Category Archives: Journalism

Is Print Journalism Dead?

Is print journalism dead? I got the question overnight in email from a student working on a research paper. He’d seen this post on this blog about that. He asked me to answer these three questions.  So these are his questions with my answers. 

1.) What are the factors that have led to falling sales?

Start with cost: Print media have the cost of paper and the cost of physical distribution. Online media don’t. Is the print version worth the difference to the customer? To the advertiser? For now, sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Over the long term the increased acceptance of digital media makes the cost difference more important. 

Add convenience: I believe digital is inherently more convenient. My iPad, my Kindle, and my iPhone are more convenient because I have all the media in one small package. That’s also true for a lot of droid users. That’s not true for everybody, of course. Some people prefer paper. I know that. But I believe the relative convenience of digital will win over time.  That’s my opinion. 

2.) How can newspapers in particular re-position themselves in the digital media market to halt the decline in circulation?

Newspapers need to be available on the major operating systems of phones and tablets. 

Enhance the value for readers and advertisers. Add search and social media and comments and links to take advantage of digital in ways that printed newspapers can’t. 

Do the reporting that citizen journalists and opinion-based bloggers and social media don’t. Do the investigative reporting. Cover the town hall and local issues. Stay objective, reliably, and trustworthy. 

3.) Is the trend terminal and, if so, does it matter?

No, of course it’s not terminal. Nothing is ever absolute. Some newspapers and magazines will survive for a long time. The long tail will be there. But over time the survivors will be fewer, more narrow, and less important. 

So that’s my opinion.

And I don’t consider myself an authority on this. I’m not a researcher. Look at the thorough research being done by the major Journalism grad schools (Columbia, University of Missouri, University of Oregon, Stanford, many others) for a lot more info.

But I do have an opinion; and it is informed by nine years as a mainstream Journalist, 30 years as a magazine columnist on occasion, and seven years as a professional blogger. And I’ve got a master’s degree in Journalism. And I enjoy sharing opinions. For more on that, check out the Journalism category on this blog. 

Is Objective Journalism Doomed?

Do you ever wonder what happened to objective journalism? I have a thought about that.

Until the web changed everything, we got our news from a very few sources: There was a newspaper or two in every city. There were three major networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS, offering television and radio news. There were a few independent channels in each market, both on radio and television. And there were the national magazines, Time, Life, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report.

What we called journalistic ethics back then were also good business. All of those major news providers had to stay objective in order to reach a commercially viable audience.


If Walter Cronkite or David Brinkley seemed biased, then nobody would have believed them. They had to stay in the middle to appeal to the general audience. Trust, professionalism, and credibility were the only way to make it big in news.

Sure, we also had the tabloids at the grocery store checkout counters, but nobody believed them. They didn’t depend on credibility to succeed, the way the major news sources did.

Today, however, the huge difference is that pulverization and special focus is everywhere. Newspapers are struggling but look at blogs and cable channels and the Huffington Post, and focus, even focus on a small portion of the political or economic spectrum, makes money, Consider Fox News on one hand and Huffington Post or all those absurdly extremist radio talk show hosts, and the handful of liberal ones too … they all make money by gathering an interest group or affinity group together, shutting out the outside world, or the objective real world, and talking only to believers.

As far as I can tell the traditional media, the ones I mentioned above, are still striving for objectivity.  To the extent that they still exist. But they are steadily losing power, audience, and importance.

I didn’t have a name for it then, but t was first aware of newsjacking more than 3o years ago. Here’s how

Web Ink Now: Brilliant Newsjacking alert – The Artistifier: “”


Missing the Bonding Agent of Mainstream News

What an irony: when we all depended on a very few quasi-monopoly mainstream news media, news was more fact and less opinion. Who would have predicted that?

I suppose this is hard to believe, but when I was in Journalism grad school a few decades ago teachers, students, and even practicing journalists believed in news reporters separating what they thought was objective fact from what they knew was opinion. Walter Cronkite

Fact vs. opinion was important to us; we discussed at length how difficult it was to truly separate subjective opinion from objective reporting. It stood like an almost-impossible ideal, given the realities of human nature. But we believed we were supposed to try. That was basic journalism ethics.

And maybe it worked so well, back then, because it had to work. Media, then like now, was business. I don’t want to rewrite history — the businesses weren’t idealists looking out for the truth, they were about commerce. But to keep their large audiences the business side had to put up with the journalists and their ethics because bonding diverse audiences with attempts at objective truth was the best way to grow and prosper. We didn’t have a thousand channels and a billion websites plus twitter. We had one or two newspapers per city and three major television networks. We might have dreamed of the choice we now have, but in the meantime, that concentration made it good business for media to focus on delivering news to as broad an audience as possible, which meant struggling for the ideal of objective fact. That created a mainstream social history that brought people into the same world together, believing in the Walter Cronkites and David Brinkleys as striving for truth not opinion.

Fast forward and here we are in a brave new world in which we all routinely dial into media dedicated to points of view, where we reinforce our opinion with like-minded opinion presented in the same format we used to use for news, parading around as objective reporting, or (gulp) facts. Now we’re all in splinter groups. We take sides as we choose our streams. Some of us find truth in one channel, others in another channel. It’s like we all live in separate worlds, each with its own set of facts.

One thing we’ve lost in the explosion of splinter media, pulverized media, infinite interest groups, is the objective voice in the middle.

No wonder we’re polarized and partisan politics block leadership.

(Image: Walter Cronkite CBS News, courtesy of

Business Journalism Problem: Good Advice is Boring

I posted here yesterday about a Jay Goltz’ “Cash is Not King” post on NYTimes. I said:

So what’s up with this? Is it just man bites dog, good journalism because it’s surprising, reversing standard wisdom?

Yes, it is: good journalism, not-so-good business writing, because it’s playing to a catchy headline. It surprises people. He contradicts the “cash is king” thing for that post, but here’s the same Jay Goltz earlier this year:

Cash flow is not the same thing as profitability. Cash gets stuck in places — inventory, receivables, fixed assets, debt repayment. Hence the lack of flow. You need to get a handle on your cash flow as well as your profitability. Companies go broke because they run out of cash. Cash is king. Cash flow is a dictator. It will dictate your success.

So true. So why did he post “cash is not king” last week? Because it works. He does make a valid point, despite the upside-down title.

This kind of thing happens a lot. Business plan bashing, for example, goes on all the time, still, because not planning is contrarian, and trendy. I posted here just a couple of months ago about how I suspect a smart person like Penelope Trunk gives bad advice on purpose, to be controversial, for the sake of blog traffic.

I don’t know that it’s even all that bad. Maybe it makes us think. I probably do it when I can, as long as I turn it around, like Jay Goltz did, by the end of the post.

I’m just saying it’s there and it happens all the time.

(Image: courtesy of

Can Stories be True When They’re False?

So it turns out that Jenny whiteboard quitting was a hoax. The Jet Blue guy with the chute exit and the beer wasn’t. I posted about both of them here Wednesday. Jenny Whiteboard CorrectedYou can read in that post that I suspected Jenny was fiction. I said so then, and I hedged my bets.

The two brothers who run contrived the Jenny whiteboard story, hired an actress, scripted it, shot it, and put it on their site as a real thing. TechCrunch has all the details, with more on the actress and the brothers.

The Jet Blue guy, meanwhile, has been charged with a couple of felonies.

The coincidence of Jenny and Jet Blue together is a great example of stories: the power of stories, and the truth of stories.

William Blake wrote:

Anything which is possible to be believed is an image of truth.

And Harvey Cox wrote:

All human beings have an innate need to hear and tell stories and to have a story to live by.

So I ask: don’t you think Jenny’s story, although it was contrived, had useful impact?  Wasn’t it contagious media at its best? Doesn’t it have real meaning in business, a lesson about how and how not to treat people, a morality play, with relevant details like the part about the online snooper utility? Isn’t there a golden rule lesson in there?

And what’s the impact of the element of hoax? Did they lie to us, and does that make us angry, and make the story less true? I have no issue with that with Jenny because of the way it was presented. If I’d read it as fact in the  New York Times or Huffington Post I might react differently. We don’t like to be lied to. But if you go back and look at the original, nobody’s really lying there. They are not claiming it’s fact. And maybe I’m not all self righteous about it because I guessed it early and didn’t get burned.

And then there’s the Jet Blue guy: didn’t it strike a chord as well, in about the same way? I noticed CNN had a whole piece on flight attendants venting, which wouldn’t have been news without his spectacular exit. Would this one have been less valid as a hoax? Maybe, right? But this one actually happened.

And those two related flurries of attention: is the one based on story less valid than the one based on fact? There is a journalism element to this combination of stories, I believe. We expect truth, not stories, when it comes from professional journalists. Right? But John and Leo Resig, authors of the Jenny whiteboard story, don’t pretend to be journalists.

My point here: good stories told well communicate a very important variety of truth. That’s true for business and the rest of life too. Even if they aren’t true on the surface, they can be true in a deeper and more important way. Did The Godfather or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Moonstruck have to be documentaries to be true and useful? Are Othello or MacBeth only valid if they’re factually true?

(Image credit: thanks to TechCrunch.)

Journalism and Blogging: Both Sides Now

Jolie O’Dell is a journalist who blogs. She cares about journalism, I gather, because of the way she writes about it in posts like How to Tell a journalist from a Blogger and Not all bloggers are journalists and not all journalists are jerks on her own blog. Most of the time, though, she’s a very prolific tech writer for Mashable. Blog PageAnd what she does for Mashable, one of the top techie blogs in the world, is technology journalism.

I really like her vision of what makes a journalist, as opposed to “just” a blogger. In that journalist or blogger post she says journalists are trained in journalism (and she means they have a degree in it), they aim for objectivity and truth, they care about form, they’re skeptical, and they serve the people. She makes it sound like a profession; like the quality matters.

I loved this down-home real-world description of a critical difference between journalists and bloggers. I’m quoting her here, journalists, she says, get used to editing, which she calls “having your work get ripped to shreds.” This is good writing. I’ve been there myself:

As a result, you do not get offended when your editor tells you, and I quote, “Jolie, this sentence fell off the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.” (Marshall Kirkpatrick, ReadWriteWeb) You begin to look at your writing the way a stranger would. You see the errors, the ugliness, the factual haziness, the sloppy turn of phrase. And you or your editor make repairs as needed without much fuss.

These words aren’t your limbs, your children, your masterpieces. They’re simply another grouping of column inches or another few hundred words to fill up the “news hole.” You’re not married to them, because you’ll be on to a new collection of words within an hour or two. With any effort, the next article will be better written than the last as you quickly learn from your mistakes.

The blogger is an autonomous creature, not accustomed to being under the scrutiny of a professional editor. He hasn’t had his work and soul trampled quite as mercilessly — although commenters can be cruel bitches, it’s true — so he’s a bit more attached to his words. Also, his words are more frequently tied to his personal ideas. More on that in a bit.

This brings back my own fond memory of UPI overnight editor Norberto Swarzman, who managed the New York Latin America desk for United Press International (UPI) when I was on the night desk in Mexico City, back in the early 1970s. I was very young, and he wasn’t. He was a frequent caller.

“Berry,” he said, more than once, “you write like a god-damned literature major.”

I’d finished class work for an MA in Journalism to add to the lit degree by then, but the only way to soften the abuse, long term, was to write better. In his terms, not mine. Later, when I finished a thesis and actually got that MA in Journalism officially, the Dean of the J-school at University of Oregon told me his only complaint with my thesis was:

“Your writing style is not academic enough. You write like a wire-service journalist.”

You might guess, if you knew my background, that I was going to like Jolie O’Dell’s respect for journalism. I do have the degree, and I did spend nine years as foreign correspondent in Mexico before quitting to get the MBA. And I’m delighted to see a 20-something professional journalist come up with the same kind of respectful view of why journalism matters that I’d learned 40 years ago.

I’ve come full circle, from journalism to entrepreneurship and lately to blogging. And I have no problem at all with her saying blogging is easier. Her kind of journalist researches and interviews to generate actual information, not just good writing. And then cites sources and quotes people with their actual words. I used to do that. Back then, as a journalist, I couldn’t write anything ever just because I knew it was true. That was really hard. I couldn’t just write what was true, back then; I had to quote somebody.  And we didn’t have the Web, not even cell phones, so I actually had to get that somebody on the phone, at least, and talk to them, I have no problem recognizing that blogging, which is basically me writing to you about whatever I can come up with as long as I don’t bore you, is a whole lot easier. Today, as a blogger, I get to be me. I can have opinions.

As you probably guessed, controversy followed Jolie O’Dell’s journalist vs. blogger piece. A lot of bloggers don’t like to be told they’re not journalists. And journalists without degrees don’t like to be told they need a degree. There’s a reference to “English-degree journalists” who don’t like to be told they’re not journalists unless they have a degree. And a lot of people think any hack getting paid to fill news space between ads is a journalist. I followed the controversy from the original post to some heated words (and a lot of praise) on Twitter, and a thoughtful follow-up post by journalism professor and journalist Kirk LaPointe, punctuated by some surprisingly emotional comments.

The “trained in journalism” mention is galling to many. and O’Dell distinguishes journalists from writers, casts some doubt on “English-degree journalists,” and accurately predicts the objections that followed. I loved her best-defense-is-a-good-offense conclusion:

If you’re a blogger and you’ve been offended somehow by my piece, ask yourself why — I highly suspect it’s because I called some behavior of yours out as not being “journalist-y” enough. While it’s true that we all hold ourselves to different professional standards, the above are pretty basic. If you feel threatened or attacked by what I’ve written, I suggest you get back at me by taking a couple journalism classes at a community college and doing an internship at a local newspaper; it’ll change your writing and your life.

So why do I care? Why does anybody care?  It’s because we still need journalism and we’re starting to confuse blogging with journalism. But then it gets confusing when we have excellent journalism showing up on so-called blogs like Mashable, or the mix at Huffington Post, which gathers the news – including with its own reporters – but also indulges in lots of blogging opinion. Mashable is a blog. Jolie O’Dell, writing on Mashable, is a journalist. If you have any doubt, look at her work on Mashable.

There has always been an awkward gap between journalism as trade and journalism as profession. Doctors need med school and exams, CPAs have their boards of standards, and dentists, vets, psychologists, and other so-called professionals have their licensing and standards. And we do have schools of journalism and professors and degrees and journals and standards. But still, give any hack a few dollars for writing anything that gets published as news, and then we call that hack a journalist.

And then you add in the ease of entry in blogging – sign up at WordPress or Blogger or TypePad and start publishing – and I for one am glad to see the occasional reminder of what journalism is supposed to be.

On the other hand, do you know who H.L Mencken was? One of the best journalists ever, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, as famous a journalist as any in his time. Google “H.L. Mencken quotes.” He first wrote “nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” And he didn’t have a degree in journalism.

With or Without Paper, the News Lives On. I hope.

As the newspaper business seems to die slowly, I console myself with the idea that journalism isn’t dying with it. The Huffington Post is booming. The New York Times will bring in about $350 million this year. The new iPad shows us how we can spread the paper in front of us with coffee and a newspaper in the morning. There’s hope. They capped the stupid oil spill overnight. Maybe they’ll cap the journalism spill too. Eventually.

I wish I knew who I’m quoting here, but I don’t. Somebody mentioned this quote to me recently:

I don’t care about newspapers. I do care about journalism.

iPad NewsWhat if news didn’t come on mashed-up trees? What if it came online instead? What if the iPad is the future of the daily newspaper? I can still sit with my coffee and page through the news. Sort of.

Can we survive with a few big online news organizations, but no newspapers?

In that case, who’s going to cover the city council meeting? Who’s going to spend months doing investigative reporting? And who’s going to pay the salaries of the people spending months on investigative reporting?

Meanwhile the Huffington Post, by far the most successful news business of the last half decade, is paying journalists full time incomes to develop the news. They have a handful of their own correspondents. That’s not the answer to those questions, but it is a start.

And I read this morning on TechCrunch how Ex-Google News, Bing Engineers Set Out To Build ‘Newspaper Of The Future’. Oh the irony: my stream of consciousness goes from TechCrunch to blogs to declining print advertising to slow death of newspapers; and I read about it in TechCrunch.

And, then, without hesitation, I signed up for both the apps mentioned, Apollo and Pulse, to go with my New York Times, Huffington Post, CNN, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, NPR, and SkyGrid. So it’s not like I won’t have news. And local news? That icon in the lower left of my iPad picture above is the Eugene Register Guard, which is my local newspaper. Now, as long as the local paper can figure out how to survive on its online revenues … sigh…

No, I’m not suggesting the iPad is the big answer or magic solution. It’s mostly just a good illustration. This is a long-term change of worldwide news landscape, and the iPad is significant here because this is how things are going to be. The iPad will have good competition soon enough. Let’s hope it does, and that the competition generates money for news organizations, so that the journalism survives.

On Twitter, A/B Analysis, and the Art of Headlines

Do you like my headline here, on this post? Can you write a better one?

Headlines are critical. I’ve noted that, with some frustration (I’m not so good at headlines) on this blog before, here.

Headlines come up today because being in New York last week to  judge the business plan contest gave me a chance to visit with my son Paul, who lives in New York, and is CTO of Huffington Post. And he told me what they’re doing on the Huffington Post about headlines.

Why do you care? Maybe because (whether you like its political views or not) in the last 2-3 years Huffington Post has posted huge growth in traffic and advertiser and investor interest and visibility and traffic. So they have to be doing a lot of things right. And, if you’re writing or blogging, you should know about how they do headlines.

It starts with a lot of testing. Paul was quoted in How the Huffington Post uses real-time testing for headlines in Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab:

The Huffington Post applies A/B testing to some of its headlines. Readers are randomly shown one of two headlines for the same story. After five minutes, which is enough time for such a high-traffic site, the version with the most clicks becomes the wood that everyone sees.

And then there’s Twitter. As a Twitter user, I enjoyed reading Huffpost crowd sources headlines in Here are highlights:

Using the hashtag #headlinehelp, visitors will be able to click on a link to an article and help write an appropriate headline that fits the story. Through social byproduct, the best headline will filter through to editors.

The Huffington Post made its first attempt at using the hashtag late yesterday asking participants to replace the headline, “No, YOU Lie,” regarding a story about Rep. Joe Wilson’s interjectory fireworks during President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress.

Hashtags are not perfect aggregators by any means, as previous use of them has seen contests hijacked and critical messaging spoiled. With Huffington Post’s reputation, they surely have gained some followers who may wish to use this idea in a negative way for the company.

How cool is that? I’d love to copy that idea. But reality rears up its ugly head: Huffington Post has hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter; I have barely four thousand. Mine are smarter and better looking, but still …

Or no, perhaps, not so cool? Maybe data-driven headlines are a problem (quoting The Noisy Channel on this subject):

I’m sure this approach must rattle some old-school journalists. And there is a real danger of optimizing for the wrong outcome. For example, including the word “sex” in this message might improve its traffic … but to what end?

OK, good point, but the discovery that there are some words (sex, violence, naked, brutal) which get better results is nothing new. It’s older than I am (I posted about words I won’t put into titles despite the temptation on this blog a couple of years ago).  What’s new is the ability to test quickly and bring a crowd into it in a practical way.

It’s not about asking people what’s new, or changing the news content. It’s about headlines. And gaining readers.

Gee, You Had to Pay $2, Once, to Get News?

Interesting juxtaposition: while much of the world worries about where we get real news, and particularly investigative reporting, iPhone users are up in arms about CNN charging less than $2, once, for an iPhone app that includes ads.

Journalism MournedMegan Berry posted Do You Get What You Pay For? yesterday on the Huffington Post:

CNN’s new iPhone app is creating quite a stir. First of all, they’re the first major news site to have a paid app ($1.99). Secondly, they’ve included ads in it. Users are in quite an uproar over this. They wouldn’t pay for something with ads in it!

There’s no doubt that the iPhone world is new and strange. I have an iPhone myself, and I love it; but how did $1.99 for an application end up as expensive? In what world? Maybe I’ve been in software for too long. Megan (disclosure: she’s my daughter) adds:

Yet, what about newspapers, magazines, television, and increasingly games? We constantly pay for media that includes ads, and we don’t even think twice about it.

Meanwhile there’s a lot of real worry about what’s happening to journalism, and especially investigative journalism, as newspapers and magazines fade. Within a click or two of that same CNN-iPhone-related post on Huffington, there’s this post in which Arianna Huffington frets over the debate over online news, another about whether the New York Times should charge for news, and yet another titled What Google Can Do for Journalism. I posted about that here just a couple of months ago.

On The Huffington Post, meanwhile, they took a Quick Poll on how people feel about paying for an iPhone application with advertising in it. Almost half the respondents said no: “If I pay for an app, I shouldn’t have to put up with advertising.”

I’m not saying that iPhone users shouldn’t worry about a couple of dollars, but … no, wait a minute, maybe that is what I’m saying. Skip a cup of coffee, once. Not that I even like CNN, but if nobody can figure out how to pay the reporters, we’re not going to have Journalism. I can imagine a world without newspapers, but a world without Journalism would be a lot worse than that. If saving Journalism (note: not newspapers necessarily, but investigative reporting) takes some ads, I can deal with ads.

So I just bought the CNN application for my iPhone.

(Photo credit: cen/Shutterstock.)

FTC vs. Social Media Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Here I was writing this post about new FTC rules for social media, feeling self-righteous about it, when it occurred to me that gives me a free stock photos account, which I use to illustrate this blog. And I’m an affiliate. I accept review copies of books, some of which I’ve reviewed here (although I bought most of the books I’ve reviewed, and I don’t go around asking for review copies, just accepting them, occasionally, when they’re offered). And I’m an employee of Palo Alto Software. So I don’t want to be a pot calling kettles black. Or a wolf disguised as a sheep.

Still, it’s about time. A new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruling aimed at blogging and, I assume, Twitter starts Dec. 1. This is from the New York Times story on it:

Beginning on Dec. 1, bloggers who review products must disclose any connection with advertisers, including, in most cases, the receipt of free products and whether or not they were paid in any way by advertisers, as occurs frequently. The new rules also take aim at celebrities, who will now need to disclose any ties to companies, should they promote products on a talk show or on Twitter. A second major change, which was not aimed specifically at bloggers or social media, was to eliminate the ability of advertisers to gush about results that differ from what is typical — for instance, from a weight loss supplement.

I’m glad they made it specific. I hope they enforce it. The same general idea was previously built into basic journalism ethics and it should have been obvious that it applied here as well. Ethics? I mean what do you think, when people are paying people to blog about their products, tweet about them, and do reviews on social media sites. Making endorsements look like honest opinion, or reviews pretending they’re objective, is ugly. I hope it’s obvious why.

What if some company offered to pay you under the table for talking it up with all your friends? How would you feel to be a walking talking advertisement parading as a person?

But it happens all the time. I got an email last month offering me money to endorse products on this blog. It was blatant and unembarrassed. The offer to shill for money was couched in terms like “business models” and “revenue streams.”  But it was pretty simple: if I would endorse products in my blog, they’d pay me. No, thank you.

Time magazine’s last issue included a story called Brought to You by Twitter, about tweeting for money:

A company called Izea, which made its name connecting bloggers with firms willing to compensate them for plugs on their blogs, has set up a similar service for the Twittersphere. At a site called Sponsored Tweets, Twitter users can sign in, set the price they want companies to pay them for tweeting an ad on their behalf and wait for the offers to come in. Jocelyn French, the mother of a 2-year-old boy and 1-year-old girl, has tweeted for a parenting website, a college-information site and Kmart, among others, at $1 a pop. “I figure, hey, why not get paid at the same time?” French says. On average, companies are paying Sponsored Tweets users $29 per tweet.

I hope you see the problem with that: first, it’s dishonest, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, because it’s presented as conversation.

Back in the 1970s when I studied Journalism in grad school, the generally accepted ethics were pretty obvious on this. Disguising ads as editorial was clearly out of bounds. But that was way before revolutionized consumer reviews, and then there was the proliferation of blogs and now Twitter blurring the boundaries. But still, put it back onto the personal level: if a company pays you to pretend you’re giving a legitimate personal opinion, that just doesn’t feel good. Right?

(Photo: Sarah Heinman/Flickr)