Posts Tagged ‘Dean Starkman’

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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I call your attention to seven recent pieces about the business of news. I don’t feel strongly enough (or have enough new to say) about any of them to comment at length, but I’ll comment briefly.

Dean Starkman of Columbia Journalism Review continues to pretend that paywalls are a panacea for the news business, saying that the Washington Post needs one immediately. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that I’m wrong and paywalls are a good idea. At best, they’re only part of a solution. If they were the path to posterity, the news organizations with paywalls wouldn’t be struggling the way they are. Even if a paywall works, we need a lot more than paywalls, and the single-minded focus on paywalls is slowing the development of other solutions.

Mathew Ingram’s response to Starkman is, not surprisingly, much more insightful: “This focus on a paywall as a magic solution misses the point about the larger risks facing both the Post and the industry as a whole.” (more…)

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I am pleased to see that I am wrong about newsrooms with paywalls or a print focus adding staff:

  • The Orange County Register is expanding with its print-first focus, Nieman Lab reports.
  • Josh Awtry, editor of the Coloradoan in Fort Collins, Colo., told me in an exchange of Facebook messages that he has added 2.5 reporters as part of the Gannett newspaper’s paywall strategy: “It’s tough to say exactly which positions were new and which were restructured, since it was in conjunction with a huge staff org chart rebuild. In the end, though, we increased net funding by 2.5 positions (that we funneled into reporter jobs) as a measure of wanting to show readers that, if we were going to demand premium prices, we were serious about providing a premium set of products.”

In my post about Dean Starkman’s views on the Digital First strategy, I said I was not aware of such hiring. I’m glad to see that some of these newsrooms are hiring. I remain skeptical that either a print-first approach or a paywall will be successful strategies over the long term. But I’m always glad to see news organizations investing in journalists and good journalism. I wish them both prosperity.

Also, Mathew Ingram of GigaOm continues the discussion of Starkman’s insistence that paywalls somehow provide stronger incentives for quality, noting that he “selects evidence that supports that argument and ignores any that contradicts it.”

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If nostalgia were a business model, Dean Starkman might be a CEO and his company might make tons of money.

But nostalgia doesn’t work in the news business the way it does for the History Channel. And besides, the good, old days Starkman wants to take newspapers back to never actually existed.

My initial reaction to Starkman’s latest rant for Columbia Journalism Review was that I couldn’t and shouldn’t address it here:

But Steve Myers helped me out:

I respect Steve a lot and I respected CJR for decades. I learned this biz in the old school when CJR was an important voice in journalism and merited a response. So I took another read. As close as I can tell from a piece that desperately needed the attention of an old-school editor, these are Starkman’s points: (more…)

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I love the immediacy of online interaction. Someone says something brilliant and people react and retweet right away. Someone says something stupid and the mockery starts instantly.

But sometimes reflection is the better path.

In the November-December issue of Columbia Journalism Review, Dean Starkman launched a lengthy, rambling rant about what he derided as the “future-of-news (FON) consensus.” Essentially (and I overstate only slightly), Starkman proposes a future of returning somehow to the days of Ida Tarbell.

Only mildly miffed that he didn’t include me along with the five people he named as most prominent in leading the quest for a digital future for news, I replied immediately with what I thought was a strong response. I concentrated mostly on making the dual points that investigative journalism most certainly is part of the future the FON gang is working to build and that nostalgists such as Starkman always make the past seem rosier than it was. (Yeah, Ida Tarbell was a great muckraker, but the old business model also supported a lot of bad and mediocre journalism, too.) I dropped what I was doing and cranked out my response Nov. 8, the same day Starkman’s piece was posted online (or at least the day I learned of it).

Looking back on the piece I wrote, I’m still pleased with it, and I made some good points. But Emily Bell (who definitely should have been on Starkman’s FON list) took a day to respond and her piece was more thoughtful and reflective than mine. I encourage you to read it at the link above, but a few highlights: (more…)

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I bow to no one in my love for the good old days of journalism. But everyone trying to take journalism back to the good old days should understand some basic truths:

  • You won’t find the future by retreating to the past.
  • Whatever comes next in journalism can’t and shouldn’t be built to replace either the best or worst of current or historic journalism. You build the future on the technology and opportunities of the future in the context of the future.
  • Watchdog reporting performed by professional journalists is absolutely part of journalism’s future, and I don’t know anyone discussing the future of journalism who doesn’t plan and hope for a successful future for professional watchdog reporting.
  • Journalism of the past doesn’t look as strong on closer examination as it does through your nostalgic filter.

I worked at the Des Moines Register in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Time magazine named it one of the 10 best newspapers in the United States. I was there when Jim Risser won his second Pulitzer Prize and when Tom Knudson wrote the series that won his first Pulitzer. I was there when our coverage of the 1980 and 1984 Iowa caucuses made us an important player in national political coverage. If someone had a magic wand to turn back the clock to the early 1980s, I would be sorely tempted to wave that wand and throw over my current career with Digital First Media. It all looks so rosy through the glasses of nostalgia.

But if I waved that wand, I would have to relive the death of the Des Moines Tribune, the afternoon newspaper our company folded in 1982. And I would relive the disappointment and embarrassment that the journalists of that day did not shine the light brightly enough to prevent the savings and loan crisis that rocked the economy and cost the taxpayers more than $100 billion.

Nostalgia is fun and it’s warm, and for journalists today, it’s seductive and dangerous. (more…)

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