Things that just occurred to me, in no particular order

News: Paper or spastic?

One of the first thing my journalism professors  warned, back when I was but a college freshman, was that we’d never get rich writing for a newspaper. It wasn’t a threat or an admonishment, warning us that we were making foolish choices. It was stated as a matter of fact: There’s not a ton of money in writing news.

After half the class had left and changed their news-ed  majors for something more lucrative, like PR or advertising, the professors continued: If you learned how to report the news and write clearly and concisely, you’ll always have work. There’s always a job for someone who can find and write news.

If you want money, marry someone rich, they said.

I’m thinking about that a lot these days as everyone and their brother predicts the end of newspapers. One of the folks I follow on Twitter said that “The Internet is 62% porn, 35% TED talks, and 3% people talking about how newspapers are dead.” I quibble with that: Better than half of the stories, posts and blogs I see complain that newspapers are on their way out.

That causes a lot of concern amongst my ink-stained brethren, and I’ll admit a few sleepless nights for me. It came up this weekend at my newsroom’s annual meeting: We can blog, we can go live, we can Twitter all we want. How do we make it pay?

No one, except for the Wall Street Journal, seems to have figured it out. They talk about charging subscriptions, while people across the room bristle at the mere thought. Personally, I don’t like the concept of philanthropic groups being the sole support for news coverage, but I don’t have any alternatives to offer.

What I’m about to say is going to sound like a total cop-out, a lie or complete naivete: I don’t really care. I think most working journalists would agree with me.

We didn’t care when newspapers were hauling in the big green. Some of us worked at union papers, but even those folks struggled to get paychecks commensurate with nontenured teachers.

We bitched and moaned and struggled like hell to pay our bills, taxes and whatever else. But in the end, we did the job because it’s what we did. We wrote news because we knew how to do it and we wanted to know what the hell was going on first. We wanted to be the ones to tell it. We had fun doing it, and most of us would’ve done it for even less than what we were paid.

And when we got tired of that, some of us quit and got real jobs in real offices with real paychecks. And we missed our newsrooms like hell.

We’ve never had to worry about the newspapers’ bottom lines before, but now it’s all anyone can talk about. And the question is, what can we do to keep things from going under?

To that I say, do what you do: Cover the news, write the stories and be a general pain in the ass to everyone. Whether it’s delivered on paper to someone’s front stoop, deposited in their E-mail in-box, gathered on their RSS feed or Twittered and talked about by pundits from Drudge to Kos, there will always be a demand for real, professional news coverage and someone is going to figure out how to make it lucrative.

But the pay will still stink.

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Comments on: "News: Paper or spastic?" (2)

  1. Scott, The answer is that each department can be monetized so the newsroom can focus on our number one product: well-written news.

    The workflow

    Posted on February 18, 2009 by specialdee at http://specialdee.wordpress.com

    Do you think there’s a way to monetize each department at a newspaper?
    Each department has their own workflow. Making a workflow chart might be a useful tool to see if the workflow needs to be updated.
    Since readers expect to get breaking news online, newsrooms will need staff available 24 hours. That doesn’t mean staff has to be IN the physical newsroom. Staff should be able to remotely file breaking news and other news = virtual newsroom.
    Ad sales / production = advertising department, ad reps, ad designers
    Editorial content production in print/online = newsroom for daily news, special sections for advertising supplements
    Page layout / Ad approval = advertising department
    Pagination = newsroom of daily pages, special sections of advertising supplements
    Page approval = newsroom of daily pages, special sections of advertising supplements
    Plate making = prepress department
    Printing = press department
    Prep of products for delivery = postpress department
    Delivery = circulation and transportation departments
    Customer service
    Payroll / accounting
    Human Resources
    Web department
    Each department can be monetized.
    The graphic designers can be hired by outside businesses to create logos, newsletters and other graphics.
    The web department can be hired by outside businesses to build, design, and update Web sites. Many businesses today still don’t have a web presence, and if they do, it is sometimes just a landing page with an “under construction” or “more information coming soon” announcement.
    Will newspapers retain a print version while growing their online community of readers? I think yes. The print version will be a condensed version of the online news.
    So how will newspapers divvy up the workflow as its online presence requires more personnel than the condensed print version?

  2. What’s painful is the gleeful tone you’ll hear when some get to talking about the newspaper struggles. For decades, they sent reporters out into the grit and grime and sucked up every word we carried back. We brought them the world day after day, like dogs who never forget to drop the slippers at the feet of the master. Now that they don’t need us anymore, we are like the last shriveled peas to be flicked away from their plates.
    Nah, I’m just being maudlin. In some respects, the reporter is the most durable of all newspaper people. Technology is finding new ways to deliver and present the news, but somebody still needs to report and write. Aggregators can’t do that yet. Aggregators don’t know to climb from the scene of the murder to the floor above where delicious insights can be found. Aggregators don’t bother stopping to talk to the homeless man to get his story. Aggregators aggregate what we provide them. It’s a be-careful-what-you-wish-for scenario for those delighting in the death throes of traditional news. Unless you want to get out there and poke through the garbage heap of humanity, watch your mouth, bitch.

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