Posts Tagged ‘internet

14
Jun
08

I have met the enemy … you know the rest

Seems AP is taking a page from the RIAA in challenging web sites that excerpt their articles. They are filing take down notices with blog sites they deem to be violating their copyright. Naturally, many bloggers are up in arms. There are a couple of issues here for me, not the least of which is the concept of an old-style media business trying to fight the future by trying to prevent it from happening. But first, a couple of stories.

Almost every day, during my years as a reporter, I or one of my colleagues were asked to do a “localization.” That meant we would take a national story that indicated a trend and get a local angle on it. Most often, that national slant came via an AP article. Sometimes we didn’t cite AP at all, but I guess that was OK because we were subscribers. I hated doing stories like this.

During my days as a photo editor I was party to a different AP practice. We would frequently be called and asked to provide a photo to AP, often at the request of another member newspaper. We knew that other member was most often a nearby competitor and we seeded our photos with outs to indicate such nearby rags were NOT permitted to use our work. Heck, if they wanted photos they could have sent their own people. But an AP editor would call one of our top editors and then we would be told to cough up the picture(s). When we complained because the competing newspaper hijacked our image, AP told us they couldn’t do anything. When we complained because the picture carried an AP credit, they said: tough. You see, AP has a policy of replacing the credit on every image it sends across the wires with its own. That isn’t a copyright violation, apparently, because we are subscribers and the contract compels us to regularly drop trou and grab our ankles at the Associated Press’ request.

Long story short, borrowing without credit is a typical newspaper/AP business practice. Which makes their complaint more than a little hypocritical.

But their position is also idiotic. Quoting an AP article can help bring an audience to AP. Slapping down those who draw attention to AP won’t help bring an audience (at least a happy one) to AP. Given the place old-style organizations like AP are currently occupying, chasing away an audience doesn’t seem prudent.

But as Jeff Jarvis points out, the whole concept of AP may have passed it usefulness. In the old days AP was the distribution network for articles. Sure they wrote some of their own, but most of their business was passing articles around from member newspapers. That they took credit for them even though they didn’t create them wasn’t considered a big deal because otherwise none of us could get those articles to fill our pages.

Today the internet not only does that distribution job better, it can allow users to go to the source rather than accept a bastardized and borrowed AP version. Jarvis rightly says it is always better to go to the source. And with the internet anyone can set up a network that allows sharing of those articles that come directly from the source.

AP apparently doesn’t get it. They seem intent on gouging our their eyes and cutting off their tongue in the hope of saving face. Good luck with that. And good riddance.

06
Jun
08

I have met the enemy and he is me – pt. 2

In the old newspaper world readers lived in cages. Every day someone would slide a variety of food through a slot and they, those rather domesticated readers, could take from it what they wanted. Usually there was a bit of meat, a few potatoes, veggies for those who liked that stuff, a few sweets, and a lot of fluff. Take what you want, leave the rest.

Me, I read the newspaper cover-to-cover every day. I discovered worlds I never knew or even imagined in the nooks and crannies of that newspaper. But I was fairly unusual. Most people discarded 80-90 percent of the newspaper every day. Some were simply carnivores; they only wanted sports scores or stock tables. Some were just vegetarians, so they had a bit of world news before seeing what they could glean from the living section. Some just liked sweets, so they stuck to the entertainment section and lived for the comics. Those who who thrived on fluff just wanted the ads. The cross-over was small in those different groups.

But that was OK. What choice did they have? Unless they were willing to buy the New York Times at a news stand, they took what news nutrition they could from the local paper. Sure they could wait for Time or Newsweek, but those were for analysis (roughage?) — not news. Yeah, there was nightly television, but that required one to be in front of that TV at a specific hour and then you only got what the networks decided were the top stories of the day. TV has always been something akin to a liquid diet. Pureed news. You wanted movie reviews, stories about musicians, an early morning chuckle? Chances are you needed the paper. You lived for classifieds or coupons, there was no way to get that fix without buying your daily dose of pulped wood.

Choices were limited. For the voracious consumers of information, like me, you took what you could get and you chewed it down to the bone. Everyone else fumed over how little of what they really wanted could be found within the dirty pages of the local rag.

Today’s readers are not prisoners. They live in a vast information landscape. It isn’t just a Serengeti, there are huge grasslands, mammoth hunting preserves, candy mountains that dwarf Everest, veritable forests of fluff that can be sorted and sifted to one’s hearts desire, and waterholes of every ilk dotting every environment. Few have time for foraging amidst all this bounty. Most gravitate towards the information habitat that come closest to providing them what they want or need. And they populate the water-holes most traveled by those closest akin to their kind. They now live in an all-you-can-eat world and the only price is their time and patience.

While the printed product does not easily translate to this new freedom, except perhaps as a sort of daily map, the digital versions of newspapers need not be limited by that ink-on-paper motif. They could be whatever they want to be — whatever they need to be. So why do they insist on trying to force their online products almost exclusively into that old mold? Newspaper people have made a living for centuries off of surfing cultural trends, so how come they can’t see that the cage doors are open and the animals roaming free? In fact, the cages have been torn down entirely and the animals are headed off toward the raw food sources of their choice. Some newspaper sites look like they are being run by Laurel & Hardy. They’re still trying to figure out why the lock doesn’t work anymore.

It isn’t that there is no longer a market for the processed and prepared food newspapers have been providing. It is largely that people want only the type of nutrition closest to their needs or desires and, they would like to participate in the preparation. Had newspapers recognized this five years ago there might not be quite so much hand-wringing over red ink these days. Sure things would probably still be less rosy than the good old days of endless 30 percent profit margins — hey when the animals are caged you can feed ‘em what you want and charge whatever they are willing to pay. But newspaper executives might see a future that didn’t involve so much blood being spilt.

Today, newspapers are beginning to recognize that everything has changed and they need to adapt or die. Some newspaper leaders are starting to realize that they have seen the killer of their industry every morning in the mirror. I have met the enemy and he is me.

Now, what am I going to do about it?

05
Jun
08

I have met the enemy and he is me – Pt. 1

The problem with newspapers is their readers.

I went to a relatively well-known East Coast university in an urban environment with teachers from several Pulitzer-winning daily newspaper. There my journalism professors often insisted that the biggest problem facing newspapers was their audience.

Even in the early 1980s newspapers were seeing troubling signs. Many had been shuttered and what has become a 30-year trend of declining circulation was just beginning to be glimpsed.

These days lots of printed papers are on the brink. Slipping readership has turned into free-fall. Stagnant revenue has turned into advertising genocide. Such traditional newspaper strongholds as the classified pages have become virtually extinct. Other streams, like national display, are being diverted in massive amounts, mostly to online entities.

Who is to blame? Remarkably, many in the business still spout the old canard about readers. Americans are uneducated, they have forgotten how to read, they don’t want to know what is going on in their backyards — much less the rest of the world. These willfully ignorant, in-bred, idiots would rather watch television or just drift aimlessly illiterate through the world.

Millions were sunk into trying to teach Americans to read newspapers. Long-term efforts were launched to recruit youngsters to a life-long newspaper addiction. USA Today was begun with the concept that McNugget News would solve the problem. Supposition was that since more Americans watched insipid local TV news, then newspapers needed to ape that format with bright colors, big pictures, and stories that spun out bite-size bits of sugar rather harder to digest meat & potatoes.

Now we have the internet. While accelerating the decline of newspapers (and TV), it has also taught us print types quite a few things. First, people do read. Moreover, many many millions will read news. Consumption of information and news is, in fact, at an all time high. But subscription to newspapers is headed south at an accelerating rate.

What does that mean? First, that the average American probably isn’t nearly as stupid as newspaper people have insisted for decades. Second, many people are interested in the content found within the pages of newspapers. Third, an inevitable conclusion it would seem, if it isn’t the audience or the content, then the problem must be the package.

The issue, it seems is the broadcast nature of newspapers (and television networks). It is the one-size-fits-all mentality that believes if you drop a 10-pound package on someone’s doorstep they will pick through to find the 8-ounces they are after. That might be true if they didn’t think the other 9.5 pounds was crap they had to pay for, pick up soggy from their driveway, then tote weekly to the curb for recycling. Likewise, numerous newspaper web sites insist on forcing people to accept the same ratio of gems to junk, which has given tremendous legs to countless aggregation and private commentator sites.

For decades newspaper people have deluded themselves that the fickle, unlearned audience was the enemy. Now, despite mounting evidence, they cling to that delusion when they should be using their new-found self-knowledge to radically change how they do business.

For many newspapers it may be too late. Lack of innovation have led to the complete erosion of the advertising that almost single-handedly supported newspapers since time out of mind. Classifieds typically made up almost 60 percent of the revenue at many newspapers. Now it is gone and will never return.

Other advertising forms are migrating rapidly to the web, but not to newspaper sites. They are looking for targeted audience while most newspapers are still trying to export their broadcast model to the 21st-century printing press.

Signs are cropping up everywhere that proclaim the unthinkable to newspapers: The end is near. But many newspaper types still shake their heads in disbelief, blindly insist that somehow this will all turn around of its own accord, or cling to the myth that the blame can be placed on the overwhelmingly dumbness of the American public.

I have met the enemy and he is me.