Friday, July 29, 2005
Lachlan Murdoch resigns
As New York Business reports "News Corp. deputy Chief Operating Officer Lachlan Murdoch ... resigned from his father Rupert Murdoch's flagship media company" and will step down by August 31. He was seen as a possible heir to his father's leadership of News Corp. According to NEWS.com.au Lachlan Murdoch stated: "I look forward to returning home to Australia with my wife, Sarah, and son, Kalan... I will remain on the board and I am excited about my continued involvement with the company in a different role." According to Business Week Ruport Murdoch said: "I was particularly saddened by my son's decision and thank him for his terrific contribution to the company."
South Africa: tabloids riding a wave of sales
"Racist sharks that devour white swimmers" - with stories like that South African tabloids are stunningly successful. According to IOL "South Africa's young tabloid industry is riding a wave of sales". But some fear a decline in credible journalism.
As namibian reports publishers are changing their newspapers which were traditionally aimed at the white minority. Eleven years after apartheid ended tabloids are launched targeting "the huge black market, where improved literacy and higher living standards have created a new market of newspaper readers." Thabo Leshilo, editor of Sowetan claims on Media&Guardian online that South African society has moved "from sobriety to sizzle. The 1970s and 1980s have gone; this year is the one of tabloid journalism."
"I think people finally realised what a completely untapped market it was", says Karl Brophy executive director of Daily Voice on IOL. Daily Voice was launched in March in Cape Town. Due to its success publisher Independent News, who makes 13% of its revenues in South Africa and is the leading newspaper publisher there, is now planning to expand the paper. It will also launch more African language newspapers reports namibian.
South Africa's top-selling daily the Daily Sun, published by Naspers, reaches about 2.3 million readers daily according to statistics on SouthAfrica.info. But the style of reporting of tabloids like the Daily Sun also evokes criticism. Mail&Guardian online states: "Crass archetypal narratives ... are the stuff of cheap fiction and they're a country away from credible journalism. Yet, an entertainment media vehicle does not have to be pure garbage. " This problem was also a topic at the general Meeting of the South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) two weeks ago. After a long debate the editors finally embraced the rise of tabloid journalism and called it "a vibrant element of the changing media landscape" as Mail&Guardian online reports. Nevertheless the problem continues to trouble Sanef editors, especially the question of what constitutes racism in the media.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Germany: mind your photographs!
On Thursday Princess Caroline von Hannover and Germany reached a friendly settlement in one of the most controversial cases in media law. Germany will pay 115,000 Euro to Caroline, 105,000 for cost and expenses and 10,000 Euro for non-pecuniary damage. The impetus of the case were photographs appearing in German magazines showing Caroline shopping, riding or biking. According to Netzeitung (in German) in particular photos showing Caroline with a bald head triggered her to fight against the paparazzi.
The corresponding decision of the European Court of Human Rights is already one year old. In June 2004 the court ruled that "there had been a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private life) of the Convention, in that the German courts had failed effectively to protect the applicant's private life against interferences resulting from the publication by various German magazines of photos of her in her daily life." With this ruling the court disagreed with former rulings from German courts, notably one from the German Federal Constitutional Court which ruled that celebrities would have to accept the publication of photographs also without their consent, albeit with some restrictions, reports FAZ.net (in German).
According to Newsclick (in German) German media claim that the decision constitutes a charter to censorship. But despite pressure from publishers and broadcasting stations the German government did not appeal against the judgment. Thereupon the media accused the government of sacrificing press freedom in their own interest. However, there seems to be some uncertainty among German journalists as to which ruling, that of the European Court of Human Rights or that of the Federal Constitutional Court, should guide their work. As stated by Newsclick it is very likely that many photographs and articles are already not published for fear of proceedings.
Citizen "news junkies" become editors
You may be familiar with the concept of the the 'citizen media editor,' a newsroom position dedicated to sifting through participatory journalists' contributions described by Mark Glaser of Online Journalism Review back in March (previous posting). Take the 'media' out of the job title and what do you get? Citizen Editor! That's right, those feisty readers are at it again, rocking the foundations of what has always been your stable, however stressful, job as an editor.
Don't panic just yet. These readers still depend on your paper's news to do their editing... but they smoosh it together with a bunch of other sources meaning that your articles could get lost in the information fray. In the spirit of GoogleNews or other such online aggregators, the recently launched CommonTimes, which explains itself as 'a social bookmarking community for news readers,' solicits "news junkies" to post links to the articles they are reading on its homepage. This essentially makes any contributor an editor of the site as he/she decides what's newsworthy. The site looks suspiciously bloggish, but it is nicely divided into the various categories you find in any standard newspaper, each with its own RSS feed, countered by a chaotic gaggle of tags (key words with a list of related articles), in the far right column. One large problem noticeable right off of the bat: each headline (there are about 7 per category on the homepage) does not list the source nor the time which can be particularly problematic for those who are deciding what to click on, and especially for the sources themselves who are trying to maintain a strong brand name.
All in all, I wouldn't be worrying about your job as newspaper editor. But, as CommonTimes gains recognition and more contributors, it could prove to be a very eclectic and interesting mix of news. English speakers (if successful, the site could theoretically branch out into other languages) all over the world could contribute articles from their local journals that most would never hear of, releasing online news aggregators from the selective shackles of a computer and handing the power back to people. Such a variety of news is a wonderful educational tool and great means of opening the door to a more transparent world. But what about large news organizations? How will they deal with increasing competition from all over the world?
News vs. Entertainment: Should newspapers give readers what they need or what they want?
"Northwestern women students wearing flip flops to a White House ceremony" - not exactly a story one would consider to be a hot topic. But nevertheless it received big coverage in the media. Louis B. Raffel called it "herd journalism" in the Chicago Tribune. He concludes: "Cute story, but what ever happened to news judgment?" Is this story maybe an example for a wider trend in news coverage to be softer and more entertaining while serious news stuff is declining? Are news values changing?
One signal is the increase in reporting about celebrities. It is not the question whether stories about celebrities should be reported, it is more about the balance as Warren Watson from the American Press Institute (API) argues: "Until recently, celebrity newsmakers were kept in their place: big-city tabloid newspapers, special scandal-hungry publications...? No one disputed that the news should be covered, but rarely did celebrity happenings warrant top-line news play. That has changed in the last dozen years. The proliferation of cable television broadcasts and other media, an infatuation with Hollywood scandal, and a pronounced focus on the personality of newsmakers are pushing serious news off news broadcasts and the front pages of newspapers large and small."
The reason for this change might be that newspapers are trying to deliver what people want in order to stay competitive. John Carroll, the outgoing editor of the Los Angeles Times, states at API: "The public, particularly the much-sought-after young reader, has an insatiable appetite for celebrity coverage. And newspaper-owning corporations are more interested these days in responding to raw market demands, no matter how demeaning."
Perhaps as an answer to this "insatiable appetite for celebrity coverage" the Virgin Group is planning a daily free newspaper in New York City which focuses on show business and entertainment as Forbes reports. Not only would that challenge existing "entertainment newspapers" such as Variety, but it could also be attractive to readers of Metro and am New York, the two general interest free dailies.
So what to do about it? "The media give the public what the public wants, but maybe it's time to give the public what it needs instead" argues Salma Ghanem, professor of communications at University of Texas-Pan American in a comment in Dallas News, found through Mediachannel. She claims that with ever more entertaining news the media "don't fulfill the social-responsibility role ..., which should serve as a catalyst for an informed citizenry. The struggle for ratings, which translate into advertising dollars, is behind the media's insatiable appetite for sensational stories. Perhaps we should start exploring new ways to fund the media so they won't be susceptible to market forces." Could uncoupling the media from market forces be a solution? What would be the alternatives? There could be directly government-funded media, which is surely not desired in democratic societies. And there could be more public models such as the BBC. But why should we wish to abandon private, market-driven mass media? After all, to remain relavant, an alternatively funded newspaper would still need to maintain an audience. Wouldn't that audience simply go elsewhere if said paper didn't give it what it wanted?
Israel: The first place I look for information is the internet
Yet another study is finding that newspapers are loosing ground while the internet is gaining. A TGI survey published on Tuesday revealed a 67% increase in the use of the internet as the main source of information among Israeli adults. According to Globes the number of respondents agreeing with the statement "The first place I look for information is the internet" rose from 23% in January-June 2003 to 38.5% in January-June 2005. That is still less than half of the population but the trend is highly visible. Meanwhile almost all newspapers lost readers, up to 10% within one year. However, exposure rates of some religious and ultra-Orthodox weekend newspapers rose, but on a relatively low level.
Analysing that the study corresponds with results from other countries the Poynter states: "It's a good time to be in the Internet media business, clearly." Apparently that is what Rupert Murdoch thinks as well (see former posting).
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
US: Media trying to shed bias?
Responding to an e-mail by a reader blaming the Los Angeles Times to be too left-wing in its news coverage, Jon Friedman writes on MarketWatch: "What readers refuse to concede is that even if a media organization does have a bias - and, yes, many do, in both political directions - they still have a professional obligation to report on the news. Most do a decent, if not a good, job at it". He suggests that, perhaps due to those readers "the media generally are trying harder to shed the long-held belief that they are liberal rebels with a cause."
"I am noticing that the news networks are trying to look more balanced. Their biggest problem is perception. Viewers seem to think they have a conspiracy against the American people to present only one side of the news" states Bob Thompson, professor of pop culture at Syracuse University, on MarketWatch.
Source: Market Watch
Craigslist: the scourge of newspaper classifieds
If you've read articles about a man named Craig and his free online classifieds, you've probably noticed Craig's smiling face in the accompanying photo. Well, Craig has a lot to smile about. He now has classified sites in almost every major US city and in about 100 cities around the world. Newspaper execs hate this guy. And for good reason. According to a London consulting firm, in its relatively short existence, Craigslist has "destroyed" approximately 75% of US newspaper classified pricing, rates on which just last year newspapers depended on for over 35% of their revenue. Danny Meadows-Klue in the UK's The Guardian writes, "The list is not bad news; it's terrible news. The business model cuts at the heart of newspaper profitability and does so with such elegance, and is so intrinsically orientated to the new economy, that you can't help but shrug and say 'this is the future.'" Well, yeah! Every article written about the San Francisco based .org cites the impossibility of newspapers to compete with such a phenomenon.
Example: New York Metro recently wrote an article that proves Craigslist's huge competitive advantage. Not only does the article state that Craigslist receives 50,000 new NYC classifieds a day (25 times as much as in 2001), but also, "In its pre-Craig, May 4 1999, issue, the Village Voice listed 821 rentals and 88 sublets. May 4, 2005 saw 430 rentals and only 8 sublets. On Craigslist, rentals and sales listings are now at about 20,000 and 2,000 per day, respectively. And it allowed more owners to sell or rent sans middleman (no fee!)."
Personal anecdote: I was once looking to sublet my apartment and posted a late night 500 word description for free. I had 10 responses by morning in my email inbox. I am currently looking for an apartment. Last night I found two places that I liked. I know I liked them because there was detailed descriptions and pictures, one even with a link to show me exactly in which part of the city it was. So I emailed them. This morning both landlords responded to me.
Something else I noticed. Say you're moving across the country or overseas and need to find an apartment. Craigslist has you covered since the Internet and email know no physical worldly boundaries.
I'm sorry, but you can't tell me with a straight face that a 150 character classified ad on a jumbled page of black and white that I have to pay for can beat that. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it doesn't appear that newspapers are going to be able to trump Craig's model. They could, however, join him, as some papers have started doing (see previous posting). Newspapers could simultaneously place advertisements in their (free) local online classifieds as a means of revenue. Local customers may end up trusting their newspaper more than a broad global phenomenon.
Truth-telling in journalism starts with the sourcing of information
Truth in general exists in 2 forms: in the object itself and in the mind of the perceiver argues Robert Lazaro in a comment in The Manila Times, found through Mediachannel. So the truth for an individual is always depending on how he perceives reality which is also dependent on his convictions. This is similar to what scholars in psychology often find. Regarding journalism Robert Lazaro points out that "when a journalist perceives the truth in his object, he has already taken sides without realizing that he is probably being subjective in so doing". Nevertheless he thinks of truth as "a guiding principle and an ultimate end of the journalist... Truth in journalism is not an empty play of words but a straight-to-the-point reality ... Deadlines, competition for newsbreaks and the need to catch public attention are not excuses for inaccuracies, slanting or semantics."
He states furthermore that "truth-telling in journalism starts with the sourcing of information". Sources are those to which the journalist's senses have access. Although this is meant more in a perceptual sense, it is also a good point regarding the ongoing discussion about anonymous sources (see former posting) and the attempt to establish a federal shield law in the US (see former posting). If due to lacking protection confidential sources are stopping to talk to newspaper, as happened at the Time magazine already (see article), then of course this will influence journalist's perception of reality. On the other hand editors will have to control for faked sources as recent scandals reveal.
US: Paid product placement in newspapers?
Product placement, which has transformed the TV advertising marketplace, is spreading its influence to all forms of media. At least that is what, according to MediaPostPublications, a new report by PQ Media, a Stamford-based media research firm, is suggesting. The report, which shall be published on Wednesday, estimates product placements in newspapers to rise 16.9 % to $65.0 million. MediaPostPublication states that even those numbers are small "the presence of any paid placements would seem troubling for editors or pride themselves on presenting objective news content that supposedly is not influenced by advertisers or other business interests."