Newspaper Association Insists That Only Newspapers Can Do Real Reporting

from the say-what-now? dept

An anonymous employee of a decent sized newspaper forwarded me a letter sent out to employees by John Sturm, the head of the Newspaper Assocation of America called The Reality About Newspapers. It's embedded below:


It lists out a series of 7 "myths" about newspapers, followed by the reality. The first 6 myths are actually good points that we absolutely agree with. Basically, it says the newspaper business really isn't that bad. A lot of people still read the newspaper and most newspapers are quite profitable on an operating basis. Indeed, we've pointed that out in the past. The real problem has mainly been with really poor decisions by some in management to take out huge loans. It's the debt load that's killing so many newspapers -- and it's not helped by the fact that newspaper readership is declining and advertisers have a lot more options than in the past.

However, the 7th myth and reality is just ridiculous:
Myth: If newspapers close, you will still be able to get news from other sources.

Reality: Newspapers make a larger investment in journalism than any other medium. Most of the information you read from "aggregators" and other media originated with newspapers. No amount of effort from local bloggers, non-profit news entities or TV news sources could match the depth and breadth of newspaper-produced content.
The problem is that his "myth" is a reality and his "reality" is a fiction. It is true that today newspapers invest more in journalism, but the rest of his "reality" isn't reality at all. There is simply no reason (nor does he provide one) why other publications can't fill the gap. And, note (carefully) his metric: it's the amount invested in journalism. This is like when movie industry guys say "but how do we keep making $200 million movies." You should never trust anyone who tries to base output on the amount invested. Perhaps the answer is to invest smarter in journalism, rather than investing more.

That said, I should make a separate point that's important: I'm still an optimist and a believer that newspapers will figure this out. A lot of people falsely seem to assume I think all newspapers must or should die. I don't think that at all. I received a few emails from people who were surprised about my comments in a Guardian article about why I think newspapers will figure all this out. But, they won't do it if they continue to think that they have some sort of special quality that makes it impossible for other media to report the news.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 1st, 2009 @ 10:51am

    But, they won't do it if they continue to think that they have some sort of special quality that makes it impossible for other media to...

    I've been trying this over the past four years with my wife over taking out the kitchen trash! Hasn't worked yet!

     

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  2.  
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    PopeHilarius (profile), Jun 1st, 2009 @ 10:53am

    If Only

    I like the last section of that memo:

    "This is not a portrait of a dying industry. It's illustrative of transformation. Newspapers are reinventing themselves to focus on serving distinct audiences with a variety of products."

    I think the first two sentences of that are completely true. I just wish the last sentence was as well. It's like they know they need to try something different to stay alive, but just keep saying, "Hmmm, how about micropayments?" and so on.

     

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    Michael, Jun 1st, 2009 @ 11:05am

    Can't figure this out

    Our local daily, Canada's largest, recently launched a discount long distance phone service with regular full page ads touting the product. Does anyone else think there may be a conflict with potential and current advertisers? This same paper is also in the automobile insurance business ... Is there a grand plan, or just madness to think you should own all of your advertisers?

     

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    Hulser (profile), Jun 1st, 2009 @ 11:16am

    "No amount of effort from local bloggers, non-profit news entities or TV news sources could match the depth and breadth of newspaper-produced content."
    - John F. Sturm

    It seems to me that all of the troubles that the newspaper industry is having adjusting to the Internet can be summarized in this opinion. It assumes that what is always will be. It assumes that by some irrevocable birthright, the newspaper industry is the only model which can provide the kind of newsgathering and reporting necessary for a democracy.

    "Newspapers are reinventing themselves to focus on serving disctinct audiences with a variety of products and delivering those audiences effectively to advertisers across media channels."

    It seems here at least Sturm is recognizing that the newspaper industry has to change in order to survive in a marketplace that includes the Internet. However, if their attitude is that they have no real competition, then their efforts are almost certainly going to be fruitless. It's one thing to recognize you have competition and plan accordingly. It's another to dismiss your competition as never being able to match your level of service.

     

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  5.  
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    Joe, Jun 1st, 2009 @ 11:42am

    I love TechDirt...

    but PLEASE provide a direct link to PDFs. "Flashpaper" is annoying and I don't want Yet Another Login at scrib.com just to decently view this.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 1st, 2009 @ 11:43am

    Re:

    Actually he is exactly correct.

    TV news is well known for wide and extremely shallow coverage of stories, if there isn't a visual the story usually get buried. They also tend to go toward sensationalistic stuff, like "In Depth: Slumlord owes back taxes, but still collects rents!". TV News is not a good source of in depth coverage.

    Worse yet, with Fox (Faux) News, there is about 23.75 hours per day of opinion, with a small amount of news just to keep things "fair and balanced". Like this will help.

    Amateur news sources are great for finding out about the very general of a story (the house next door is on fire) but rarely will you get any in depth (the house next door is one fire, ignited when a homeless man tried to light a campfire in the back alleyway).

    In the end, the vast majority (nearly all) of the in depth coverage of news comes from print media in one form or another, and almost all the opinion media comes from TV and internet. Remove the actual news, and all you have left is a bunch of people yelling at each other.

     

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  7.  
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    Steve R. (profile), Jun 1st, 2009 @ 11:54am

    Biased Reporting

    Newspapers serve a valuable purpose of collecting and disseminating "news". But at the same time, they are just as prone (as any blog on the internet) to have biased reporting.

    For example, the New York Times, when it comes to discussing copyright and patent law has an obvious bias for "stronger" laws. Not only that but their so-called reporting, in many cases, is simply a regurgitation of industry press-releases. Given this unfair bias and lazy approach, I wouldn't label many of the Times articles on copyright as real journalism that discusses both sides of an issue to inform the reader so that the reader can make up their own mind on the issue.

    Many copyright and patent advocates also want to dismiss "free" content such a Wikipedia since it is "unverified". While this criticism may have some truth to it, I don't think that traditional sources of information such as the Encyclopedia Britannica are really any better and are a susceptible to distorting bias as the New York Times.

    We can only hope that truth, from whatever source will emerge out of the cacophony.

     

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  8.  
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    mobiGeek, Jun 1st, 2009 @ 11:54am

    Re: Can't figure this out

    Actually this is an interesting approach to leveraging their existing advertising platform.

    Now, does the daily actually *own* these new companies, or are they partnering/outsourcing? Sort of like the way that a certain Canadian grocery chain has its own "financial", but is actually run by one of the big Cdn banks?

    If the new business arms are profitable and truly improving the standing of the newspaper, then more power to their non-traditional approach. I just hope that the diversification does not have the overall organization lose focus, or start stealing the focus of one division to prop up another.

     

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    Hulser (profile), Jun 1st, 2009 @ 12:02pm

    Re: Re:

    In the end, the vast majority (nearly all) of the in depth coverage of news comes from print media in one form or another, and almost all the opinion media comes from TV and internet.

    You're making the same mistake Sturm and the newspaper industry in general is making, namely that just because that's the way it is now, it can never be any different. Sure, sources of news other than newspapers can't match the newspaper industry yet, but do you honestly think it's impossible for anyone else to do the job the newspapers do? That's like saying a baby won't ever grow up to run a marathon because all it can do now is crawl.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 1st, 2009 @ 12:21pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I think that TV and the internet have both carved out their niches, and those babies have already grown up and become the middle aged couch potatoes of information. TV news is super lazy, working more for the eye candy stories (High School Teacher Nighttime Stripper!), and the internet is down to Perez Hilton and Techdirt.

    It is likely that "real news" will start to fall into a third category not currently on the radar, web delivery business based around a subscription or user pays model, example, where you pay a very small fee to get access to both local and national news. In my mind, I can see a day where you pretty much don't get any quality news & information online without some form of subscription. All of the free models just don't bring anything to the table to pay for the incredible man hours put into collecting and writing local and national news. Getting that information OFF of the Google world and into it's own world might in the end by the better way to do things.

    There was life before google, and there will be life after google.

     

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  11.  
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    skeptic, Jun 1st, 2009 @ 2:07pm

    what makes newspapers think they are so great

    first of all this was a half page add in the Washington post last week. not an insider secretly leaked letter.

    I read the Washington Post every day and newspapers by and large are getting consistently worse. the local newspapers that are doing well, give their paper away for free already. They do this by being full of adds and increasing readership with sensationalist articles. I read (and pay for) the post because it is better than most, but they by no means have no room to improve. I sincerely believe that newspapers can charge for their content, even online, by increasing the value of the content. right now however, even the best newspapers are writing at an 8th grade reading level. Most far less than that. Newspapers are moving in the wrong direction. Better papers see the trashier ones doing better because they are reaching more readers by giving away their content at a lower (or zero) price. Instead of trying to reach that broader market, the better papers need to actually narrow their market to serve those that are being ignored. I am willing to pay for better content, because I cannot find that better content else ware. But the papers cannot hold themselves on that high horse and say that no one matches their content, because it is simply not true. Give me a place where content is fair, factual, unbiased, intelligent and complete, and not only will I pay for it, but others who want the same will as well.

     

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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jun 1st, 2009 @ 5:04pm

    Re: what makes newspapers think they are so great

    "right now however, even the best newspapers are writing at an 8th grade reading level"

    They always did.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 1st, 2009 @ 6:04pm

    And big journalism also is a very good source for made up shit.

     

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  14.  
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    Reedatschool, Jun 1st, 2009 @ 6:30pm

    Newspapers, because print matters......

    Myth: Newspaper readership is going up as technology combined with human ingenuity create new ways to deliver news

    Reality: Almost no-one under the age of 30 actually goes to the newspaper as their primary source of news anymore. This means that newspapers, despite still hanging in their, have a limited amount of time before all their readers die off.

    Newspapers are really a thing of the past, there are just too many better solutions out their. From streaming news and specialty blogs like Techdirt to twitter and DIGG, it is clear that newspapers are in for the fight of their life. Their current prefered media (paper) will continue to hold them back from being profitable IMHO.

    Newspapers in general are poorly written with many overly biased articles, wasteful of resources, and have a general lack of any quality reporting.

    People were talking about how the newspaper industry back in the early 1900's was so corrupt nothing that a columnist actually believed would ever make it in a paper. I doubt that journalistic integrity is anything more than lip service that is paid to the reader while big business makes up all the facts.

    In this respect newspapers, being controlled mostly by big money, are the primary avenue that misinformation and disinformation is spread to people.

    Surprisingly, more and more people are realizing this and the newspaper industry cannot fight a trend that they helped create by regurgitating whatever corporate or government news source tells them to.

    Newspapers are simply DOA for the 21st Century.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 1st, 2009 @ 7:18pm

    Re: Newspapers, because print matters......

    "Reality: Almost no-one under the age of 30 actually goes to the newspaper as their primary source of news anymore. This means that newspapers, despite still hanging in their, have a limited amount of time before all their readers die off."

    Reality? I don't think this is entirely accurate. Most people do consult newspapers, but often NOT in printed form, but rather online. They hit google news, type "Obama makes an oops" and get a news story that likely comes from print media (or news services such as AP).

    From what I can see in my town riding the subway, the freebie newspapers they give away at the door are actually very popular with the under 30 crowd, mostly because they don't have to pay. That may be more of the key here, the under 30s have grown up with the net thinking that everything is either free, cracked, or hacked.

    The freebie rags tend to be just this side of death all the time, due to a lack of ad dollars in the marketplace. One would probably do okay, two are just hurting each other.

    "In this respect newspapers, being controlled mostly by big money, are the primary avenue that misinformation and disinformation is spread to people."

    Apparently you haven't watch Faux News Channel recently. You want to talk about disinformation, just watch the O'Reilly Factor for a while. Another great example of opinion disguised as news, telling people what to think. Perhaps you might want to tune in for the Rush Limbaugh 3 hour programming of the dittohead bots, where people are mislead so badly that they still think Shrub Bush was a great President. Newspapers don't have the market on editorial opinion - but for the most part, they tend to keep it in areas marked as "opinion" rather than spewing it all around.

    All big media is owned by big money. Grassroots media (like blogs) are horribly unreliable.

    Most important is the source for news. As mentioned earlier, the newspaper people are a little peed off that TV news people tend to take their stories and just condense them for TV, using the newspaper story as source. What would happen if all the Newspapers stopped publishing tomorrow? Where would you get in depth news? Where would you get local news? What would be on TV if they didn't have newspapers to do the leg work?

    It's easy as heck to declare this dead, that dead, call businesses "buggy whip industries", and so on, but it is way more difficult to even come up with a replacement for what you propose to bury.

     

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  16.  
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    lordmorgul, Jun 1st, 2009 @ 9:10pm

    Re: Re: Newspapers, because print matters......

    I think we have had worse as POTUS than George Bush. In fact I believe he handled our nation's worst crisis since the Civil War better than any of our prior president's would have. Was it perfect? No, but I didn't expect perfection from a man, I leave that to God.

    Am I misled or have I made an informed opinion based on my own world view?

    I suspect you believe the former, while the latter is definitely true. Not everyone who disagrees with you is misled.

     

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  17.  
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    BryanCar, Jun 1st, 2009 @ 9:54pm

    I don't think so!

    What's meaning of 'Real Reporting'. NY times sale his building to go though the tough time. Everyone could be a good reporter at this web's time.

    No 'Real Reporting', but Yes 'Real reporter'. A good news not written by a newspaper, written by a good reporter.

    It's web 2.0 's feature.

     

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  18.  
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    cram, Jun 1st, 2009 @ 11:36pm

    "There is simply no reason (nor does he provide one) why other publications can't fill the gap."

    Can you or anyone else provide one good reason why other publications will fill the gap?

    News gathering is a painstaking and expensive business, something that requires upfront investment. Who would want to engage in that sort of activity when the returns are not going to justify the investment?

    When no one wants to read news on dead trees, online advertising revenue just doesnt' come anywhere close to print, reporters and editors don't come free...how is a news company to stay in business? That being the situation, who will be foolish enough to step in?

    "And, note (carefully) his metric: it's the amount invested in journalism. This is like when movie industry guys say "but how do we keep making $200 million movies." You should never trust anyone who tries to base output on the amount invested."

    But there is a minimum sum that has to be invested. $200 m may be too high for a movie, but that doesn't mean you can make a movie for 20 m. Likewise, there is a cost to producing news.

    "Perhaps the answer is to invest smarter in journalism, rather than investing more."

    Yeah, Mike. It's so simple, I wonder why newspaper moguls haven't figured it out, yet.

     

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  19.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 2nd, 2009 @ 12:38am

    Re:

    Can you or anyone else provide one good reason why other publications will fill the gap?

    Because there's clear demand. And where there's demand, there's incentive to fill that demand. We're seeing new journalism startups practically everyday. Clearly there are lots of folks looking to fill that void.

    News gathering is a painstaking and expensive business, something that requires upfront investment. Who would want to engage in that sort of activity when the returns are not going to justify the investment?


    Bad assumption. The returns WILL justify the investment. Easily.

    When no one wants to read news on dead trees, online advertising revenue just doesnt' come anywhere close to print,

    Yet. And, more importantly, you seem to ignore the cost side of the equation.

    reporters and editors don't come free...how is a news company to stay in business? That being the situation, who will be foolish enough to step in?

    As I said, we're seeing new startups in the space on a near daily basis. Clearly, plenty of folks are willing to step up. Just look around.


    But there is a minimum sum that has to be invested. $200 m may be too high for a movie, but that doesn't mean you can make a movie for 20 m. Likewise, there is a cost to producing news.


    Did anyone say otherwise?!?

    Yeah, Mike. It's so simple, I wonder why newspaper moguls haven't figured it out, yet.

    Because most don't know what business they're really in. A few do, though. And we're seeing more successes every day.

     

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  20.  
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    adorno, Jun 2nd, 2009 @ 1:36am

    So when are you going to start covering the police beat, city hall meetings, dog catcher reports, obits, and other local news.

    Blogers cannot replace reporters. Get over yourselves.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 2nd, 2009 @ 5:06am

    Re: Re:

    "Bad assumption. The returns WILL justify the investment. Easily."

    Empty statement. Why will it justify the investment? What is the plan? How does this happen? Where do you see their income coming from?

    "we're seeing new startups in the space on a near daily basis. Clearly, plenty of folks are willing to step up"

    Please show us some examples of new startups actually producing news content, as opposed to syndicating other's content. It is actually pretty thin on the ground.

    See Mike, this is a place where you could take the time and give examples and explain how you see things actually working out, rather than giving empty and vague promises that it will work out. It's sort of easy to play the guru if you can claim all the successes and shun all the failures, because you never really placed your chips on the table to start with.

     

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  22.  
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    cram, Jun 2nd, 2009 @ 5:12am

    "Where do you see their income coming from?"

    The operative word here is income. What, in simple terms, will bring in the money? Unless that is figured out, I don't see the landscape changing rapidly.

     

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  23.  
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    Reedatschool, Jun 2nd, 2009 @ 10:03am

    Re: Re: Re: Newspapers, because print matters......

    Lordmorgul - One phrase, Weapons of Mass Destruction.

    You can believe what you see on the news or what you read in the newspaper. This doesn't make it the truth when clearly the news media is more concerned with spreading misinformation than dealing with the truth or any issues that would lead to the truth.

    If you believe that 9/11 is even in the same category as the civil war you have some serious problems with reality IMHO.

     

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  24.  
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    Hayden Frost, Jun 2nd, 2009 @ 12:03pm

    "aggregators"

    Some friends and I have been working on an aggregator for a while in our spare time (linked in my name), and we easily link to high quality content that is unrelated to big newspapers. We already block out stuff that's behind a paywall, and we'd block these other newspapers out in a heartbeat. There's tons of content that's high quality (even better than these newspapers) from experts in engineering and law that give much better insight than some AP article's 4-6 sentences.

     

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  25.  
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    Steve R. (profile), Jun 2nd, 2009 @ 7:02pm

    Arianna Huffington Interview at CNBC

    My One On One With Arianna Huffington

    Julia Boorstin writes: "Her HuffingtonPost.com, which is entirely ad supported, is profitable and growing, unaffected by the downturn in ad spending. And Huffington is a firm believer in the ad model. As newspapers struggle to compensate for the downturn in print advertising with new digital revenues she cautions that publications should be wary of a "walled garden" approach."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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