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.

Nov. 5 souvenir newspapers featuring Barack Obama for sale

Posted in Barack Obama, ebay, news by adambsullivan on December 5, 2008

Front pages from the day after Election Day are being pushed by newspapers nation-wide as a hot holiday item this year.

The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, among others, are selling reprints of their Nov. 5 editions, including some framed and autographed copies.

Original prints from those days are already going on ebay, but most haven’t been selling for more than about $10.

But let those prints appreciate for a few decades and you could see a some profit. Don’t expect much, though. Even original prints from Dec. 8, 1941 don’t often earn more than $100 on the ebay market.


New blog: The Sum Graph

Posted in blogging, commentary, media, news by adambsullivan on November 11, 2008

Adam has started a new blog. The Sum Graph will offer a slightly more focused series of commentary. Most likely, the blog will center around news media critiques or links to good coverage. Check it out at http://www.sumgraph.blogspot.com


Today’s loser: Idaho Falls Post Register

Posted in Associated Press, news, page desin, photo essays, Post Register by adambsullivan on November 11, 2008

Today’s worst front page comes out of Idaho Falls, ID from the Post Register.

On first glance, this page is attractive. The right side offers an easy-to-navigate information bar. The overhead teaser is definitely enticing. 

However, two out of three front-page stories are AP. The other is a PR bulleted list of veteran’s day events. Not a story at all, really.

More, the pages dominant element is two shots of a crafts fair. It’s not a teaser; there’s no copy. I see the photos, but I really don’t know anything about the Skyline High School’s Craft Fair. It’s worth dominant placement, but not worth a story or even a quote or two?