Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New, Intersting Newsroom Convergence

After watching this recent NewsHour report on the changes at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a friend and I got talking about "newsroom convergence"...which got me thinking that there's more going on when it comes to "newsroom convergence" than turning one's online newspaper into a multi-media news outlet. The convergence has to involve every aspect down to the way business is done in small papers as well as huge ones that beat the FCC's cross-ownership rules. Check these out:

Lee Abrams: Tribune Will Be an 'Oasis of Creativity': So, it's not just Sam Zell offending the sensibilities of some employees that's going to change things--it's also the appointment of Lee Abrams to Chief Innovation Officer.(although I am sort of scared that one of Abrams' credentials is said to be giving Howard Stern his first major market job.) In this interview, Abrams has an idea about convergence of Tribune companies:

This company owns TV stations, newspapers and Web sites -- and they're all operating separately. There should be some way in which the television station offers the real quick story, the newspaper gets in more detail, and then the Web site really gets into the story in tremendous depth. But now they're working independently with each other. These could be our super news brands, if we put them all together somehow.

Gee, that *kinda* makes sense, doesn't it? Not to mention that it's something I see going on with local TV stations that offer text versions of news stories--although not adding anything new--and what goes on with many of the NYTimes little videos. I'm thinking specifically of the David Pogue stuff which seems to be mostly entertainment, while the articles are far more in-depth.

Newspapers Confront the Enemy Within and would you believe that "enemy" is, yes, THE ADVERTISING DEPARTMENT!! The newsroom fears loss of objectivity and independence, the advertisers grumble that the newsroom doesn't get how to make money. They're both right--which means they need to bridge the cultural divide and start working together (as Louis Hau's piece points out):
Many editors tend to believe that page views are the most important driver of revenue: more clicks, more bucks. But, Brownrout [former ad exec at the LATimes and others]argues, it's the utility of the content being offered that presents the greatest opportunities...

Not to mention that today Senators debate the future of the web in hearings today....where folks like Justine Bateman and Patric Verrone (president of the Writer's Guild)testified....

Want to know what Justine and some other indy filmmakers think of the Internet:

Don't you just *love* (to death!) that guy who says everything on the Internet's like "writing on a bathroom wall"?

(hat tip to Tech Daily Dose for that one)

Disappointingly, though, is Steve Outing's How to Create Killer Niche Websites Without Hiring which, again, forwards an idea that the people have to get involved in the production of news--on the newspaper's site--in order for the newspaper (esp. local) to survive. While Outing showcases two unique examples, I'm really rather horrified by most of it. To me, it's the same old "how can we monitize UGC?" and "how can we make people into responsible journalists?" thing that, IMO, isn't necessarily what the people want nor expect from their newspaper. (actually, we'd just like reporters to get the story right--not have to write it ourselves.) Outing's article also brings up the potential of paying contributors on what they make from advertising. Um...see above...and talk to some of the Gawker folks on that one...

Frankly, monetizing UGC probably won't make big bucks in the long run--for the folks contributing nor for the paper. Perhaps better solutions to the problems in and with newspapers have to come from converging the formerly separated parts of a corporation. Whether those parts are the editorial and ad departments or if it's the newspaper/tv/radio parts of a huge media corporation, the news industry as a profit-making business should look to how other businesses converge internally to make profits happen without trying to get freebies from the people (or is it "content" from the "user generators"?)

Just my $.02


Anonymous said...

Tish: I think you missed the point of my column. UGC v1.0 was about getting free content. UGC v2.0 initiatives like the "Examiners" try to compensate people involved fairly, and provide deeper niche coverage than is possible from the (ever dwindling pool of) professional journalists. Even pre-layoffs, what newspaper could afford to have someone covering beer or other exotic and tiny niche? And as I tried to point out about the Examiners program, they don't necessarily think of them as replacement journalists. A niche topic expert can bring some value to the table. Are you interpreting me as saying that this model is meant to replace traditional reporters? I didn't say that.

Tish Grier said...

Thanks, Steve for stopping by and clarifying. and I agree re niche topics (like, for example, beer) if a local paper wants to have someone write on niche topics. Niche topics can be safely tried in this manner, just to see if there is community interest in them. This can certainly add value and dimension to a newspaper's site. And I think there's been some precedent in print, if I recall...

Now, paying these people via ad revenue, however, may be difficult. Generating enough pageviews and cickthroughs (a/k/a "traffic")might end up being difficult for a community site--unless the content is marketed in a certain way that might attract some eyeballs outside the hyperlocal.

What I am most concerned about, and how the ideas in your article might be interpreted, is that there may be newspapers out there who don't see the niche aspect, and may want to apply these ideas to community reporting. Like bringing in someone who's involved in local politics or cultivating a local political blogger to move his/her work to their site. IMO, this is a kind of meddling and could end up hurting local media diversity (I think I need to explain a bit on that--what I see with the growth of hyperlocal news sites is a diversifying of the voice of local media. When there's only one paper in town, other voices are desperately needed. If the local paper "encourages" and "mentors" the local bloggers, then there is the potential to lose that diversity.)

So while cultivating niche "citizen journalists" (man! I hate that term!) might be valuable, I guess how the niche is defined could end up being problematic.