10 obvious things, one year later

A year ago today, I published the most popular blog post I’ve ever written.

It’s a little counter-handwringing list meant to answer some of the frequently asked questions posed by Old Journalism.

So, a year later, here’s a quick take on where things stand:

  1. It’s not Google’s fault: Score one for newspapers. I haven’t heard anyone complain about Google in a while now, modest proposals excepted. If anything, there’s a healthy increase in asking “What Would Google Do?
  2. It’s not Craig’s fault: It’s a mixed bag, here. While there seems to be a lot less moaning and groaning about how craigslist took the air out of the newspaper balloon, reinventing classifieds is still a laborious and slow process, as the news business tends to depend on third-party vendors for a great deal of the vertical business. All of it needs to be more innovative, and it needs to be done yesterday.
  3. Your major metro newspaper could probably use some staff cuts: Yeah, that’s never a popular option, but this particular list-item is about putting local news out front and dropping everything else that could be covered with wire copy or blogs. Unfortunately, the buyouts-first, layoffs-second method means that your best talent has a tendency to walk out the door instead of the TV columnist.
  4. It’s time to stop handwringing and start training: Kind of a mixed bag, but there are lots of places to get started learning what’s next. Try Wired Journalists to find a mentor, or NewsU for great tutorials on everything from strategy to writing tips. There’s a ton of resources out there for multimedia, too — feel free to throw a link in the comment thread to point out your favorite venue for learning and teaching.
  5. You don’t get to charge people for the olds or the news: Most everyone is over this. Paywalls cut readers off from the Long Tail of local news. Don’t put them up.
  6. Reporters need to do more than write: I think we’ve come a long way since last year, with journalists getting heavily involved in Twitter and Qik and Mogulus and Beatblogging and generally reporting on whatever platform is made available to them. Having a curious mind is the first step to this; if you’re a reporter without curiosity, you might want to think about another line of work. (Agreed?)
  7. Bloggers aren’t an uneducated lynch mob unconcerned by facts: There’s still a lot of confusion out there. What’s a blog? is still a question in some corners. I try to get journalists to forget about political bloggers by saying blogs are for everything from Nascar to Knitting. If you have someone in your newsroom who leans over every five minutes and says “Dude, check this out” while pointing at a YouTube video or a press release, you have a blogger on your hands.
  8. You ignore new delivery systems at your own peril: Hmm, does your news site have an iPhone version yet? Man, I wish it did, because I stare at mine all the time, and the sites that look good on it? I bookmark those and spend more time there, hanging out with your brand while I’m waiting in line for the office microwave or sitting at Gate C23 at O’Hare waiting hours and hours for the weather to clear. Oh, and new, faster, cheaper iPhones are expected to drop next week, which should push the adoption curve significantly higher.
  9. J-Schools need to lead or fade away: My favorite thing going on in j-schools right now is the Knight News Challenge-funded scholarship for programmers at Northwestern.
  10. The glass is half-full: To be clear, long-term, I think the future of news is bright. Just not on paper. The sooner you understand the difference between “putting your newspaper online” and “online news,” the better.

10 thoughts on “10 obvious things, one year later

  1. Great post, Ryan. Good idea to revisit that earlier one, too. I think the big handicap is still that we’re clinging to the print model. Some are trying to change that thinking, but I’m not sure it’s happening fast enough.

  2. “The sooner you understand the difference between ‘putting your newspaper online’ and ‘online news,’ the better.”

    Well said.

  3. Couple thoughts:

    First, editors I’ve talked to recently do seem to be acclimating to the idea that print and online are different products. Unfortunately, the online product is rarely treated to the kind of professionalism and thoughtfulness it deserves or that the print edition gets. I think this will change, but it’s been slow in the Bay Area.

    Second, on classifieds: I’m starting to wonder if we should be relying so heavily on advertising (and the media model, as Chris Anderson describes it). I know numbers are climbing, but as has been said often, it’s probably going to be a while until revenues are at a comfortable level again, if ever. There have to be additional services news organizations can provide, a way to leverage the massive amounts of information collected. I’m thinking about sites like Motley Fool, or some of Dow Jones products, or even the research service some newsrooms offer. Something along the lines of, “Some information wants to be free, and some wants to be very expensive.”

  4. It will be interesting to revisit this in another year. There has certainly been a shift on the dynamics of this topic over the past year to 18 months. In that same amount of time, I think you’ll see yet another fundamental change.

    There are a lot of good traditional writers out there who could easily make the shift to online and have a positive impact on the content that’s available there.

    Unfortunately, they’ll likely need to leave their traditional media company to do it – like many of their colleagues already have.

  5. Great update, Ryan. My experience is that people in the newsroom, reporters and editors, are not the problem. They get that we need to be trying new things, in fact, many of things on your list, to have more impact online.

    Here’s the problem: We still make 85 percent of our money from the print edition of the paper. And anything that takes away from that print golden calf makes management and ownership VERY nervous. It’s not the newsroom, it’s the ownership which in many cases is now up to its eyeballs in debt.

    So the message is: Yes, keep trying new things. Just keep doing everything else you were doing for the print paper, too. That’s unrealistic for most people on a personal level, and leads to a lot of experiments failing simply for lack of time and resources, rather than because the concept was necessarily bad.

    People in the newsrooms are already over capacity, and can’t take on more duties and be expected to sustain it. Until newspapers resolve this issue of capacity, and figure out a new business model for online, reporters will continue to trickle away from the job, burned out from exhaustion. It’s easy to be snide and say “Good riddance.” But these folks all too often leave with unmatchable knowledge of their local communities that only comes with putting in years on the job.

  6. @ Chris Amico. You can find out more about “information wants to be free” here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_wants_to_be_free

    Information wants to be free, because we’re drowning in information. To get your information noticed, you have no choice but to make it free.

    Information wants to be expensive, because certain bits of information can be very valuable. Investment information, if specific and unique and helpful is very valuable to people looking to make money off that information, which is why the most successful paid services are financial in nature.

    We’ve seen no evidence that generalized neews coverage bestows on the receiver any economic benefit, or other valuable personal benefit; it’s just information; hence, people won’t pay for it.

    @Chris O’Brien: I just don’t buy that there is a wide swath of newsroom staffers who “get it.” The “we don’t have time” formulation sounds more like an excuse, because I see journalists every day who deal with all the same pressures, but they find a way to get the online job done. If you really do get it, you find a way to get the job done. You don’t make excuses.

Comments are closed.