Tag Archives: future of newspapers

Proof Journalism STILL Matters

Journalism matters.

Journalists are still working to hold those in power accountable for their actions. They are still “giving voice to the voiceless,” as the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics prescribes.

For anyone who doubts that, take a look at the New York Times story on a sexual complaint at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and the changes it is causing.

Case in point: A group of U.S. Senators from BOTH political parties have agreed on at least one thing — Something has to change. Colleges need to be held accountable for how they handle sexual assault complaints. There should never be another Anna, the name of the gang rape victim in the Times story.

The bill the senators have proposed includes requirements for sexual assault investigations and financial punishments for colleges who fail to follow the rules. 

If you have yet to read the Times story, I urge you to do so for two reasons: It is good journalism and it is written by Walt Bogdanich, a multiple Pulitzer Prize winner.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he won a fourth Pulitzer Prize for his work on this story.

I’m going to be using this story as an example in my journalism classes. Old school journalism — interviews, records, verification and story-telling — still make a difference today. Just ask Anna.



What does lack of sex assault coverage mean?

The silence is deafening.

It sounds cliche, but I can think of no other way to describe the astounding lack of local media coverage of a reported sexual assault of a College at Brockport (SUNY) student by three men. The student was walking home on a village street and assaulted, according to reports.

The college media are covering it, as you can see here. But I have yet to see any mention of it in the mainstream media that covers the area. By the way, the mainstream media are located only about a half-hour away — less if you don’t drive at peak times.

How many days have passed? FOUR.

The College at Brockport did the right thing and made its students aware of the situation with a Campus Safety Alert e-mail. Thank goodness it did, because the community certainly isn’t learning about it through the mainstream media. (In the interest of full disclosure I will tell you I teach at The College at Brockport.)

But what happened to the local mainstream media?

I started wondering how on earth they could miss this big of a story and came to only one conclusion: the impact of the job cuts in the reporting industry are showing.

The Democrat & Chronicle, the local daily newspaper for this area, cut at least 59 jobs last year alone. It’s a Gannett company, so it also instituted the now-famous job furloughs.

The TV stations, with all due respect, appear to have been pretty thinly staffed since I arrived here a year ago.

So is missing the sexual assault of a college student the only thing the mainstream media have missed? I doubt it.

My hope is that as more and more stories are missed, media companies will realize they must hire more staff.

My fear is they simply don’t care.

Godspeed, fellow journalists

Many, many of my fellow journalists from my days at The (Syracuse) Post-Standard are taking the buyout that was offered and going their separate ways.

I don’t blame them. The buyout includes a year’s pay to employees with at least seven years experience. Those staying are facing pay cuts of 5 to 12 percent on top of having to contribute 25 percent of the cost of their health benefits.

I realize the reality of the industry and the economy. But I feel sorry for the people of Central New York. Whether you read The Post-Standard or not, if you are a Central New Yorker, your life has been impacted by it. The journalists at The Post-Standard have monitored and held politicians accountable. They have reported the good and the bad. Now this newspaper is going to have to try to do the same work with far fewer people and with a huge loss in the institutional knowledge and local history.

Godspeed, fellow journalists.

5 Things Newspapers Could Learn from ‘Paperboy’

I recently took a walk down memory lane and revisited the 1980s arcade game Paperboy, which spawned many “remakes” and versions released for video gaming systems including some around today. Today I’d like to offer you five things newspapers could learn from that game.

  1. Get the news in your customers’ hands. Paperboy does whatever he has to do in order to get the newspaper to his customers. Avoiding pedestrians and break dancers? No problem. Zombies? No problem. Newspapers outside the game world should also go to any lengths necessary to get their news to their customers. I don’t know how newspapers can do that when they are hacking their staffs apart. There are few left to do this work.
  2. If someone does not read your newspaper, hit them over the head with it. In the 1980s arcade game Paperboy, the paperboy vandalizes the houses of non-subscribers. In other versions of the game, Paperboy receives points for getting the newspaper to hit certain targets in non-subscribers’ yards. While I’m not advocating vandalism, newspapers need to  figure out a way to get non-subscribers to see the paper. If they never look at it, they won’t buy it. And if they do look at it but can get the exact same product for free online, why pay? If you want people to pay, you have to offer them something they can’t get for free and show them it so they want it. The paper version has to have something different than online OR you have to start charging for online stories like you do the paper version.
  3. Celebrate your successes. Tell your readers (whether in print or online) what you do well. When Paperboy gets a week’s worth of newspapers delivered successfully to his customers, a banner headline pops up proclaiming this. While newspapers shouldn’t be patting themselves on the back for simply delivering the paper, they should spend more time pointing out to readers what they do well. For example, why don’t newspapers remind readers that the journalists are the public’s eyes and ears? This is simplistic, but what about the occasional reminder along the lines of this: “You’re busy. You have to juggle work, family and a million other tasks. We understand. You can’t be there, but you care. We will be there for you and tell you what you need to know. Just like we have been for decades.”
  4. If you move too slowly, you will be pushed in a direction you don’t want. When Paperboy did not move quickly enough to deliver the news, he was pushed by winds or swarms of bees. Newspapers have been slow to react to the online transition. The longer they wait, the longer they don’t take chances, the more likely they will be pushed in a direction they don’t want. It may already be too late, but I hope not.
  5. Above all, stay alive. Paperboy had to avoid everything from traffic hazards to tornadoes in order to stay alive on his delivery route and get the news in people’s hands. Newspapers have to battle financial problems that threaten to kill the industry. Paperboy did what he had to do to avoid his obstacles. Newspapers must do the same. If keeping the news organization alive requires new ways of thinking and taking chances, do it. If keeping the news organization alive means putting most of your effort into the online, not paper, version of the product, do it. If keeping the news organization alive means being different and going out on the proverbial limb all by yourself, do it. Be like Paperboy. Be brave. Or you’ll lose your job.

Paperboy: The video game

Paperboy arcade game

Paperboy arcade game

Ah, memories.

I recently saw an old Paperboy arcade game. The 1980s game had players take the paperboy through a variety of adventures and obstacles to deliver the paper to subscribers (and to throw extra papers at non-subscribers). You win by successfully delivering a week’s worth of newspapers to your subscribers.

My nostalgia led me on a hunt to find out the history of Paperboy. Did you know Paperboy has its own Wikipedia link and that there was a version that allowed you to choose to be  a Papergirl instead of a Paperboy? To my surprise, I also learned a version of Paperboy was released for XBox 360 in 2007.

It’s ironic, to say the least, that a video version of Paperboy might outlive the “career” itself. I wonder:  If we threw newspapers at non-subscribers like Paperboy, could we get them to subscribe?

Newspaper boxes in museums

I took my daughter to the Strong National Museum of Play recently and noticed a couple of newspaper boxes like this in the exhibit for Sesame Street.

Museum of Play May 2009 048Five years ago, I wouldn’t have thought much of this. But today, with the current state of the newspaper industry, the sight of a newspaper box in a museum struck me as eerie. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was where newspaper boxes — and indeed, newspapers as we know them — were going to be. Not in our homes and in our hands, but in a museum exhibit.

My 4-year-old knows about newspapers. (How could she not when her mom used to work for one?) But it’s hard not to wonder if in the not-too-distant future children will be asking their parents what that box with the paper in it is when they tour exhibits like this. Five years ago, I don’t think it ever would have occurred to me that newspapers would be in the shape they are now. It’s not that much of a stretch to think that five years from now boxes like this will be gone for good — except for in museums.

Hero emerges in journalism hearings

I watched the Senate committee’s hearing on the future of journalism yesterday from my computer at work. Well, watched isn’t the right word. It was more listened to.

What struck me most about the hearings were two points:

  • The so-called “new media” folks testifying at the hearing are dreaming if they think citizen journalism can make up for having a news organization with the power and money to have reporters dedicated to stories, issues and people. (Can you image coverage of foreign affairs?) I’m not saying the news organization has to be paper based, but news organizations are essential. We can’t count on citizen journalists alone.
  • David Simon, former Baltimore Sun journalist and current Hollywood writer/producer, articulated so well what some of us print and former print journalists think. (For his full transcript click here.) One metaphor captured it precisely for me:

“The very phrase citizen journalist strikes my ear as nearly Orwellian. A neighbor who is a good listener and cares about people is a good neighbor. He is not in any sense a citizen social worker. Just as a neighbor with a garden hose and good intention is not a citizen firefighter. To say so is a heedless insult to trained social workers and firefighters.”

Thank you, David Simon. Thank you.

Real people, real dismay about journalism

Last night I delievered a talk about news literacy to the Brockport Rotary Club. The talk soon became a discussion on the current state of journalism.

What struck me most about the concerns the members shared with me was this: They want real community news. The good and the bad. And they don’t think they are getting it.

Directly related to that, they also want watchdog reporting. What are they getting? Octomom.

While we read headlines saying newspapers are dying or already dead, these residents subscribe to newspapers — for now — but say they are getting too thin and don’t have enough local content. The online versions don’t provide them with much more than the print.

Why do I bring this up? Because as every day we hear about more and more newspapers cutting staffs or mandating furloughs, newspapers are doing the EXACT OPPOSITE of what they should be doing.

How on earth can newspapers provide more local content with fewer people? In the short term newspapers may be cutting costs, but in the long term they are killing the industry.

I try not to be a pessimist, but some days it is hard to see the silver lining in all this.

I read today about a conference aimed at “sustaining journalism.” A Critical Convening meets later this month is Washington. I only hope that conferences like this can generate concrete ideas — and not just talk — that can help save newspapers.

Best of the Blogs for Teaching Journalism

I’m starting a new occasional feature here focusing on some good reads for journalism teachers. I will be sharing these blog posts with students in my journalism and web design classes.

Gina Chen’s Open Letter to Newspapers at savethemedia. She writes about what she wants from newspapers from the perspective of a newspaper reader, not a journalist. It’s excellent.

Mark Luckie’s Why Journalists Should Learn to Code at 10,000 Words. It’s difficult for journalism students to understand why knowing HTML and CSS might give them an edge. After all, it’s the story that matters, right? Luckie does a great job of explaining why coding matters.

Erica Smith’s Multimedia Toolkit:  55 Sites You Should Know About at graphicdesgnr. This will save me hours — literally — and give me lots of cool new tools to show my students.

Thanks to all for making the life of this journalism teacher a little easier and for making classes more interesting and relevant.

Why can’t online newspaper link?!

I love the Buffalo News.  I really do.

But give me a break.

In an ONLINE story about how the city of Buffalo government is releasing salary data online, the readers were given this direction.

The address for Buffalo’s Web site is http://www.city-buffalo.com. The salary data was originally posted on the home page under “Mayor Brown’s Transparent Government Initiative.” Late this afternoon, the title for the posting was changed to “City of Buffalo Employee Salary Information.”

NO hypertext. NO links. NO joke.

In essence, I view this as sending the following message:

“Dear Reader,

We know you understand all this newfangled web stuff, but we don’t. We’re going to try to help you, but this is the best we can do.

Or, if you don’t accept that explanation, how’s this? We’re too lazy to update the story for our web site.

Oh, but trust us to get details right.


Your Newspaper”

I don’t think newspapers are dead. But they can’t bury their heads in the sand. They’ve got to keep up. Links are not too much for a reader to expect.

Shame on you, Buffalo News.