Category Archives: news

The thriving NYTimes passes another milestone

By Christopher B. Daly 

In the end, as the most recent financial results posted by the New York Times make clear, the only real future for news is the audience. Journalists cannot count on advertising, and we should not count on patrons like billionaires or governments. Those sources are too fickle and too compromising. The only true basis for independent journalism is an audience willing to pay for it.

That’s why there is so much to celebrate in the latest performance figures posted by the failing thriving New York Times. Here is the company’s statement.

imagesYes, profits were off a bit. Yes, revenues from print advertising continued to slide. But the real headline is impressive growth in new digital subscribers. These are the folks who supply the company with its most stable source of funds and who do not want anything from the paper but great journalism. They are the foundation of the digital future.

In a story about the company’s earnings, Mark Thompson, the paper’s top business manager, appeared to agree:

“We still regard advertising as an important revenue stream,” Mr. Thompson said, “but believe that our focus on establishing close and enduring relationships with paying, deeply engaged users, and the long-range revenues which flow from those relationships, is the best way of building a successful and sustainable news business.”

Highlights:

–99,000 new digital-only news subscriptions in the last quarter of 2017. (plus about 60,000 more subscribers to the Cooking and Crossword pages) Digital-only subscribers now number over 2.6 million. (If you are one, good for you! Give a gift subscription to someone else.)

Total revenue for the fourth quarter of 2017 was up 10% (over the 4th quarter of 2016), approaching half a billion dollars for just three months. That’s because subscription revenues rose almost 20%, while ad revenues continued their downward slide, dropping by more than 1%.

Revenue from digital-only subscribers (the people who are going to carry this operation into the future) was up more than 50% (!), reaching almost $100 million. What that means, in crude terms, is that if the Times stopped printing (which it must do one day) and laid off everyone who is not associated with news-gathering, there would be about $400 million coming in every year to pay for the newsroom.

Advertising now contributes just 1/3 of company revenues. In other words, subscribers (plus a little money from merch) are already paying 2/3 of the cost. This has not been the case since the Civil War era. Revenue from digital ads was up 8.5%; money from print ads dropped another 8.4%.

–The company’s stock price is also rising.

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Source: NYT business page

Yes, the Times is continuing to shrink its workforce and the space those folks occupy in the company’s signature skyscraper in midtown. During a recent visit, I witnessed the belt-tightening.

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Moving boxes, covered portraits. Photo by Chris Daly

There are movers’ boxes in a lot of corridors, and oil portraits of various Sulzbergers are covered in plastic, awaiting removal to new, smaller quarters. So what? I don’t see this as cause for alarm, or even sadness. It struck me as a healthy sign of a company trying to get its size right. The key issue is finding a sustainable business model that will support quality journalism indefinitely into the future. The Times seems to be the best positioned of all the big, serious, fact-based news media in the country.

 

 

 

 

 

Down in the lobby, Adolph Ochs, the patriarch of the family that owns and runs the Times looks rather confident, no?

 

 

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Photo by Anne Fishel

 

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Journalists: “Stay Safe” while on assignment

By Christopher B. Daly

Journalists face an unprecedented array of threats: the traditional physical dangers of covering riots and fires; the new online threats posed by trolls; partisan attacks on coverage someone doesn’t like; electronic hacking of our phones, laptops, and other gear.

At Boston University, where I teach journalism, my colleagues and I are trying to develop materials to help our students “Stay Safe” while they are on assignment — reporting, shooting videos, taking photos, recording audio, or whatever. This was prompted by the horrors of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing (which took place very near our campus) and renewed by the recent denunciations of the news media by President Trump and his supporters.

Below is an attempt to distill best practices from two conferences. If you have experiences or advice to share, please leave a comment.

A JOURNALIST’S GUIDE TO SAFE REPORTING

 

In rare and unpredictable circumstances, our work as journalists requires us to approach dangerous situations and take calculated risks. Other times, an apparently benign assignment can turn threatening. Wherever your assignment or curiosity takes you, keep these principles in mind:

 

DON’T GO ALONE. If you can, go with another journalist. In any case, always make sure someone knows where you are – an editor, a colleague, a friend, a parent. Stay in touch with your “desk.” If there is a calamity, post to Facebook or some other platform, as soon as it is safe, so your friends and family know that you’re OK.

 

DON’T MAKE THINGS WORSE. Do not interfere with “first responders” – their work is even more important than yours. Do not take a risk that results in you needing to be rescued.

 

DON’T GET IN THE WAY. Take up a position where you can see but where no further danger will come sneaking up from behind. Cover your backside. At a fire, stand upwind, so that the smoke and cinders are not blowing at you. Don’t stand right above a working fire hose; they are under a lot of pressure. At a bombing, remember that bombers often plant a second bomb, timed to go off right around the time you would be arriving.

 

DO BE PREPARED. Wear sensible clothes, especially sturdy shoes, even on routine assignments. Pick clothes with lots of pockets. Bring all the gear you depend on, including extra batteries. Wear a press badge on a lanyard, so it’s visible. Carry a pencil or two, just in case your ink runs out or freezes.

 

DO MAINTAIN “SITUATIONAL AWARENESS.” Look around and listen to the environment, even while doing an interview or taking a photo. In disasters, things change fast. Be ready to run.

 

DO WHAT YOU’RE TOLD. Within reason, obey the lawful safety dictates of firefighters, police officers and other first responders. (This does not mean you have to submit to unconstitutional restrictions, but unless you bring your own army, you may have to fight that one another day.)

 

DO TAKE A COURSE IN FIRST AID, from a group like RISC, and consider a course in self-defense.

 

ESSENTIAL GEAR:

 

–Press pass, visibly displayed on a lanyard.

 

–Identification (and, where appropriate, passport).

 

–Cell phone, with charger and external backup power supply.

 

–Digital camera, with charger and external backup power.

 

–Cash and credit card.

 

–A bandana (which can be used to protect your face from smoke or tear gas).

 

–A headscarf.

 

–A bottle of water (and some kind of energy bar).

 

–Collapsable monopod or hiking staff (or, a flexible mini-tripod).

 

–Batteries of all kinds.

 

–Pens, mechanical pencils, etc.

 

–Flash drive or external hard drive.

 

–Mini-binoculars (I keep these around for birding, and they can come in handy).

 

–Comfortable clothes with lots of pockets.

 

Most of these things should be in your backpack at all times. You never know!

 

 

 

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How you can save journalism

Strike a blow for freedom!

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Fight against fake news!

By Christopher B. Daly

In these challenging times for the news business, it is more important than ever for Americans who care about press freedom and about real news to take concrete steps to strengthen the institutions of the free press.

At present, journalism is under attack. A president-elect actively denounces the press. The conservative movement denigrates the “mainstream media” and coaches its supporters to despise and distrust it. People of bad faith pollute the news stream with “fake news,” seeking profits or political advantage.

In my study of the history of journalism, I cannot identify a period when news-gathering was under such assault from so many directions at the same time. If you care, do something.

One category of action is to donate. This is easy but effective. To make it even easier, I have compiled a list of two kinds of donations you might want to make to strengthen journalism.

First is a list of institutions that actively seek to strengthen press freedom, through legislation, through litigation, by sticking up for journalists, or by calling out fakers. These are front-line organizations that actually make a difference.

The second group are news organizations that engage in original news reporting. They all need digital subscribers. The money they get from digital subscriptions is their lifeline; it supports and sustains every reporter, photographer, videographer and other member of the truth-seeking enterprise.

These subscriptions also make nice gifts — especially for young folks (who would not be caught dead with anything printed!)

Thanks for caring.

Institutions:

Reporters without Borders

Committee to Protect Journalists

Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press

New England First Amendment Coalition

National Press Photographers Assn

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Snopes

Media Matters

Nieman Foundation 

Poynter Institute 

On the Media

Subscriptions:

New York Times

Washington Post

NPR

The Atlantic

The New Yorker

P.S. If you know of other worthy organizations, please leave a comment.

P.P.S. Stay informed by reading Brian Stelter of CNN’s media page “Reliable Sources.” He has a daily newsletter too.

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The NY Times’ bias problem

By Christopher B. Daly

Today’s front page of the New York Times presents a dramatic example of what drives some people crazy about the news media — hidden bias. Many people expect the Times to exemplify the 20th Century ideal of journalistic “objectivity,” a perhaps naive view that news should consist simply of facts. In this view, readers of such facts should draw their own conclusions, and the newspaper as an institution should restrict its opinions to the editorial page.

People who hold those views will surely be angry with the Times today for its handling of the Trump-birther story.

Here’s a photo of today’s print version of the Times’ page 1:

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The lead story –the one judged by Times editors to be the most important of the day — is not a news story at all. It is a “NEWS ANALYSIS” that is marbled with blatant opinion and bias. The author, Michael Barbaro, obviously hates Trump, and his piece drips with contempt.

Yes, the Times applied a few fig leaves: the NEWS ANALYSIS line above the headline and the setting of the type in a “ragged right” format, rather than the “justified” columns that the paper uses for straight news. But a groggy reader at the breakfast table could be forgiven for expecting a news organization to lead with news, rather than opinion.

The Times did in fact carry a straight news story about the same event, but it was buried inside.

In the online version, things were different, but still exasperating for readers who expect unbiased news. Here is the homepage as of this morning:

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As you can see, the Trump analysis piece is re-contextualized and subordinated to classic Times-only stories: a tribute to a playwright whose work is essentially unendurable and a staff story from a distant hellhole. The Barbaro analysis piece is still there, now positioned in the lefthand column and still given precedence over the related news story. But notice that in the online format, editorials get equal billing with news. What the Times calls “The Opinion Pages” now occupy the upper right quadrant of the homepage — in the spot traditionally reserved in the old print layout for the day’s top news story. So, the reader who scans this page will observe first that the Times hates that liar Trump and second, that the news team follows the same editorial line.

For the record, Times editors insist that they are still following the rules of objective news. They insist that the editorial operation is totally separate from the news operation. They insist that their reporters are factual and fair.

Is it any surprise that some readers disagree?

Alternatively, Times editors might argue that “everybody knows” what Trump said, thanks to faster media. Therefore, the Times should offer readers something of value that they could not find elsewhere. There is some validity to that view, but the Times has not fully embraced that self-conception either.

[In my personal view, the Times faces a crossroads: rein in the opinion, or embrace it. The current approach is awkward at best.]

 

 

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Where do you find the best criticism of journalism?

By Christopher B. Daly

Dear Readers: Please help me out. I am preparing a resource for the students I will have this fall in a course on the history of U.S. journalism. I want to help them find good sources of news about the news business as well as thoughtful analysis, vigorous denunciations, and heartfelt appreciations.

I have prepared the following (draft) document for class, but I am sure I am overlooking some terrific people or institutions. Who’s missing? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Thanks,

Prof. Daly

 

On media criticism

Compiled by Prof. Christopher B. Daly

We are living in a “golden era” of media criticism. Yes, there have been critics of journalism in the past, some of them outstanding. It’s never too late to benefit from reading Walter Lippmann, for example, or the incomparable A.J. Liebling. But for at least a decade, the news media have been subject to closer scrutiny and more commentary than ever before. Let’s take advantage.

Students are encouraged to consume (and participate in!) the current flowering of reporting and analysis. Within the general heading of “media criticism,” we are concerned in JO357 with the study of journalism (as distinct from analyses of fiction, feature films, and other media).

Seek out the best sources of information and the most intelligent, penetrating analyses you can find.

Here are some recommendations: 

For reporting about news:

–CNN Reliable Sources (Brian Stelter)

–PBS Mediashift

–NPR “On the Media”

–Nieman Journalism Lab

–Columbia Journalism Review

–Maynard Institute

–Poynter Institute

–Romenesko.com

 

 

Individual analysts:

Jim Rutenberg, media columnist for New York Times.

Liz Spayd, public editor, New York Times.

Gabriel Sherman, New York Magazine

Jack Shafer, Politico

Margaret Sullivan, Washington Post

Ken Doctor, Newsonomics

David Folkenflik, NPR

Richard Prince, The Root.

 

 

Academics/theorists

Prof. Jay Rosen

Prof. Jeff Jarvis

 

Left/Right:

Media Matters

Accuracy in Media

 

Fact-checking:

PolitiFact.com

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Journalism jobs: Digital now outnumbers print

By Christopher B. Daly

Two important trend lines have recently crossed, probably forever. The number of jobs in the U.S. newspaper sector has now dipped below the number of jobs in the digital media. Newspapers are not dead, but they are no longer the center of gravity for the news business. Thus ends a dominance that began in the 17th century and reached a peak in the 20th century before cratering in the 21st century.

That is one of the major findings in a new study from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, documenting what many have long noticed: American newspapers are no longer the driving wheel of American journalism. The past belonged to the printing press, but the future belongs to the web.

Here’s the big picture:

Jobs in news

Here are some highlights:

–The purple line that starts so far above the others in 1990 represents all employment in the newspaper industry. It’s worth noting that the BLS counts everyone who works at a newspaper, not just the newsroom crew. So, this is just a rough approximation of the employment situation of journalists — reporters, photographers, videographers, podcasters, editors, producers, and others who are directly involved in gathering and disseminating news. That is a much harder number to track.

–Newspaper employment took a hit in the early 1990s, then sort of plateaued, took a steeper hit when the “tech bubble” burst in 2001 (taking with it a lot of full-page ads), and then really dove in the Great Recession of 2008-9. Since then, the downward trend has slowed a bit, but the trend from 2009 to 2016 gives no reason to think that newspapers are coming back.

–The BLS also provides a helpful monthly chart of the data used to draw all those lines. Here are some salient details I found in the data tables.

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 11.23.24 AM

–Looking deeper into the numbers, it is heartening to see that the overall numbers of jobs in all these industries combined has not dropped very much, having fallen about 3 percent over 26 years. The biggest proportional hit seems to have occurred in “books” — which I take to mean the publishing industry as a whole. While a small number of journalists make a living by writing non-fiction books, it is probably a very small group that depends primarily on their book royalties.

–The big gainer is “Internet publishing and broadcasting.” It’s hard to imagine how 28,800 people made a living putting stuff online in 1990 (which was before the Web became ubiquitous), but there is no mistaking that web-based activities have been on a surge.

–The other big gainer in the last quarter century has been “Motion picture and video production.” It is unclear from the BLS definitions of its categories what fraction of all those folks could be considered journalists. Probably a lot of them work in Hollywood or other venues where they produce content that is fictional or promotional. Still, it is a rough indicator of where the growth is.

One question that these data raise is this: what will journalists of the future need to know and do?

About a decade ago, my colleagues and I began a deep re-think of our curriculum to bring it out of the days of print newspapers, glossy magazines, film-based photography, and broadcast television. We eliminated our separate, medium-based “concentrations” and decided that all our students should be educated as digital journalists. We tore out our darkrooms, converted to all-digital photography, and decided that all our students need to be competent in “visual journalism.” We ramped up our instruction in shooting and editing video. We converted our student radio station to digital and embraced podcasting. We decided that essentially all our coursework should be multimedia. Like other journalism programs in U.S. universities, we found that it was not easy, but it was a matter of survival.

As a specialist in the history of journalism, I spend a lot of time thinking about the centuries when the newspaper ruled the field. The newspaper had a good long run, but it is clearer every year that newspapers not only documented history, they are history.

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Not all change is progress: Bring back Paperboys (and girls)

By Christopher B. Daly

[I am posting a longer version of an essay I wrote this week for Cognoscenti, the public discussion page run by the terrific Boston NPR affiliate WBUR.]

Lately, the Boston Globe has earned some unwanted headlines for problems with a new home-delivery service. Reporters, editors, and other Globe personnel have left their warm beds and leapt into the breach, using their cars to deliver the print version of the paper to their precious regular subscribers.

I can sympathize.

I delivered the Globe for nearly eight years, six days a week, in my old neighborhood in West Medford. By my reckoning, that was nearly 2,500 days of delivery without a miss – with help, occasionally, from members of my family who filled in (thanks, Monica!). It was a robust business that helped put me through college and taught me a number of life lessons – all in an era before corporate out-sourcing and sub-contractors.

I began my career as a paperboy (alas, no girls in those days) for the Globe in the winter of 1965. Back then, paper routes were coveted, and almost the only time of year when a route became available was during the week or two after Christmas. The reason was simple: paperboys all tried to hang in there and keep their routes through December so as to reap the traditional Christmas tips. Once they had collected that windfall, they would quit. That’s how I got my break.

The delivery system was simple. Sometime during the overnight hours, a Globe truck would slow down outside our house and someone would toss out a bundle of newspapers equal to the exact number of my customers. When my alarm clock went off, I would get up and get dressed, stuffing my feet with extra socks into the green rubber boots I wore most days in those snowy winters. I would bring the bundle of papers into the house, cut the string, and place them into a giant canvas bag that would hang from my shoulder.

On my very first day, I ventured out into the cold, dark morning, lugging my load of Globes like a tiny peddler. I had not memorized my route yet, so the first days took a long time. I had a paper list of my customers and their addresses, but it was still so dark out that I had to stop under a streetlight, read the next few names, try to memorize them, then trudge along making deliveries until I needed to check the list again.

My goal: get every paper safe and dry onto each front porch and get back home in time for breakfast and the walk to school.

Eventually, I got the hang of it and became more and more efficient. First step: memorize the route, so I would not have to keep checking “the list.” Second step: get a bike, which really speeded things along. Third step: learn to fold the papers so that I could toss them onto porches from the street rather than walking up each front walk.

Weather permitting, these simple steps greatly increased my delivery speed, to the point where I was able to take on a second, adjoining route. Now my customers sprawled over an area from the far reaches of Pine Ridge Road almost all the way to just short of West Medford Square, about a mile from end to end.

With the larger territory, I was keen to step up my pace. So, I mastered the ultimate in suburban paper delivery: I slung the canvas over 0106_paperboy_cog-592x324my shoulder and hopped on the bike. While riding “no-hands,” I would fold the papers as I went and toss them up onto the porches. Now, I could get through my whole route in no time and focus my attention on the revenue model.

The revenue model was pretty straightforward. I charged my customers whatever rate the newspaper established for home delivery. I was entitled to a share of that base figure, plus regular tips, and the Christmas bonuses. It was a pretty good business for a kid who could not even legally get a real job.

Yes, it was child labor, and it would have been illegal if the nation’s newspapers had not exempted themselves from all such legislation. Legally, I was considered an independent contractor. All I knew was that it put money in my pockets.

Besides, I started to get interested in the contents of all those papers. I started with the “funnies,” which were usually printed on the back page. As I got a little older, I moved forward through the paper, discovering sports and then general news. By the time I was a teenager, I

kept reading about Yaz and Russell and Orr, but I also included a pretty steady diet of news about Vietnam, protests, and the Beatles. This was, no doubt, the genesis of my life-long career in journalism.

 

But as good as it was, the paperboy business had its downsides. For one thing, I saw more sunrises than I care to remember, and to this day, I hate getting up in the morning. And there were the occasional disasters, such as when I would toss a folded paper onto a front porch only to see it crash through a glass storm door. Most of the time, I had to pay to replace them.

Another problem was on the customer-relations side. It was part of the paperboy’s responsibility to visit every house every Friday afternoon to collect that week’s subscription money. By going door-to-door to collect, I couldn’t help but stay in touch with my customers. I learned who really cared about getting the paper inside the storm door, who left for work early, and who tipped well.

Collecting also required me to learn a bit about book-keeping, because an astonishing number of my fellow suburbanites somehow couldn’t manage to scrounge up 50 or 75 cents at the end of the week. They seemed to be under the delusion that information should be free, or else they just couldn’t be bothered. So I had to keep track in a little ledger book of who was paid up and who was delinquent.

Then, there were the dogs. A mutt named Tammy seemed to be put on Earth just to torment me, chasing me every morning for the sheer malicious pleasure of it.

Plus, there was one special horror on my route. That was the Emery Nursing Home, a huge house set back from the road. I had about half a dozen customers in there. Delivering the papers was tolerable. I would just hop off my bike, leave a short stack on the front desk, and skedaddle. I hated the smell of the place, and I would often hear shrieks or moans coming from the upper floors.

But on Fridays, I would have to actually go in there and collect the week’s subscription money from each customer. This meant getting my courage up to walk upstairs and go room to room, hunting down those nickels and quarters that were owed to me and the Globe. For some of the inmates, I was their only visitor all week, month after month. Others were in various states of undress, dementia, or problems I could only imagine.

So, seeing as how I was an independent contractor, I made one more change in my small business: I hired a sub-contractor. My friend Bob Gillingham wanted a paper route, but I had the two routes in our area locked up. Eventually, I made a deal with Gilly: if he would take over the collections for me on my routes, I would split the week’s earnings with him. (I forget the details, but I’m pretty sure the split was in my favor.)

 

Despite all the problems, my route became so easy and so lucrative that I hung onto it all through high school. I would say the experience had a major formative influence on me, and I always thought it was a shame when the newspaper industry moved away from having paperboys (and girls) in favor of grown-ups driving around in cars and never stopping by to chat.

Not all change is progress. As the Globe struggles to tweak its home-delivery service, I might suggest that the newspaper’s executives consider recruiting a small army of boys (and girls!) on bikes. Globe readers would be delighted at the high level of customer service, and those kids would learn a thing or two about perseverance, efficiency, thrift, and record-keeping. They might even develop a real interest in the news.

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