Thursday, June 30, 2005
Japan: Internet surpasses newspapers as most read news medium
Housing the third largest newspaper market in the world after China and India and the top four dailies in terms of circulation, Japan could be the envy of newspaper publishers everywhere. But a recent survey conducted by the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology shows that the Japanese also have a large digital bug. 37 minutes of an average Japanese day is spent surfing the web for news, up five minutes from last year's survey, compared to 31 minutes spent with newspapers. As in most similar surveys, demographic comparisons explained the technological discrepancies between young and old, teenagers spending 23 minutes with newspapers, senior citizens spending 58. These numbers should not be discouraging for Japanese newspapers, nor newspapers in general. In surfing the Web for news, it's highly likely that readers consult their preferred daily's website if not others, ultimately increasing the "circulation" of papers, as shown in a study done by Scarborough Research and quoted by Yahoo! News (also see previous posting). It's not quite the end of print, but noting the current trends, newspapers should be investing in their websites in order to make them profitable.
India: the raging Mumbi newspaper war
It's getting ugly. Amidst multiplying circulations and conversely, increasing salaries and advertising sales, Indian newspapers have also been experiencing betrayal, and overall, mud-slinging in Mumbai. An article in the Asia Times Online paints the scene, showing that most of the diatribe is aimed at the Times of India (TOI). Agencyfaqs! has declared that the Times' response to the popular tabloid Mid-Day entitled Mumbai Mirror, has been a failure. A former employee of the Times who was the genius behind a very successful marketing campaign has defected to Direct News & Analysis (DNA), a rookie English publication set to knock TOI off its pedestal. Abhijit Bannerjee, owner of Wavelength Communications which is booked to print DNA said, "The most important development is that the Times of India monopoly is being broken." Vir Sanghvi, editorial director of Hindustan Times, which is also trying to push into the Mumbai market, commented on the Times' apparent arrogance with, "Readers in India's most prosperous, cosmopolitan and modern city... are tired of being taken for granted and treated like morons." Whoa! Maybe TOI, who just published an article saying that it's the biggest selling English broadsheet in the world, should call for reinforcements. The Asian Times article, which makes TOI out to be the villain, also warns against the possible decline in journalistic quality and a financial bubble which could be inflating around the industry. If it pops, many of the journalists now enjoying irregularly high salaries may soon be out of work.
Source: Asia Times Online
California: the regional newspaper of the future?
The San Jose Mercury News eliminated the traditional local, national, and international news print sections recently, bunching them all into one big 'A' section. Figuring that most readers already know the major US and World headlines before they even pick the Mercury up thanks to TV and the Internet, the daily's editors decided to print them in the back of Section A and place emphasis on local news, something that won't be found as easily from other sources. Important stories not on the front page are neatly briefed in a box with all pertinent headlines for readers to scan, directing them to the Section A page on which the story is printed. Although to some this move may sound logical, especially those who use the Internet as a primary source of news, the Merc's readers responded less than favorably. The most frequent complaint was that it was difficult to share the paper over breakfast with a spouse or family seeing as all of the news is packaged in one section. Others said that instead of heightening the importance of local news, it degrades it, as well as world news, by not providing them with separate sections. The paper's executive editor, Susan Goldberg, was receptive to reader concerns, but her responses tended to support the new initiative, saying it had "created better orgnaization of international news."
What does such a decision, breaking over a century of newspaper tradition, say about where the newspaper industry could theoretically be headed? What about the future of journalism in general?
1. Immediate news: although a sole news section sounds confusing, Ms. Goldberg does have a point: many readers already know what's going on in the world by the time they find the morning paper on their doorstep. Why would they want to pay to hear it again with a newspaper subscription? Seeing as newspaper Websites are still divided into sections, The Merc, notably read by the Silicon Valley crowd, may be guiding traditionalists on the digital way essentially saying, "This is where our medium is going. It's time to get used to it."
2. Changing local journalism: regional newspapers may have to start looking at events outside of their area in a different light. Since most of a paper's readership will already be aware of major national and international news, "What do these events mean for us," style journalism may become the regional norm.
3. Citizen journalism: one critique of the format change questions the relevance of local over broader news saying, "What does it say about our society when we'd rather read about a pothole or speeding ticket, then what truly matters in the world today?" Well, even though some of us place wars and poverty above local news, there are always going to be many people who care about what's going on in their own communities. The Merc might be right in focusing on its region, but how thorough of a job can it even do there? Does it have enough staff to get to every education board meeting, cover every fire, every community event? Chances are, some of these jobs are going to be outsourced to a newspaper's readers as the citizen journalism movement develops.
4. Growing prominence of news agencies: As newsroom budgets are increasingly squeezed, they will have less resources for correspondents and conversely, their national and international coverage will wane even more. News agencies such as the Agence France Presse and Reuters who have the resources will more than likely become even more important than they are now. "But they only syndicate articles, they don't publish newspapers," you may object. Touche! What about these agencies' Websites. Let's take the Associated Press' recent move to charge newspapers for using its content online as of January as an example. Once a co-op for American newspapers, the AP has gradually grown apart from its founders. Does it seem that CEO Tom Curley's decision is simply a means of collecting more revenue, or a calculated decision to siphon more traffic to the AP website, eventually transforming it into a completely autonomous news organization? What happens to traditional newsrooms if this is the AP's plan?
It could be a bumpy ride, but when considering these theories, the San Jose Mercury News just may be on the right path.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Russia: major liberal newspaper threatened with sale
The Guardian reports that a spat between the editor-in-chief of the Moskovskiye Novosti (Moscow News), a well established liberal paper, and it's largest shareholder, Leonid Nevzlin, caused Mr. Nevzlin to threaten selling the paper. The spat stemmed from firings of senior staff by the aforementioned editor, Yevgeny Kiselyov, who neglected to inform company shareholder. Fears were raised that the paper could be bought by a company with ties to the Kremlin. But Mr. Nevzlin, who is wanted by the Russian government on fraud charges and has used the paper as an opposing voice to the administration, has promised that if he does sell the paper, it will only go to a "buyer who will pledge to continue defending freedom of the press."
Source: The Guardian (registration required)
Ireland's Independent News & Media invests in South African tabloids
As huge amounts of money is poured into Indian media by various companies (see posting), the Irish Independent News & Media group has shown how investing in developing economies can pay off. Primarily known for it's UK and Irish daily, The Independent, the Ireland's premier newspaper group has reported that it makes 13% of its revenue through its publications in South Africa. Now, the group has plans to increase it's sales in Africa's most well off nation by 16%. Head of the group's South African division, Tony Howard, talked of broadening its readership saying, "There is a strong possibility we will launch more African language titles and we want to expand our tabloid, Daily Voice." Howard commented that he is looking to publish in other African markets as well, primarily Nigeria, "because it is obviously a huge market and because we are also looking at outdoor advertising there."
Source: The Namibian
UK study predicts digital publishing to surpass print by 2020
A study commissioned by the British Library, which is currently working on the legal procedures necessary to digitize its collection, has estimated that in fifteen years, most of the print publishing industry will have switched to digital. By 2020, the study predicted that nine out of ten titles will be published solely in digital format. The library already links to a number of online material and the digitized national archives infrastructure it hopes to erect will include websites. But CEO of the library, Lynne Brindley warned, "In many ways digital material is more fragile than physical material and if we don't manage it effectively it won't survive for future generations."
Source: Net Imperative
New York Times goes for new revenues with theatre ticket sales
Although the daily is an international news powerhouse, the New York Times is selling tickets to its hometown's Broadway and Off-Broadway productions. AuctionBytes.com writes:
"The NYTimes' show and venue information pages have been upgraded to include links to up-to-date performance calendars and will soon offer show "trailers," short, edited streaming video clips from the shows. The section includes capsule reviews and cast information; reader reviews; schedules; search; multimedia features with audio from Times theater critics; discussion forum; and an "opening soon" feature.
NYTimes.com also offers TicketWatch, a free email service with discounted theater and performing arts offers that is sent regularly to over 325,000 subscribers who have signed up at www.nytimes.com/ticketwatch. Each email provides a special offer to a specific Broadway or Off Broadway show or performing arts event. The email includes a promotion code to use when ordering tickets by phone or online."
This doesn't appear to be a way to attract new readers, just a way to attract new revenue. Do moves like this cheapen the brand, or are newspaper companies always going to have to diversify in such a way as to build up the finances to provide to their newsrooms and continue their quality reporting? Would such services even be possible without newspaper Websites?
What mobile television means for newspapers
The French television group, Canal Plus, a division of Vivendi Universal, has struck a deal with SFR, a leading French mobile phone provider, according to the International Herald Tribune. For a 7 euro a month charge tacked on to their cellular bill, customers will now be able to use their 3G mobile phones to scan about 20 Canal Plus channels. Subscribers are expected to use the new technology whenever they have a spare minute, mostly during their daily commute and in between meetings.
So how will newspapers be affected?
Well, think about it.
What do people traditionally do on the train in between home and work?
Answer: read their city newspaper.
How has this already changed?
Answer: just look at the myriad of Mp3 players that have commuters tapping their feet, not to mention the explosion of free papers such as Metro and 20 Minutes.
How is this going to change again?
Answer: Instead of tuning into their iPod, closing their eyes and tuning out of the sardine-packed metro, commuters will, sooner rather than later, be plugging their earphones into their Nokia (who recently estimated global mobile phone penetration at 3 billion by 2010), and staring at their mobile screen watching whatever they'd like, from breaking news to sitcoms to sporting events.
We have heard much about the opportunities mobile phones provide to newspapers through subscriptions to periodic text alerts which in turn could connect to an article. But does 3G television technology render this nascent innovation already obsolete? Will consumers ultimately vie for video over text? There's certainly a high possibility.
So how do newspapers adjust?
Convergence and multimedia training for journalists. It seems that from the size of a mobile screen and the sporadic spurts of time consumers will have to watch it, programming will have to be packaged to fit these restrictions. Most people are not going to be watching Hollywood blockbusters on a two inch by two inch screen. But they will be interested in catching up on what's going on in the world in brief news blurbs. "Well," you might argue, " the five minute segments pumped out on the nightly news would be a perfect fit." True, but many consumers used to quality newspaper journalism find this type of news too shallow for their liking. Thus, newspapers would be wise to train their own journalists in multimedia production and converge with television companies and mobile providers to produce commuter briefings that entice watchers to become readers, linking them to the print article that could feasibly be sitting on their desk, or their desktop, when they arrive at the office.
The dynamics of the newspaper market have changed. The reader is no longer going to come to you. Instead, you're going to have to find ways to attract the reader to your content. Mobile television will definitely be a powerful medium through which to accomplish this.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
US media frowns on anonymous sources
When the founder of USA Today, Al Neuharth, calls the time-tested practice of anonymous sources an "evil of journalism," what does it mean? Well, for Judith Miller, a reporter for the New York Times, and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, it could mean jail time. For investigative reporters, it could mean greater difficulties in uncovering the truth. And for potential scandal-breaking sources, it could mean that they'll keep their mouth shut if their anonymity can not be protected. The combination of the stain left on reporting by the likes of Jayson Blair, who falsified stories while working for the New York Times, and the recent disclosure of the anonymous source, Deep Throat, the government insider who helped direct the Watergate investigation, bring new light to this old debate. Sure, nobody wants to hear of journalists conjuring up sources to fit their story, as happened with Blair. But nobody (aside from a few top official who will remain, well, anonymous), wants to restrict the job of the Fourth Estate in digging up information that the public should know. So where do we draw the line?
Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism thinks that the sudden movement against anonymous sources stems from "an attempt to tighten, to eliminate a looseness that's developed over the last 20 years," and is not designed to "make it difficult to do investigative reporting." Eric Burns of Fox News Watch thinks that this has to do with the decline in trust of journalists by the public and between fellow journalists since the Watergate days. Maybe these assumptions are true, but there remain no industry-wide guidelines concerning the use of anonymous whistle-blowers. USA Today requires that its managing editors be privy to the identity of the unnamed source before an article is published. Most local papers don't even allow anonymous sources, according to a survey done by the Associated Press. During the Watergate reporting, anonymous sources were permitted, but suspected criminal activity had to be confirmed by two alternative sources before being made public. Now, Burns feels that "What is likely to happen... is that (reporters will) have to use more than one anonymous source before they're comfortable."
Should guidelines be set? Who's to write them? How will they be reinforced? Will we ever see investigative journalists able to uncover Watergate caliber scandals again? What do you think?
Whatever happens, Ms. Miller, who's being forced to disclose her anonymous sources by US Federal Courts, said she would rather spend the 18 months in jail than contradict the promise she made to those sources.
ps. Editor & Publisher has let it be known that the Sacramento Bee has been unable to find 43 'people' quoted by Diana Griego Erwin, a columnist who resigned on May 11 under speculation of fabricated sources. With problems such as these, regaining public trust is only going to become harder.
The end of subscriptions?
BusinessWeek Online paints a rosy financial picture for the newspaper of the future... if it can adapt to the Internet revolution. Based on Apple's iTunes model, newspapers may sooner than later find that selling content article by article will ultimately become more profitable than selling subscriptions. Online news readers tend to read "info chunks" of preference as opposed to traditionally reading a newspaper front to back. News aggregators such as Yahoo! and Google are already striking deals to spider into various publications' paid content, where readers are offered the option of paying for the article they would like to read and only that article. For this to work more smoothly on the Web, a pre-planned system of micropayments, in which paid sites and content that a user accesses will be automatically added to a monthly bill, will have to be erected. This system could theoretically lead to the division of content into articles, photos, graphics, etc., each hit receiving a small sum. Since analysts see this system as the next step in news reading, newspapers would be wise to decide how to best package their content.
Source: BusinessWeek Online