Thursday, October 11, 2012

Is the tide starting to turn?

There are a couple of items of good news floating around. First, we have the decision by the Orange County Register to invest more in local news coverage. Although Orange County is a populous county in the megalopolis known as Southern California, the Register is deciding to act as though it were a small-town newspaper, hiring reporters and photographers to cover all its high school football games. It is also hiring investigative journalists. I found this observation from editor Ken Brusic particularly apt:
“Think about a Starbucks model. If each day you went into Starbucks and plunked down $4 for a latte, and the cups got smaller and the content got weaker, chances are you’d stop going to Starbucks. That’s basically what newspapers have been doing as a way to deal with decreases in advertising revenue. The new guys are attempting to reverse that trend, and are attempting in a variety of different ways.”

I love the comparison. If advertisers are going to continue to abandon newspapers, and readers are going to have to pay for it, newspapers need to become a status symbol, like gourmet coffee, but a relatively affordable one, like a $4 latte.

The next bit of good news comes from the research firm Borrell and Associates, that forecasts revenue growth for newspapers in 2013.  Though Newspaper Death Watch gives us reasons to doubt the assessment, I think optimism is half the battle. If people see newspapers as a losing proposition, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and our companies become fodder for the modern day equivalents of Bain Capital. In the anecdotal evidence department, I am starting to see the frequency of help wanted ads for copy editors increase.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why do newspapers need opinion pages?

As ad revenues fall, news holes are getting markedly smaller. At the newspaper at which I work, we are dealing with an effective news hole of 3 or 4 pages out of 18 or 20 on any given day. I understand the need to save on newsprint. But there is also the need to cut content that is unnecessary. So I ask, how many people buy the newspaper for the opinion page? There are 129 inches of news print that would be best reposition for what we do best, write copy on local news, and ditch what people can get elsewhere, read syndicated opinion pieces and editorial cartoons.
In most newspapers, the letter to the editor is a marked anachronism. Who bothers writing a letter, when they can comment on the story directly online? I'll tell you who. People without computers (old folks) and yahoos whose opinions make us cringe.
To ditch the opinion page would be a relief to most newspaper editors. And we'd have one more page to put news on (or for the publisher to reduce, when the ad count allows us to go to 16 pages)

Friday, December 23, 2011

That Webster's lady has a blog
Allow me to note that Kory Stamper now has a blog. Stamper is one of the three people (the woman with various shades of red hair, not the woman with glasses or the bald guy) whose videos come up when you look up words on Webster's Dictionary website.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Monetizing content, 1916 style

I found this quote in 1916 trade magazine for silent movie theater owners:
"The stories of 1916 are no better than the stories of 1716 nor of AD 1 nor will those of 2016 be any better. A prize offer of a million dollars would not bring forth a story better than thousands for which the authors received a skimped handful of shillings or francs or dollars or told for the mere love of telling a tale."
(The Moving Picture World, Aug. 5, 1915, p. 930)

In other words, good writers will write the same copy for $1 million or for $1 or for nothing (or maybe even pay for the privilege). That's something the Internet hasn't changed.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Leaving college behind

While listening to Steven Levy talk about his new book, "In the Plex" about Google, it struck me how many of the Net's innovators -- Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg -- dropped out of some level of college. I'm sure this question has been explored elsewhere, but I wonder what the fact that the true innovators of our era leave college says about higher education. It seems that now college is merely a place where bright people meet each other and go off to their personal laboratories to create. This goes to a theme that is affecting newspapers as well as education, that the means and substance of what we do has changed so significantly, that we don't actually communicate much of value anymore. We are in the midst of such a paradigm shift that no institution has yet caught up to a point that it can reliably educate on the basis of the current state.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A voice from the past

I was only 12 or 13 when I was first introduced to A Prairie Home Companion and its host, Garrison Keillor. A family friend, one of the most insightful, cerebral and (do I even have to say?) troubled people I have ever known had recently separated from his wife, and we visited him for Saturday dinner in an old house much to spacious for its bachelor occupant. When 6 p.m. rolled around, he turned on the radio already tuned to the NPR affiliate in Columbus, Ga., and out poured the musings of the second most insightful and cerebral person I have ever heard.
Garrison Keillor's show is of and for his home in rural Minnesota, but it resonates with everyone who has somewhere they call home. Keillor has done the improbable, resurrecting the genre of radio variety show with folksy monologues of Lake Wobegon's Norwegian bachelor farmers, folk singers, fiddlers and a sound effects guy doing bird calls with his mouth. It is an anachronism, as unlikely as a revival of Vaudeville or the Lawrence Welk Show, complete with tap dancers and champagne bubbles.
What makes Keillor's show so effective is its authenticity. Though the sponsors (Powder Milk Biscuits, “heaven's, they're tasty and expeditious!” and the Ketchup Advisory Board) are fake, the nostalgia is real. Garrison has a true affinity for the personalities of a world that only can exist in our memories, for songs that are only appealing in their simplicity and humor that tends to make us smile instead of laugh.
Like any personality-driven institution, from Mr. Rogers to Paul Harvey to Charles Schulz, you know that “A Prairie Home Companion” is destined to end when Keillor succumbs to our common adversaries, age and mortality. He has already announced a date for retirement, spring 2013, when he says he hopes to fade into the woodwork and hand off the microphone to an as-yet-unnamed replacement. But everyone knows that Lake Wobegon will fade like Brigadoon without him.
On Tuesday, Sept. 6, Keillor will bring a version of his show, currently on summer hiatus, to the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth in what is called the Summer of Love tour. A few tickets remain. I will be there. And I will be reminded of my isolated, insightful, cerebral, troubled friend, alone is a house that is too big for him. Keillor's show is just like that, an isolated, insightful calming voice in a world that is too big and too busy for a place like Lake Wobegon to exist anymore.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Score one for the fontmeisters

This is a story to warm the hearts of copy editors everywhere. The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay has changed their default font from arial to century gothic and said this will save money on ink when kids print out their emails. Who new a serifed font would save ink over sans-serif?