company’s stock tanked.

You know which Washington Post reporters didn’t have or need access to the actual president? Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

Also recommended:

Donald Trump Picked the Wrong News Editor to F*ck With

 

Thanks to all who joined today’s Online Media Campus webinar, Interactive Storytelling Tools.

The tools I demonstrated during the webinar were Storify, Google Maps and Infogr.am. The tool Elaine Clisham mentioned in her tweets (below) was Tableau. Elaine (a friend from our days at the American Press Institute together) made some of the same points I did, about how easily and quickly you can learn to use a new tool.

Examples I used during the webinar:

Holiday lights map

Fireworks map

Carrie Jewell Dugo Atavist story

Chasing the Beast

Here’s the link from my 2015 Interactive Storytelling Tools class, with my students’ tutorials on various tools and examples of how they used them.

Here is an earlier post with more examples of interactive stories:

Examples of stories using interactive tools

Here are my slides from the webinar:

tronc-logo

Perhaps I’m the last person who should make fun of Tribune’s renaming its company tronc. But that won’t stop me.

I named Project Unbolt. I proudly worked for TBD. I let my CEO change my title from editor to information content conductor (thankfully, Editor & Publisher went old-school in recognizing me as Editor of the Year). I get why you might choose a ridiculous name (or a great name that others might like; reaction to TBD’s name was mixed).

I’ll say this: It’s too early to say whether this name change is a master stroke, a stupid move or both. I’ll explain that more later.

But the reaction to the move was swift, derisive and hilarious: Continue Reading »

This continues my series on professional networking.

If you don’t think promotion should be part of journalism, I understand. I did little to nothing to promote myself or my work in the first 20-plus years of my career. And I had a good career: rewarding mid-level editor jobs and senior reporting jobs at metro newspapers, top editor of a smaller newspaper.

I can’t think of a single self-promotional thing I did for the first two decades of my career, unless you count some internal boasting in newsroom chit-chat or an occasional humble brag to make sure the boss knew my role in a story.

I didn’t do anything to actually promote myself (that I can recall) until 1997. And I think my career since has benefited greatly from self-promotion, and from overcoming a strong journalistic resistance to promotion.

I decided in 1997 that I wanted to train journalists and get paid for doing so. I thought I had something to teach journalists after all those years of work, and I thought I would like training, and I could use the money. And no one would know that I was available to do training if I didn’t promote myself.

So I developed my first website, promoting my training services and posting workshop handouts online. I was taking a web design class under Father Don Doll at Creighton University, and my website was all about me and my training services.

York News Times logoBut that was early in the history of the web and well before Google, so I also developed an amateurish flier promoting my services (design was never a strong suit of mine). I mailed that flier to newsrooms and press associations around the Midwest and landed three training gigs: with the York News-Times (a Nebraska daily not to be confused with the New York Times), the North Dakota Newspaper Association and the Minot Daily News. Since I was a former Minot editor and well known to the folks at NDNA, those gigs came through a mix of networking and promotion. But I didn’t know anyone at York, and that first training gig came from the amateurish flier. Continue Reading »

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