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Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Newspaper journalism's House of Cards starts toppling

Amy Gahran is a content specialist who I've been reading off and on for years. I starred a post of hers asking the question:
Is journalism a smart career path in 2008?
Short answer from her is yes, but not how you'd think.
Betting that you’ll spend your career working for mainstream news orgs is a losing proposition in most cases.
Given this reality, it "bugs" her that most journalism schools aren't preparing their students for the future of journalism.

Schools are not teaching the sorts of skills which they'll need to compete. These include
  • content management systems (including blogging tools)
  • mobile tools and mobile media strategies
  • social media
  • business skills
  • management skills
  • economics and business models
  • marketing
  • SEO
  • community management,
She explains more about just how they could be taught these skills in a follow-up.

Students think that:
Their career path will lead them to writing big investigative or literary features for major magazines or newspapers.
She finds that most don't have a clue - unlike many of their non-aspiring journo peers - about how to establish their personal brand or how to create opportunities outside of mainstream news organisations.

This is the sort of thing the Andrew Keen's and other King Canute's don't talk about (doesn't pay I'd guess) but the New York Times highlights one 'investigative journalism' - Keen thinks this sort of journalism is doomed - website which is booming, The Smoking Gun.

Says NYT reporter David Carr :

Much has been said, here and elsewhere, about how the emerging digital economy has decimated the business model of journalism. But the same digital technology has made each remaining journalist several times more powerful.

As working reporters, we are able to get information — through the public and government Web databases and proprietary digital sources — that our ancestors in the business would not have dared dream of. I know because I’m one of the ancestors.

And that:
The Smoking Gun has demonstrated that if you obey the metabolism of the Web, not the journalist, you can land with significant impact in a hurry.
This impact is happening in the US Presidential elections, where some newspapers (Mainstream Media - MSM) have adapted and are in the conversation, online.

Arianna Huffington, part-owner of Huffpost, which just cruised past Drudge as the top news site, and has both broken news and run 'investigative journalism' said in an interesting roundtable (The New Media Moguls Talk Politics) at NYU this week:
What is happening online is actually reducing the power of the mainstream media to set the narrative. The New York Times and the Washington Post are doing great things, but they are doing them online.
Talking about the MSM's supposed objectivity and why online news users are flocking to sites like HuffPost (and Drudge), as well as a slew of blogs (fully half of all Americans now read some sort of blog), she said:
People are now beginning to accept, increasingly, that not everything is a mixed bag. Part of it has been the coverage of the war in Iraq, with all the [MSM] people following the John McCains, like John King on CNN talking about soccer games, and good things going on.

How can you call this a mixed bag? It's like going to the doctor and the doctor says: "It's a little of a mixed bag, on one hand your acne has improved, but on the other hand you have a brain tumor." That's not a mixed bag.

There is a soccer game going on, while the whole world is falling apart and 4 million Iraqis have left the country, and there is less electricity than during Saddam. Where is the mixed bag?

That is changing, different blogs have different passions, our passion is Iraq so we choose every day to put on our top page what we believe is the truth about Iraq.
Just who is ignoring that 'web metabolism' remains a lot of MSM, particularly late coming newspapers like The Mirror and Daily Express.

And just how badly they're all doing running their web presence was shown in a piece on Research by Ernst & Young said bluntly to newspapers change your ad model and be more like Google (or die).

Their report looked at the potential wealth that could be created by newspapers online and concluded the CPM (cost per thousand impressions) ad model they commonly used wasn't generating 'the necessary growth'.

The report suggested that if top newspaper websites generated the same revenue per UK unique user in 2007 as Google, which uses a Cost per Click (CPC) ad model, they could have expected ad revenues of between £120 million and £250 million each from their domestic traffic.

Instead the report suggested that many nationals total online revenues barely reaching 'one fifth of this amount'.

They calculated that the top newspaper websites generated £15m to £20m in ad revenue in 2007, compared to Google's UK ad revenue of £1.26bn for the same year.

The report went on to criticise CD and other give-aways as having "only a short-term effect" and suggested that despite spending time and money upgrading the look and feel of newspapers, publishers were still struggling to attract young readers to their paid-for titles.

Given how much ad revenue they've already lost from print, particularly classifieds, and especially given print's declining political influence, the major loss making slow movers are just going to become too much of a burden for their influence-seeking owners. I reckon The Express will be the first to go.

Postscript: James Ball writes on his blog about 'what should journalism students learn?' in the UK. Quotes Bill Thompson.

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