Monday, August 17, 2009

Pontificating on the Press

I mentioned in the previous post the PG's editorial on blogging that followed up on Netroots Nation. Here is a parsing of that editorial. I was going to leave it alone, but it just seems that my good friends at the PG are missing the point. If you want to skip all the words, just go to the bottom and call up the link I have to a youtube video labeled prosumers. Otherwise, here are a few sentences from their editorial over the weekend and some tough love comments.

1. “Ouch! As the older information delivery system of the two – “ (blogging and print media that is)

Stop already with that… You have to ask yourself. Is blogging an ‘information delivery system’? Of course not. Blogging is not another medium delivering the same news in an alternate vehicle. The Internet might be described as such a new medium, as a new ‘information delivery system’ that is. But blogging and the Internet are not synonyms in any sense. It's like saying editorialists define all of the printed word.

2. “we at the Post-Gazette are feeling slightly wistful as bloggers come into their own just as a handful of newspapers are closing around the country.”

I was going to quibble with the “just a few” characterization, but as yet I suppose it’s true enough. It is equally true that ‘just a few’ print media organizations are making money these days. Wait. Print media and blogging may have more in common than they know. Do newspapers really want to become blog-like? Then their only hope is declaring themselves nonprofits.

3. “ There was a time when newspapers occupied the center of the media universe.

Sure.. but it wasn’t in the year before the WWW was created. Walter Cronkite just passed away right? The ‘most trusted man in America’ and all of that. When did CBS first put him on the air? Network news has been burning a hole in print media longer than most current journalists have been working.

4. “The condescension that many print journalists once felt toward bloggers is long gone”

Well, that's honest. Granted it’s not the PG, but they seem to be trying to speak for their profession. This was from not too long ago:

Mourn not for end of pointless blogging

and the PG was firing off lawyers at those pesky internet people not too long ago as well:

5. “replaced by a determination to wed Internet-based technologies to the centuries-old discipline of daily news-gathering.”

This is where I get confused. In fact, the PG does a pretty decent job at wedding “Internet-based technologies” to news gathering. Awfully good I would say. The metrics I have seen show the PG ranking far above what the local population ought to support. If that isn't working for them, then do newspapers need to think differently about how to deliver the news, or do they need to think differently about the news itself?

6. “ It is a survival mechanism, as well as an acknowledgment, that what we do as a newspaper must evolve if it is to remain relevant.

And when was this not true? When is it not true for every industry?

7. “Despite a certain amount of sibling rivalry, no one appreciates what newspapers do more than bloggers.”

Again, the whole sibling rivalry starts from a premise that blogging and journalism are the same thing…

8. “Many will admit that they rely on mainstream media for initial reporting of the facts, though that is changing as more reporters join the ranks of bloggers.”

Ha. So I guess it never happens that the mainstream media gets any reporting of facts from bloggers however defined. I really wonder, would Mark Felt have started an anonymous blog 36 years ago instead of passing notes to Woodward, then an unknown young local beat reporter that his editor was likely to ignore. The point is that it’s not just an alternative means of transmission. I have to admit I don’t get the intended meaning of the latter clause about reporters joining the ranks of bloggers.

9. “Through one platform or another, the Post-Gazette and other deeply rooted news organizations plan to be around and serving democracy for a long time.

I suppose we could argue over what a long time is.

I just sense a great deal of transference going on. The business model of print media is in trouble no doubt. I don’t think any of that is because of bloggers at all. It may be in trouble because of those disruptive intertubes, but that is another matter altogether. Can anyone find any study quantifying the number of folks who are so satisfied with the news delivery of blogs in particular that they canceled a single print media subscription? I would lay odds that if there are people canceling their PG subscription because of online content, it’s because of the online content of other print media organizations. So those who can read the NYT online really have no need to see the AP news filler in a local print paper everyday do they? It’s just easier to focus on the face of bloggers since getting mad at the NYT would be tilting at windmills. To meet its enemy print media needs to look in the mirror.

What I sense is that someone thinks newspapers are like railroads that didn’t get into the airline business because they did not view themselves holistically as transportation providers. If newspapers just don’t make the same mistake and think of themselves as more than ink, as omnimedia information providers, then they will not go the way of the Pennsylvania Railroad. It’s a deceptively simple analogy that sounds good, but is meaningless. It’s not that the medium is changing, but how people are relating to the news that is changing. Print media once ruled because it was a captive and passive audience that had little other source for the news that mattered to them. Both the captive and the passive parts are history. The former more so than the latter, but give it a few months. Newspapers have to realize they will never again be that sole source of information. Their future will be finding a role in that new world where we are all ‘prosumers’.

Do I have an answer for the future of print media? Of course not. But it seems to me that most financially strapped newspapers are doing the opposite of what they need to. If the headline news will be blasting out of our phones, newspapers have to focus on the in depth, local reporting that only they can do. Yet most ‘reorganizations’ have moved away from that admittedly expensive model of reporting. I don't quite know where it all ends. I will bet that that more than any incremental steps, everything must change. Otherwise, just go read Reflections of a Newosaur.


Blogger n'at said...

I wonder how far you can take that railroad/airline analogy. The railroads operate within a completely different set of rules, simply because they were here first. The government doesn't have the rights that railroads do.
Each mode of transportation has their niche.

How could these apply to print and blag media? Access, rights and regulations? Do the laws of this country provide bias towards the newspapers and other long standing print media or to blag posters?

Monday, August 17, 2009 4:29:00 PM  
Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

"It’s not that the medium is changing, but how people are relating to the news that is changing."

Do you know of any html tag that will put text in rainbow colored blinking strobe light? Because that is a good candidate for such treatment.

I honestly get the feeling, despite the fact that everybody wants to become profitable again, that most newspaper men and women will at the end of the day elect to go down with their ships on principle. Whatever that principle will have been, we won't remember.

But you're right, I don't know what will replace it; their loss is not our gain. I feel like the newspaper industry needs a Vince McMahon.

Monday, August 17, 2009 5:41:00 PM  
Blogger EdHeath said...

According to my twelve year old HTML book, "blink" with the greater than less than signs will cause text to blink (I have to put that way, because Blogger doesn't like the actual HTML tag). If you use Netscape.

Oh, a rhetorical question ...

If only there was a citizen journalist newspaper ... I've have some issues at home, but shortly I would like to give that a try.

Monday, August 17, 2009 7:51:00 PM  
Blogger Burgher Jon said...

As an only somewhat related side comment... I would be interested to hear Dejan Kovacevic's opinion on this. Does anyone know him?

Dejan is the Baseball Beat Writer for the Post-Gazette and while I'm sure he wouldn't comment on the record, I'd love to buy him a beer and find out. You see, his blog the PBC Blog (which is hosted on the P-G's website), is FANTASTIC, better then the actual coverage in the paper (which it links to when necessary). The problem (and it's his/the p-g's not mine) is, I and most of my friends get the blog exclusively through feed readers. Meaning not only do we never open a post-gazette (I don't even live in Pittsburgh at the moment), we rarely even go to their website (at least for sports).

I have wondered in the past and thought I would post here, my concern. What if his invaluable work on the blog is actually costing the paper readers? What if our favorite busman is in the same pickle? I would hate to have to see journalists chose. There must be a way for the paper to gain from readers without taking from their usability.

Monday, August 17, 2009 8:12:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Speaking of blogs being better reads that the paper, I'm much too happy that PittGirl is returning. Would I rather read insults to pigeons than whatever building burned last night? Yes, I would.

Monday, August 17, 2009 9:05:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

The blink tag went out of favor because it would induce the reader to want to reach through the screen and try to throttle the author. Just say no.

Many are trying various forms of the online citizen journal... among others isn't that Ryan H's current exercise?

For those who do not realize it. Sports blogging in the media is a different issue altogether. The PG sports blogs get more eyeballs than any of the other blogs by orders of magnitude. So it may be a question as BJ raises of almost being too successful. It's complicated because success brings greater copyright scrutiny in various forms and it's unclear how far you can push the model in a local paper.

and I like the railroad analogy.. at least in how I think it defines how some view print media's problem. Sure every mode of transportion (mode of news distribution?) has it's niche. But that does not obviate the fact that if you were a shareholder in a passenger rail company, or an employee of a passenger rail company 60 or so years ago you wound up losing your shirt.

Monday, August 17, 2009 10:10:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Hopkins said...

Chris, thanks for the great post and the shout-out. For the last eight months, my collaborators and I have been working on getting a online citizen journalism publication, called The Pittsburgh Citizen, off the ground. We've had some great successes (a series of well-attended training workshops and development of a versatile publishing platform) and some definite challenges. The principal challenge that we, like most citizen journalism projects face, is sustainability. How do you produce a dynamic, vibrant publication with original reporting by non-professional journalists who have jobs, families, and other life commitments? We certainly haven't solved that problem yet, but we have learned a lot this year and are getting much closer to launching a sustainable publication.

As I think everyone involved in citizen media acknowledges, we are just beginning to understand the influential role that citizen media (in its many incarnations) is going play within a much more diverse media landscape. That influence, however, will have nothing to do with how the message is delivered or who is delivering it, but will instead derive from a reliance on "journalism" itself, well produced.

Despite the many shrill warnings over the past year, journalism is far from dead. In fact, journalism has not been this alive in decades, with new for-profit companies like EveryBlock and Patch, and new non-profit projects like and Spot.Us, showing what is possible and changing how we think about journalism (from who produces it to who pays for it). The newspapers are so smug because they haven't realized yet that they don't have a monopoly on journalism. They, like most of the rest of the world, have conflated "newspapers" with "journalism".

In my opinion, what would really take citizen journalism to the next level is for us to show that we, as citizen media creators, understand the value of the journalistic process and put that process to better uses by focusing on stories that the mainstream media won't or can't cover well.

That is what we are trying to do with The Pittsburgh Citizen - give citizen journalists traditional journalistic resources (training, a place to publish, an editorial mentor, help in accessing documents, even a story idea) so that stories that wouldn't otherwise be reported are covered. In this respect, we have more in common with publications like the Public Press in San Francisco ( and the Gotham Gazette ( in New York, rather the Daily Kos or Talking Points Memo.

For me, the most important conversation in citizen media is not between mainstream publications and citizen media creators, but the one that should be taking place among citizen media creators themselves, starting with the question: Where do we want to take citizen media?

If anybody is interested in getting involved with The Pittsburgh Citizen, please don't hesitate to contact me at

Tuesday, August 18, 2009 12:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, making money. That's the missing piece in all this "citizen journalist" prosumerism. While I'm providing and consuming content, what am I going to eat? Or will the memory and "experience" of food be enough to sustain me?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 9:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thought for the Pittsburgh Citizen--Street News. That was/is the NYC newspaper produced and sold by homeless people. Might be a good model. Seriously.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 9:05:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home