This week in media musings: RIP E&P, and Google’s and Rosen’s story ideas

Big, big week last week. Let’s get into it. (As always, an explanation of what I’m doing is here.)

— There’s no doubt about the biggest journalism-related news this week: It’s the impending death of Editor & Publisher, the magazine that’s been covering the newspaper industry since 1884. E&P’s owner, Nielsen Business Media, announced on Thursday that it had sold the magazine’s sister publications and would be shutting down E&P. (Editor Greg Mitchell offers some more details.) Yup, it was pretty easy to see this as symbolic of the death of the entire newspaper industry itself, and that’s where many left it.

A few went deeper, though, on what E&P stood for and what killed it. Longtime E&P columnist Steve Outing reflected on the newspaper industry’s resistance to change, adding that “I let the newspaper industry down, as did E&P.” The Philadelphia Daily News’ Will Bunch praised E&P and Mitchell in particular for their criticism of the media’s coverage of the runup to the Iraq war. The two main explanations for E&P’s demise being passed around are 1) the drying up of advertising dollars, especially classifieds; and, 2) as articulated by former Rocky Mountain News publisher John Temple and agreed with by Outing, the rise of online media-news aggregators like Romenesko. Steve Yelvington gave us a little of both in his explanation.

I think Yelvington’s analysis probably hits closest to the bullseye. E&P was a publication largely operating in a traditional, dying medium (magazines) covering another traditional, dying medium (newspapers). In other words, we probably shouldn’t be all that surprised at its death. I suspect that what killed E&P was not so much Romenesko as it was sites like JournalismJobs.com, as the Internet eroded the magazine’s classified base.

That said, E&P did solid work covering both the everyday and big-picture issues in the newspaper industry right up until the end. Judging from his byline counts and takeout pieces, Joe Strupp was a force of nature there.  But news media coverage is still in fairly good hands; sites like the Nieman Journalism Lab and PBS’ MediaShift have taken on the task of providing regular reporting on journalism in transition, and I’ve been fairly impressed with the work they’ve done (particularly the Nieman Lab). E&P will be missed, but it isn’t a mortal wound for journalism.

— Google made big media news twice this week: First, it announced that it’s adding real-time search from sites like Twitter and Facebook to its traditional search results. This is the beginning of the implementation of all the deals we heard about in October, and it’s big news. Google assured us its real-time search won’t kill journalism (duh) and will find a way to make sure the cream rises to the top. Daniel Honigman gives a quick look at how the change will affect the PR world.

— Second, Google introduced a new partnership with The New York Times and Washington Post called Living Stories, a smart, personalized version of the Wikipedia-style explainers that Matt Thompson has advocated. (The New York Times has more of the nitty-gritty details.) The announcement created a lot of buzz early in the week, with Online Journalism Blog’s Paul Bradshaw calling it a “jaw-dropping online journalism form” and others wondering if it would “give newspapers new life.” Elsewhere, Thompson and Danny Sullivan are less enthusiastic: Thompson likes that news orgs are trying to tie stories together for readers, but says Living Stories is more of a starting point than a finished product. Sullivan has some  qualms with its usability.

I’m with Thompson on this one: Living Stories may be getting a lot of hype because Google’s behind it, but this type of re-envisioning of the way a news story should look is not new, and Google’s manifestation of it is not exactly the pinnacle of the form. But, most importantly, it’s a good start, and it’s miles ahead of the Post’s and Times’ concept of topic pages. Like Thompson, I sense that the pinnacle of this “explainer” form is a long way off, but it’s encouraging to see news orgs and the brilliant minds at Google diving into the pool.

— Some Google miscellany: Google also expanded its search personalization to include everyone. Danny Sullivan tells you how it works and what it means. Also, Rupert Murdoch responded to Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s Wall Street Journal op-ed with his own. His two main points: Media companies need to give people the news they want, and quality content is not free. Oh, and his third: The FCC needs to let me own everything.

— NYU professor Jay Rosen’s been talking for a while about his idea for a site built around the concept, “What is your question? Journalists are standing by.” This weekend, he gave us a mockup for that idea at explainthis.org. I love the journalists-as-question-answerers idea — the Wilmington (N.C.) Star-News has been quite successful with it at MyReporter.com, and my paper, the Grand Island (Neb.) Independent, began trying out the concept a few weeks ago. (Jeff Sonderman has a good roundup of similar projects.)

Matt Mireles raises a good question about the project: Why use journalists at all? Why not let the experts answer and cut out the middle man? It’s a valid point, but I think journalists still have a role in answering a lot of these questions. “Sources go direct” is wonderful and all, but what if the question is about corruption or incompetence somewhere? Do we really want the “experts” answering those questions for us?

Take even Rosen’s sample question: “Why is corn still subsidized?” I wouldn’t expect an entirely honest answer from the American Corn Growers Association, even though they’re certainly experts on the issue. Answering questions like these is a key part of the craft of  journalism, and I expect projects like these to start popping up soon at local news orgs around the country.

— Top tech blogs TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb are both lamenting the coming rise of organizations like Demand Media that offer cheap, mostly useless, ad-driven content. TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington calls it “fast food content,” and RWW’s Richard MacManus calls them “content farms.” Both fascinating reads on the assault on quality in some corners of the Web.

— Three for the road: 1) Steve Buttry has a comprehensive (read: long) followup spelling out the details of his earlier proposal of a mobile-first news strategy; 2) Conservative media mogul Andrew Breitbart talks to Mediaite about his plans to develop the right’s Huffington Post; 3) and CUNY prof C.W. Anderson has a great roundup of the news industry’s current battles and the ones you’ll be seeing flare up soon. It’s a short but sweet primer on the state of the journalism.

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14. December 2009 by Mark
Categories: this week | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 comments

  • http://toughloveforxerox.blogspot.com Michael Josefowicz

    Thanks for the time that went into the post with links to boot.

    A thought to share about “Why use journalists at all? ” The problem with experts is at least two fold. First, many recognized experts aren’t. The second is that even the best of them are inevitably trapped by their own world views.

    My sense is that the value add of the journalist is to form the right questions. Not merely to “get at the truth”. But more as a moderator for a “compare and contrast” of opposing smart takes on a situation.

    I’ve found a model that works for me in the world of finance on Bloomberg. Bloomberg Surveillance and Pim Fox both are very well informed on the market. They get the smartest people they can find and help them clarify what they think they see about a particular issue.

    it makes sense that models first emerge in finance. The stakes are real, individual decisions are made from the information gleaned and in general most of the experts predict the wrong things will occur.

    It’s a discourse that has lots of indicators of “smart” and the viewers have skin in the game.

    If the issue is a useful public discourse, I think it has much less to do with technology than the presence of skin in the game and an articulation of opposing views from “smart.” Any journalism enterprise that can find that audience and create the expectation of smart v smart will thrive, in my opinion.

    A couple of data points: Bloomberg buys Business Week, The Economist keeps growing and the New Yorker I think is doing ok.

  • http://socialstudiesblog.com Daniel Honigman

    Thanks for the kind words, Mark. You really put a lot of time into your link roundups!

    • Mark

      Daniel: Yeah, sometimes I wonder how much time is too much…

      Michael: I agree, and I’d add another point: Oftentimes, experts aren’t that great at explaining themselves to laypeople. That’s where journalists’ strengths in writing, analyzing, synthesizing and explaining complex ideas become much more valuable.

  • Michael Josefowicz

    Mark:

    Nice words to capture an idea that keeps popping up.

    I’ve always thought it would make so much sense to work with high school kids to act, think and write like a journalist.

    I bet they would love it and I can’t think of a better way to sharpen their thinking and communication skills.

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