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.

Make your work matter: 7 priorities for journalists in 2010

Posted in blogging, convergence, journalism, news, twitter by adambsullivan on January 7, 2010

Individualism — Reporters need to be more self-sufficient than ever. Editors exist to assist reporters and to be a resource. However, reporters ought to think of ways to expand their coverage with technology without being told to do so. Just as reporters don’t wait for the command from an editor to call a certain source or look up a bit of information, reporters shouldn’t wait for orders to shoot video, engage their audience via social media, or put links into their stories. Additionally, while newsroom leadership is there to teach and guide you, it’s the reporters responsibility to seek advice and to learn new skills.

Branding — Journalists should make sure their web presence provides a flattering picture of their work. When you apply for jobs or internships, your employer is going to Google your name. If what shows up is bad (or, worse, if nothing shows up at all), you’re not going to get hired. Write stories that get a lot of hits, start a blog, and use social networking.
(See also: Your digital profile tells people a lot, by Steve Buttry)

Promotion — The web is an excellent place to promote your work. Your friends and family (facebook!) want to see what you’re doing, but they need to be reminded to look. People you don’t know (twitter!) also want to see your work, they just don’t know it yet. Use the web to reach out.

Engagement — Simply put, you need to be tuned into your community and your community needs to be tuned into you. Your “community” includes the local area as well as people elsewhere who are interested in the beat you cover. If your community is engaged in your work, it’ll be a huge asset: They’ll alert you of story ideas, promote your work for you, and provide valuable feedback.

Content — People don’t want to be told what they already know. And the Internet allows people to know a lot. You have to bring something new to the table. Daily Iowan display advertising was up last year, while other papers had to lay off reporters or shut down because of low ad revenue. Why are we ahead? Our advertisers say we provide more unique and original content than any other publication.

Media — Always be cognizant of what medium best conveys what information. We have lots of technology at our disposal. We can create text, photos, video, audio, graphics, interactive graphics, conversations, and more. Think about what message you want to send and then consider what medium will best allow you to do that. Having the skills to create all of those things will make you extremely employable. Additionally, always offer your reader something extra. Usually when we cover hard news, we’ll have the same information as our competitors. But if we have the same information plus a multimedia piece, we’ve done a better job.

Report smarter — This extends far beyond Googling the name of a source. Crowdsource your social networks, examine your source’s web presence, and read non-traditional news clips.

Can sports journalists tweet from BCS football games?

Posted in BCS, college, football, journalism, live updates, twitter by adambsullivan on December 8, 2009

My senior sports reporter and I were just looking over the BCS media regulations. Understandably, the BCS a long list of stringent guidelines regarding coverage of bowl football games. I’m no legal expert and I’ve never covered a sporting event, but it seems to me the media rules disallow journalists from tweeting about the game.

An excerpt:

  • Except for those originated by the rightsholders, live text, audio or video play-by-play accounts originating from the stadium are prohibited.
  • Score updates are permitted.
  • The use of textual statistical information must be time-delayed and limited in amount (e.g., the score, injuries, record-breaking performances, scoring summaries at the end quarters, a condensed halftime story) so that an organization’s game coverage on the Internet does not conflict with the electronic media rightsholder’s rights to play-by-play accounts of the game And/or exclusivity as to such rights.

Does anyone know if tweeting/facebook updating are restricted? Any insight would be much appreciated.

Journalism students: How to get a job…someday…maybe

Posted in education, high school, job market, journalism by adambsullivan on October 22, 2009
By Adam B Sullivan

I am delivering a lecture to high school journalism students next week titled “How to get a job…someday…maybe.” In preparation, I solicited tips via facebook and twitter. People mostly said something like “give up on journalism.” But there were also some very useful responses. Here are some of my favorites:

• “Look at skills to develop, rather than careers you want to enter.” — Justin Sugg, Daily Iowan editorial writer

• “Blog. Learn a Web craft. Become an expert at one thing analog and one thing digital.” — Ryan Sholin, Director of News Innovation at Publish2

• “I’d encourage students be open, social & entrepreneurial. May not get journalism jobs, but will be employable.” — Patrick Thornton, editor of beatblogging.org

• “My advice to journalism students: Elevate your career: http://bit.ly/3N5nKn Build your digital profile: http://bit.ly/ApePG.” — Steve Buttry, Gazette Communications innovation coach

• “Maintain connections with professors/teachers for advice and recommendations, stay connected in general (facebook, twitter, blogging, etc), apply to anything and everything you’re remotely qualified for even if you think it’s above or beneath you, and take a diverse range of classes in school so you’re experienced in different newsroom positions. Oh, and pick a school (like the UI) with a solid student-run paper…Oh, and some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten: It’s your first job, not your last job. it’s amazing how easy it is to forget that.” — Maggie Voss, Daily Iowan/UI alum, graphic designer

• “Learn how communication works online (it’s social); experiment and take risks; become a good writer.” — Nick Bergus, UI multimedia instructor, media blogger

• “Gain experience across the board — print, online, video, design, photo.” — Jason Brummond, former Daily Iowan editor-in-chief

Journalists have average honesty and ethics: Gallup Poll

Posted in employment, ethics, honesty, job market, journalism, journalistic ethics by adambsullivan on November 25, 2008

The ethical standards of journalists are about average compared to other popular professions, according to a recent Gallup Poll. Most respondents said journalists have “average” honesty, while the number of positive and negative responses were about equal.

Nurses topped the poll. Almost 90% of respondents say nurses have high ethical standards. Nurses have earned the top spot in the annual poll each year they’ve been included except once in 2001 — just weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — when firefighters garnered the most praise.


Optimism. Pessimism. Objectivity.

Posted in David Yepsen, Des Moines Register, journalism, politics by adambsullivan on October 6, 2008
“Is that cup half full or half empty? It’s an eight ounce cup with four ounces of water.”
-David Yepsen