Tuesday, June 9, 2009


When I was in college, I had to take a macroeconomics class. I can't remember if it was the prerequisite to a journalism degree or simply a degree, but I remember it was by turns excruiciatingly boring and intensely interesting. The dapper asst. professor told our class that economics was the science of satisfying unlimited wants with limited resources. For this effort, the free market was touted as the best system to fairly satisfy the most "wanters" reasonably. He drew a chart on the chalkboard (remember those?) where one line represented increasing price and another line represented decreasing demand. Invariably this chart formed and "X" and this nexus was where supply met demand. This was the solution to the problem of limited supply. But what he never explained is what happens when there is unlimited supply, or at least relatively unlimited supply.
This is the conundrum facing journalists today. The Internet represents a potential limitless source of news, and when that happens, people are willing to pay what some people are always willing to sell that info for: nothing.
And it seems that the Internet isn't the only place where relative ubiquity defeats the free market model. Remember all those "can you believe this?" stories about Farm Bills that paid farmers NOT to plant corn or bought milk from dairy farmers to pour it down the drain?
The fact is that in certain segments of agriculture, technology reached the point that, in many years, supply exceeds demand. Just ask any farmer and they can tell you a bumper crop is bad news.
That's what we have, a bumper crop of information. And just like agricultural goods, it varies in quality, but most people are just as satified with information of questionable value as they are with food of questionable nutritional content.
As technology progresses, this will expand to other commodities: If green technology succeeds this will happen with energy. It seems to have already happened in housing.
The odd outcome of ubiquity is that sometimes it leads to enforced shortage to prop up the free market paradigm. There are too many houses. Prices are falling. We must kick people out of their houses.
There is too much food. Prices are falling. We must dispose of perfectly good food and let some go hungry.
There is too much access to news. Profit is falling. We must wall off and charge for content.
Please don't call me a Communist, but when supply overwhelms demand, the free market doesn't work.
Just ask my Economics professor.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Who needs page designers?

Have you seen the newly redesigned, or perhaps I should say undesigned, Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Take a look and try to hold on to your lunch.
It looks like the editor's high school graduate nephew is laying it out. No depth. No clear story hierarchy. Nothing to catch the eye. It is a pointless collage of words, heads and a couple of generic pictures. Looks like the AJC is throwing in the towel on the print product. First it was copy editors who became expendable (who needs spelling, grammar and fact checking?) and now it's page designers (who needs news as an art form?) Would somebody cover this abortion with a white sheet?

Friday, April 24, 2009

From the for what it's worth (not much) department

A piece of information that a couple of years ago would have been heralded as proof of newspapers' relevance, a Nielsen report showing better than 73 million visitors to newspaper Web sites in the first three months of the year, will no doubt now draw a collection of yawns.
Round after round of cost-cutting, layoffs, increased workloads and dire news has taken the umph out of most newsrooms. The kind of ideas that once were bandied about at weekend confabs and daily editorial meetings has been replaced with the yawning ennui, a result of resignation to a seemingly inevitable future.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pursuing mid-size circulation

I'll have to admit, this one really hurt. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution used to "cover Dixie like the dew," or at least the Journal did, until it became politically incorrect to say the word Dixie out loud. It was affectionately called the urinal-constipation by resident conservatives, of which there were many in Georgia. My journalism school was named for Henry Grady who popularized the term "New South." He was editor of the Constitution. Across my campus students made a little extra money by selling subscriptions to the AJC. At the time there was a newspaper war going on. The New York Times had purchased the Gwinnett Daily News and tried to take on the AJC. They built a multimillion-dollar three story building. The president of the Times told the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce they were going to march through Atlanta like Sherman. Two years later they folded. I worked for the newspaper that took the Daily News' Gwinnett County niche, the Gwinnett Daily Post.
When I went to the University of Georgia, the local newspaper, Athens Banner-Herald and Daily News (still a morning and afternoon paper in the 90s, can you believe it?) barely bothered to sell on campus. It was the paper of locals. Students were mostly Atlanta kids who wanted Atlanta news. Now the AJC is abandoning the Athens market completely.
I have no idea what their circulation was in Athens at the end, but it is a community of over 100,000, and I'd be willing to bet it was at least 15,000, maybe more.
With such increased retrenchment, it is clear many big-city dailies that once covered their entire state (Dallas, Atlanta, Minneapolis) are now focused in on the immediate metro. They are seeking to emulate to profitability of many midsized dailies that still dominate their market. Small circ, locally focused.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What is ten percent of nothing?

It always warms my heart when I can beat the Death Watch to a tidbit of news. Morris Communications, owner of the paper in the town of my alma mater, is forcing everyone to take five to ten percent pay cuts. This is the same Morris Communications which built a multimillion dollar news building in a town with a 30,000 circulation newspaper. The building has a helicopter pad. Rumor has it that the Morris family had to sell their helicopter to pay debts. At the very least, I never saw a helicopter land there. And this was in the go-go 90s.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tossed salad and scrambled eggs

As all of you have heard by now, Tuesday's is the last edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. And the webheads rejoice in the death of another newspaper (don't deny it, note the snarky attitude toward Kathleen Parker, or anyone who feels nostalgic for the printed paper, or anyone who feels they are important to civilized society, or anyone who thinks good grammar and fact checking is a good idea). Seeing as how the P-I is operating without copy editors, I wonder in what multiple of 10 the daily errors would be.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Journalism apostates

Just when Paul Gillin tries to convince that he is not an enemy of the press, he takes down those who speak lovingly of their craft. He calls it" journalistic self-indulgence today as newsroom veterans tell their readers about what a great job they’re doing in the apparent self-deception that readers give a hoot:"
Have you noticed how the journalism apostate's talk about our audience as if it were a monolithic entity that en masse is rejecting our craft. If we heed their call, the solution to this disease is to abolish journalism that markets to an entire community and focus on discreet groups with blogs.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Whither the archives?

  • The obituaries of the Rocky said that Scripps is selling the name, Web site and archive. Which raises a larger question. With a handful of newspapers already closed and more threatening to close, what is the future of their archives -- which we used to call, interestingly enough, their morgue, and which, for many records before, say, 1990, still exists in those file cabinets that made up the morgue? I can say from experience these archives are some of the most complete records of a city's existence. Most cities have newspaper archives on microfilm, but in most cases they are not indexed. The only index exists in the morgue, because clipping were taken and put in alphabetical order by subject. These morgues also contain the original photos, not just the printed halftones. I would hope that Congress, when it's not passing laws about chimpanzees, would outlaw throwing away this important history at any newspaper, though I fear it may have already happened in some places.
  • By the way, since we're all doomed, I think the newspaper industry needs an elegaic theme. At the risk of sounding maudlin, how about Iris Demint's "Our Town"?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Good news, bad news

Good news: New York Newsday is wising up about the free Internet stuff.
Bad news: The Rocky is closing, but, like Tucson and Seattle, we're still talking about a city losing a second newspaper. Hearst is threatening to close The San Francisco Chronicle, but who wants to bet that if it happens, the Mercury News will drop the "San Jose" appellation? Also, keep in mind that 881 U.S. auto dealerships shuttered in 2008. Let's keep some perspective. There are thousands of newspapers. Newspaper Death Watch only added its 11 th dead newspaper, and two of those were related.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lies, damn lies and internet "journalism"

In what I assume is a column (have you ever noticed it's hard to tell on the internet what is supposed to pass as hard news and what is opinion?) referring to the oft-discussed switch to non-profit newspapering in the Internet "magazine" Slate we find these as the first seven words:
Now that newspapers have stopped generating profits

Hmm. Let's see. In a fourth-quarter that should see a net loss for the S&P 500 companies, Gannett reported operating earnings of $158 million. New York Times Company reported $27.6 million in earnings. These are just the big boys. Most community newspapers don't report earnings because they are often privately held, but I doubt many posted operating losses. It's just that they don't get the routine 20 percent margin they are used to. Yes the big boys are swimming in debt they accumulated from buying up papers (and making the former newspaper-owning families rich), but so what? If GM were posting operating profits and merely needing time to refinance debt Detroit would be ecstatic. Where is the earnings statement of the internet only news operations? The truth is, most internet companies from Twitter to Facebook are losing money. But everyone wants to give them millions because "they're the future." Newspapers MAKE MONEY, but its cool to diss them, so let's celebrate their destruction, or mock those who are trying to figure out how to survive the onslaught.
I guess real journalism involves making up "facts" on the fly and editorializing out of your sphincter.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hubris alert

The Jeff Jarvis ego train rolls along. Here's the latest prediction.
Newspapers will die this year and there’ll be silence before successors emerge.

Note, he did not say some newspapers will die. He didn't say American newspapers will die. He said newspapers will die. So if just one of the tens of thousands of papers worldwide survives 2009, we win. Does he really think even a majority of American newspapers will fold?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Triple -J?

I'm starting to consider renaming my blog Jeff Jarvis is a Jerk (the triple J?)
What is offensive about Jarvis and his ivory tower assertions (it figures that one of the media's chief journalism biz pundits hails from academia) is not that he heralds the end of print. If that's your opinion (and it's a common one) that's fair. What's insulting to journalists everywhere is his criticism of the profession. Note this statement in a recent posting criticizing those who say Google should pay newspaper for posting, in total, the work journalists produce in small newspapers that gets picked up by the Associated Press

* Make Google pay. This one assumes that newspapers have a God-given right to the income they used to get from advertising and that Google (and craigslist and eBay and papers’ own customers with their own, free web sites, for that matter) stole it from the papers and thus are starving journalism. Show me where that commandment is written. Others competed with lazy, monopolistic newspapers, giving the marketplace a better service. Google and the rest owe them nothing. Indeed, newspapers should be paying Google for its distribution and promotion, as Google is the new newsstand and content gains value with links.
Shame on us for assuming that well-researched news stories that are vital to an informed public have intrinsic value. And newspapers are "lazy," while others competed, giving the marketplace a better service. How? When a bunch of computer geeks build an better Internet mouse trap to repackage the work of real journalists while doing absolutely NO original reporting, that's industrious competition??? And shame on us for thinking they should pay.
Jarvis' rejoinder, no doubt, is that his criticism is aimed at the business institutions behind newspapers and not the individual journalists. But journalists know we can't ply our trade covering one beat on one blog. Some sort of organization is needed. In the past, newspapers have provided that organization. In a newspaperless future, some Internet organization will provide that organization. The consumer loves the elegant simplicity that clearinghouses provide. If Google is that clearinghouse, fine. But I doubt Google has much interest in paying me to cover my city council. How lazy and monopolistic is that?

Monday, February 9, 2009

With friends like these, who needs enemies

Just when I was about to give Paul Gillin the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the future of newspapers, he comes out with this, lambasting NPR's David Folkenflik for suggesting that city's might be worse off without printed newspapers (what an NPR Luddite). Gillin suggests that if newspapers disappear, the vacuum of civic journalism will be filled elsewhere and decries Folkenflik's suggestion that a Connecticut governor's malfeasance would not have been exposed had the Hartford Courant not paid a journalist to expose it. Gillin just assumes that someone else would have put in the legwork. He offers no examples that the Web, now well over a decade old in ubiquitous usage, could do the same thing. He merely states it could be as a conclusion obvious to those not quite imbecilic. I've been pointed to one or two attempts at investigative journalism on the Web, such as ProPublica. It seems to be focusing its still meager resources on federal issues and linking extensively (surprise, surprise) to REAL newspapers He also mentions Talking Points Memo as "an emerging breed of online news organization." I went there. I found links to ABC and Reuters news stories, an interview with Robert Reich who seems to give interviews to anyone with a lens, and editorializing that was not clearly labeled as such.
If you see a blogger at your local city government meeting, please let me know. I'd be stunned. If you see a blog that involves in-person reporting at a city council, I'd be even more stunned. I do know there are fewer newspaper reporters at those meetings. The only ones happy about that are politicians, because smart bloggers know it means they have fewer links to underpin their editorializing.

By the way. If you want to see the final stages of Web-driven egomania, take look at what BuzzMachine has become. I don't think L.Ron Hubbard was as enamored with Dianetics as Jeff Jarvis seems to be with "What Would Google Do?"

Monday, January 26, 2009

Let the ideas come

I think there is a synergy going on among journalists across the country. No sooner had I thought about iTunes type downloads. Then it occurs to me that the Net could be a base for tapping the slice of society, and it is a big slice, that still loves newsPAPERS.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Try this out

Go to Yahoo! and enter the name of a city -- any city -- into the search box without hitting return. Picking at random I entered Alamogordo. The first suggestion offered by "search assist" is Alamogordo Daily News. That suggestion is followed by nm, new mexico, county and high school. I tried this pulling various and sundry city names out of my head. Invariably, the newspaper was in the top 5. Actually, the only city that didn't suggest a newspaper is Brunswick.
Paul Gillin tells of a Boston Globe online group meeting in which it was asked:
Is brand important? Maybe The New York Times brand is, but does the Boston Globe’s brand strike enough of a chord in people’s minds to distinguish its value? Brand may be the only thing newspapers have left in the long run, so that’s a critical question.

This little experiment, if it is, like the Yahoo site claims, based on actual searches, tells me people are looking for newspapers when searching a city.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


One can never be 100 percent sure, but I believe I may have merited a mention in Jeff Jarvis' BuzzMachine. Note the comment that
I am accused by some of dancing on the graves of journalists’ jobs, of being happy that papers are dying.
That accusation may have been leveled elsewhere, which would underscore may impression of Jarvis. He, of course, denies the fact. But what he does admit is blaming journalists alongside business managers for the newspaper depression.
If I have an emotion associated with newspapers’ fall - and I’m not sure I do - it’s anger and disappointment at what Shafer describes as papers’ failure to think past a world seen in their own image, to bring news into the future and give it adequate stewardship.

Mr. Jarvis writes as if resistance to turning a newspaper into just another silly blog is ego. It's not ego, it's principle. It's what we were taught for decades in journalism schools. Those principles may no longer be profitable, but they are no less valuable. By his own standard, why is he using the term "adequate stewardship?" The Net, by it's nature, has no individual, only a collective stewardship. And the blogosphere, for all its popularity, is neither a place where much real journalism nor much profit goes on. Lots of news Web sites are popular, but not many of them, not even, as far as I can tell, HuffingtonPost, make money.