The shorter the news cycle, the more vulnerable it is to rumors, lies, manipulations and inconsequential trivia. A lot of stuff that seems important in the “urgency of the moment” is found to be either wrong or irrelevant by the end of the hour, the end of the day, or the end of the week. Facts get checked, and everyone has a chance to see what a given bit of news really amounts to. At the end of the week, we invariably see that many of the minute-by-minute ripples were just that. The trees fall away, and we finally see the forest.
Our constant monitoring of cable news and Internet news sites results in our “knowing” far too much that is later found to be wrong or beside the point.
It isn’t just about the paper. It isn’t even about the individuals who, after decades of loyal work at the highest levels, now find themselves unwelcome in the newsrooms they ran for so many years.
It’s about the death of a proven process that brought us news we never would have known about otherwise. About getting answers to questions we didn’t know to ask. About weeding out the trivial, the self-serving, and the unverifiable.
For years, news naturally separated itself into various cycles that were rooted in physical realities. The sun goes down, and the newsmakers go home. The daily newspaper deadline comes and goes. We all know more or less when these things occur, and we plan around them. Newspapers evolved a very effective system of evaluating what needed to be covered on a given day, assigning reporters to go to meetings, make phone calls, knock on doors and check facts. As the deadline neared, reporters would turn in their stories, and good editors would ask hard questions. Who is this guy? What’s his motive? Who pays his salary? How do we know this is true? How can we verify he’s not lying to us? Where necessary, reporters would plug the holes, fix the stories, delete the trivia and resubmit a version that met the editor’s standards.
It wasn’t a perfect process, but it worked.
There were weekly and monthly news cycles as well, governed by weekend lulls and monthly magazine cycles. They provided even more perspective, because what seems like the most important thing in the world on Tuesday morning often turns out to be irrelevant by Thursday afternoon. Often, it gets “trumped” by something more important, or proven false.
I recognized the wisdom of these natural cycles when I was covering all-day events such as trials or conventions. At first, I naively thought I could just “write up” what happened as the day went along, put a “lede” on it at the end of the day and go get a beer. It never worked out that way, because covering news isn’t just about gathering quotes and dumping them out there for the world. It’s about understanding, making decisions, and writing stories that give us an accurate, fair account of what happened — usually in less than 1,000 words.
In all of this, the physical limitations of the paper product provided an important filter. With a limited “news hole,” editors had to make tough decisions about what was “news.” Now, with unlimited air time and Internet capacity, Lindsay Lohan’s latest car accident can carry as much weight as the historic decisions being made in Congress as part of the new Farm Bill. One’s about a mediocre actress who’s a junkie. One’s about our nation’s food supply. I mean, really!
We still don’t know much about how things will work in the future, but several trends are clear. Less thought will go into what gets covered, and how. There will be far fewer editors reading copy. Reporters will be expected to take videos, shoot pictures, “live tweet” their stories and format their own stories. There’s simply no way a reporter can wear so many hats and still pay full attention to the primary task of gathering and writing the news.
Our focus has been on the correcting of typos and grammar, but the greater loss is the role an experienced editor plays in making sure the reporter understands what he’s writing about.
Because that’s the only way we as consumers of news will ever know what the hell our politicians, business leaders and others are up to.
For years, we’ve complained about the press’s power to filter and prioritize news. But now that it’s gone, we’ll miss it.
At best, it’s never easy to discern the real strategies behind publicly discernible moves and the language used in corporate announcements. I know, because I write corporate announcements, and I’d be lying if I denied that there are times when obfuscation is a primary objective.
All the same, the Orwellian language used by Advance Publications (aka Newhouse) makes one thing clear: The newspapers are giving up their all-important role as a filter to help us get the stuff that matters while leaving out the trivial and unconfirmed.
To be sure, this filtering role has been a favorite whipping boy in the industry for more than two centuries. Those who feel that their priorities aren’t reflected in the mainstream media point out that newspapers have always exerted influence in the stories they choose to cover, what goes on page 1, what photos are used, and even what goes “below the fold” (on the bottom half of the page). Such criticism has always had some validity. At the same time, assuming our journalists acted with integrity and used good judgment, they saved us a great deal of time. And in many cases, they forced us to look at matters that we, as citizens, needed to focus on. Things we wouldn’t necessarily seek out on our own.
Now, much of that function is disappearing. Reporters won’t be expected to use their judgment as to what matters, who’s lying, or what’s unconfirmed. They’re asked to snatch up stuff as it floats by, package it for the web site, tweet it, and move on to something else. Increasingly, all over the country, we have reporters “live tweeting” meetings, press conferences, trials and other news events rather than listening, thinking and understanding.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t tweet and listen at the same time. I can pretend to, but I can’t really. And if you don’t believe me, ask my wife, who reminds me of this daily.
The announcements over the past few days in Louisiana and Alabama may be dominating the conversation at the moment, but these trends began long before Newhouse dropped the bombshells on the Times Picayune, Birmingham News, Huntsville Times and Mobile Press-Register.
In the Gambit, a New Orleans web site, Kevin Allman describes staff meetings in which editor Jim Amoss said that “ the reporters/content providers have been told to gather information and post it online as it comes in, rather than filing traditional long-form stories. They will be providing updates throughout the day on NOLA.com and other platforms such as Twitter, and expected to take photos and video as circumstances warrant to augment the content they file online.”
The Gambit notes that under a new policy implemented several week ago, Times-Picayune reporters “had to post something for NOLA.com as part of their early morning duties…. These postings could take the form of a brief story, a short blog item or even a bit of listings news.”
By multiple accounts, reporters are now getting and being evaluated by “hit counts” on their stories. In The Atlantic, former longtime Times-Picayune reporter John McQuaid says, “Advance’s Internet strategy has never been about journalism or news. It’s about clicks.”
For quite a while, I’ve been criticizing the endless flow of trivia and misinformation on the cable networks. But through all that, the newspapers have remained a critical place where we could have confidence that the facts have been properly verified and some perspective has been applied through the process in which editors read the copy, ask top questions and decide “how much play” to give a story. In the future, the pressure to keep “new content” going up constantly on the web sites will guarantee that we value the immediate over the important.
For at least a couple of years now, I’ve been getting calls — sometimes monthly, sometimes weekly and occasionally daily — from a company called GlobeNewswire, a NASDAQ-owned firm that’s in the business of distributing press releases. I expect a high level of behavior from those who serve this particular market, because I like to think that my fellow public relations professionals are more aware of the rules regarding marketing communication. On my most optimistic days, I like to think that PR pros show more respect for the unofficial rules of good communication.
So it has continually surprised me that this ostensibly respectable firm apparently maintains no “do-not-call” list and does not follow the email guidelines set out in the CAN-SPAM Act.
I’m pasting the latest email — and my reply — as an example of what not to do. It is worth noting that there was no “unsubscribe” link, and to my knowledge I’ve never had any communications with this particular person. If I had, he’d know that I had requested no further communication.
From Global Corporate Solutions:
I trust you are well and a great weekend. I know it has been some time since our last communication, so I wanted to reach out to you in regards to your press releases.
As discussed previously, NASDAQ Globe Newswire offers you the most competitive rates in the industry (averaging 30% less than our competitors), while maintaining the same, if not better distribution than the other tier one wires (Business Wire, Market Wire and PR Newswire).
I would like to offer you a significant discount on your next release, in order to give you the opportunity to experience our exceptional distribution and services.
Your first 3 releases will be at a 30% discount; State, Regional or National.
Below is a link for you to register with us: (There are NO FEES or obligations when registering or fees or obligations to try our services)
Please feel free to contact with any questions. Thanks for your time and I am looking forward to working with you. J
You people have badered me to the point I’ve begun trashing you on Twitter and considered turning you in to the FCC, since I get calls almost weekly despite always giving the same response: “Put me on your do-not-call list.” Obviously, you have legions of commission-only salespeople who have no respect at all for the preferences of the people they’re trying to sell. It is also clear that you either do not maintain or reference a DNC list, or that you have a total disregard for such. Please advise me as to how I can convince you to go away away and leave me alone?
I am not kidding at all about the possibility of an FCC complaint.
Note that your email was sent to “—-@—.com” - an address I haven’t used in years. By emailing you from this address, I am NOT giving you permission to put me on any mailing list, print or electronic.
This morning, Mashable published a story about how Forbes writers are now writing and posting their own stories, without the benefit of editors. This afternoon, this Forbes story showed up on my screen:
Money that is disbursed will almost certainly be dispersed as well, but the two are not the same thing. If Forbes can’t afford editors any more, maybe they should at least pop for some dictionaries.
An Ipsos poll last released this week shows that people are spending less time on Facebook. And another poll, conducted just before the recent Facebook IPO, found that 46% regard it as a “fad” that will fade in time.
Of the 1,032 Americans surveyed in a poll for Thomson Reuters May 31-June 4, 2012, 34% said they’re using Facebook less than they were six months ago. Only 20% said they were spending more time on Facebook.
Still, 41% said they use Facebook every day, and another 18% use it at least once a week. Only 20% said they’ve ever bought products or services because of advertising or comments they saw on Facebook.
Those who are using Facebook less seemed evenly split about the reasons, with 25% saying there wasn’t enough time, 24% concerned about privacy, and 27% saying it’s boring, not relevant or not useful. Only 2% said they were using Facebook less because they preferred a different social network.
The recent fiasco in which Facebook overpriced it’s initial public offering (IPO) didn’t help. By a 4-1 margin, people said what they knew of the IPO made them view Facebook less favorably.
You can see the full survey here.
While there is probably some “piling on” occurring in media, it is pretty clear that people are cooling off toward Facebook. Another poll, conducted by Associated Press and CNBC just before the IPO, found that more than half of Facebook users never click on ads or other sponsored content, and another 26 said they “hardly ever” do.
While 43% said Facebook “will be successful over the long term,” 46% said it “will fade away as new things come along.” Facebook also clearly has trust issues, with 59% saying they have “little or no” trust in Facebook’s ability to keep their personal information private. Only 13% said they “completely trust” Facebook on privacy.
The AP/CNBC poll also shows problems for Facebook’s plans for selling products and services. A solid majority — 54% — said they feel “not safe at all” purchasing goods and services through Facebook. Only 8% of adults and 12% of all users said they’d feel safe making purchases of goods and services like clothing or travel on the site. Complete AP/CNBC poll results.
You may have heard yesterday about the decision by Advance Communications to stop printing three of Alabama’s newspapers daily. Instead, The Birmingham News, Huntsville Times and Mobile Press-Register will print on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Their primary vehicle for delivering the news will be AL.com, Advance’s web site combining its Alabama media. Advance will also cut print publication of the New Orleans Times-Picayune to three times a week, with most news going to NOLA.com.
These cuts were more personal to me than previous ones. I spent the first 10 years of my career with The Birmingham News, and many of the reporters and editors there are friends.
You may be aware that these changes follow the pattern of Advance/Newhouse’s changes in Michigan in 2009, which include ceasing print entirely in Ann Arbor and moving the Flint Journal, Bay City Times and Saginaw News to a mostly-online model with print editions just three days a week.
It’s important to note that Advance, which is owned by the Newhouse family, is the richest and most stable media organization in the country. I expect them to be a bellwether.
To complicate this further, a number of papers are continuing to print daily editions for newsstand distribution only, but ceasing to deliver them to homes.
The pain is just starting. The Annenberg School of Journalism at the University of Southern California predicts that within five years, only four papers will still be printing daily: The New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.
I expect this trend to accelerate from here for three reasons:
1. By following its Michigan model in Alabama and Louisiana, Advance is telegraphing to other publishers that its strategy is working. That will lead others to follow Advance’s example.
2. A number of newspapers are in various stages of bankruptcy. Notably, Tribune Co. — owner of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, WGN in in Chicago, among others — is hoping to learn in June whether it can emerge from Chapter 11. These are shedding the debt from their print operations, and while most will continue to print (at least some of the time), they will introduce wrinkles that continue to de-emphasize print in favor of digital. Some will print only a few days a week. Others will print but eliminate home delivery, severely reducing the audience for print ads.
3. Newspapers are losing $27 in print advertising for every $1 they gain in digital. Up until now, the print revenues have dwarfed online revenues, so they’ve been milking the cash cow for several years. Now, that cow is pretty dry, and they’re facing the reality that the costs are on the print side. They’re not going to keep the costs without the revenues.
Here’s a list of metropolitan dailies that have failed since 2007, according to the web site, NewspaperDeathWatch.com:
Rocky Mountain News
King County Journal
Union City Register-Tribune
Halifax Daily News
South Idaho Press
San Juan Star
I’ve been saying for years that the rules of Social Media are pretty much the same as those in the rest of life: If you talk nonstop about yourself, or about stuff that doesn’t interest people, they quit listening.
We’ve been seeing this with brand pages on Facebook (aka “fan pages”) for a while now. AdAgeDigital reported recently that engagement on Facebook walls of brands is down 22%. AdAge said many companies brought the decline on themselves by “dissing audiences with bad content, coupons, polls, contests and boring filler.”
It’s bad enough if people just begin to zip past your posts in their Facebook timeline. But Facebook and some third-party applications have added tools that make it easier to hide you completely. And you can be totally unaware that it’s even happening.
Here are a few ways to get people to hide your posts so they don’t see them any more:
Bang the drum constantly on one topic. If you talk only about one topic and that topic doesn’t interest people, they’re more likely to hide you completely. Remember that people like to talk about a variety of things. Even if somebody loves God, or the Democratic Party, or lost puppies as much as you do, a constant stream of posts and photos on one topic will turn them off.
Try to get more attention by posting pictures that are nothing but words. Sometime about a year ago, folks decided more people would notice a picture more than they would a simple status update. For example, instead of simply posting the text, one of my (now hidden) Facebook friends uploaded the “deja poo” image at right. Since this guy does this all the time, I finally just hid him completely.
Let your apps take over. Nobody really wants to know if you’re the new Mayor of Pete’s Pub. (Congrats. So you have more time to sit around drinking than those of us with more productive lives.) Or if you need a gizmo for your farm, or if you scored a 50-point word in Words with Friends. If you keep letting apps spam Facebook like that, users will either block the app (I’ve blocked most of them in my feed) or just unsubscribe from your posts completely.
Want to clean up your own feed?
Assuming you’ve cut out some of your own bad habits, you may want to get rid of some of the clutter in your own feed. Here are a couple of things you can do. On anything you see on your screen, look for a little arrow just to the upper right. If you see one, click it. Depending on what kind of post it is, you may be able to simply hide everything like it.
If you’re getting tired of all those attention-seeking “word pictures,” you can get rid of those too. Note that you can unsubscribe from a person’s pictures without hiding his or her other posts. (This doesn’t work for “shared” photos.)
Here’s one more way to clean up your feed: Block those apps that are driving you crazy. Just look in the upper right part of your Facebook page for the “Home” button, click the “down” arrow next to it, and click the “Manage Blocking” button near the end of the page. You’ll be able to figure it out from there.
It’s time to lay off the photo filters.
Seriously. Just say no. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the photofinishing business, where everybody went to great lengths to produce pictures that faithfully represented reality. Maybe it’s because I’m color blind, or because I’m just old-fashioned. But whatever the reason, I’ve hit my saturation point with pointless sepia tones, fake embossing, drop shadows, torn edges and other “enhancements.”
Most of the enhancements I see these days look like the heat damage we used to get when somebody left their film in the car on a hot July day. Or when they found a roll they’d left in a camera five years ago and sent it in for processing. In those days, our term for it was “stupid photography,” not filtering.
We seem to hit one of these fads every year or so. In the 1990s, “Shockwave” (a predecessor to Flash) appeared and made it easy to put animated images on web sites, and suddenly we all thought we had to do it. Later, we saw Flash all over the place. Then Apple had a lover’s spat with Adobe (which makes Flash), and decided not to allow it on the iPad. Now the world’s beating a path to the doorway trying to get rid of it. Every time a new version of PowerPoint comes out, we get a new set of wipes, dissolves and other transitions, and everybody who gives a presentation seems to feel a need to use them all.
These days, the obsession with photo filters seems to be driven by Instagram, a social media service that makes it easy to color everything yellow (or gray, or blue, or …) and upload it for use on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites. There’s nothing wrong with the service itself, and I use it now and then. Just get over the compulsion to mess with the photos.
Take good pictures. If the color is a little off, use Photoshop or some other tool to tweak them. But if you have to “enhance” every photo you take, you need to either get a better camera or get better at using it. Or maybe take pictures of prettier things.
If everything’s “special,” nothing is.
The wrong question to ask: “Why not?”
The right question: “Why the hell would I?”