Monday, October 12, 2009

Random thoughts on recent journalism stories, columns and speeches

I hope you saw The New York Times story today about former Rocky Mountain News Washington reporter M.E. Sprengelmeyer. Good story about a guy deserving of coverage. I shared M.E.'s story first here, when he wrote about his new adventure running the paper in Santa Rosa, N.M. His story, based on the reaction it received on my blog, inspired many other journalists.

Good column by L. Gordon Crovitz in The Wall Street Journal today. The headline is "Media Moguls and Creative Destruction," spinning off a new book entitled "The Curse of the Mogul: What's Wrong with the World's Leading Media Companies." The column's conclusion about what any media organization should do: "Focus on what makes each brand different and more valuable than the ever-increasing number of alternatives that technology makes inevitable." Good advice, I think. But probably not enough, even if I'm not sure there's anything more that news organizations can do. The reason I say it may not be enough is that in most cases, achieving scale seems so critical. Easier said than done. At the same time, scale may not be enough. Look at the big newspapers and how they tout the fact that their total audience is growing at the same time as their print circulation is declining. While that's true, in the digital world, total audience isn't the key, or at least it doesn't seem to be to me. What's key is knowing who the audience is and where they are. What good does it do an advertiser in Denver if most of the readers on a local Web site are from distant cities or have no interest in their product because they're the wrong demographic for the advertiser.

Chicago Tribune Editor Gerald Kern gave a stirring speech at the Medill School of Journalism last week. I thought it especially interesting how he defined the mission/brand of his news organization.
  • We stand up for our community and citizens.
  • We capture the Chicago experience.
  • We move people emotionally and intellectually.
  • We help people navigate their daily lives.
  • We fuel conversation - the Tribune is a social medium
  • We break news - we don't just report it.
I wish Medill or Kern would post the speech on the Web. I think it would be interesting to know whether these brand qualities are how the paper's readers and the rest of the community would describe the company. While the troubles of the Tribune company are legendary, it is clear that the Chicago Tribune itself is trying all kinds of things to remain relevant in this era, from RedEye to its hyper-local initiative, TribLocal, and that without the burdensome debt of the parent company the Tribune alone would be a viable business, as would The Los Angeles Times. The question is for how much longer. Nobody knows the answer. Kern's ending, "One thing is clear - We're here to stay," is the weakest part of the speech. Clearly they want to be there to stay. And I hope that's possible. But we've seen enough wreckage in media and other industries to know that there's no guarantee that the Tribune or any other paper is here to stay. Nobody knows what's going to happen. Predicting the future isn't a strength of journalists. Better to stick with what we do know. That the company is doing a lot of good things and is committed to trying to figure out how to be there to stay. And that its efforts are worth following.


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  2. Gerry's speech is now on the Medill web site:

    Owen Youngman, Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy, Medill

  3. Greetings to all in that mighty name of "Jesus":
    Each Christian of whom know him in the power of His resurrection...or, maybe I should say...those who are well acquainted with the fact, that He truly did come back from the dead...also appeared to His disciples.

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