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Posts Tagged ‘Steve Outing’

shafer-columnI hesitate to give more attention to a study and Politico Magazine column that comforted newspaper nostalgists, but I must: Both are BS.

“What If the Newspaper Industry Made a Colossal Mistake?” asks the Politico headline, echoed in Jack Shafer‘s breathless lead: “What if almost the entire newspaper industry got it wrong?”

Well, the industry did get it wrong and did make a colossal mistake, but not the one that Shafer and University of Texas scholars Hsiang Iris Chyi and Ori Tenenboim think it made.

Summarizing Chyi’s and Tenenboim’s Reality Check research article in Journalism Practice, Shafer asks:

What if, in the mad dash two decades ago to repurpose and extend editorial content onto the Web, editors and publishers made a colossal business blunder that wasted hundreds of millions of dollars? What if the industry should have stuck with its strengths—the print editions where the vast majority of their readers still reside and where the overwhelming majority of advertising and subscription revenue come from—instead of chasing the online chimera?

In their research, which prompted Shafer’s column, Chyi and Tenenboim wrote that in the past 20 years “US newspapers, especially national and metro dailies, became more determined than ever to complete their transition from print to online. … ‘Digital first’ has become a mantra, a trend, and a strategy leading to the future.”

Shafer, Chyi and Tenenboim correctly chronicle the weak performance of American metro newspapers in the digital marketplace. But they wrongly conclude, as Shafer wrote, that “The key to the newspaper future might reside in its past and not in smartphones, iPads and VR. ‘Digital first,’ the authors claim, has been a losing proposition for most newspapers.”

Well, I used to work for a company called Digital First Media and at a newspaper-industry think tank, and I’ve visited more than 100 newsrooms and spoken at more than 100 newspaper-industry conferences and seminars, and I can flatly say that the industry never, ever adopted anything close to a digital-first strategy. (Update: Kurt Greenbaum responded on Facebook: “You’re being too kind. Not only did they never adopt such a strategy, they actively resisted tolerance of digital technology, much less acceptance of it.”)

The colossal mistake that the newspaper industry made was responding to digital challenges and opportunities with defensive measures intended to protect newspapers, and timid experiments with posting print-first content online, rather than truly exploring and pursuing digital possibilities.

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I have blogged this week about various aspects of digital-first journalism. For any of that to succeed, digital-first must succeed as a business approach.

It will. It is. I’m not going to explain that in detail in this post, though. I’m going to shift to curation (an important process and skill in digital-first journalism), because lots of people have already explained the business aspects of the digital-first approach well.

John Paton, CEO of Digital First Media (and Journal Register Co. and MediaNews Group) explained the company’s business approach better than I would (which is good, since he’s the CEO) in his June address to the International Newsroom Summit in Zurich: How the Crowd Saved Our Company. His recent post on news media as medium and messenger elaborates, including the slide below. His September post announcing the formation of Digital First discussed some of the results of the approach so far (and we’re just getting started).

Digital First revenue: stacking dimes

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While I am critical of the Columbia University report, The Reconstruction of American Journalism, I am pleased that it has stirred debate about the future of journalism. Here are the most interesting takes I have seen on the report by Columbia journalism professor Michael Schudson and former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr:

Tom Grubisch ripped into Downie and Schudson in OJR: The Online Journalism Review, calling it the kind of “shallow analysis that typically informs newspaper editorials on big issues.” Be sure to read Robert Niles’ comment. He sees Downie and Schudson as speaking for news industry leaders who “chose to ignore, marginalize or even demonize voices who argued that the news industry must change its procedures, in both editorial and business operations, to compete online.” Now, Niles says, “top news company managers are working their way through the stages of grief.” The Downie/Schudson report, Niles said, represents the stages of anger and bargaining. (more…)

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This is my response to Michael Schudson’s response to my criticism of his report with former Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr., The Reconstruction of American Journalism. I recommend reading the other links, if you haven’t yet, before reading this. Schudson is a journalism professor at Columbia University. While I encourage you to read Schudson’s response from the link above in one read, I have pasted it below. His comments are in italics, mine in regular type.

First, this was no clip job. Unless there’s something that escaped my  attention, every direct quote in our report came from in-person, phone, or in a few cases e-mail interviews done over the past 7 or 8 months — except for two quotes that came from interviews Len Downie conducted a few years ago.

Buttry responds: I apologize. I was too flippant and not specific enough in calling it a clip job, especially in contrast to the reference by Columbia J-School Dean Nicholas Lemann praising “the breadth of their original research.” Originality in journalism and academia is a serious matter and I did not say or mean to imply that this was plagiarism in any respect. But there is a wide area between original research and plagiarism: rehash. And that’s what most of the first section of the Downie/Schudson report was. (more…)

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Update: Michael Schudson has responded to this post.

Whatever else it is, The Reconstruction of American Journalism is not comprehensive.

Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of the Washington Post, and Michael Schudson, authors of the Columbia University report, described their work in the Post today as a “comprehensive report.” They recommend federal subsidies for news organizations and changes in federal law to allow more philanthropic support for journalism. More on those topics later.

Here’s what the report does not address in any meaningful way:

  • The role of social media in the future of journalism.
  • The failure of media companies to develop new business models.
  • The possibility of developing new business models that rely on the free market, rather than charity or taxpayers. (more…)

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I am pleased to be involved this week in a discussion of ways to transform the news business. Nothing could be more important for our industry now and I will be discussing this topic Thursday at 2 p.m. Eastern time (1 p.m. Central) in a live chat hosted by the American Society of News Editors. (more…)

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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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