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Content (part II)

Further to yesterday’s post: also wrote about Gazette Communication yesterday and today posted a Q&A with Steve Buttry. He talks about how he doesn’t know if the revenue side is undergoing the same radical transformation as the content production side. He also gives a bit more information about what the (former) reporters will be doing: “We are separating our content operation entirely from our product operation. Our reporters will be blogging, but they are going to be multitasking entrepreneurial journalists.”

And it’s going fast. April 6 is the target date for the transformation. There will be a lot of news organizations watching.


Content content content

In a post at the Knight Digital Media Centre (also posted at the Newspaper Project), Steve Buttry writes about how News businesses must think about content, not just products, to ensure their survival.

The most valuable thing news organizations have to offer hasn’t changed, even though all the bells and whistles have. The most valuable thing they offer is the original reporting, the information you can’t get anywhere else. On top of that comes the commentary and analysis, but you can’t have that without the out-on-the-ground reporting.

Some organizations that are making the belated push to go online are focusing more on all the gadgets and nifty features they can now use, and taking resources away from the newsroom to do this. They’re focusing on trying to make the Internet fit into their organizational structure instead of adapting the structure to the web.

The way Buttry and Gazette Communications are going about it is smarter. He quotes Mark Briggs quoting Tom Peters quoting Visa founder Dee Hock (that’s a lot of quoting!): “The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get the old ones out.” The quote continues (just Buttry quoting Briggs quoting Peters here): “Every enterprise (and every individual) needs a formal … Forgetting Strategy. We must be as forceful and systematic about identifying and then dumping yesterday’s baggage as we are about acquiring new baggage.”

Then Buttry describes his forgetting strategy:

So I spelled out the forgetting strategy for our staff, listing some time-honored terms and concepts in any newsroom (starting with the word “newsroom”): reporters, editors, photographers, columnists, deadlines, story lengths, space, gatekeeper, story selection … This had to start with me forgetting and forgoing my title of editor.

Buttry chooses the term “conductor” instead. And goes on to explain how the news will be gathered and disemminated, through “stories, yes, but also bulletins, updates, tweets, liveblogs, photographs, videos, multimedia, graphics, source documents, databases, links and whatever other form is appropriate.”

This is the way news organizations have to start to think.


The Canadian Journalism Project ( is a handy place for news specific to our dear northern country.

It’s generally a more optimistic place to go, which contributed to me being a bit cynical when I saw this post: Good News in Bad Times. I thought, they must really be stretching to talk about good news these days.

But they’re not. The post goes through the Canadian-specific “upsides” to the generally bad news out there.

  • Commercial radio: revenues steady through 2008
  • Magazines: mass circulation publications might be suffering, but some targeting magazines are actually booming
  • Newspapers: community weeklies still doing well; many dailies still profitable (but tied to the sinking albatross of their debt-laden parent companies)
  • Television: specialty channels doing well
  • Canwest’s woes: going into bankruptcy and splitting the company could be good for journalism — “If bankruptcy eliminated a whack of long-term debt from Canwest properties, the newspapers and television stations would be making money.”

Today’s news (and it’s featured on J-source too) is the CBC bloodbath (800 layoffs). Not unexpected news. But not good news.

From print to screen

At The Guardian, Roy Greenslade writes about how news organizations and journalists have to get with the program.

This thought of his is a worry to me, too.

I have long argued that we will eventually move from print to screen. What worries me, however, is that the transformation is being threatened by the immediate economic crisis. I fear that the death of print products will lead to the demise of the related online platforms too.

A corollory to that: As print products panic in the face of this economic crisis, they’re throwing resources at the Internet, but still without a PLAN on how to do it successfully and profitably. Doing it haphazardly will only hurt them in the long run.

Newspaper Death Watch

I’ve gotten a bit sidetracked from my first project: Sharing the websites I like to visit regularly. So here’s another instalment.

Newspaper Death Watch is what it says it is — a chronicle of newspapers dead and dying. It just celebrated its second birthday yesterday (March 23) but it’s been a jam-packed two years.

For anyone interested in a chronicle of the woes of the newspaper industry (focused on the U.S.), this site has already done a lot of your research for you. Generally there’s one long post Monday-Friday but when there’s news breaking on the closure of a paper, there will usually be a post on Newspaper Death Watch. Plus there’s the ever-so-encouraging Layoff Log. And R.I.P. bar.

Occasionally, Canada’s problems get a nod. It’s important to pay attention to what’s going on the States, though, because I think they’re a step ahead on the imploding-newspaper scale. For a lot of papers down there, it’s too late. But for others (like my own) it’s not too late yet and if there’s lessons to be learned, we should be learning them. More on that later.

A media mea culpa

It will be very interesting, in a few years, when some academic goes back and does an in-depth study on what the media was reporting, and when, about the financial crisis.

It’s obvious that mainstream media didn’t see the crisis coming. Toronto Star business reporter David Olive published his own mea culpa yesterday (March 22) and we’ve all watched Jon Stewart rake Jim Cramer over the coals (right?).

So mainstream missed the boat. What about the blogosphere and its myriad voices? Bloggers and online-only news sites are supposed to provide a new diversity to reporting. Did they? I’m pretty sure they did, but the real quesiton is, how many people managed to save their savings because they were following a blogger or reporter who got things right (or who reported on an analyst or expert who got things right) before the rest of us caught on.

The power of online video

Videos related to this blog are now over on the sidebar, thanks to vodpod!

I added two videos to start with. One of them is a straightforward talk given by Jay Rosen about the difference between old media and new media. He makes the point that it used to be a top-down distribution system and now it’s an intertwined, interactive system.

The other video is a news clip about the becoming-legendary confrontation between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer on The Daily Show last week (March 12). I couldn’t actually link to the video on The Comedy Network site, but that’s where you should go to watch the whole thing, if you haven’t already.

It’s a wonderful, wonderful look at great interviewing skill. And an excellent commentary on the news media’s hand in the whole financial mess we got ourselves into. Why weren’t we asking those tough questions a year ago?

Watching the interview made me think about one of the pitfalls journalism has fallen into over the last few decades  — too often we take what people tell us at face value (like Jim Cramer says he did, but now realizes he was lied to, to his face, by people he trusted). I think this trend has been exacerbated by the deep cuts in many newsrooms, where reporters may not have the time to do the digging they need to do in order to be able ask the hard questions. There is also a huge, institutional loss of memory happening right now, as even more cuts are made and buyouts offered. Not that those issues are excuses for Jim Cramer. It was his job to be looking into the information he was getting and he had the resources to do it. He just didn’t. And there are many, many others like him.

The full-length interview is a must-watch for any journalist. Just watch it. Here’s the link again to The Comedy Network site.

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