Charlie Gibson On Media

Charlie Gibson doesn’t get it either, really, and Mark Biggs calls him out on it:

Gibson began with a somber rehash of newspapers cutting jobs and going out of business. “The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is gone — gone,” he said with dramatic effect.

After blaming young people for getting their news online for free, he went on to blame Google (and his “good friend Eric Schmidt”) and even threw citizen journalists under the bus at one point.

Fortunately, during the Q&A, a couple of students resisted the star-struck approach of other questioners and asked him to account for such statements. One even asked Gibson to respond to Clay Shirky’s suggestion that we don’t need newspapers, we just need journalism. Gibson replied that Shirky is “full of crap” and that we are a “long way away” from any web site being able to provide the complete package of news and information in the form of a financially sustainable business like newspapers of the past 30 years.

Gibson is looking for an exact replica of the New York Times online that generates the same revenue as the print product did 15 years ago. He wants the complete package on one web site, apparently only able to recognize greatness by largesse. What if that same quality  journalism found on different sections of the Times web site today were actually separate web sites that were each profitable in their own right? How is that less important, effective or trustworthy than one organization that offers all of them?

I see a future where foreign reporting, local news, political coverage, business news, sports, arts coverage and more will thrive on separate sites, possibly under separate ownership. And this won’t be a problem for the user since aggregation makes it easy to get this as one package.

The other issue is Gibson doesn’t lay the blame where it belongs.

When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer goes web only they readily admit that any indepth reporting, any long exposes and real journalism will no longer happen at the SPI.  They’re all going to become bloggers.

But why?  It’s not because that’s what people want and will pay for on the web.  Hell, if that was the case J’s Notes would be making me tons of monies.

No, newspapers and other media, if you’re going to make money you have got to offer a product worth paying for and advertising on.  You guys can do the indepth reporting bloggers generally can not because you have the training and the resources.  Don’t imitate us, WE’RE NOT MAKING ANY MONEY!

Specialize, find what you do well and knock it out of the park.  Politico can make it work profitably, so can the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and even Charlie Gibson.

Newspapers: Adapt Or Die

Sen. Chap Petersen chimes in on yesterday’s Washington Post coverage on the lack of journalists:

Should anyone care if news reporting dies out?

That’s a great question.  Not everyone is obsessed by the state legislature.  However, on a day-to-day basis, it has more impact on the lives of Virginians than any other political body.  We write  the criminal laws,  the health laws, the divorce laws.  We shape and fund public education.  We plan and build highways.

While press coverage dwindles in Richmond, the content inevitably “dumbs down.”

One could argue that the dumbing down came first.

What the Post and other media outlets seem to be trying to do is set the tone. You NEED these reporters, you NEED this coverage, so you NEED to either subscribe to us or bail us out.

The problem is, these reporters and this coverage isn’t cutting it these days. The current structure of newspapers is a failed business model that has failed to adapt over the last ten years as the Internet has exploded into their turf.  Newspapers need to prove themselves to the public if they can even hope to woo back the dollars they need to survive.  That involves a reevaluation of the way they do business, whether it’s changing how they measure the quality of their product (based on actual quality of content as opposed to sales) or whether it’s changing direction.

Newsweek is trying this.  In a NYTimes article, Newsweek editor Jon Meachum noted:

“There’s a phrase in the culture, ‘we need to take note of,’ ‘we need to weigh in on,’ ” said Newsweek’s editor, Jon Meacham. “That’s going away. If we don’t have something original to say, we won’t. The drill of chasing the week’s news to add a couple of hard-fought new details is not sustainable.”

Newsweek loses money, and the consensus within its parent, the Washington Post Company, and among industry analysts, is that it has to try something big. The magazine is betting that the answer lies in changing both itself and its audience, and getting the audience to pay more.

Newsweek is hoping that it’s more opinionated and stylized take will create a fresh product that people may be willing to pay more.  While this isn’t entirely new – new for weeklies, old for journals like Foreign Affairs and such – it’s different enough that it might work.

But it’s change, it’s adaptation, and it’s an attempt to do something other than business as usual given that business has failed.

Specialization may be the key.  In a time when print is supposedly dying, Politcohas not only expanded its news operations but increased it’s print circulation from 27,000 to 32,000.  What Politico brings to the table isn’t just fresh ideas and content but a targeted market that appreciates the quality of their product.  Politico knows what it does well – inside the beltway political coverage – and capitalizes on it, not just in circulation but in advertising revenue as well.  It’s easier to woo a potential advertiser when you can easily help them target a specific market.

Newspapers on the other hand casts a wide net but generates no real bang in any one market enough to really capitalize.  The jack-of-all-trades mentality of newspapers of old isn’t working.  A newspaper is not an expert at all things and does not have the staff to pretend to be so.  The newspaper can no longer be a Swiss Army Knife of news in an era of specialized websites delivering better information from experts in a more timely manner.

Newspapers need to find their niche, their market, what they do well, and tweak accordingly.  Is sure isn’t going to be easy and it might not make as much money as papers once did, but evolution need to happen.

If newspapers don’t adapt, they’re going to die and they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.

The Washington Post Is Afraid Of Change

The last week has seen a bombardment of articles from newspapers crying about how necessary they are for the sake of society and community.  Two recent examples out of The Washington Post point out that newspapers coverthe police and the legislature better than anyone else can ever hope to.  In the latter, Marc Fisher writes:

Across the nation, it’s not just that fewer reporters are covering state government; newspapers and TV stations are also devoting far less space and time to that news.

Does that mean citizens are less well-informed? Do blogs and other new media fill in where old media are cutting back? Is it really a loss if reporters cover fewer legislative debates?

“We used to sit here and it was a typing contest,” Lewis says. “A lot of those process stories had a very small audience.”

“When we had four people here for AP, we covered every floor debate, every vote,” Stuckey says. “I’m not sure much quality was lost when we cut back to two people. We focused more on what it all means than on the daily politics.”

In one hour in the Virginia House the other day, I watched debates on raising the cost of vanity license plates (the No’s won), letting employers pay workers with debit cards rather than paychecks (Yeses won), and making it a felony to hang a noose on someone’s property (approved). Hardly earth-shattering issues, but each has an impact on people’s lives. Yet none got any press; a couple of years ago, they would have.

“The smaller the press corps gets, the more you see personality stories rather than pieces about what is at stake for people,” says Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. “Smoking in restaurants is always going to get covered, but now, when we make big changes in mental health or foster care, nobody covers it. That has a real impact: It would be hard for campaigns to get even more superficial, but they might.”

A combination of media revolution and economic collapse is dismantling our news infrastructure, especially at the state and local levels. “Someday, people will wake up to the depletion of the press corps,” Gibson says. “I don’t know if the result will be corruption or demagoguery, but the interests of the people are not being represented anymore.”

Which begs the question: Which came first, the declining subscription rates and income for the papers or the declining quality of product in the name of cost cutting and profit maximizing?

The title given Fisher’s piece, Bloggers Can’t Fill the Gap Left by Shrinking Press Corps, seems to want to take a shot at anyone who believes blogging will do the job.  But no one worth their salt is advocating blogs as being the new force to be reckoned with when it comes to covering the news, nor should anyone believe this is the case.

Bloggasm recently surveyed the front pages of Technorati’s top 10 blogs and found that original reporting only accounted for 13% of posts.  Bloggers rely upon newspapers and professional media for content.  Bloggers provide supplementary information to what the professionals quickly generate an overview of that is then presented as the “whole story”.

Not only that, the ability of bloggers to gain access to press pools or have the time, money or other resources to find the news in ways that journalists have been expected to in the past is severely limited.  Bloggers aren’t granted the same privileges by associations and organization that don’t view websites as legitimate news sources.  Certainly this may change over time, but bloggers are still severely limited by their lack of resources, support structure, and, yes, training to be actual journalists.

Not that journalists are getting the best training these days.  Many are coming fresh out of school being taught to trust what they see on the web. Email is a proper tool for interviewing sources now and, hey, if you need to describe an organization you can just check out the about page on their website. Nevermind that emails can’t replace actual face to face interactions (you know, the kind that verify the person behind the email address) or that about pages don’t tell the full story in an objective manner.

Many reporters and journalists are now expected to be a jack of all trades, writing and copy editing their stories, providing audio/video supplementary coverage, and needing to be able to edit and put it all on a website in a timely manner.  This lack of specialization in an effort to cut costs leads to a product of lower quality, something that any reader could get for free from going to, well, a blog.

Newspapers and their websites have a higher expectation of quality associated with their product.  As that quality diminishes, so does the ability to charge for it, whether you’re charging subscribers or advertisers.

Newspapers are afraid of the internet. As they should be. But that shouldn’t make them get defensive or ball up in the fetal position and cry until they die. It should force them to confront it and evolve.

Newspapers need to take a good hard look at what their purpose is. Are they public service tool or are they a profit minded business that puts income over content and quality? Can they continue to attempt to be a jack of all trades in terms of content or are they going to have to realize that there are some things they can do very well and do those, specialize accordingly, and let others cover what they can’t?

Radio didn’t kill newspapers. Television didn’t kill newspapers either. Both forced newspapers to reevaluate the way they did things and adapt accordingly. Newspapers should have been adapting for years, but now faced with tough economic times that are further drying up their advertising income, it’s do or die time.

Unfortunately for many, they may not be able to “do”.

UPDATE: How’s that for timing. As soon as I hit “publish” I see John Sarvay’s thoughts on the same articles:

The point here isn’t whether newspapers deserve to die, becuse they sort of do, having pissed away so much of their credibility over the past two decades of corporate stewardship. The point is that their death is going to fundamentally change our ability as citizens to stay connected, stay informed, and to hold our elected and appointed officials accountable.

A great example of just how topsy-turvy the inbalance is between government and an industry dedicated to covering it: There are more paid people working in City Hall pitching stories and spinning day-to-day policies than there are reporters covering City Hall for print, television, radio and Internet outlets combined.

And, so, if I were publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and I were interested in reinventing my brand, I’d probably start asking myself (and everyone I met), “How can my paper position itself to be the catalyst for every important community conversation in the region?”

Are Virginia Bloggers Journalists?

While that’s not the full question in play in Waldo Jaquith’s recent legal troublesit certainly is a large one as Thomas Garrett and his lawyers try to get information from Waldo about his commenters and their private information.  From the Motion To Compel:

[W]hile Virginia recognizes a qualified repotter’s privilege, see Brown v. Com., 214 Ya. 755,757 (1974), Mr. Jaquith has not introduced any evidence to prove that he is in fact a journalist. Since Mr. Jaquith asserts the privilege, he bears the burden of proving that the privilege applies to his communications. ,See Anderson v. Anderson,2g Ya. App. 673, 681-682 (1999) (“The party seeking to establish the existence of a privileged communication carries the burden of proof.”) Howevet, he has merely asserted “upon information and belief’ that the privilege applies (Mot. to Quash !f 4.), and has not offered any evidence in support of this assertion.

In any event, it seems unlikely that Mr. Jaquith would be able to carry his burden. Although it appears that no Virginia court has yet articulated a test for determining precisely who is a’Journalist” entitled to assert the qualified reporter’s privilege, cases from other jurisdictions have held that the law “does not grant status to any person with a manuscript, a web page or a frlm.” In re Madden, 751 F.3d 125, 129 (3d Cir. 1998). Nor does a person become a journalist merely by proclaiming that he or she is a journalist. Id. at 130. As one scholarly commentator has stated:

Any such self-proclaimed joumalist could unilaterally decide to place certain information offlimits simply by agreeing to promise confidentiality to a source. This would potentially exclude a huge amount of information from the legal system, and would result in substantial litigation costs as parties battled over the applicability of the virtually boundless privilege.

Randall D. Eliason, The Problems with the Reporter’s Privilege, 57 Am. U. L. Rev. 1341,1367 (2003). Nor is a person considered a journalist if he merely relies upon another party as his sole source of information, uncovers no story on his own, and does not independently investigate any of the information provided to him by that other party. Madden,151 F.3d at 130. lvfu. Jaquith therefore cannot benefit from the qualified reporter’s privilege inasmuch as the Article contains no information arising from his own investigative reporting but instead simply recites information provided or uncovered by others, including information provided by The Hook.

So even journalists can’t call themselves journalists if they cite sources that are not their own. Good to know.

So the question becomes how does one qualify as a “journalist”?  Must they be card carrying?  Is there a decoder ring? Do websites not qualify as a news medium and therefore anyone working specifically on a blog does not qualify as a journalist?

And, if Waldo was unoriginal in his posting of this information, then why chase after him or his commenters?  How is posting this story any different than a man telling the story in a bar, to which the crowd reacts in one fashion or another?  Are you going to subpoena drinking buddies next?

Beyond that, it’s a question of free speech and association, another point argued against when Waldo refuses to release IP information of commenters.  What Garrett’s lawyers argue is that some speech and association is more free than others:

In opposition to this request, Mr. Jaquith argues frst that these documents should not be disclosed because to do so would “threaten the exercise of fundamental rights” of the commenters, namely, their First Amendment right to anonymous speech on the internet, and that therefore the Subpoena “is subject to the closest scrutiny.” (Mot. to Quash fl 5.) However, the precedents cited by Mr. Jaquith in support of this position dealt with far more weighty constitutional matters than those at issue here. In bothNAACP v. Alabama,357 U.S.449 (1958) and Bates v. City of Little Rock,361 U.S. 516 (1960), governments in the former Confederacy had sought to compel units of the NAACP to disclose their membership lists, thus threatening members’ exercise of their First Amendment rights of free association, and perhaps even threatening their lives. The standard of “closest scrutiny” (sometimes referred to as “exacting scrutiny”) applied in those cases applies to speech only when it touches on prime matters of public political life, such as debate over the qualifications of candidates, discussion of governmental or political affairs, discussion of political campaigns, and advocacy of controversial points of view, in which case such speech is described as the “core” or “essence” of the First Amendment. See generally Mclntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n,514 U.S. 334, 346-347 (1995) (“When a law burdens core political speech, we apply ‘exacting scrutiny”‘).  By contrast, the comments posted on Mr. Jaquith’s article are almost uniformly tawdry, sophomoric, and spiteful, and touch upon no issues of public or political interest that constitute the “core” of the First Amendment, such as those at issue in NAACP and Bates. (See generally Exhibit 2.)

But clearly these comments are “controversial points of view” toward Garrett. So, protected.  And, as Waldo points out:

The enormous irony is here is that the comments that fit that description were posted by Garrett himself (or, at least, somebody who says that he’s Garrett and demonstrates an extraordinary amount of knowledge about the man), all of which were pretty nasty attacks on me, libelously accusing me of committing criminal acts. And in an effort to claim that I have contempt for the legal process (as a reader of my blog, you understand that precisely the opposite is true), Garrett’s attorney cites a comment left by James Young, in which he recites a joke about judges told to him by a judge. (James, as you may know, is an attorney who recently argued a case before the Supreme Court.)

Clearly what we’re seeing here is an attempt by an individual to squash any negative remarks about him and his character.  The argument seems less to be about the merrits of the comments and more about the rights of individuals to express them, at least where Waldo is involved.

The precident that Garrett and his attorneys are seeking to set here is a dangerous one and could very well harm the ability for bloggers who take what they do seriously continue to do so.  This could be a huge setback given the gains bloggers have made in being accepted and respected as members of the “press” throughout the state.  To segregate that playing field, to create a situation where some have more rights than others merely because you think you can bully an individual who has no corporate sponsor or means to pay for a high end legal defense, well, that says a lot more about you as an individual than any article on The Hook or repeated by any blogger.