Gawker is apparently surprised that the old school newspapers — the ones still printing on paper, for crying out loud — have old people writing on their op-ed pages. Big surprise.
Still, it was worse than I thought.
Why are newspaper opinion columnists so consistently baffled by the politics, technologies, and social mores of the 21st century? We’ve crunched some data, and we think we’ve figured out the answer: They’re old as hell.
We examined age and gender breakdowns of the regular opinion columnists at the country’s three most prestigious opinion sections—those of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal—as well as the opinion stables from four of the largest press syndicates—The Creators Syndicate, Universal Press, King Features, and Tribune Media, which provide column material for many of the country’s smaller papers. (For now, we left off regular columnists for other sections of the papers.)
Of the 143 columnists we looked at, a scant 38 were women. Just as bad was the age distribution: Average and median ages on the whole hover around 60. Tribune Media Services had the oldest columnists: average and median ages are both around 64. The businessy Wall Street Journal, whose average columnist is a sprightly 56 years old (median 54), is the most youthful—although that’s still older than the paper’s average 48-year-old reader.
Only one woman under 35, Alexandra Petri at the Washington Post.
Another good reason to read elsewhere.
Only one national daily records rise, according to National Readership Survey
The repercussions of the web are starting to make serious inroads in the UK, where six ‘national’ newspapers saw serious declines in the past year.
Six national daily titles suffered sizeable falls in readership over 12 months up to June, according to the latest set of figures from the National Readership Survey (NRS).
Compared to the same period the year before, The Independent lost 26% of its daily audience. The other five losers, in descending order, were the Daily Star(-16%), The Guardianand Daily Express(-14%), Daily Mirror(-13%) and The Sun(-11%).
NRS also regards the 6% drop in readership for the free daily, Metro, as statistically significant.
Only one national title, the Financial Times, increased its audience, recording a 2% rise.
Expects several of these to go out of business in the next few years. I am betting that The Guardian and Financial Times will make it.
Draw that line out to the dead cat bounce around 5 years from now. ‘Premium’ content on ‘TV’ will be worth zero. TV is about to go through the hell that newspapers have already seen: the collapse of their business model, and the migration of the people formerly known as the audience.
Josh Sternberg, Confessions of a Newspaper Ad Exec
Why are newspapers slow to embrace digital change?
By their very own design, they are built for an extremely top-down decision-making process and tremendously inefficient for today’s marketplace from all facets. You wouldn’t believe how resistant to change newsroom roles are — change that should have happened years ago. Time is running out, and they don’t get that. There still is a blind and bold arrogance – and that’s a bad combo. Embracing and succeeding today for newspapers represents a seismic change or shift in how they do everything. This sort of change is also expensive: accounting systems, content-management systems for editorial, multiple forms of paid research and ad tech for sales and marketing. Also, add in all training for all departments on new systems – it’s a huge endeavor.
Are newspapers really in a death spiral?
Outside of a handful of truly digital-first newspapers, yes, for several reasons. Because newspapers are hemorrhaging, there is a terrible urgency that is building to find the next biggest thing — a sort of “Hail Mary” solution. What they’re failing to realize is that the best publishers out there aren’t relying on just one thing to survive or thrive. Instead, it’s a game of yards and first downs (data, collaboration, new products and digital investment) vs. the deep pass. Third-party relationships aren’t really being leveraged properly. From creating content to understanding your own data, these companies enable you to have contemporary conversations. Another big issue is the dwindling ability to attract qualified digital talent in all departments — editorial, marketing, sales.
Why won’t paywalls work for newspapers?
Creating quality content to justify paywalls or paid subscriptions is costly – newsrooms are cutting long-form journalists and are struggling to find the right balance of long-form plus quick, short pieces. Very few newspapers really give a reason to pay. Also, there is a terrible misunderstanding about what paid subscriptions or paywalls are for the publisher. In some cases, it is a way to replace, mitigate or recapture free-falling paid circulation numbers. This is tragic because for most newspapers, paid circulation has never represented more than 20 to 30 percent of the company’s total revenue (the other 70 to 80 percent is advertising). So how on earth would you ever accomplish that now?
Some will make the transition, but I think Sternbergs’ characterization shows that newspapers are stuck in a pre-digital timewarp, and transitioning to a postnormal, fast-and-loose model of journalism — which matches the economy we are in — is an imperative that most will not heed.
Newspapers as a a whole are not making a transition to the new media landscape:
A Harsh Reality for Newspapers - Brain Stelter via NY Times
Last year, researchers at the Project for Excellence in Journalism persuaded six companies that own 121 newspapers to share private data about the financial performance of many of their papers. And the findings were grim.
On average, for every new dollar the newspapers were earning in new digital advertising revenue, they were losing $7 in print advertising revenue. The papers seemed not to be diversifying their revenue streams or coming up with innovative products at a fast enough clip.
“Only 40 percent of papers say targeted advertising is a major part of their sales efforts,” the report states. “Most papers are not putting major effort into selling ‘smart’ or customized digital ads, the category expected to soon dominate local advertising.”
I don’t think that the NY Times — where I read this story — is pushing personalized ads to me. If they were, I wouldn’t be seeing Fashion Week all over the page.
Here’s a big story, and the meta-story behind it:
The Collapse of Print Advertising in 1 Graph, Derek Thompson via The Atlantic
Print newspaper ads have fallen by two-thirds from $60 billion in the late-1990s to $20 billion in 2011.
Don’t just blame the bloggers. For decades, newspapers relied on a simple cross-subsidy to pay for their coverage. You can’t make much money advertising against A1 stories like bombings in Afghanistan and school shootings and deficit reduction. Those stories are the door through which readers walk to find stories that can take the ads: the car section, the style section, the travel section, and the classifieds. But ad dollars started flowing to websites that gave people their car, style, travel, or classifieds directly. So did the readers. And down went print.
The decline is stunning. “Last year’s ad revenues of about $21 billion were less than half of the $46 billion spent just four years ago in 2007, and less than one-third of the $64 billion spent in 2000,” Mark Perry writes. In the next few years — and hopefully, in the next few decades (I like print!) — we’ll see papers and magazines continue to invest in their websites and find advertising and pricing models that support journalism independently. Otherwise, one hopes that rich people continue to be fond of paying for the production of great writing on bundles of ink and paper.
I don’t think there is any business model that will prop up print newspapers as we know them. As media is being exploded into a thousand bits, the 20th century model of newspaper journalism is increasingly obsolete. Something else will come along, some sort of networked journalism.
Consider the way I read about this graphic: I saw a piece in my Tumblr stream by Futureamb, quoting a fragment of a Business Insider piece by Henry Blodget, where Futureamb actually didn’t add even a comment, but was curator zero for me. I then looked at the Blodget piece: he had a few things to add, but wasn’t the originator of the graph. The trail led to Derek Thompson at the Atlantic, who was citing Mark Perry's graphing of data from the Newspaper Association of America. Derek added real value, and an extra graph:
Wow! The Wall Street Journal is a singular institution since the majority of its subscribers are businesses, not individuals. All the other major US papers are falling like stones.
And now, I am adding my 2¢, which is likely how you are seeing this.
My point is that this trail of interactions is how we are increasingly experiencing the ‘news’, and it jumps from place to place, outside the boundaries of the newspapers officially publishing this bits of the ‘story’. Newspapers are built top-down — that’s how most businesses are oriented — but that’s doesn’t match the way that information transfer works in a networked world.
The social object — the information embedded in these graphs — is handed around, from curator to curator, each adding something, taking away, looking at it from a different angle. It’s additive and subtractive, kind of like Wikipedia, but distributed across a bunch of independent, cooperative posts instead of embodied in a consolidated Wikipedia entry.
We need new social technologies — a step past today’s curation tools — to support this new sprawling, liquid media world. That’s what how we’ll experience news in the near future.
I am betting that newspapers will fail to make a painless transition to a new business structure before hitting the bottom, and fracturing into a millions pieces. After that crash, some of those pieces might begin to create a new networked, post-journalism model of news organization, one that doesn’t have papers in it.
Q: Who’s doing the most interesting desktop app design these days?
Vihn: I’m passionate about the Mac and what’s possible on the desktop, and I think independent Mac developers are some of the most creative minds in technology… but right now the most interesting thing happening on the desktop, by far, is Apple’s iOS-ification of OS X. They’re clearly in the process of upending a decades-old paradigm for thinking about desktop software, and whether it’s successful or not is going to be very interesting.
Q: How should media publishers deal with the fact that readers are increasingly getting news, links, and more from a range of sources filtered through social networks? Is anyone doing it particularly well?
Vinh: I think news organizations have to get really, really serious about creating a social software product that leverages their product in a value-add way. This is basically what a few dozen startups are doing, and somebody is going to figure this out; if I were the owner of a news organization, I would put $10 million towards funding a few of my own startups to get a better shot at owning the winning solution. Because none of the existing ‘old media’ news brands are going to do it. Anyway, within a decade, we’ll have a social news powerhouse brand that can sit comfortably next to the New York Times, Economist, CNN, etc. That seems inevitable to me.
I really think Vinh is one of the smartest people out there in new media.
Sounds like Jarvis had an ulcer-inducing trip to London, where the BBC pissed him off, big time.
Jeff Jarvis via
I’m seeing that news organizations think it is their role to lead the conversation (they set the agenda), allow the conversation (you may now comment on our story, now that it’s done), and judge the conversation (see Bill Keller’s sniffing at vox polloi).
That’s why I went theatrically batshit on Twitter against the BBC for holding the first day of a meeting this week about *social media* under Chatham House Rule, which decrees: “participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”
That’s a fancy, British way to say “not for attribution.” Or as I said in another tweet, “Chatham House Rule turns everyone into an anonymous source. Precisely the wrong thing for a journo org to do!” That is especially an issue for a public journalistic institution, which should be setting an example for other journalists and their sources.
But it’s most shocking that the BBC would impose this rule on a meeting that is not only about *social media* — I thought all Brits bragged about having a sense of irony Americans lack; apparently not — but worse, one that carried the haughty ambition to formulate “a universally accepted set of verification guidelines for social media material” and “an accepted ethical framework for using sensitive material from social networks.” Don’t they see that one can can longer set true standards for the rest of the world in closed rooms with invite-only guests who are gagged or anonymous and prevented from interacting with that world? Then the outcome becomes a standard only for that small subset of people, which negates its authority as a standard. At best, it’s another club rule.
He also is peeved at the way that newspaper view their interaction with the public — via comments — as a way to, at best, get some feedback, and at worst, a way to stifle real discussion.
The problem with comments, I’ve argued lately, is that the form and timing of them is essentially insulting to the public: It says we journalists don’t want to hear from you, the public, until after we are done with our work making content for you to consume. Then the public speaks and journalists don’t listen (because they think their stories are done) and the commenters are insulted and so they insult the journalists and the journalists say that’s the proof that the comments and the commenters aren’t worth the attention. A very vicious cycle. The conversation catches cooties.
The reason the BBC cut its comments down to 400 characters is cost. In a discussion on Twitter with the BBC’s Nick Reynolds, the social media executive who oversees moderation of all BBC social media, that became clear. Comments require moderation and that’s a cost. True enough. But I tried to argue with Reynolds in Twitter that the conversation writ large could also save costs. I couldn’t get it through to him. He kept defining the conversation as comments and “UGC.” I kept defining the conversation as collaboration.
Collaboration is not allowing people to comment. Collaboration is not giving them opinion polls. (Carey, by the way, argued that polling is “an attempt to stimulate public opinion in order to prevent an authentic public opinion from forming,” but that’s another topic.) Collaboration is not enabling them to send in the pictures of the snow on their back porches, something I hate when TV news does it as it condescends — it says the public can’t provide real news or quality images; we’re merely humoring them. “UGC” is bullshit.
No, collaboration is about sharing the work of journalism.
This is really about conversational control, though.It’s not about the comments on the newspapers or the distancing involved in terms like ‘user-generated content’. It’s about the demassification of The Public into a million publics, and therefore the decrease of influence of publications that think they shape the opinions of a Public.
The reality is that Jarvis obsesses more about old school media because they keep inviting him to their confabs to and speak on their TV shows. A lot of us are just looking ahead, and not worrying so much about what the BBC thinks about ‘the verification of social media material’.
Extinction Timeline For Newspapers, via