Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Notes from the blogosphere

Sunday, March 8, 9:37 a.m., Joe Zlomek, who is prolific in his blogging on Lower Pottsgrove and Limerick, writes an e-mail to me: ... "just a personal note to say your column today was eloquently written and very well said. Keep up the terrific work!"
Wednesday, March 18, former Mercury reporter Mike Hays comments on his last day in the newsroom with a blog post on What' "One of the last things I read on Sunday, March 15, was the final edition of the Rocky Mountain News. The paper’s goodbye to Denver served as a sobering reminder of what this region stands to lose if its major daily paper suddenly folds."
Both comments were in reaction to my recent column about the closing of The Rocky Mountain News, the Denver, Colorado, tabloid shuttered due to falling revenues and competition from the Web, and my personal feelings about the ongoing importance of The Mercury to the Pottstown area.
Joe Zlomek and Mike Hays are both former colleagues, one my boss and the other my employee, and both are refugees from the newspaper business who are channeling their passion for newswriting into blogs. Both admit they are not making any money on the Web and acknowledge that they come from print journalism backgrounds and remain fans and advocates of journalists writing in print as well as online.
The dilemma here, for people like Zlomek, Hays and me, is that newspaper owners failed to think through the quandary of providing online information free on the backs of more profitable print products. Online news needs the credibility and financial stability of print to survive, but as free competition for readers, it erodes that stability.
The online medium is not self-sustaining. A stellar year in online advertising sales will barely pay the salaries for a handful of reporters. Hence, people like Hays and Zlomek work for nothing. Lots has been written lately about this dilemma. Some folks think newspapers should sue Google and Yahoo every time our independent reporting is hijacked. We could be like the music industry and win large anti-pirating settlements while changing the industry to a subscription service for online news, much like online music downloads services followed when the music industry drew a line in the sand.
But the future hasn't happened yet.
In the here and now, people like me, Zlomek and Hays are all rooting on the same side, even if we come at it in different ways. The importance of local reporting is critical to democracy. How that is accomplished may be evolving, or it may be just settling into a viable but scaled down business model. Who knows.
Regardless of the outcome, I find the examination of the importance of this business refreshing.
I now get letters that begin with "I know you have a lot on your mind, but would you consider ..."
or "I know how important your newspaper is to this town, so I would like to ask ..."
I received many comments, many e-mail messages and many sincere compliments on my recent all-Mercury Opinion page on Sunday, March 8. The reaction to my column and to other postings on this blog reinforce those strong sentiments.
Whether online or in print, this business is a gratifying, worthwhile venture. You can trust us -- all of us -- to keep the faith in local reporting alive.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


March 20, 2009 at 6:37 AM 
Anonymous Joe Zlomek said...

It's true that print continues to pay the bills for almost all of us in journalism ... for now. I suggest that will inevitably change. While it's nowhere near dead, and I for one would be sorry if it were, printed pieces held in the hand must yield to pieces printed to hand-held screens.

The generation we parented, Nancy, are our readers of the future. I'm willing to bet your son Chris (whose Scene and Heard column last week on The Beatles in Rock Band warmed my heart) gets more information daily on his cell phone that he does from his terminal in The Mercury newsroom. Ironically, his small screen and the millions like it will be the salvation of online journalism.

Because content is king, and because cell carriers need more and more content to attract subscribers, they will end up paying news-gathering operations for their product ... or, like Comcast, they'll get into the news business themselves. Either way, journalism lives. I therefore agree we are rooting for the same side.

However I disagree that we are, as you put it, coming "at it in different ways." The Mercury, The Sanatoga Post, What's The 422, Spring-Ford Online, Around Phoenixville, and other news providers being launched even as this is written all know that suppliers of the best content - concise, well-written local news that's most relevant to readers - will survive long-term. The only difference is in the delivery.

March 20, 2009 at 11:56 AM 
Blogger Chris said...

As a 25-year old music geek who works for a newspaper, it's impossible to not draw the parallels between the music and news businesses.

I tend to think of the internet as one massive self-sustaining, infinitely-sized, hyper-democratic newspaper. Everything the internet is, is what newspapers set out to do, and more. The net gives an endless-and interactive-forum for every single person to share their voice on absolutely anything in the world. Good for democracy, bad for business.

The same applies to music. Why spend $14 on a plastic case and CD if it is readily available for free (albeit "illegally") on the internet?

"Value" is a whole different concept to those of us raised in the past two decades than those who learned the hard & gritty way in the 20th century. This is not a bad thing; we have access to learn much more, much faster. We have choices. But it's difficult to make business off that, and THAT'S what the dilemma continues to be.

And yet, while people say the death of both CDs and physical newspapers is imminent for these reasons and more, I do not see it, or agree with it.

Business may continue to ail, but take a look around. There will ALWAYS be people who want to buy a CD, instead of downloading it from a torrent on the net. And there will ALWAYS be people who need to buy a newspaper for the cohesive personality and daily snapshot it captures of their hometown. These businesses can absolutely continue to turn a profit--just not a 1997-like profit.

Though the internet can make newspapers and CDs less consequential, it can never replace them either, especially on a local level. Local bands and community newspapers will continue to always have a place, a need, and a home in their communities, despite the internet and it's capabilities.

The problem cellphone news seems to create is that most of those readers are checking sports scores and national news--not the news of their own local community.

But Joe is quite right that the thing which has wounded journalism, is the best way to save it. Much the way musicians/record labels make money nowadays by licensing songs to tv, movies and video games, newspapers can survive the 21st century by contracting and licensing out to other mediums, ala cellphone providers. This would not be a move to replace the physical newspaper, but to support it and what their newsroom can produce, and to deliver it in a new way. It could be the crutch that classified advertising once was for papers.

I think in a few decades, we'll be living in a world where we have all these options of how the world is fed to us--whether it's with a computer, a cellphone, a microchip in our head, or a newspaper waiting in our driveway when we wake up. The people who take advantage of as much of it as possible are the ones who will be better for it, by enriching themselves in the full multi-media experience of the news. That's what this internet age is about--giving the consumer the power, and the choice to experience as much as they seek to.

But when you take sides or draw lines in the sand, you're making a bad choice. You cannot stop the internet!

But more importantly, the internet cannot stop newspapers. And that's how the business needs to start thinking.

So, please. PLEASE! Trust me. The worst thing the newspaper business could do right now is become vigilant AGAINST the internet. When the music business TRIED to fight back, it was the stupidest move ever made. And they'll forever be paying for it. You can't control the internet, no matter whose wrist you slap.

And the reason subscription based news on the net will never work like iTunes is because iTunes sells entertainment. News, technically, is intangible. You don't need to pay to know. You might listen to a song 70 times over but you won't read a news story 70 times over.

I should blog about this topic in greater detail. Good topic to harp on.

March 20, 2009 at 3:39 PM 
Anonymous Nancy March said...

Insider baseball, Joe and Chris, but thought provoking and fun nonetheless. You're both way ahead of me. I'm still just quoting Springsteen.

March 22, 2009 at 9:45 AM 

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