Opinion

The Great Debate

from Jack Shafer:

The new Medicis funding journalism

 

Neil Barsky, a former Wall Street money manager, became the latest Medici of journalism this week when he hired Bill Keller, former executive editor of the New York Times, to head his new non-profit journalism enterprise, the Marshall Project.

The Marshall Project, which will scrutinize the criminal justice system, joins a busy flotilla of non-profit journalism organizations already patrolling the news beat. Everywhere you look, a rich patron has founded, funded or seeded a substantial non-profit journalism outfit in the last half-decade: Herbert Sandler and ProPublica, John Thornton and the Texas Tribune, Pete Peterson and Fiscal Times, the Koch brothers and the Franklin Center, John Arnold and WNET, scores of other local and regional operations funded by minor Medicis, and well-established enterprises, such as the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Center for Public Integrity.

If you expand the definition of non-profit journalism to include for-profit outlets that aren't making any but depend on a reservoir of money earned elsewhere to keep them afloat, you'd factor in Jeff Bezos and his Washington Post, John Henry and his Boston Globe, the Scott Trust and the Guardian, Pierre Omidyar and the $50 million he has pledged to First Look, and Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and Al-Jazeera. Widening the definition to include state-sponsored or licensed outlets such as the BBC and NPR, both of which walk the investigative beat, and the pool of cash grows larger still.

What looks like a lurch of patronage money to investigative journalism has coincided with the newspaper death spiral. As economist Mark J. Perry noted in a much-reproduced chart, newspaper advertising revenue peaked at $65 billion in 2000, with the most dramatic and steady rise of revenue coming between the early 1970s and 2000. These years happen to overlap with the golden age of both investigative and "accountability reporting." It's not that newspapers shunned watchdog journalism before 1971; they just didn't do that much of it, as a visit to the newspaper microfilm archives of your public library will confirm. Reportorial dependence on government and corporate spokesmen in those ancient times would appall most modern readers, who have become accustomed to investigative and adversarial journalism in their newspaper diet.

Investigative journalism, like far-flung foreign, domestic, state and regional bureaus were affordable only because newspapers had more money than they knew what to do with. Chains like Gannett used their profits to buy more newspapers, but papers like the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Knight Ridder chain, to name a few, spent on journalistic expansion. (Don't worry, the shareholders of these papers did okay, too, while the money poured in.) But as newspaper advertising revenues fell from $65 billion in 2000 to about $20 billion in 2012, investigative journalism contracted, as did coverage of foreign news, statehouses and localities. (I don't want to reduce the popularity of investigative journalism to economics alone -- see this learned paper (pdf) by Mark Feldstein on the role culture and politics have played.)

Punch Sulzberger and the trouble with media dynasties

It is easy to imagine the look on the faces of Rupert Murdoch’s children when they read the obituaries of New York Times owner Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger, whose father thought him too stupid to run the company. Particularly when they came to the line: “It’s impossible to be an assistant to your father.”

Rupert Murdoch’s eldest son, Lachlan, is exiled to Australia after complaining his father wouldn’t let him do his job at News Corp. His daughter Elisabeth’s movie company, Shine, may be owned by News Corp, but she lives in London and keeps her interfering father at arm’s length. And after disappointing his old man by failing to smother the phone-hacking scandal at his British papers, James is scrabbling around at corporate headquarters on Sixth Avenue in New York, trying to make it work at his new job leading the company’s television interests – everything, that is, except his father’s “fair and balanced” baby, Fox News.

It is one of the truisms of business that media companies are traditionally owned by strong-willed, dynasty-obsessed, egotistical patriarchs – and in some cases, such as Katharine Graham at the Washington Post, matriarchs. It is the common thread that links Murdoch to Sumner Redstone and Mike Bloomberg to Si Newhouse. Not only do such alpha-male types revel in the power and influence they can exert atop a company reaching into the homes of millions. But these larger-than-life moguls unencumbered by interfering shareholders and fastidious directors are the only ones who can make the quick decisions and fast moves that media companies need to make it in a world of fast-changing technologies.

from Paul Smalera:

The recession killed journalism – and saved it

Over the last few years, thanks to the global economic crisis – encapsulating everything from the 2008 housing crash to today’s ongoing euro zone sovereign-debt debacle – much ink has been spilled about the reshaping of the world’s economy, especially about the domestic job market.

Actually, scratch part of that last sentence, because less ink has been spilled, at least according to the results of a recent report by LinkedIn. The media business has been in overdrive, especially during this 2012 election season, but it’s now pushing pixels, not paper.

According to the data studied by LinkedIn, the professional social network, the newspaper industry experienced a 28.4 percent shrink rate between 2007 and 2011. The death of newspapers is not exactly a new phenomenon, so I’ll spare you yet another detailed recap of the print and economic climate that led to this broadsheet apocalypse.

Newspaper brands that manage the transition to digital models can thrive

davidmossiv– David Moss is a director at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Atlanta. The views expressed are his own. –

“Newspapers are dying.” Lately, that’s the constant, gloomy chorus. But it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Certainly, the newspaper industry faces significant challenges, including a tough economy and the mass migration of readers and advertisers to the Internet. But newspaper brands that successfully transition to digital models can thrive — without giving up their streamlined print products.

from Ask...:

Murdoch mad as hell and ready to charge

Rupert Murdoch is mad as hell and it appears he’s not going to take it anymore. The media mogul and News Corp chief is upset at Google, saying the Internet search giant is ruining the newspaper business.

Not one to sit and around and just gripe about things, Murdoch says he might pull News Corp’s news from Google’s Web search results and list the stories on Microsoft’s Bing. The catch is that Microsoft would pay for the service, giving Murdoch a fresh revenue stream.

The problem is that many news organizations are fed their Web audience via Google search. If viewer rates fall, so too, the theory says, will ad dollars.

from The Great Debate UK:

Free may be a radical price, but is it progressive?

padraig_reidy-Padraig Reidy is news editor at Index on Censorship. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Mainstream consumer media is, it is agreed, in trouble. The idea of paying for one or two newspapers a day is now confined, it seems, to quaintly old-fashioned types who boast of their ignorance of the Internet, or business who actually need the information in the pages of the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Wire services’ content is processed so fast by subscribers that one can barely spot the time difference. Local newspapers are seeing their stock in trade diminished. When one’s entire life is catalogued on Facebook and Flickr, there’s little thrill in having your picture in the local paper, or indeed huge necessity in publishing births, deaths and marriages. And why place a classified ad in a newspaper, when we have eBay and Gumtree?

from MediaFile:

Newspapers: They’re *still* dying

Moody's debt analyst John Puchalla analyzed the state of newspapers today. Conclusion: The sun rises in the east, usually in the mornings. In other words, newspapers are still doomed.

Despite the report's obvious conclusion, it's worth reading for Puchalla's analysis of the cost structure that newspapers deal with. Here's an excerpt from the press release announcing the report:

Currently, a structural disconnect exists in the newspaper industry's cost structure. Just 14% of cash operating costs, on average, are devoted to content creation -- the primary value creation activity -- while about 70% of costs support the print distribution model and corporate functions. The remaining 16% of cash operating costs relate to advertising sales -- another critical task that drives the majority of newspapers' revenue. The overall imbalance limits the industry's flexibility to overcome competitive threats. ...

from For the Record:

Flu outbreak: Walking the line between hyping and helping

dean-150Dean Wright is Global Editor, Ethics, Innovation and News Standards. Any opinions are his own.

There’s nothing like a disease outbreak to highlight the value of the media in alerting and informing the public in the face of an emergency.

There’s also nothing like it to bring out some of our more excessive behavior, essentially shouting “Run for your lives! (but, whatever you do, stay tuned, keep reading the website and don't forget to buy the paper!).”

from MediaFile:

Tax breaks (not bailouts) for newspapers

I ran a story on New Year's Eve about the opportunities and perils that could face struggling newspapers if they end up surviving because of government help. I opened the story with the tale of Connecticut state lawmakers and a state commissioner who are trying to find someone to buy two Journal Register-owned dailies and several weeklies that are going to be shut down in January if they can't be saved. From there, I explored the ramifications of government aid to newspapers.

The story got plenty of attention, though it looks like misinterpretation was rife. Many bloggers and news sources portrayed the Connecticut situation as a bailout, leading to plenty of ire directed at the lawmakers and the story. (Some conservative bloggers hinted that we deliberately omitted the lawmakers' affiliation. For the record -- they are Democrats. Also for the record: I had that in there, then deleted it, intending to put it somewhere else in the story. Then I plum forgot. No hidden agenda.)

So here's what I'm expecting next and here's what I still don't know or understand. I'm eager to hear from folks who care about the future of newspapers in the United States to add their thoughts in the comments section.

from Ask...:

Lining up for a bailout

The auto industry's Christmas present from the government -- in the form of a $1 billion loan to General Motors and a $5 billion stake in GMAC -- may have left other industries hoping that the giving season isn't over yet.

The steel industry is pressing President-elect Barack Obama to boost the flagging demand for U.S.-made steel by instituting a "buy American" clause in his infrastructure stimulus package, the New York Times reported.

"As steel production goes — and it is now in collapse — so will go the national economy," writes the New York Times, referencing the maxim once applied to The Big Three automakers.

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