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Archive for June 5th, 2009

Here’s how little hope executives of newspapers see for our industry: The idea that reportedly excited them most at last week’s secret meeting could make up about 3 percent of last year’s decline in advertising revenue.

Zachary Seward of Nieman Journalism Lab, who is doing an outstanding job of reporting on the meeting, tells in his latest report about the Fair Syndicate Consortium‘s plan to track down splogs (spam blogs) that reprint news web site content in its entirety and get advertising revenue from third-party vendors such as Google and Yahoo!

The report is interesting and I don’t fault newspaper executives for protecting their copyrights and their rights to advertising revenue from content they produce. But here’s what I found discouraging in Seward’s report:

  • Jim Pitkow of Attributor, who made the “Fair Syndication Consortium” pitch, estimates that pirated content is costing newspapers $250 million a year.
  • Seward reports: “Nearly everyone I’ve spoken to with knowledge of the Chicago meeting, where newspaper companies were pitched on a variety of online business plans, says that Pitkow’s presentation of the Fair Syndication Consortium was by far the most popular.”

OK, let’s do some math on that. As Alan Mutter reportedin his Newsosaur blog, advertising revenues plummeted by $7.5 billion last year (and that pace accelerated in the first quarter of 2009). So the $250 million that newspaper executives got excited about was a mere 3 percent of last year’s decline in revenue, less of what we appear headed for this year.

Sure, save that $250 million if you can. But that’s a tourniquet, not a plan for a healthy future. 

 

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I savor every uplifting story about journalism in these difficult times.

My last post dealt, as most of my work and writing today does, with the difficult times in the news industry and in our search for solutions. Sometimes we need stories of great journalism, to fuel our fight for a prosperous future.

I read two such stories this week in the New York TimesLens photojournalism blog.

First Lens recounted the stories of the four photographers who captured the moment 20 years ago when the “tank man” stopped a line of tanks attempting to quell student protests in Tiananmen Square. Their stories are filled with fascinating details about saving film from Chineese authorities, personal risk and protection and transmitting photos in the pre-Internet age.

Even more fascinating, to me, was the Lens story of Terril Jones and the photo he shot moments before the tank confrontation. The other photographs were shot from the balconies of a hotel. Jones was on the ground, fearing for his safety as the tanks approached, firing their guns. In the last shot he fired before fleeing to safety, you see a young man dashing toward the camera, his head ducked in fear. And in the distance, calm amid the uproar, you see a man with a white shirt and two bags, awaiting the oncoming tanks. It’s a compelling story, a compelling moment of premeditation and courage.

Context matters, even 20 years later.

I love hearing the stories behind great photos and these two stories remind me of some other uplifting stories about great photos or videos:

  • My April post, The heart: one of journalism’s best tools, about Allan Thompson’s story in the Toronto Star, identifying the father and daughter in Nick Hughes’ horrifying video of genocide in Rwanda.
  • I remember the evening Gazette photographers spent at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, explaining the stories behind some of the photos in the Year of the River exhibit of Gazette flood photography.
  • National Geographic’s A Life Revealed story about the successful attempt to find the Afghan girl with the haunting green eyes, photographed by Steve McCurry in 1985, who came to symbolize the hard life of Afghan refugees. 
  • One of the best stories of my career was the story of Buddy Bunker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo The Homecoming, told first in 1997 at the Omaha World-Herald and then again as a multimedia story for GazetteOnline after a home movie surfaced 65 years after the homecoming. 
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I don’t want to belabor my opposition to paid content or to the secrecy of last week’s meeting of newspaper executives.

But the secrecy and the resulting attention to the heavy paid-content focus of the meeting kept us from learning until a week later about Alan Mutter’s interesting presentation about ViewPass, a plan for a system that would allow easy payment by consumers across multiple platforms and extensive collection of data that would allow publishers to target advertising based on that visitor’s interests.

Mutter proposes ViewPass as a way to “access valuable content on the websites and mobile platforms of all participating publishers.” While I have concerns about all paid-content approaches (I made the Freudian typo “pain-content” in a tweet last night), and about the industry’s unhealthy focus on such a misguided approach, I concede that charging for high-value content might work in some niches. (more…)

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