Thoughts on “Network”

I watched the movie “Network” for the first time last night, and I’m convinced that there’s something we can learn from the film about the modern state of the media.

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Don’t stop the presses just yet

Alan Mutter has written an excellent post about why most newspapers cannot afford to shut down their presses and go all-digital.

Mutter proceeds from two premises: that it would be “suicidal for any reasonably profitable publisher to stop its presses in perpetuity” and that a paper going all-digital will have to lay off about half its editorial staff to stay profitable.

Newspapers, he points out, earn about 90 percent of their profits from print ads, and a paper moving to an all-digital format can expect to earn only about 10 percent of the money it did when it produced both a hard copy and an online edition.

He takes a closer look at the famous article by Jeff Jarvis from a few weeks ago, the one in which Jarvis revealed that the Los Angeles Times makes enough from Web advertising to pay the salaries of its 660 newsroom staff members.

Mutter points out that salaries aren’t all the costs that go into building even an all-digital newspaper. You have to pay for health insurance, taxes, IT concerns and myriad other costs, not to mention all the debt that the paper has already incurred.

In other words, the LA Times needs its print division to help pay the bills. Shutting off its presses would mean cutting the newsroom staff by about half or more.

But Mutter is not going around throwing wooden shoes into the all-digital camp’s machinery:

[T]his is not to say that publishing won’t, or shouldn’t, migrate to all-digital media in the future. Before that happens, however, the economics of the business would have to change far more radically than they have to date.

Bad, bad copy

I was browsing some media coverage of a story that I wrote about for our university’s magazine when I came across this article. It is posted to the Web site of the ABC affiliate near Kennewick, Wash., KVEW-42.

I don’t know if reporter Matt Haugen wrote this himself as Web text or whether it’s some sort of transcript of his video coverage (not linked to the online text), but when a professional newsman will publish anything this poorly written, I start to wonder why we worry about the unprofessionalism of bloggers and citizen journalists. I know he’s not a print journalist and writing isn’t his primary trade, but come on! The last paragraph is made up a fragment for crying out loud.

I quote the story in its entirety. The original is here.

WALLULA — Drilling has began on a carbon dioxide experiment at the Boise paper mill near Wallula.

The drilling is part of a Battelle proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by storing it under ground.

What makes the Wallula area a good location is all the basalt rock in the region.

In lab tests, basalt has shown to hold CO2 molecules.

"This project represents one of the technologies in our tool kit in terms of capturing CO2 and permanently and safely storing it in deep geologic formations" said Pete McGrail.

Once drilling is completed, Battelle and Boise will analyze data.

The goal is to test dump CO2 into the ground to determine if the rock will hold the molecules.

That work could happen by summer 2009.

If permits are issued by the department of ecology.

No news is bad news

I just read James Warren’s article in The Atlantic, “When No News is Bad News,” and I’m a little inspired and depressed at the same time. Why should that be? Warren’s article hasn’t presented me with any information I didn’t know already. Newspapers are in trouble and can’t find a business model to save themselves, yet the work journalists do is vital to public safety and key to keeping our governments honest.

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Langeveld: Newspaper downturn caused by shift in American interests, not by Web

Martin Langeveld at the Nieman Journalism Lab writes that the real cause of the woes facing the newspaper industry is not the Web. Rather, it is the shifting and expanding American attention span.

Langeveld writes that the heyday of newspapers coincided with periods of the 20th century in which Americans were united in their passions and interests — the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, Vietnam. But the decades after have seen a boom in the number of luxuries and options available to Americans. Instead of every citizen focusing on the same issues, our range of interests has exploded.

It’s no wonder, then, that we can’t get more people to read the newspaper these days; there’s just not enough column inches to appeal to everyone.

The Web, Langeveld says, only accelerated this death spiral for the industry. It did not cause the spiral in the first place.

His advice to the news industry:

To have even a chance of survival, the mindset of the industry needs to become: We are in the business of publishing information content continuously on our web sites; every 24 hours (for now, and this may ultimately change to once or twice weekly) we gather some of that information into a printed product and distribute it, but our business is focused on and driven by our online operations.

One benefit of maintaining a homemade news site

I’ve been maintaining a little homemade news summary site for myself. I visit my local newspapers’ and television stations’ Web sites, read their stories and summarize the news for myself. Then I post it to this little blog – no more than three paragraphs per summary, less if I can help it.

The benefit of this: I’m becoming much more well-versed in what’s going on in the community around me. I guess I just needed a little more of a push than plain old civic engagement provided. I needed to do something with the news in order to actually motivate myself to read it.

iTunes not a money maker and wouldn’t be for news

The other day, I spent a good half an hour jotting down my idea as to what an “iTunes for news” would really look like. Now, after reading a post by Pat Thornton, I’m starting to think I wasted my time.

Thornton points out that Apple has stated that iTunes doesn’t turn a huge profit. The program and the store serve a larger purpose: to get people to buy iPods, a produce on which Apple makes a bigger profit.

So we could assume that a similar online store model for journalism would also not turn much of a profit. So why do it? What about the economic side of journalism is it going to save? What more profitable product will the iTunes for news drive consumers to buy?

Also, a new thought, with most of the country’s journalism collected in one, easy to search spot, censorship would become damnably easy. Not good for the health of a democracy, if you ask me.