Metaphors: maggot-infested meat, everything but the kitchen sink

Steak and maggots
Gene Weingarten’s Gene Weingarten column mentions Lady Gaga.

Call me a grumpy old codger, but I liked the old way better. For one thing, I used to have at least a rudimentary idea of how a newspaper got produced: On deadline, drunks with cigars wrote stories that were edited by constipated but knowledgeable people, then printed on paper by enormous machines operated by people with stupid hats and dirty faces.

Everything is different today, and it’s much more confusing. For one thing, there are no real deadlines anymore, because stories are constantly being updated for the Web. All stories are due now, and most of the constipated people are gone, replaced by multiplatform idea triage specialists. In this hectic environment, mistakes are more likely to be made, meaning that a story might identify Uzbekistan as “a subspecies of goat.”

Fortunately, this new system enjoys the services of tens of thousands of fact-checking “citizen journalists” who write “comments.” They will read the Uzbekistan story and instantly alert everyone that BARACK OBAMA IS A LIEING PIECE OF CRAP.

I basically like “comments,” though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It’s as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots.

It’s like everything but the kitchen sink
Steve Buttry’s Academics measure new media (again) by old-media yardstick

To measure what citizen journalism is doing in the Washington area, you need to study dozens, if not hundreds, of sites and blogs. Especially if you’re studying whether citizens could “replace” old media, you need to look at the full citizen effort. The cliché of bad comparisons is that you’re comparing apples to oranges. This is more like comparing an apple to a grape. A grape will never replace an apple. But a bunch of grapes might provide similar or more nutrition, even if one makes a better pie and the other better wine. These researchers didn’t study the full bunch of grapes that exists in every metro area.

These studies miss the point as badly as if you were to study whether NASCAR will replace horse racing. One kind or racing is declining and another is rising, but no one is replacing anyone here. The media revolution we are experiencing and witnessing isn’t like trying to replace an old quarterback by sending in a younger one (a story most traditional media would give more coverage than your average watchdog story).

Admission: On rereading, I notice that I have gone on a metaphor spree here: auto and horse racing, quarterbacks, fruit, watchdogs, a yardstick. Each of them makes the point I wanted to make, though, and I decided to poke fun at this weakness in my writing because I don’t have time to fix it today. I’ll just point you to the news-business metaphor collection Nick Bergus is compiling (at my suggestion, ironically enough). It’s so much easier to recognize my weaknesses in the writing of others.

Metaphors: reacting to a big blown call and porn

Andy Medici’s Strange Bedfellows: What Journalism Can Learn From Adult Entertainment

Imagine you are working in an industry that has been battered by the recent recession and rapid advances in technology. Instead of paying for teams of professionals, people are going online to find new content like yours or create their own. The Internet has opened the door to thousands of competitors, all offering content that appeals to just about any niche or taste.

Meanwhile, your legacy company is burdened with an outdated distribution system and is trying desperately to adjust to a new world in which having a local monopoly is not an option.

Sound familiar? Well if you have been working in the adult entertainment industry for the last few years, then this isn’t really news.

An imperfect perfect game
Steve Buttry’s Workplace lessons from an imperfect perfect game

A lot of men my age draw too many life lessons from sports. But I’m a man my age, so I drew three career lessons from last night’s Detroit Tigers game:

  • Don’t let complaints about the things you can’t control distract you from focusing on what you can control and finishing your job.
  • Take responsibility for your work and admit your mistakes.
  • Tradition is no excuse for failure to innovate.

via Steve Buttry

Metaphors: Adam and Eve, horny teens, Titanic (again)

Priests, or going down with the Titanic
Jeff Jarvis, paraphrasing Howard Owens in The real sin: Not running businesses

Like priests looking for someone to sacrifice, Alan Mutter, Steve Buttry, Howard Owens, and Steve Yelvington have been on the lookout for the sin that led newspapers astray. For Mutter, it’s not charging; for Buttry, it’s not innovating; for Owens, it’s tying online dingies to print Titanics (my poetic license); for Yelvington, it’s inaction.

Teenagers experimenting with sex
David Armano, paraphrased in the Charlotte Observer

Keynote speaker David Armano told a spillover crowd that businesses on social media today are like teenagers experimenting with sex: They don’t know what to do, but they really want to do it. Then they’re disappointed when they finally get to do it.

Original Sin
Alan Mutter’s Mission possible? Charging for web content (with bonus TV Show title joke cliche)

It is going to be just as tough for publishers to overcome their Original Sin as it has been for mankind to get past the original Original Sin committed when Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit.

Steve Buttry’s Newspapers’ Original Sin: Not failing to charge but failing to innovate

Mutter is right that newspapers are still paying for an Original Sin committed in the early days of the Internet, but he (along with the AP story and lots of newspaper executives today) chose the wrong sin.

Howard Owens’ The Newspaper Original Sin: Keeping online units tethered to the mother ship (with bonus spaceship metaphor giving it a Scientology quality)

The Original Sin was? Failure to create separate business units for online.

Steve Yellvington’s Original sin? I don’t think so, but ….

Having been on more than one side of that question, and having been one of the originals, I categorically reject the notion of any “original sin.”

Unless, of course, you think inaction is a sin.

Metaphors: Hummer, 1996 Honda

1996 Honda
Jim Barnett’s Why NYT Co. might not be as quick to sell the Globe as you might think at Nieman Journalism Lab

The Globe does cost a lot more than my Honda to operate. But the really big bucks — the $1.1 billion purchase price — is money long since spent. Just like the cost of a new car bought 13 years ago, there’s no way to recover anything close to the purchase price. I can tell by checking the Blue Book value.

General Motors’ Hummer
Steve Buttry’s AP contradiction: Move forward but restore

When I read the Associated Press “Protect, Point, Pay” plan, I think of the Hummer.

General Motors thought it was moving forward when it trotted out the massive sport-utility version of a military vehicle. The Hummer represented a lot of smart work by a lot of engineers and GM sold a lot of Hummers. It carried on a GM tradition of massive vehicles under the Cadillac, Buick and Oldsmobile brands. But how did the Hummer work out in the long run? How’s GM doing today? In a world threatened by climate change and in a nation dependent on oil from unstable regions, the Hummer was simply the wrong move.

The Gazette lays off 13

Gazette Communications publicly announced its reorganization (which I’ve written about here and in the Corridor Business Journal) and laid off 13 employees. According to the media company, the restructuring will result in 100 fewer jobs.

The restructuring sees Steve Buttry move from editor of The Gazette and GazetteOnline to overseeing the entire news gathering operation and Lyle Muller, formerly the senior editor in charge of the Iowa City newsroom, take over as editor of The Gazette print product.

There are the obligatory pieces from Mr. Buttry, Mr. Muller and the paper’s own business reporter. Chuck Peters, the company’s CEO and driving force behind the reorganization, hasn’t made a public statement but will participate in an online chat from noon to 1 p.m. “today” with Messrs. Buttry and Muller.

(Quick public service announcement for all you Web editors and producers out there: “today” doesn’t work online like it does with the print product. I suspect that Messrs. Peters, Muller and Buttry were planning to chat on Feb. 25 — “tomorrow” when the story was published on the Web site, but “today” when it was published in the paper.)

Mr. Buttry discusses his new title, information content conductor.

The Gazette’s reoganization

In Monday’s Corridor Business Journal is the first of what we plan to be a monthly media column that I will write with John Goodlove. In this installment, we wrote about the recent announcement that The Gazette is restructuring its newsroom, and the following staff uneasiness.

Mr. Goodlove is a grizzled newspaper veteran while I’m younger and more interested in multimedia and online news; co-writing the column forces us to question each other’s assumptions and temper our emotions, particularly important this time around considering John’s status as a former Gazetteer.

But while the column is the two of us, this blog is just me and  I want to expand a little.

First, some basic information: The Gazette is separating its content production — reporters, photographers and a few editors — from its product planning and production — copy editors, designers and, now, some business types to help focus products on audiences. (The jobs and titles will be different than they are right now and, Gazette Managing Editor Steve Buttry says, the roles will be different.) Reporters will be asked to break news and build audiences on their individual blogs and will have yet-to-be-defined incentives to do so, but pay might be based on metrics such as page views, Twitter followers and superusers recruited. The idea, it seems, is to transform the newsroom from one centered around print to one centered around the Web’s immediacy and audience interaction.

In the Journal piece, we suggest that these incentives could lead to sensationalism, link baiting and the ignoring of important-but-not-glamorous news if The Gazette isn’t careful. I still believe that, but I’m also very excited to see this newspaper take necessary steps to redefine itself.

News traditions need to change, and the only people who don’t believe that are in denial. Clearly there are problems with the traditional business model (it feels like I link to this depressing map, now up to 2,308 lost newspaper jobs, in every post). While the recession isn’t helping, the problems aren’t simply a cyclical thing that we need to weather.  The Internet has changed the way much of our audience gets information; news can no longer be a broadcast. News now requires real, meaningful interaction with, to use Jay Rosen’s phrase, the people formerly known as the audience.

Radio and television have the ability to interact with users in real-time. Print doesn’t. And while the death of print has been greatly exaggerated, this is a significant disadvantage for the medium. Newspapers that stick their heads in the sand and refuse to acknowledge their readers will perish.

Is The Gazette taking a risk? Sure. It’s angering its employees, it might produce worse journalism and it could end up killing the entire news organization. But it’s a choice between adopting a model that might not work and sticking with a model we know won’t.

I don’t think the organization is going to lose sight of its duty to serve a watchdog function in eastern Iowa; what I see are thoughtful, forward-thinking people throughout the organization. Others, with inside perspectives, may see if differently. This reorganization will allow the company to find ways to serve its audience and the community — beyond some it already has — by creating new outlets for its reporting while sustaining the newspaper that has been its focus for so long.

Why The Gazette is right to leave the AP collective

So The Gazette is planning to live with the Associated Press. A difficult decision, I’m sure, but one I fully support.

My suspicions were aroused when Steve Buttry tweeted about a meeting with the AP bureau chief and the regional vice-president. And this evening, Mr. Buttry moved this on the Twitter wire:

My letter notifying AP that The Gazette is planning to leave: Column explaining it to our readers should post shortly.

In that letter, dated Sept. 18, Mr. Buttry wrote:

Perhaps the moves you have made to sell AP content widely across the Internet were necessary decisions as you seek to adapt and prosper in the digital age. But those moves certainly have contributed to devaluing your content to members.

Yes, yes, yes. By selling its content to Google and Yahoo and others who take but don’t contribute stories, the AP has made the stories it provides to the wire service’s owners (it is a newspaper collective owned by its newspaper subscribers, after all) more or less useless. Every AP story run in the dead-tree edition has already been available for hours when it arrives on the reader’s front step (or drive way, or bushes, or roof). And it isn’t cheap, either, costing hundreds of thousands or millions, depending on a paper’s circulation.

The Gazette is just one of the papers that have threatened to leave (the AP requires two years’ notice to stop service, a requirement one paper has challenged). But local news is what will keep newspapers afloat, not wire content and certainly not stories readily available from Google or Yahoo.

I’m not saying everyone should be or is getting her news online, but newspapers can’t compete in the long run if they pay more for less valuable content. By raising its rates, AP is pricing itself out of a lot of paper’s future plans. Local reporting is what the AP cannot do to any large degree and it’s what newspapers need more of to save themselves.

Update: In Mr. Buttry’s Sunday column, he gives three main reasons for the decision, similar to what other papers have said:

  • The availability of the AP’s national and international news online lessens the value of the that news to the paper.
  • The selection of state and sports news has declined.
  • The AP has increased rates (6 percent to 10 percent for The Gazette) and decreased the service options.