Category Archives: newspapers

Jon Stewart: America’s News Anchor

While I was running this morning I was still thinking about what has happened in the past few years to the Akron Beacon Journal. You know. Sale to Black Press Ltd. Declining advertising and print circulation. Staff reductions. Defections of key reporters to The Plain Dealer. On and on. But it’s not just the Beacon Journal.

I’ve mentioned this previously. In my journalism classes at Kent State, at the beginning of every semester I would conduct a little in-class survey. How many read the printed edition of a newspaper regularly? A handful. How many get news and information from Google, Yahoo or similar sites? Maybe half the class. How many listen to radio news? Hehe. How many watch the network newscasts? A few. Local TV news? Yeah, maybe half the class of about 20 or so. How many watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart? Almost all hands straight up.

I think The New York Times has it right — in an article printed last Sunday: “Is Jon Stewart the Most Trusted Man in America?”  Here’s from the article:

In 1999, the “Daily Show” correspondent Steve Carell struggled to talk his way off Senator John McCain’s overflow press bus — “a repository for outcasts, misfits and journalistic bottom-feeders” — and onto the actual Straight Talk Express, while at the 2000 Republican Convention Mr. Stewart self-deprecatingly promised exclusive coverage of “all the day’s events — at least the ones we’re allowed into.” In this year’s promotional spot for “The Daily Show’s” convention coverage, the news newbies have been transformed into a swaggering A Team — “the best campaign team in the universe ever,” working out of “ ‘The Daily Show’ news-scraper: 117 stories, 73 situation rooms, 26 news tickers,” and promising to bring “you all the news stories — first … before it’s even true.”

Though this spot is the program’s mocking sendup of itself and the news media’s mania for self-promotion, it inadvertently gets at one very real truth: the emergence of “The Daily Show” as a genuine cultural and political force. When Americans were asked in a 2007 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press to name the journalist they most admired, Mr. Stewart, the fake news anchor, came in at No. 4, tied with the real news anchors Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw of NBC, Dan Rather of CBS and Anderson Cooper of CNN. And a study this year from the center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism concluded that “ ‘The Daily Show’ is clearly impacting American dialogue” and “getting people to think critically about the public square.”

Well, well. Jon Stewart: America’s news anchor. And why not? It’s a whole new news media world out there folks.

Key News Audiences Now Blend Online and Traditional Sources.” That’s the most recent report on the news media from the Pew Center for the People and the Press. If you have any interest in journalism or public relations — or even if you are wondering why your local newspaper isn’t what it used to be — take the time to read this report. Here are a few highlights:

Since the early 1990s, the proportion of Americans saying they read a newspaper on a typical day has declined by about 40%; the proportion that regularly watches nightly network news has fallen by half.

These trends have been more stable in recent years, but the percentage saying they read a newspaper yesterday has fallen from 40% to 34% in the last two years alone. Newspapers would have suffered even greater losses without their online versions. Most of the loss in readership since 2006 has come among those who read the print newspaper; just 27% say they read only the print version of a daily newspaper yesterday, down from 34% in 2006.

I don’t get to watch Jon Stewart much. The Daily Show is on way too late at night for me. And this week I missed the early-evening repeats because of the Olympics.

Did Obama announce his VP choice yet? Maybe someone will send me a tweet. Not sure if Barack has my e-mail address or not.

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Beach volleyball: I’m betting on the USA

OK. If you don’t want to know who won the gold in women’s beach volleyball stop now. Go to any of the A-list PR blogs. I’m sure they are still hotly debating the results of the PRWeek blogging contest.

But if you are interested in really important things, well, read on. Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor kicked some volleyball butt last night (this morning?, yesterday morning?) to win the gold. Here’s the story (and photo) from the Los Angeles Times, which is interesting because it talks about what they plan to do now, their decisions not to begin families until after the Olympics, on and on.

Anyway, beyond demonstrating the obvious that Walsh and May-Treanor are outstanding world-class athletes, this story also provides some perspective on the state of the news media today. I ready read enough about the beach volleyball victory online before 4 a.m. this morning that I sure didn’t need to hear the thud of the Beacon Journal hitting the porch at 6:30 a.m.  to spur me to action. And I imagine that NBC would have liked to have kept this for prime time viewing — but impossible. (Please tell me it wasn’t on TV last night and I slept through it. I get up every day between 3:30 and 4 a.m. so I have a hard time keeping track of time/days in the USA let alone China.)

Also no surprise, we are well into the era where people like me get their news differently now than even a year or so ago. I sat in my office yesterday following the details of the plane crash in Spain via Twitter. But I didn’t know that Cleveland Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones had died until I turned on the local news at 6 p.m.

And if you follow the link to the Stephanie Tubbs Jones story it takes you to Ohio.com, the Akron Beacon Journal website. The story is from the Associated Press. In this morning’s print edition, the Beacon Journal printed a story written by two reporters from The Plain Dealer. I’m old enough to remember when they were separate papers.

Yesterday I wrote about the non-story that talked about newsroom cutbacks at the Akron Beacon Journal but provided no real details. At one point I really believe the Beacon Journal was an outstanding regional newspaper. Now I’m not sure it is even a good local paper — one with the reporting resources to cover a major story in its own backyard. Every time you eliminate a reporting/editing job you reduce coverage and the overall quality of the product. Too bad. Wonder if the publisher has given instructions to the last person leaving the newsroom that he/she should turn out the lights?

Cars cheaper than Cleveland houses

Wonder how much the median price is for a  new — or used — car? Probably could find that somewhere. But not really worth the effort. But I was thinking about it while running this morning because of a story I read in The Plain Dealer yesterday.

“Has The Cleveland Housing Market Finally Hit Rock Bottom?” — by Mark Gillispie. The subhead: “Local prices plunge as glut of vacant homes are snatched up cheaply by outsiders looking to turn a quick profit.”

Gee. Another great story for the Cleveland economic development guys. The pitch: Cleveland. Home of cheap homes.

Well, probably not. Here’s a key paragraph:

The median home sale price in the city of Cleveland has dropped an astonishing 75 percent compared with the first six months of last year – from $62,000 to $15,500.

Ouch. And sad. Particularly for the residents of Cleveland and for the families involved. Folks, again, we’re facing some big problems here in Northeast Ohio and throughout the country. And we better start thinking about what we are going to do in a city where apparently you can now buy a house for about the same price as a car. And I wonder what the declining home values will mean in terms of school revenues — in Cleveland and elsewhere? I digress. And I wish I had something humorous to add here. But I don’t.

And since I am talking about The Plain Dealer I should mention that the management (publisher and editors) sure seem to be serious in doing what they need to survive as readers continue to abandon print for newspapers online. The printed version is readable — focused very much on local news (check out the front page any day) — and organized in a way that provides readers with information quickly and at a glance. Whether that will win over the young people and others who have abandoned the printed newspapers is doubtful. But The Plain Dealer is going to survive — online, with what is really a very good digital version. IMO. There is another newspaper closer to my home in Northeast Ohio that could learn some lessons here. And hopefully it will — sooner rather than later.

Newspapers, India and outsourcing

Well, maybe the death of newspapers isn’t being over-stated. I was thinking about this while circling Hilton Head on foot this morning. Did you ever call the customer service number of a U.S. company and talk to someone who, well, you figured wasn’t living in Iowa? Or anywhere else where Budweiser is still considered the Great American Lager. I have. And it hasn’t always been that pleasant.

And I recognize that we live in a global economy. But folks — here’s one that makes me gulp (and snicker) a little.

The Orange County Register in California, according to an Associated Press story printed in Business Week online, is going to outsource some of its copy editing and page layout work to a company in India, Mindworks Global Media, on a one-month trial basis.

“This is a small-scale test, which will not touch our local reporting or decision-making. Our own editors will oversee this work,” Fabris [John Fabris, deputy editor, Orange County Register] said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “In a time of rapid change at newspapers, we are exploring many ways to work efficiently while maintaining quality and improving local coverage.”

The Orange County Register isn’t the first newspaper to outsource jobs; it won’t be the last. And something tells me this isn’t a quality-of-work issue — but a cost-reduction plan. If employees at U.S. newspapers have to compete on a cost basis with workers in India and elsewhere — well, mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be copy editors. Here’s from the AP story:

Other newspapers also have outsourced some work to India. Mindworks began copyediting and design of a weekly community news section and other special advertising sections at The Miami Herald in January. A month earlier, the Sacramento Bee, also owned by the McClatchy Co., said it would outsource some of its advertising production work to India.

Guess newspapers are a business after all. When I was a journalism student at Kent State in the late 60s that was something never discussed in class or elsewhere. In fact, many soon-to-be-journalists were proud of the fact that they weren’t going to work in business. I also believe that what I’ll call an anti-business bias carried over into news coverage — and that affected the relationships between many reporters, editors and PR people. But I digress.

Hope that view has changed today — in the classrooms and in the newsrooms.

For those who still think that newspapers — and journalism in general — isn’t a business, this Bud’s for you.

And for those like me believe that a financially strong, independent news media — staffed by journalists with skills and ethics — are essential to our nation — well, I guess I’ll grab a 12-pack of Beck’s and head for the beach.

Blogging and CEOs: Oh, boy

It’s Sunday afternoon. And I should be outside enjoying the warm weather. Or at least be inside and gripping the gin bottle. But no. I’m writing about CEOs and their blogs. Again.

The Akron Beacon Journal had two business page stories this morning about CEOs and blogging: “CEOs take case to the public.” And “Blunders get attention.” Margarita Bauza with the Detroit Free Press wrote both articles.

I not sure that there is anything really new in either article. But here’s my take.

First, Bob Lutz, vice chairman of General Motors, is the featured CEO blogger. As usual. And since a reporter for the Detroit Free Press wrote the stories, the local connection makes sense. But is Lutz and his FastLane blog really the model? Or was he just one of the first — and now his name comes up in every Google search that reporters make for these kind of stories?

His blog is designed to talk to customers and others who are interested in GM products. And that’s great. And Lutz should be congratulated for taking the time and making the effort to keep customers and others informed. I’m all for that. The more communication the better.

But the subhead for the article says: “Corporate America uses posts to relay message, address concerns.” And if that were true, I would be a stronger advocate for CEO blogs. But I don’t think it is true today — and doubt that it will be in the future. Good for marketing and internal communications. I guess. Good for talking about financial performance, developments that may affect employee jobs and futures, potential mergers or divestments. Doubtful. Although John Mackey the CEO of Whole Foods is featured in the second article. Mackey distinguished himself by using a fake name to post anonymous comments on a Yahoo site criticizing a competitor, Wild Oats. Whole Foods eventually acquired Wild Oats. I digress.

Here’s why I’m skeptical about CEO blogs from the standpoint of corporate communications — news versus marketing — issues. Last week, Lutz wrote about the start of the Chevrolet Volt program, which I take it is some form of an electric car in the initial stage of development. That’s great. And important for a host of reasons. But less than two weeks ago, The New York Times reported that 19,000 GM wage employees have agreed to a buyout; that’s about 25 percent of GM’s current unionized workforce.

I imagine that’s important for GM to get its costs in line with competitors (and maybe with its own operations) in other countries. Yet I don’t know about anyone else, but it concerns me we’re continuing to witness the slow but steady decline of manufacturing — and well-paying manufacturing jobs — in this country. If Lutz and others start addressing these issues and concerns on blogs, I’ll become a believer.

And then I’ll use these stories to jump to another troubled industry: newspapers. The two stories about blogging took up a large part of the the ABJ’s business section. But there is absolutely no local connection. I would have found it interesting to know if any local CEOs are blogging. Making those calls takes resources that I’m not sure the Beacon Journal or other newspapers have these days. In fact, there are no stories in the business section today written by a Beacon Journal staff reporter.

Maybe at some point we’ll have to depend on CEOs and their blogs to report the business news. Oh, boy.

Twitter and the future of newspapers

I’ll admit it. I really don’t get Twitter. And I’m not even sure how to describe it. Is Twitter a micro-blogging outlet where you can say as much as you want as long as it doesn’t exceed 140 characters? Is it a social network? A kind of no frills Facebook? I’m not sure.

But I’m trying to learn. I get tweets — (writer’s note: praying that is the right word) — from friends like Paull Young and Kait Swanson. What should I do? Hit reply? Send my own message? Head for the gin bottle? Again, not sure. I even received a message — probably not the right word — the other night from CNN telling me that Yves Saint Laurent had died. OK. I’ll admit it. I didn’t know he was still alive. But as usual I digress.

Anyway, what got me thinking about this were two articles I read today that spotlight the future of newspapers, at least the print editions.

In an interview yesterday with the editors of The Washington Post, Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, said he didn’t believe there would be any printed newspapers or magazines in 10 years.

What is your outlook for the future of media?

[Ballmer] In the next 10 years, the whole world of media, communications and advertising are going to be turned upside down — my opinion.

Here are the premises I have. Number one, there will be no media consumption left in 10 years that is not delivered over an IP network. There will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form. Everything gets delivered in an electronic form.

Ouch. Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be scribblers. And Tim Roberts, a friend and adjunct journalism professor at Kent State, said essentially the same thing in a conversation we had on this blog several months ago.

Yet projections that are 10 years off won’t get me to cancel my subscription to The New York Times (printed version) today. I mean. Anything is possible. The Cleveland Browns could win the Super Bowl in that amount of time. Miracles happen.

Yet I guess it will take a miracle to save newspapers in their present dead-tree format. Consider the story today about Sam Zell and the Tribune Company, owner of the Los Angles Times, Chicago Tribune and other newspapers. A New York Times article — “Tribune Co. Plans Sharp Cutbacks at Papers” — provides another example of a shrinking industry. Here’s from the article:

Tribune Company newspapers like The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune will quickly cut costs — by printing fewer papers and employing fewer journalists — top company executives said on Thursday.

Samuel Zell, the chairman and chief executive of Tribune, and Randy Michaels, the company’s chief operating officer, revealed the cuts during a conference call with Wall Street analysts.

They also said the struggling company has looked at the column inches of news produced by each reporter, and by each paper’s news staff. Finding wide variation, they said, they have concluded that it could do without a large number of news employees and not lose much content.

Mr. Michaels said of the changes, “This is going to happen quickly.”

Let’s see. “…it could do without a large number of news employees and not lose much content.”

Hmm. Wonder if it will be possible to Twitter the news?

I found out about Yves Saint Laurent. Didn’t I? Now if I could just figure out what to do with those tweets I get from Paull Young and Kate Swanson.

Oh, by the way. As soon as Zell sells the Chicago Cubs, another Tribune property, the Cubs will win the World Series. Wait and see. Miracles happen.

News media: buyouts and reporting

Got back from my morning run a few hours ago. And figured that with nothing more productive to do I might as well catch up on some reading. Glad I did as I found two articles that are particularly revealing about the state of the news media today — and tomorrow.

First is the Media Notes column by Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post this morning, “Post Buyouts Come with an Emotional Cost.

The Washington Post like many (most?) newspapers are cutting staff these days — and shifting resources from print to online editions. Without question, tough for the people involved, although at The Washington Post softened by voluntary buyouts. Probably not as good for thousands of journalists and related staff at other newspapers.

But here’s the point. We’re seeing a major shift in the newspaper industry. The question is whether in the long run it is going to be positive from the standpoint of those who believe, like me, that a strong, vigorous press still matters in this country. Kurtz writes:

“I know, I know. The future is digital. The Web is a cornucopia of fast-moving video and blogs and bulletins and gossip, while newspapers are old, slow and less than hip. That’s why The Post (and every other paper on the planet) is beefing up its online presence and why I write a daily blog for the Web site.

“But — and stop me if you’ve heard this one — newspapers matter. There isn’t a Web site around that can produce the probing work, such as the exposé of shoddy conditions at the Army’s Walter Reed Medical Center, that won The Post six Pulitzer Prizes this year. The economics of the Web, for now, won’t support a staff that can hold public officials accountable across the region and still cover every Nationals game. So I cling to an old-fashioned, almost mystical belief in the power of ink on paper.”

As I mentioned in this blog many times, young people no longer read newspapers. From my experience with them in the classroom, they are informed and interested in events. But they get their news from other sources. In the column, Kurtz writes:

“In one sense, the Web is a blessing. Daily circulation for the newsprint Post, now 673,000, may be down from 813,000 in 2000, but we are drawing an eye-opening 9.4 million unique visitors online each month, 85 percent of them from outside the D.C. circulation area. Those readers don’t bring in the cash that print subscribers do — given the gotta-be-free mentality of the Web — but they do expand our reach.”

But with the Web comes a different style of reporting — and the ability for even obscure stories to gain major significance and readers. That’s the point in the second article — in Politico, “Media Hype: How small stories become big news,” by John F. Harris. Wish I would have had the opportunity to use this one in my ethics class.

Anyway, it focuses on the current flap involving Hillary Clinton and the remark in an interview that she made about Robert F. Kennedy. Harris writes:

“This weekend’s uproar over Hillary Rodham Clinton invoking the assassination of Robert Kennedy as rationale for continuing her presidential campaign is an especially vivid example of modern journalism as hyperkinetic child — overstimulated by speed and hunger for a head-turning angle that will draw an audience.

“The truth about what Clinton said — and any fair-minded appraisal of what she meant — was entirely beside the point.

“Her comment was news by any standard. But it was only big news when wrested from context and set aflame by a news media more concerned with being interesting and provocative than with being relevant or serious. Thus, the story made the front page of The New York Times, was the lead story of The Washington Post and got prominent treatment on the evening news on ABC, CBS and NBC.”

Ouch. But accurate. And I’m not making an excuse for Clinton or her remarks. The same thing happened to Obama a few weeks ago when a blogger posted his comments about the “bitter” middle class. Were/are either — or both? — campaign-defining statements at this point?

Yet from Harris, here’s the point:

“Once, the elite papers and network news set the agenda, and others followed suit, following up on what these establishment pillars deemed important.

“Now it’s just the opposite. The conservative old voices increasingly take their cues from the newer, more daring ones.”

Maybe in the long run that will be better. More voices. More openness. But something tells me that Kurtz has a point. You don’t lose a 100 staffers at a newspaper like The Washington Post without it making a difference.

Oh by the way. This shift in news coverage has some major implications for those of us in public relations. Think about it. The era of the “one-day” story is over. And today even a so-called minor story about your organization can lead to major coverage and discussion. Are we ready to deal with a Clinton/Obama-type story? Oh, my.