Hi. My name is Adam.

Paywall debate brings out worst in media critics

Posted in blogging, economy, journalism, news by adambsullivan on April 8, 2010

Rupert Murdoch thinks paywalls will make news orgs viable. He says it all the time; it’s not news. Still, every time he brings up his Wall Street Journal pay-for-news model, the media conversation swells with attacks on Murdoch:

Murdoch just doesn’t get it
Murdoch misunderstands the Internet news world
Murdoch getting lonely inside his walled garden
No, Mr. Murdoch, they’ll stop caring

As I’ve blogged before, there are emerging business models which I think could make content operations profitable. However, I’m still sympathetic to paywall models as well. I don’t know for sure what will work. Neither does anyone else.

But we should be thankful that Murdoch’s WSJ (and a handful of others) are trying the paywall model. We can tweet and blog as much as we want, but unless we conduct real-world business model experiments, we make no progress. Maybe it will work long-term and maybe it won’t; we can’t know if nobody tests it.

As far as I can tell, attacks on Murdoch’s paywall position aren’t attacks on paywalls at all: They’re manifestations of political resentment. Most of the prominent players in the media conversation are liberals and Murdoch has oft thrown his weight behind conservative movements. It makes sense that bloggers would attack Murdoch, but it’s petty nonetheless.

We all agree we need news. And most of us agree we need a professional class of content-producers. Citizen journalism can be part of the new media landscape, but it can’t be the whole of it. Accordingly, we need to develop a way(s) to fund journalism. That development relies on our being allies.


Produce good content and nothing else matters? Wrong.

Posted in blogging, economy, journalism, news by adambsullivan on March 29, 2010

Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter penned a guest op for MediaWeek today with reassurance that the magazine industry won’t disappear any time soon.

I really don’t care if the magazine industry disappears; I’m not inclined to work for a magazine and I don’t think most magazine content is particularly original. However, the logic Carter uses to arrive at his conclusion is troubling.

Carter points out that we’ve seen advances in communications technology in the past and that those changes haven’t killed preceding media, but changed them. Specifically, he looks at movie companies’ worry that TV would put them out of business:

After trying every gimmick in the book—3-D, Cinerama, even Smell-O-Vision—the studios discovered that the best way to save their core business was to keep making great films, a mission they have had sketchy success at.

That’s kinda true. What movie studios actually did was create movies that capitalized on the strengths of the medium: Movie theaters are well-suited for cool effects and epic shots, so movies that perform well feature cool effects and epic shots.

He goes on:

So if print journalism’s business model is changing, our only move as editors is to double down on delivering what our readers have always wanted from us: compelling stories and iconic photographs. And it won’t matter if they’re read on a laptop, a cell phone, or on paper.

This is a toxic attitude. If content-producers are to survive, they need to recognize what media best convey what information. Stories need to be told differently when they’re presented on different platforms because different technologies have different strengths and weaknesses.

Carter’s attitude (“produce good content and nothing else matters”) is why media is in trouble today. We need to be responsive to what our consumers demand and how they demand it.

Non-profit journalism can fund watchdog projects

Posted in economy, journalism, news, politics by adambsullivan on March 28, 2010

There are lots of good ideas being talked about on ways to fund journalism. My favorite models are RevenueTwoPointZero and CUNY’s news innovation.

The best ideas focus on two things: Be part of the community (hyperlocal, social interaction, transparency, etc) and offer your advertisers a unique service (ads that work, tasks which small businesses don’t know how to do or can’t afford, etc).

I’m optimistic those things can help keep daily news free to most consumers. However, in-depth reporting is different. Long projects offer little utility for news organizations: They require a lot of resources (man hours for reporting and sometimes dollars to obtain documents and outside expertise) but the return is usually quite small, especially because once the story breaks, every news organization will confirm it and publish it.

The best way to fund watchdog assignments — long-term reporting projects aimed at protecting the public interest — is to solicit donations. While most people don’t care about daily news enough to volunteer their cash, I’m confident there’s a reasonably large population which is willing to donate to programs aimed at keeping government and big business honest.

In fact, we’re already seeing this idea in action. Nationally, ProPublica operates on donations and grants to produce stories “with significant potential for major impact” and The Huffington Post Investigative Fund backs projects which can be reprinted by other news organizations.

Locally, The American Independent funds five state-wide online news outlets (including one in Iowa) which focus on political coverage. And projects like The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism will crowdsource journalistic expertise in the region to produce public interest pieces.

There’s an obvious question here: “If the market doesn’t do a good job of supporting watchdog projects, what evidence is there to suggest that people will donate money to such a cause?”

That’s a good question and many have used it as evidence that we need federal intervention in the media industry. However, we’ve observed that when Americans believe something is vital or in the public interest, they’ll hand over dollars (religion and education attract the most donated dollars in the U.S.).

Still, watchdog projects can’t ignore the priorities outlined in new media business models. Convincing potential donors that journalism is a public good needs to be a priority. As is, we’re in one of the least trusted professions. To garner public trust, we need to to be transparent, accessible, and community-oriented.

Disclosure: The publication for which I currently work, The Daily Iowan, is a nonprofit corporation. Additionally, this summer I’ll be working for The American Independent‘s Iowa outlet. And, finally, I’ve worked with the directors of The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism.

Register cartoonist Brian Duffy said he was escorted from building after being laid off.

Posted in economy, Gannett, layoffs, The Des Moines Register by adambsullivan on December 9, 2008

 WHO TV out of Des Moines aired an interview with Brian Duffy (arguably the most prolific newspaper cartoonist in Iowa, if not the nation who was fired last week by The Des Moines Register).

In the interview Duffy said he’s cancelled his subscription to The Register and he blames the newspaper industry’s hardships on corporations (ahem, Gannett) that buy up local papers, but don’t care about local citizens. Most shockingly, Duffy said his bosses at the Register told him to stay put while they retrieved his belongings and escorted him from the premises.

Unfortunately, Duffy’s cruel firing is just one of more than a thousand in the last few days. Nick Bergus (Iowa City journalist/UI instructor) makes sense of what Gannett has done for the news industry:

So besides the huge color weather map that now adorns the back of every newspaper’s A section, what has Gannett offered the newspaper industry that has been so good to it and its shareholders (to the tune of 40 percent profit margins even recently)? A business model that prevents news companys from caring about news quality instead of profits.

– Gannett continues to kill Iowa’s newspapers, Nick Bergus, Dec. 7


Tribune Co. files for bankruptcy

Posted in Bankruptcy, Chicago Tirbune, economy, Gannett, Los Angeles Times, Tribune by adambsullivan on December 8, 2008

The Tribune Company (the media corporation that owns The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy today. The company holds several daily newspapers as well as television and radio outlets. Additionally, Tribune Co. owns The Chicago Cubs and a couple magazines, among other miscellaneous holdings.

The Tribune’s bankruptcy news comes less than a week after Gannett (the world’s largest newspaper holding corporation) announced massive layoffs at numerous newspapers around the country.

Both companies have publicly blamed their dealings on the current economic crisis. However, the years-long trend of sinking print readership and an industry that is slow to change is more likely the leading culprit.


Des Moines Register fires 41 employees

Posted in Brian Duffy, economy, Gannett, layoffs, The Des Moines Register by adambsullivan on December 4, 2008

The Des Moines Register publisher  Laura Hollingsworth announced today that the paper is laying off 41 employees — roughly 7 percent of its workforce — and leaving an additional 15 positions vacant.

In a statement, Hollingsworth blamed recent economic conditions for the terminations. However, earlier this year, Gannett (the media company that publishes 85 daily newspapers including the Register) announced that it would gradually trim 10 percent of its workforce.

The Register is often regarded as one of the premier publications in the Midwest (it maintains the 50th largest circulation in the U.S.). In fact, in the mid-1980’s, only one newspaper (The New York Times) had won more Pulitzer Prizes than Des Moines-based publication. However, since the paper was bought by Gannett in 1985 it has achieved only two Pulitzers.

The layoffs include editorial cartoonist Brian Duffy. Duffy has long been a staple of the Register’s front page. The Register was likely the last newspaper in the nation to feature a daily editorial cartoon on the front page.

Personally, I’m glad I don’t make enough to be fired.

Obama’s promises likely to be unfullfilled

Posted in Barack Obama, economy, money, politics, research by adambsullivan on December 2, 2008

University of Iowa Hospital delays $33M loan

Posted in bonds, credit freeze, economic crisis, economy, health care, hospitals, Iowa, loan market by adambsullivan on October 22, 2008