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Archive for January, 2015

sullydish

Andrew Sullivan’s note telling readers he plans to stop blogging.

Occasionally I wonder whether I blog too much and consider whether I should stop, cut back or change directions.

I identified with some of the things that Andrew Sullivan said when announced this week that he will stop blogging. Even as a sideline venture, as my blog has always been, a blog keeps whispering “feed me” in your ear. You read or hear things and start thinking about blogging about them, even if you only actually blog about a small minority of them. If you care about a blog, it becomes demanding or time-consuming. If becomes a big part of your life, and sometimes you need to make changes in your life.

Sullivan wrote:

I want to read again, slowly, carefully. I want to absorb a difficult book and walk around in my own thoughts with it for a while. I want to have an idea and let it slowly take shape, rather than be instantly blogged.

He posted that on Wednesday. I feel like a slacker for waiting till Saturday to blog about it. So many people have already weighed in:

Sullivan’s reasons for deciding to stop blogging are deeply personal, related to his health and feelings about how he wants to spend his time and about feeding the beast that a blog can become (he started charging for The Dish two years ago, which no doubt raises the pressure for feeding the beast; my blog is free).

Each blogger’s situation is different by many factors: what you have to say; your relationship with the people who respond to your blog; how unique or important you think a particular post may be; how frequently you want or need to blog; whether you blog for pay, passion or both; whether and how the blog is advancing your career; other things going on with your life, such as jobs, health and family.

I have kept blogging through several career and personal turns because I always felt like I had something to say and I have enjoyed my relationships with people in the blog comments, on social media and in person who appreciate my blog (including many who disagree on some points). And the blog has advanced my career and raised my profile within journalism. (more…)

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The Bloomington Pantagraph's first "Scoop," a Waco "90" biplane, pictured in 1929. Reprinted with permission of The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

The Bloomington Pantagraph’s first “Scoop,” a Waco “90” biplane, pictured in 1929. Reprinted with permission of The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

In the way that one idea leads to another which leads to another, this post is a flight of fancy. We start with an old family story about the ride my Uncle Pleas took 85 years ago on a plane called Scoop, then to some other stories I found from a bygone era when newspapers could afford their own pilots and planes, then to some flying stories from my career.

My mother, Harriet Buttry, was a tireless archivist of family writings before Alzheimer’s took over her mind. A shelf in her home displayed books by authors in the family, and notebooks collected magazine articles and other writings, including too many of my newspaper stories, columns and blog posts.

After helping Mom with a recent move, my brother Dan thinned the collection a bit and sent me some boxes of family writings. Most were my old newspaper stories. I was surprised how faithful I had been sending clippings to Mom, but not at all surprised how faithful she was at filing them away. But Dan sent me more than just my own work. The collection included The Great Depression: True Stories of Trials and Triumphscompiled by the McLean County Home and Community Education Association in Illinois in 2006.

That book had three family connections: My cousin Mary Lou Lawson was one of the editors, and a story toward the back of the book was written by my uncle, Pleasant J. Buttry (we called him Uncle Pleas and he also went by Pat). His sister (Mary Lou’s mother and my aunt) Minda was a key character. Here’s Uncle Pleas’s story: (more…)

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Jay Rosen

Jay Rosen

I commend to your attention Jay Rosen’s blog post suggesting that news companies take the “full stack” approach to a media niche and Ken Doctor’s post examining newspapers’ chances of finally starting to grow revenue just enough to keep pace with inflation.

The posts don’t seem related. Jay looks primarily at digital startups, using legacy media mostly for contrast. He starts out talking about a “complete, end-to-end product or service that bypasses existing companies,” citing a post by Chris Dixon about the software industry.

But mostly Jay focuses on a single point of the full stack, suggesting that news organizations need “a full stack intellectually speaking.” I’d love to see Jay expand on that full intellectual stack, but he zeroes in further, on the very identity of news organizations: “That means defining the beat the way no one else defines it, and coming up with a mission that differs from the industry standard.”

It’s a thoughtful post and I recommend reading it. I’m going to take it in a different direction.

Ken Doctor

Ken Doctor

But first, a quick overview of Ken’s piece, which I also recommend. No one is taking a more detailed look at upheaval in the news business, particularly the newspaper business, than Ken is. This piece asks when (and whether) the newspaper industry can level out after being in a revenue free fall since 2007. Ken’s idea of leveling out is not just to stop losing revenue, but to keep pace with inflation, which Ken projects at 1 percent for 2015 (after a 2.5 percent loss for 2013; 2014 numbers aren’t out yet).

Ken speculates about the chances for growth in 2014 and 2015 in three areas: reader revenue, digital advertising and the “third stream,” an eclectic grouping of revenue sources such as commercial printing, events and marketing services (spoiler alert: He’s not optimistic).

So here’s where I stretch to relate (I hope) Jay’s full-stack thinking to Ken’s analysis of the newspaper industry’s chances to grow.

Let’s start with the point that newspapers were never a full-stack operation. We were at the mercy of newsprint companies, which many times in my career threw budgets into havoc with huge price increases. (I was always puzzled why we never developed a futures market in newsprint, letting companies lock in low prices and/or hedge against price increases.)

On the other end, we didn’t control delivery, turning that over to boys and girls (for the first part of my career) and adults (more later in my career) who were independent contractors. I remember feeling guilty when we would go to court to fight (successfully) against worker comp claims filed by teen-agers injured delivering our papers. When I was at the Kansas City Star and Times, we actually went to the Supreme Court in a battle with our carriers over who controlled our routes, then (after we lost) paid them millions of dollars to buy the routes back. And then we hired the carriers back as independent contractors. We wanted to own the routes, but we still didn’t want to deliver the papers.

I never was thinking about the full-stack metephor until reading Jay’s post, but much of my career, especially the past decade, I have been calling for newspapers to pursue a full-stack approach. In the 1980s (it might have been 1990), I unsuccessfully urged colleagues at the Kansas City Star and Times to follow the lead of cable TV companies and sell modems to customers of the StarText program we were testing, which offered stories to subscribers the night before they would appear in the newspaper. In those days before the World Wide Web, most computer owners (including me) didn’t have modems, and I thought we would have a much bigger audience by offering to sell and install modems for customers, rolling the cost into the subscription price, rather than just selling our service to those with modems. I don’t know whether my approach would have made StarText successful (it wasn’t), but it was my start of thinking about a bigger stack than newspaper executives were thinking of.

From 2005 to 2008, working on the American Press Institute’s Newspaper Next project, which might not have been the full stack, but it called newspapers to think bigger about how they did business. N2 drew a lot of interest and several companies tried different recommendations of N2, but no one implemented the full stack of N2 recommendations.

In 2009, I published my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection, which was as full a stack of business ideas for a newspaper (or other community news organization) as I’ve seen from anyone. Again, the idea generated interest, but no one tried to implement it.

If that stack wasn’t quite full, I added to it later in 2009 with my suggestion for mobile-first strategy, in 2010 with my call  commissioned obituaries and other life stories and in 2011 with a long list of revenue ideas for newspaper companies.

In two recent jobs, I argued unsuccessfully that we needed stronger technology development operations, both to develop better tools for executing on a full-stack approach and because I was convinced that technology solutions for media companies following our paths would be another revenue important revenue source.

I’m not saying my ideas would have saved newspapers or would have been the path to prosperity for digital startups. I’m sure some of them would have failed.

What I am saying is that Ken’s discussion of potential revenue streams for newspapers is nowhere near the full stack that Jay is advocating or that news companies need to consider.

I may have been unduly pessimistic about the potential for revenue from subscriptions or paywalls. But I was exactly right in 2013 when I said new revenue streams hold more promise for newspapers than paywalls. Ken, who used to be a paywall optimist, now warns: “Don’t expect much growth in circulation revenue for full-year 2014” (he and the Newspaper Association of America both lump digital subscription revenue with print subscriptions). The private numbers I have seen on paywall revenue agree with his outlook.

Ken is more optimistic (but still kind of gloomy) about that “third stream,” which I was blogging about in 2013: “Growth in marketing services should be real, and ramping up, but it’s unlikely to throw off the big dollars needed for the up turnaround. The other new revenue sources are good, but won’t grow a lot.”

Doctor (and NAA, whose numbers he’s using) have a narrow view of that third stream. A full-stack company should pursue such revenue streams as transactions, events, commissioned content, technology solutions and far more. Ken’s right that the current third-stream efforts of newspaper companies won’t grow a lot. But you need a full stack of revenue sources beyond advertising and subscriptions. The sideline efforts we’ve seen so far aren’t nearly enough, but a full stack has great potential.

Ken is right in being pessimistic about newspaper companies’ chances of growing digital advertising revenue: “The industry may be lucky just to stay even in digital ads in 2014.”

Newspaper companies have done a lousy job of selling digital ads, as Ken notes: Only $3.42 billion in 2013, most of it bundled with print ads. Newspapers’ digital ads grew only 1.5 percent in 2013 and Ken doesn’t expect them to do much better (or even as good) in 2014 or 2015.

But digital advertising represents a huge opportunity for a full-stack media company: projected at $52.8 billion this year and growing at 13 percent annually, Doctor says. A full-stack company can pursue digital advertising more aggressively and more successfully than the abject failure of newspaper companies.

It may be too late for newspapers. I don’t anticipate anyone investing what it would take to pursue a full-stack strategy. But I think a full-stack strategy, correctly identifying your niche and mission, as Jay suggests, can be the path to success for digital startups or for legacy media willing to adapt to survive.

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T. Becket Adams of the Washington Examiner quoted me in a good story about using unnamed sources.

While the story focused on the New York Times, Adams did not specifically mention my encouragement that Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet should get angry about his newsroom’s excessive use on unnamed sources.

If you’re interested in the issue, I encourage you to read the Adams piece, which includes quotes as well from former Times Editor Bill Keller, Washington Post media bogger Erik Wemple (a former TBD colleague), Huffington Post media blogger Jason Linkins, Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan and Jack Shafer (who is joining Politico). I’m pleased to be included in such company, and recommend the story for a thoughtful overview of issues relating to unnamed sources.

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New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet sent his staff a detailed “Charting the Future” message to the Times staff that I call to your attention.

Public Editor Margaret Sullivan posted the note Monday, not long after I posted my call for Baquet to get angry about the Times’ use of unnamed sources. I didn’t notice it until today, but I want to call it to your attention if you also missed it.

I’m not going to go through the note in detail. It’s a comprehensive look at the year past, the Times priorities and the business and journalism challenges facing the Times newsroom. Baquet covered them all well in the note. Read it and you can understand why he leads journalism’s most important newsroom. This point particularly resonated with me:

Don’t allow the turmoil in the news business make you forget just how good we are, and that we are here to break big stories and ask hard questions of the powerful.

The message didn’t address unnamed sources (and perhaps that wasn’t the place to address it). I still hope Baquet will address that issue, which Sullivan has documented extensively.

But since this strong leadership statement became public so soon after my call for stronger leadership, I wanted to share my applause for Baquet’s vision for the future of the Times. I wish him success in leading the Times in pursuit of that vision.

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My chemotherapy has included strong doses of oral steroids the last four days, followed by interrupted sleep each night.

I fell asleep about 11 last night, after a couple days of watching, reading and listening to lots of tributes to the late Stuart Scott. I was back awake sometime after 2. Trying unsuccessfully to get to back sleep, flashes of his ESPY speech last night looped through in my memory:

These were the words that echoed in my head, eventually pulling me from the bed and toward the computer:

“When you die, that does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.”

In a Nov. 25 blog post, when I did not have my official diagnosis yet, but knew my body was filled with lumps that didn’t look good on the first scan, I wrote about different types of plagiarism. Here’s what I wrote about the origins of ideas:

The group that was writing Telling the Truth and Nothing But discussed whether theft of ideas was plagiarism. We decided it wasn’t but stated in the book that you should credit ideas that clearly influence your work:

Journalists should attribute the original, distinctive or seminal ideas of others when the ideas form a substantial basis for their own work.

Some ideas lead directly to other stories: You read a good story from another community and decide if the same thing is happening here and produce a story that’s entirely original in its content, but inspired by someone else. That story might not even have a place to smoothly attribute the idea. But you can include a “related link” to the original story. Perhaps you credit with a “hat tip” in social media or send the reporter an email, thanking her for the inspiration.

Other inspiration is more indirect. You see a story in other media and admire the story. You may think you should do something like that someday, but you don’t start working on your version yet. And when you do start your version, you may or may not remember the source(s) of your inspiration. Or maybe you don’t plan to do your version, but later events on your beat prompt you to do a similar story. You take the same approach, but you may not even remember where you got the idea. You may genuinely think it was your own.

I didn’t watch the ESPYs live last July, but I do think I heard the full Scott clip, and certainly the full speech, over the next few days. I don’t recall clearly thinking about the speech at all when, in November, I was also working on the early drafts of the post where I announced my second cancer diagnosis.

My post included these passages below, an echo/inspiration of Stuart Scott that I freely credit now:

Let’s get one thing straight: If Steve Buttry Cancer 2.0 doesn’t come out the way I’m hoping, I don’t want anyone saying I “lost a battle” with cancer. I kicked cancer’s ass back in 1999 and lived a wonderful 15-plus years since my first diagnosis. If my second round doesn’t end as well, I still won. …

My doctors and I expect me to beat this. But obviously I’m aware of the other possibility. If my death certificate someday lists cancer (whether it’s this lymphoma or something else that becomes 3.0) under “cause,” that’s just a late touchdown to keep me from running up the score.

The rest of the post recounted at some length highlights of the 15 years since my 1999 diagnosis and surgery for colon cancer: how I’ve lived since cancer.

Though I chose my own words and don’t remember any direct inspiration from Scott when I was writing and editing that, the shared themes of beating cancer, but recognizing that you might die from it eventually, are clear. That speech touched me in July, when my latest cancer probably was growing but not yet detected, and some thread of inspiration doubtless remained somewhere in my writer’s memory as I tried to articulate my own new experience. (more…)

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I don’t post a lot of lists of don’ts on my blog. I don’t think I’ve ever posted a list just of what not to do (please correct me if you remember one), though suppose I’ve probably tempered some tips posts with advice on what not to do.

Christoph Trappe, linked from Twitter avatar

Christoph Trappe, linked from Twitter avatar

I certainly could compile a list of journalism or social-media practices I don’t recommend, but I often think that someone smarter than me — or perhaps someone with different goals — could use those practices successfully. They may use the practice in a way that I couldn’t foresee or in a unique situation that turns the potential annoyance some people feel from that practice around, giving it appeal (or using the annoyance in a creative, positive way).

Christoph Trappe, a friend from Iowa, probably falls into both of the categories above — someone smarter than me, with different goals. I highly recommend his Authentic Storytelling Project and think it could benefit people in various fields of communication.

In a tweet last night, Christoph referenced a post from October about his Twitter pet peeves.*

I couldn’t exactly see what prompted his calling attention to an old blog post, but I’ve done it before (today, in fact), so I read with interest a post that slipped past me the first time.

I commend the post to your attention without endorsing all his peeves. I share Christoph’s annoyance at most of the practices he listed. For instance, I, too, am peeved when people send automated direct messages thanking me for following them (I welcome personal messages, though) or post only teasers and links. (more…)

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