Category Archives: News And Journalism

Rebirth of the newspaper?

Rupert “I bought MySpace just in time for it to tank” Murdoch didn’t seem to get the new media thing… until today. The Daily, the first iPad-only newspaper launched to great fanfare. At first blush Steve Jobs and Rupert Murdoch make Felix and Oscar look like identical twins, but they certainly have at least one thing in common. They know how to passionately engage millions of people at a time and make a lot of money doing so.

If the Web has been listed as the cause of death for numerous dailies and magazines, the App might be named godfather of the reborn e-pubs. While people remain largely unwilling to pay for content on viewed on the PC, the iPad and Kindle prove they are willing to pay for content on the tablet. I call it the corn flakes effect. I always paid a few bucks a week to read the morning paper at the breakfast table. I’d pay a few more bucks a month for magazines to read in bed. And I’d overpay at the airport for virtually anything to read on an airplane so I wouldn’t be stuck watching some neutered cut down version of a movie that tanked at the box office.

CNN covered the announcement nicely, acknowledging that as the iPad’s share of eyeball expanded into television’s territory.

Another report last month from ReadItLater, a web service that follows web trends, found that the time spent reading on the iPad is even crossing into primetime TV hours.

It reported that maximum iPad text consumption occurs from 7pm to 11pm, a slot traditionally allocated to reclining on the couch and watching TV.

Likely CNN is assuming it’s at the expense of Two and a Half Men, not Anderson Cooper. Even the Times gushed about the Daily’s user experience… in its own catty way.

The Daily, according to people who have seen it, is aesthetically — if not intellectually — compelling, incorporating sound, sight and motion in new ways.

“It’s got an amazing look and feel,” said Mike Vorhaus, the president of the media consulting firm Magid Advisors, who had been shown The Daily in advance and who compared it to a glossy magazine.

Of course CNN was able to dig up the requisite Luddite for its coverage.

“While anything that Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs do in collaboration is bound to be unique, we have to be mindful of the fact that the tablet is just in its infancy stage — it’s like the early days of the printed press,” said Barry McIlheney, chief executive of the UK based Professional Publishers Association.

He believes that newspapers are easy to replace because their format is adaptable to the screen but reading longer passages of texts with images are not.

Apparently Mr. McIlheney hasn’t yet caught the Economist on the iPad. The experience of reading it on the iPad is more pleasant than on paper, and all the additional online content is only a click or two away.

Before we start encouraging kids to enroll in journalism school again, we should temper our optimism for the future of the old fish wrapper. Just this week Apple announced it’s clamping down on content sellers who evade the App Store and Apple’s 30% vig. This whole thing could lose steam quickly If Apple and the content creators can’t arrive at a win-win. The iPod always worked with non-iTunes content, in a competing format no less. If Apple blocks Amazon, Sony, Conde Nast, and others from getting their content onto the iPad, the whole platform will suffer.

The case for media literacy education

Having exited the center ring of the 24/7 cable news circus, we should take stock of the lessons learned from the Shirley Sherrod firing. She was the USDA official fired after a conservative blogger with already questionable credibility posted a crudely edited video clip of Sherrod, an African American explaining how she once chose not to help a white farmer as much as she could have. Rather than rehash the history, those not versed in the details of this debacle can check out the very thorough Media Matters timeline of the whole sordid affair.

This affair must be a wake up call to America. As a society we need to become media literate. Examining the Media Matters timeline it’s absolutely shocking it took so long for the truth to come out. Consider these points.

  • A cabinet member of a Democratic administration took action based on a conservative blogger known for his often distant relationship with facts. Andrew Bierbart is the poster child for the sad state of political discourse in the blogosphere. Just about six weeks ago Rebecca Mead profiled Beirbart in the New Yorker. Surely someone inside the beltway actually reads those New Yorker magazines prominently placed next to the brie and chardonnay on the coffee table. It’s shocking no one in the administration said to Secretary Vilsack, “Maybe we should look into this deeper. Do you really want to end someone’s career on Bierbart’s word?”
  • No one expects the Fox News opinion programs to properly vet an attack on a member of the Obama administration, so why did the administration react to these particular tantrums from O’Reilly and Hannity? Even the conservative Economist criticizes the network’s approach to discourse. But the blame here cannot be on Fox News. Neither Hannity nor O’Reilly call themselves journalists. They host entertainment programs, and the audience (and our leaders) should understand the difference between entertainment and journalism.
  • Why didn’t anyone question the editing of the video? It doesn’t take an experienced news editor to recognize that there was something more to Sherrod’s anecdote that was edited out. Why didn’t any mainstream media outlet call this out and demand to see the whole speech?

The mistakes pile up, and I could go on listing them, but I’ve made my point. The clear problem is that the mainstream news media failed to do journalistic due diligence before reporting this story, and the Obama administration showed poor judgment by taking the word of non-journalists as vetted fact.

If democracy is to survive the 21st century media onslaught, we need to do a better job of fostering media literacy. We simply cannot have people forming opinions, making judgments, and voting based solely on the prime time rantings of Fox News and MSNBC pundits, or the missives of Matt Drudge and Arianna Huffington. It’s not hard to teach kids how to interpret media messages — to teach them to ask questions these basic questions: Why are they telling me this? What to they want me to think? How do they want me to react? What’s in it for them? Is that audio or video clip complete? How can audio, video, and statistics be manipulated?

Glenn Beck and Rachel Maddow sit in sets that look like traditional news sets, but they are not journalists. I hope the issue is simply that we as a people are ignorant, and not that we’ve chosen to enter echo chambers that tell us only what we want to hear. Because if the latter is the case, it’s 1984.

Old media’s obituary

Here’s an interesting conversation starter for all of us in the media and entertainment business. Gary Vaynerchuk, author of Crush It! gives a primer on the major technology, business, and cultural shifts of the last three years. While much of what he posits is still up for debate, he frames the discussion succinctly and offers compelling arguments for his point of view. Some his numbers might be up for debate, but his overall thesis is sound.

It’s a good watch. Gary’s a very compelling speaker.

Final nail in my newspaper’s coffin

I canceled my newspaper subscription today. I’ve subscribed to the Boston Globe for over 17 years without interruption. The role the newspaper plays in my life has changed in some significant ways. For example, I have no idea when the paper stopped publishing stock quotes. Sometime in the late 1990s I began consuming that data online. Virtually the same story applies to out of town sports scores, election results, and weather. In fact, the newspaper is no longer a significant source of news. My typical 15 minutes in the morning with the paper would be a scan of the Op-Ed page, the obituaries, sports (for background pieces on the local teams), and the puzzles. The bulk of that 15 minutes would be spent on the crossword.

Let’s do the math. A lot’s been said about the deteriorating business model of print journalism, but let’s take a look at the value proposition made to the consumer. In my case, with the exception of the crossword, I can get everything online and I get it fresher with access to voices from all over the globe. (Online crosswords don’t do it for me, but some of the Facebook word games are downright addictive and make a fine substitute.) I’m down from spending about 30 minutes with the daily paper a decade ago to 15 minutes. Home delivery costs approximately $40/month. That’s not much, but it’s much more than what I pay for the sports package or the movie package on cable, and I spend far more time with Curb Your Enthusiasm and Sports Center. Netflix with Roku and PlayStation 3 access is only $20/month. Time spent and value received from broadband and 3G services are similar.

There’s not much news here. Every media consumer gets the math, and many took action long before me. Here’s the thing… I’m old-fashioned. I like reading the paper with my morning coffee and Corn Flakes. While many consider reading at the morning table rude, it’s somewhat more sociable than hunkering down behind a laptop screen, and you can share the paper much more easily than a laptop.

The newspapers counter that all that “free” content on the Web costs money to produce, and much of it is the product of the print team’s labors. Kill the newspaper and there’s no free online content. Agreed. So here’s my proposal. Rather than sell individual subscriptions to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, I would be happy to pay single monthly fee for all the news I consume online. That fee is shared proportionally among all the publishers whose sites I regularly visit. This could be added to my broadband bill or charged separately. The news outlets already know how much I’m willing to pay for decent journalism.

So why did I take action today? I’d like to say that something like anticipation of Apple’s tablet announcement was the spur. Or maybe the latest rev of the Kindle caught my eye. But it’s none of those. The driver delivering the paper has decided he no longer wants to deliver the paper to my door. He just tosses it on the driveway. Winters are cold here in New England, and I like my neighbors just enough not to subject them to the daily sight of me marching out for the paper in my PJs. It turns out that $40/month is exactly my limit – remove just one more feature from the offering and I’m gone. How many other newspaper subscribers are at that point?

Maybe now I’ll get through the Economist and the New Yorker every week while waiting on my tablet.

Godspeed, Teddy

At the 1980 Democratic Convention, Senator Kennedy concluded his speech to the floor.

For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end.

For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

Those words as fitting today as they were then. For the third time in my life my family paused to say farewell to a Kennedy. It’s quite possibly the last time I’ll feel duty bound to do so for a politician.

The senator passed away with healthcare again at center stage. Kennedy declared access to healthcare for all Americans his life’s work. It’s horrible that the debate has descended to such vitriolic depths. Shouting drowns reason. Fear mongering stalls compromise.

It would be easy to say that politics today are more polarized than ever before, but it would be false. This is a country where tar and feathers were used against those who disagreed with the mob during the days of its inception. This is a country that’s bloodiest war was against itself. How many were beaten or killed in the cause of civil rights? I came of age in this country watching us tear ourselves apart over the Vietnam War. My kids see the most hateful signs directed at gay citizens. Signs using God’s name to justify hatred.

It would be easy to say that journalism is at its lowest point in our history, but that would be false too. Federalists such as Adams and Hamilton were accused in the penny press of trying to reinstate a monarchy. Hearst was instrumental in goading Americans into the Spanish American War. Today’s AM radio big mouths and cable TV squawkers are simply part of the American journalistic tradition.

The words of John, Robert, and Edward Kennedy still stir the heart. Why do we let the words of Limbaugh, Hannity, and Olberman stir the flames? Why do Americans believe the crap they peddle? Perhaps the Economist was onto something in an August 20 editorial.

Belief in conspiracy theories can be comforting. If everything that goes wrong is the fault of a secret cabal, that relieves you of the tedious necessity of trying to understand how a complex world really works. And you can feel smug that you are smart enough to “see through” the official version of events. But widespread paranoia has drawbacks. For a start, it makes calm, rational debate rather tricky. How can you discuss the trade-offs of health-care reform, for example, with someone who thinks the government is plotting to kill grandma? It does not help, either, that politicians on both sides are willing to fan the flames. Sarah Palin calls Mr Obama’s health-care proposals “evil”. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, calls the protesters who loudly oppose them “evil-mongers”. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, calls them “un-American”.

It concludes:

Politicians should tone down the rhetoric. Protesters should read some history before making Hitler comparisons. Talk-show hosts should stop pretending that paranoid nitwits are asking reasonable questions. If people are continually told that their government is plotting against them, a few may decide to fight back. And as Lee Harvey Oswald showed, even one man with a violent sense of grievance can do a lot of harm.

If Orrin Hatch and John McCain could work with, respect, and even come to love a political opponent like Ted Kennedy, don’t you think average Americans could do the same?