Newspapers are *gasp* selling out today

New Yorkers queue to buy newspapers, 11/05/2008. Photo by Jeremy Zilar.

Barack Obama may have ushered in the future, but one of his coattails has a distinct must of the past: heavy print newspaper sales.

Brian Stelter of the New York Times tweets: “I’m hearing that we’re printing another 50,000 papers this afternoon for the P.M. rush.”

A friend in the DC area tells me papers are sold out, but then cautions “Today may be one of the few days left this century where a lot of people cared about having a newspaper”

But, as Steve Outing says, on Twitter, “Lots of print newspaper copies sold today. Great short-term boost, but souvenir sales won’t save the industry. What’s next could be sad.”

Take the windfall when you can, of course, but don’t think this is anything but a souvenir grab.

Update: Steve Outing reports the San Francisco Chronicle is selling “commemorative” issues at a hefty markup. Also The Sun’s Gus Sentementes tweets that The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution are also running afternoon reprints/editions.

Update 2: If you’d rather just print your own, there’s a good collection here, chosen from a design perspective. And, as always, The Newseum has a comprehensive collection of front pages as well, though their flash module on the home page can’t be linked, so knock yourself out.

Update 3: Lots of good stuff on flickr. Who knew newspapers were the new sexy?

One more: Khoi Vinh has (of course) a nice shot and story about the reaction inside the New York Times to word that people were lining up for copies of the print edition: “People working on that floor hadn’t noticed yet that the line was forming, and when they realized its purpose, a feeling of delight swept over the newsroom like the friendliest wildfire I’d ever seen. Reporters, editors, photographers, everyone started clapping, hooting and hollering that people still find the newspaper valuable enough to wait dozens of people deep in line for their chance to buy a copy.”

RIP banners, hello video

Do you miss the Camel Cigarettes advertising card just below the anchor’s head on the evening news? How about long-form testimonial ads for hair tonic in your newspaper? Mitch Miller-style singalong jingles on the radio?

No? Then don’t wring your hands too much over the latest report from Borrell Associates (previewed by Terry Heaton, and available now from the Borrell site) which essentially begins to carve the headstone for traditional online banner advertising. Banners were great as a transitional medium – something to help advertisers and consumers alike get their heads around the notion of digital advertising – but they’ve never been a good idea in the long run. Endlessly looping enticements to punch a monkey aren’t going to wind up in the Advertising Hall of Fame. Or rather, if they do, they’ll be there in the same ironic sense that reprints of Ronald Reagan hyping Chesterfield Cigarettes are – as a head-shaking reminder of how wrong we went.

But do read the Borrell report when it’s available. And note this: Streaming A/V – AKA video advertising. Borrell projects it to be up, in huge numbers. 37% locally, and 138% nationally. And, given the higher rate such ads command, this is promising news indeed for a business in which print advertising continues to grope around desperately for its fainting-couch. The numbers are still small in comparison, but they’re the ones that are moving quickly in the right direction.

One recommendation to capitalize on this change: hire a video shooter/editor. At The Sun, this hire, which we made in 2007, paid for itself many times over with the production of local, long- and short-form video advertising. Immediately. And, from all indications, this category continues to grow dramatically. Local “newspapers” are best poised to capture this growth in demand for streaming A/V, but only if they can work with their advertisers to turn this pent-up demand into production.

Don’t mourn the passing of banners. Celebrate the arrival of the next wave of smarter, more engaging local and national online advertising. And get out there and sell.

Crowdsourcing just got real

Today is election day in the U.S. And, for social media, it’s a signal day as well as people across the country report their votes by text, by video, by photo and by tweet.

The effort that strikes me as the most valuable is TwitterVoteReport.com, which is attempting to be a real-time report on conditions at polling places across the country. Here’s hoping their servers can handle it.

12:18 pm UPDATE: The site’s been down for some time now, so, despite a valiant effort, perhaps it’s premature to call this the first great crowdsource project – at least as a live report. From what I can tell, though, data collection continues so, once the server issues get fixed, this will still hold as a useful piece of the historic record.

5:01 pm UPDATE: What’s worse? That I had a HOWLER of a typo on this page all day (actually, it’s worse than a typo – I just misspelled a word I know well (crowdsourcing spelled as croudsourcing, ugh) for some reason)? Or that nobody noticed? Or cared? Anyway, at least Twittervotereport.com is back up and working well.

Thinking of the journalist as a DJ instead of a curator.

Photo by Thomas Hawk

Photo by Thomas Hawk

Jeff Jarvis points to what may be a better analogy for the role of a modern journalist: A nightclub DJ.

Previously, I’d suggested journalists need to become a curator, but I agree that the messier, noisier role of a nightclub spinner is closer to what journalists do as they run toward constant deadlines, and serves as a less fussy example than curator. Elevator speech: changed.

The original article, in French, translates to something like this (thanks to my daughter Anna for helping Google with some of the idioms):

The job of the press is redefined by new technologies and new relationships with readers, listeners and viewers. The new journalist acts as a filter, a “packageur” of information produced by multiple sources and heterogeneous sources (other media, agencies, experts, witnesses, fans).

Information is no longer a product, it became a process, it is no longer an object it is a service and the media become facilitators. (This does not mean that the report or the investigation died, it simply means that this activity, extremely expensive, can no longer be their only activity. Exclusive content is a loss leader, a product for “the reputation…”)

The whole article is here.

New Business Models for News: Rebuilding the Newsroom

Photo by John Smock, CUNY

At the CUNY summit last week, I was assigned to the group that looked at rethinking our newsrooms to meet the current financial imperatives. Or, as someone wryly named us, “the cost-cutting group.”

But, as Chris O’Brien, one of the thought-leaders in that group, notes in his excellent distillation of the day’s themes and discussions, it was less about the wild slashing that’s going on now in newsrooms large and small, and more about rebuilding a newsroom suited to the needs and challenges of 2008 and beyond.

We took the approach of essentially creating a new news organization from the ground up. But the other way to look at this question is to ask: How would you make a current newsroom more efficient? After leaving the discussion, a number of things occurred to me that should be explored:

1. Use templates for the print paper. Spend less money on designing the paper every day and use that money elsewhere. Newspapers have been trying to design their way out of their problems for years, and it hasn’t worked. I don’t think this something print readers think about. They want substance and content, not more pictures.

2. Cull circulation. Most newspapers are underwriting a chunk of their circulation to fight churn. What if you stopped spending so much money trying to sign up new subscribers? That costs a lot of money. This would require a change in ad rates. But I think it might save costs in the long run.

3. Reduce editors. I love editors, but it seems a lot of content, especially shorter stories, could be posted directly the Web. Many newspapers now let reporters post to blogs without editing. Why not the main site?

4. Newsroom salaries. I’m not sure yet how I feel about this, but it would seem that how we pay people needs to be rethought. Some online news sites pay employees by traffic they generate. That’s ruthless, but still, I wonder if that might work for some online jobs at newspapers?

There’s much more, here at Chris’s Next Newsroom project.

We still talk about circulation because circulation still counts

In a letter posted to Romenesko (no comments allowed, otherwise I’d just post this there), Matt Baldwin of MediaNews Group wonders why there’s so much focus on reporting declining reporting newspaper circulation instead of celebrating the much more robust overall audience, including online, which has been exploding with growth in recent years.

He’s right, to a point. We do tend to dwell on the audited newspaper circulation numbers when they are reported twice yearly. But we do it largely because those are numbers that can directly affect a news organization’s ability to grow revenue. If circulation is up, newspapers traditionally have been able to charge more for ads. If it’s down, as it has been consistently in recent years, it adds to the revenue crisis by devaluing the printed product.

I’m a cheerleader for interactive, probably to a fault. After 12 years building the business, that’s my bias. But as much as online growth matters, print circulation matters just as much at the moment. Yes, digital audience is growing and digital revenues will carry news organizations forward, but due to the competitive environment online, there’s currently not nearly enough online income to make up for the shortfall on the print side.

So circ. matters, and I think it’s right to pay attention to the numbers.

But I’m puzzled by this piece of Baldwin’s argument:

Judging a newspaper by the number of copies in the market makes no more sense than counting the number of television sets to evaluate a TV station. To paraphrase a recent United States President, “It’s the audience, stupid!”

Counting distributed copies strikes me as the best – if not only – way to judge the effectiveness of the printed paper in reaching an audience. It’s not at all like counting TV sets; that analog would be counting newsstands or newspaper trucks. Counting circulation counts consumption of the print product. Whether a paper is paid or free, it’s essentially valueless until someone picks it up and reads it.

Newspaper companies have finally been reaching new people in new ways in the past decade, people who are establishing habits that may not include the printed newspaper at all. Interactive continues to be a substantial success and a growth engine in most markets. I get as frustrated as Matt Baldwin does that the stories about circulation declines – often written by print newsrooms – neglect to mention the enormous upside opportunities. But it’s far too soon to ignore print circulation – and its associated revenue – unless we’re ready to make the leap to an all-digital future.

And that’s a post for another day.

“Newspapers? Newspapers? Nah, doesn’t ring a bell.”

This is one of those non-scientific polls that, nonetheless, is going to jam a shiv in the heart of anyone hoping there’s as much love for the printed paper among “the people” as there is within a lot of newsrooms.

Lifehacker.com asked the question this morning: Will you miss newspapers when they’re gone?

120 replies – and counting – later, the overwhelming answer: Not much.