MediaFile

New York Times struggles — silently

The New York Times spits out thousands of words a day through its newspapers. If it would only start coughing a few more up about Hollywood mogul David Geffen, who wants a piece of it, if not more. If the Times doesn’t tell its story soon, everybody else will.

So far it has made no comment. That might not be such a slick move. Speculation over the Times’s future has grown during the past few years as its finances worsen because of advertising revenue declines, more than a billion dollars in debt that it has to pay off and the nearly annnual assaults on the company’s management by shareholders and others who think they know how to do the job better.

The latest news frenzy came when Fortune writer Richard Siklos said that Geffen wanted to buy a nearly 20 percent stake owned by one-time dissident shareholder Harbinger Capital Partners, but was rebuffed. Nearly every news outlet got the story (though most of us paid less attention to a report that a Harbinger-nominated director tried to get Google to buy the Times — and failed), while the Financial Times said that Geffen wants to buy the whole company.

That would be next to impossible, as would any friendly or hostile move at taking control, because the Ochs-Sulzberger family under nearly every circumstance doesn’t have to cave. That hasn’t stopped the frenzy, of course, because the Times’s flagging fortunes have led some to conclude that the Sulzbergers will get sick of seeing themselves growing poor and demand an exit of some kind.

Now, two days after the reports of Geffen’s interest surfaced, the speculation is in full force. Why Geffen? What does he want? What will the Times do?

Google’s Mayer on how to write online news

Just about everyone has thrown a thought or two by now into the great bubbling pot of stew that is the future of journalism. Latest in line is Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of search products and user experience.Mayer, one of Google’s earliest employees who gets reams of newsprint in Silicon Valley for her cupcake spreadsheets and love of Oscar de la Renta, spoke before a Senate subcommittee on a future of journalism hearing on Wednesday.Apart from defending Google, which has come under attack from the news industry — most notably the Associated Press — for profiting from content, Mayer gave some tips on how journalists should write their stories.Mayer talked about something she called the “atomic unit of consumption” — a news article rather than an entire newspaper, much like one song downloaded digitally instead of buying an entire album. Here’s an excerpt from her prepared testimony:

The atomic unit of consumption for existing media is almost always disrupted by emerging media. For example, digital music caused consumers to think about their purchases as individual songs rather than as full albums. Digital and on-demand video has caused people to view variable-length clips when it is convenient for them, rather than fixed-length programs on a fixed broadcast schedule.Similarly, the structure of the Web has caused the atomic unit of consumption for news to migrate from the full newspaper to the individual article. As with music and video, many people still consume physical newspapers in their original full-length format. But with online news, a reader is much more likely to arrive at a single article. While these individual articles could be accessed from a newspaper’s homepage, readers often click directly to a particular article via a search engine or another Website.

Mayer then went on to suggest that reporters and editors need to think differently about how they write for online:

Treating the article as the atomic unit of consumption online has several powerful consequences. When producing an article for online news, the publisher must assume that a reader may be viewing this article on its own, independent of the rest of the publication.To make an article effective in a standalone setting requires providing sufficient context for first-time readers, while clearly calling out the latest information for those following a story over time. It also requires a different approach to monetization: each individual article should be self-sustaining. These types of changes will require innovation and experimentation in how news is delivered online, and how advertising can support it.

So wait, now the big bad wolf is counseling Little Red Riding Hood before gobbling her up for dinner? Maybe Google and news publishers can be friends… or at least frenemies. Read Mayer’s full testimony here.Keep an eye on:

    Online video site Hulu signs its first international TV content deals. (Financial Times) Former CNBC host lands at MSNBC. (Associated Press) Hear it once and for all: Twitter is not for sale. (Reuters)

(Photo: Actress Brooke Shields portrays Little Red Riding Hood at a charity fundraiser/Reuters)

Murdoch toys with idea of Kindle-like reader

Where will the mogul strike next? Doesn’t seem like he’s yearning right now for The New York Times, which is doing battle with a guild that doesn’t want to give up lifetime job guarantees of 190-odd Boston Globe staffers.

Instead, New York Post’s Peter Lauria reports, Rupert Murdoch has set his sights on building a Kindle-like device that will deliver content from News Corp publications like The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London and the NY Post. The device would also offer content from TV shows and movies that come from the News Corp stable. Murdoch sees it as a way of charging for content on the Web, rather than giving it away free as much of the publishing industry has (which, needless to say, is a big source of current troubles).

The global team assembled for this purpose consists of Murdoch himself, son James, Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton and News Corp’s new chief of digital operations, Jonathan Miller, the paper says.

Mr. Sulzberger goes to Amazon

When Massachusetts Democratic Senator John Kerry convenes a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday to discuss the fate of U.S. newspapers, don’t look for the man who controls the fate of Kerry’s hometown Boston Globe on Capitol Hill.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr, whose New York Times Co is threatening to close the Globe, will be at a press conference in New York City where online bookseller and retailer Amazon.com plans to release a new version of the Kindle electronic book reader. At least, that’s what The Wall Street Journal says. Amazon and the Times declined to talk to us about the Wednesday event or Sulzberger’s planned appearance.

Senator Kerry need not worry that he can’t question Sulzberger in person. As much as Sulzberger probably wants to limit his talking points to the Kindle, we’re in a Globe state of mind. After all, talks resume tonight over $10 million in cost cuts it wants to wrest from the Globe’s biggest union. We would be happy to ask Kerry’s questions on his behalf.

Did the watchdog forget to bark?

The opening panel at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers annual meet in Denver addressed an interesting question: Did 9,000 business journalists blow it when it came to ringing the alarm bells on the financial meltdown?

The five SABEW panelists — The New York Times’ business editor Larry Ingrassia, Columbia Journalism Review critic and former Wall Street Journal reporter Dean Starkman, personal finance columnist Jane Bryant Quinn, Emmy-winning former ABC News investigative reporter Allan Dodds Frank and Greg Miller, a professor at the University of Michigan — agreed that the financial press could have done more. Newspapers, wire services, magazines and television stations could have been more aggressive, and they could have taken more pains to explain why complex things like mortgage-backed securities might matter to the average reader.

But journalists can hardly be accused of “blowing it” when even doomsday pundits like Bob Shiller and Nouriel Roubini could predict only parts of the nightmare scenario that is unfolding in the U.S. economy right now, the panelists said.

Help The New York Times save $$!

An investor at Thursday’s 2009 New York Times annual meeting came up with a heck of a way to save money. But first, a recap of all the serious stuff that executives brought up at the meeting (Read the whole thing on the wire):

    We will stay public. We will not be sold. There is no one solution to what ails the newspaper business. We’re trying everything. Stop asking about us closing The Boston Globe or selling it. We won’t tell you until we’re ready. (By the way, it only took the Times nearly a month to reveal what the Globe has reported for ages: It is on track to lose $85 million this year.)

Now for money-saving tips for the struggling TImes, courtesy of an investor whose name I didn’t get a chance to catch. Here’s what she said to Times Co Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr during an investor Q&A:

As to savings on newsprint, I see belabored articles taking almost full pages on obscure topics… perhaps [about] someone in the Brazilian forest I cannot do anything about. So if you’re trying to save newsprint, perhaps you could edit these things to a more reasonable size… [Then] there is the expense you incur editorially in aspects that are really not necessary. [Times food critic] Frank Bruni had to go to Texas to write about a pork restaurant which most of your readers will never go to… Cathy Horyn had to go to the Dominican Republic to interview Oscar de la Renta who is here 90 percent of the time.

2009 Pulitzer Prizes: Journalism

Here at Columbia journalism school for the 2009 Pulitzer Awards, I and the other reporters have asked administrator Sig Gissler several questions about accepting online-only entries for prizes. (None won this year). There will be more postings on that subject later, but in the meantime, here are the prizes.
(UPDATE: Our wire story, which ran a little while ago, notes the interesting nature of the Pulitzer gang gradually accepting online-only journalism as legitimate. It also notes that the financial crisis, arguably one of the biggest stories in the past year, failed to garner any nods. Not only that, The Wall Street Journal has not won a single Pulitzer since Murdoch bought parent company Dow Jones & Co. And in one final, bitter note: two winners have been laid off since they did the work that won them their prizes, Jeff Bercovici at Portfolio.com reports.)

Pulitzer Prizes 2009 — journalism:

    Public Service:
    Las Vegas Sun — and “notably to the courageous reporting by Alexandra Berzon, for the exposure of the high death rate among construction workers on the Las Vegas Strip amid lax enforcement of regulations, leading to changes in policy and improved safety conditions.” Breaking News Reporting:
    The New York Times – Coverage of the sex scandal that resulted in the resignation of Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Investigative Reporting:
    The New York Times – “Awarded to David Barstow of The New York Times for his tenacious reporting that revealed how some retired generals, working as radio and television analysts, had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq, and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to companies that benefited from policies they defended.” Explanatory Reporting:
    Los Angeles Times – “Awarded to Bettina Boxall and Julie Cart of the Los Angeles Times for their fresh and painstaking exploration into the cost and effectiveness of attempts to combat the growing menace of wildfires across the western United States.” Local Reporting:
    Detroit Free Press – “And notably Jim Schaefer and M.L. Elrick for their uncovering of a pattern of lies by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick that included denial of a sexual relationship with his female chief of staff, prompting an investigation of perjury that eventually led to jail terms for two officials.” Local Reporting:
    East Valley Tribune – “Awarded to Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Giblin… for their adroit use of limited resources to reveal, in print and online, how a popular sheriff’s focus on immigration enforcement endangered investigation of violent crime and other aspects of public safety.” National Reporting:
    St. Petersburg Times – “For PolitiFact, its fact-checking initiative during the 2008 presidential campaing that used probing reporters and the power of the World Wide Web to examine more than 750 political claims, separating rhetoric from truth to enlighten voters. International Reporting:
    The New York Times staff – “For its masterful groundbreaking coverage of America’s deepening military and political challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, reporting frequently done under perilous conditions.” Feature Writing:
    St. Petersburg Times – “Awarded to Lane DeGregory… for her moving, richly detailed story of a neglected little girl, found in a roach-infested room, unable to talk or feed herself, who was adopted by a new family committed to her nurturing.” Commentary:
    The Washington Post – “Awarded to Eugene Robinson… for his eloquent columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focused on the election of the first African-American president, showcasing graceful writing and a grasp of the larger historic picture.” Criticism:
    The New York Times – “Awarded to Holland Cotter… for his wide ranging reviews of art, from Manhattan to China, marked by acute observation, luminous writing and dramatic storytelling.” Editorial Writing:
    The Post-Star, Glens Falls, New York – Awarded to “Mark Mahoney… for his relentless, down-to-earth editorials on the perils of local government secrecy, effectively admonishing citizens to uphold their right to know.” Editorial Cartooning:
    The San Diego Union-Tribune – “Awarded to Steve Breen… for his agile use of a classic style to produce wide-ranging cartoons that engage readers with power, clarity and humor.” Breaking News Photography:
    The Miami Herald – “Awarded to Patrick Farrell… for his provocative, impeccably composed images of despair after Hurricane Ike and other lethal storms caused a humanitarian disaster in Haiti.” Feature Photography:
    The New York Times – “Awarded to Damon Winter… for his memorable array of pictures deftly capturing multiple facets of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.”

Big changes at The Washington Post

You could read the whole memo about changes at The Washington Post at Romenesko, or you could read the important parts more quickly here.

The bottom line, courtesy of the memo sent to employees on Thursday from Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli and his top deputies, Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: Get stories out more quickly. Don’t worry about how you do it — on paper, a Blackberry or whatever. Just get it out there. And don’t slack on the writing and editing, please.

Excerpts from the memo:

Today, we are beginning a reorganization to create new reporting groups, streamline editing desks and anticipate the impending integration of our print and digital news operations. …  [W]e want to simplify the handling of words, pages, images and new media, building on the prescient move to “two-touch” editing under Len and Phil. Decisions about space and play must happen faster, both in print and online, and in a way that pulls together our now-separate newsrooms. A single editor ultimately ought to be able to oversee all versions of a story, whether it appears in print, online or on a BlackBerry or iPhone. Space in the newspaper and editing firepower in general should be allocated based on a day’s news priorities, not a predetermined formula.

Pay old-media execs to help you charge for new media

Three of the traditional media world’s brightest stars have a bright idea: Start a consultancy to help old-media companies charge for their content online. (And announce the venture in an old-media publication.)

From The Wall Street Journal’s website on Tuesday afternoon:

A trio of media executives is starting a firm to guide efforts by newspapers and other publishers to charge for content posted on their Web sites as advertising revenue tumbles.

The venture, Journalism Online LLC, is being led by Steven Brill, the founder of the American Lawyer magazine and Court TV; Gordon Crovitz, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal; and cable-television veteran Leo Hindery.

USA Today: Paper goes well with Kindle

Before we get to the point of this blog post, let’s see what’s up with Gannett lately.

Its stock rocketed some 40 percent last week, something many experts and news outlets said was because a big investor doubled its stake because it thinks that Gannett’s newspapers might have a future. It rocketed again on Monday, though it’s down 20 percent today (Tuesday). Some of that’s likely because of short sellers covering their bets on the stock’s movements.

Not only that, the company rejected the latest overture from a possible buyer on its Tucson, Arizona paper, prolonging the agony over whether the paper will close or not. Quarterly earnings are on their way this week too, which the company already said would be less than hot. Finally, USA Today is going to show up in fewer hotel rooms now that Marriott said it will start offering customers the option to get no paper at all.