There is no newspapers

I’ve been saying those words in person to people a lot lately:

“There is no newspapers.”

What’s it mean?

It means that if you’re in the business of publishing pronouncements, predictions, prayers, analysis, criticism, or full on takedowns related to the current state of the newspaper industry, please understand that despite the convenience it would provide for said ruminations, there is no such thing as a monolithic, uniform entity called “newspapers.”

Really.

In my relatively short career, connected in one way or another to a wide variety of newspapers, I’ve already been involved with organizations staffed by crews of 1, 3, 10, 30, 100, 300, and 1,000 — and they’re owned by individuals, universities, nonprofits, corporations, communities, investment bankers, media moguls, local collectives — and the communities they serve have just as wide a variety of needs, wants, economies, sizes, shapes, colors, and creeds.

So the next time you’re about to use a phrase like “newspapers should…” or “newspapers have to…” or “newspapers can’t…” — I’d like you to stop for a moment and focus your decree a little more specifically.

Are you talking about the New York Times or are you talking about the Detroit News? Are you talking about the Denver Post or are you talking about the Holland Sentinel? Are you talking about El Pais or are you talking about El Nuevo Herald?

Are you talking about an imaginary entity where every piece of the puzzle is a uniformly shaped block, or are you talking about an incredibly diverse mass of publications that includes everything from shoppers to weeklies to alternative weeklies to the tiniest of dailies to major metros to national newspapers read all over the world?

Directly related: 10 little white lies you hear about the future of newspapers

Obviously: I’ve been guilty of this, myself, right here, although it’s been some time since my last “newspapers should.”

On IdeaLab: Reporter-turned-blogger covers the island of Alameda

Over at the PBS IdeaLab blog, I interviewed Michele Ellson, editor and publisher at The Island, a local news site devoted to covering the city of Alameda, which sits to the west of Oakland in San Francisco Bay. (Yes, it’s an island.)

Michele left newspapers in 2007 and launched The Island in early 2008, continuing a 17+ year journalism career.  I worked with Michele on the regional desk at ANG, before it became BANG, but you know it more informally as the cluster of newspapers in the Bay Area owned by MediaNews.  Back then, she was an investigative/enterprise reporter winning awards for a long series on the failures of group homes for young people and the developmentally disabled.

I talked with Michele about moving from a print-focused newsroom to a Web-only culture where she is the reporter, editor, community manager, and communications officer of her own organization:

“That’s another thing that I think was a shock for me in moving from print to online – the shift in what your readers want and expect from you in terms of their psychic needs (which shift from information to attention-getting, sometimes) and the kind of engagement they anticipate. I figure it’ll take a lot of work for me to fine-tune that engagement level.”

Read the whole thing at IdeaLab.

SPJ’s News Gems blog to close?

Jon Marshall’s News Gems blog at SPJ.org has been a quiet, consistent resource, chronicling high-quality reporting for more than three years.

Marshall is moving on to other endeavors:

“As we reach the end of 2008, I wish I could say that things have gotten easier for journalists. Of course they haven’t. But after producing this blog for three and a half years, I’m heartened by the tremendous stories we’ve had the honor of showcasing, from the first News Gem about nola.com’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina to brave reporting of the Iraq War to groundbreaking investigative scoops and beautiful profiles, narratives, photos and videos. I worried at first that there wouldn’t be enough good stories to fill the blog on a regular basis. I’ve had the opposite problem: too many great stories and not enough time to highlight them all.”

Read the whole thing.

Good luck to Jon, and a note to the SPJ: Don’t take down the blog, leave it up as an archive — it’s a tremendous list of stories that should stay in place.  Better yet, keep the blog going with new contributors.  I’ve enjoyed it, and learned from it.

Who’s hiring? Blogs.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo on plans for 2009:

“So January will usher in a new Democratic Ascendancy in Washington. And here at TPM we believe we are uniquely qualified to chronicle it. So to that end we are hiring two new reporter-bloggers to be based in Washington, DC, one assigned to the White House and one assigned to Capitol Hill. The Obama White House and the expanded Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill are unquestionably the political story of the next two years. And with your help we plan to be there on the ground and and here in New York, covering it in force, fully, critically and down to the minute.”

TPM is often the argument-ender if you find yourself stuck in a blogs vs. journalism debate circa 2004.  It’s journalism; it’s original reporting; it’s profitable.

Oh, and it has 10 employees.  And they’re hiring reporters. Right now.

See also: Josh Marshall on the growth of Talking Points Memo and independent media

via E-Media Tidbits

Bought out? Laid off? TypePad has your bailout.

The TypePad Journalist Bailout Program:

Recently bought out, laid off, or otherwise relieved of your daily newspapering duties?  SixApart’s TypePad blog service is offering a free account that usualy costs money, advertising services, and promotion at Blogs.com.

“Your blog can act as a clip file for your best pieces, whether you’re looking for freelance work or a new full-time gig. You can link to your best past stories and even add back in those two or three grafs that your editor cut. Best of all, the first result for a Google search on your name will be an active, engaging blog, instead of a neglected LinkedIn page or a placeholder ‘coming soon’ site or your old articles from a publisher that doesn’t even pay you anymore.”

While I generally recommend WordPress.com for all your *free* blogging needs, this sounds a like a pretty good bailout plan if you’re looking for somewhere to publish and don’t know where to start.  Check it out if that’s you.

via @allaboutgeorge

Placeblogger: More human than ever

Check out the redesigned Placeblogger a 2007 Knight News Challenge winner.

The aggregation-by-location niche seems to be blowing up lately, especially as startups try to hitch their maps to the iPhone’s wagon, but Placeblogger feels like real live humans are writing blog posts in real live places.  I like that.

via the Knight Foundation Blog.

See also: Build your own local news application using Outside.In’s API

A short manifesto on local linkblogging

Brittney Gilbert blogs for a TV station in the Bay Area.  I’ve mentioned her before, and even though I’ve moved geographically far from her coverage area, I keep up with her tweets and various postings.

Today she writes: I am not a journalist.

While I disagree (the curator is a journalist and the journalist is a curator), she lays out the logic and opportunity for the local linkblogger:

“The Bay Area is crawling with people passionate about their communities. They have their feelers out, covering the legislature, watching their streets and otherwise covering the San Francisco-area like a blanket. In fact, there are so many awesome local bloggers out there breaking and reporting news that you need a human to point you to the best and most important stuff. This, my friends, is my job.”

Does your news organization have a dedicated linkblogger, or does your staff contribute to the task of curating the local Web?  If not, why not?