Resistance is futile

Image shamelessly lifted from somewhere else – to find out where, click on the image.

Change is good. But dollars are better.

That was a catch-phrase printed on some T-shirts as part of a “team-building” exercise folks from Miami/San Jose corporate offices at the late Knight Ridder Newspapers media megalopoly brought to town back in the good old days. You know, before Google Ate the Earth.

If memory serves, this would date back to the early 1990s. I was a newbie middle manager at the Myrtle Beach, S.C., (NOT Florida or North Carolina, For Cryin’ Out Loud) Sun News. The change these folks from corporate wanted to talk about was small potatoes compared to what waited just around the corner. But seeing corporate suit-and-tie folks wedge themselves into cheap T-shirts was worth the price of admission.

I don’t remember if anything of material use came out of that particular exercise. Given what came to be at Knight Ridder, I kind of doubt it.  But there was a very real truth in that “kicky” little phrase.

Change is good.

But dollars are better. Because we have seen change, largely without the dollars. And that part sucked.

Now, as 2009 draws to a close amid convulsive change among all sorts of media, the recently restructured and spun off AOL has a new kid in its content corner.  And guess where he came from? Yup, the new media content guy at AOL comes from one of the oldest of the “old media,” The New York Times.

Calling Saul Hansell “old media” is a bit of a misnomer. He’s been covering “new” media such as AOL for the last dozen years, roughly the span during which we watched AOL soar to dizzying heights, crash under unsustainable burden (and creaky, underpowered servers), get out of the ISP business (I was an early adapter to AOL, back in the days of 1200 baud dial-up – oh, it makes me shudder!), then revive itself, swallow (and choke on) Time Warner and finally, mercifully, get cut loose to fend for itself and reinvent itself yet again. In all the muddle, I’ve lost track of Steve Case. Where is he now? Oh, that’s right, we have Google. Here he is! And here!

Steve Case, of course, was one of the Wonder Boys of the ’90s who helped kick the Internet Revolution into high gear, even before Al Gore invented it (Sorry, Al. It’s just too easy).  Pretty soon everybody was spawning dot-coms, except those who weren’t. And we went a little “ster” crazy for a spell – Monster, Napster, Friendster and so on. Some ‘sters prospered (Monster), others did not.

Now Steve Case is more or less no longer in the thick of it, and Google has reached middle age and  the new (ish) kids at Facebook, Youtube and Twitter are positioning themselves to find the elusive “monetizing” formula that has eluded so many content providers.

Let the games begin!

Prepare to be assimilated.

And they sang till our ears bled

There was a Christmas party in our building tonight. Booze, band, karaoke. Unspeakably bad karaoke. The band wasn’t much better. But these partiers destroyed the memories of classic ’70s and ’80s staples by the likes of Journey (Don’t Stop Believin’), Styx (Come Sail Away) and Billy Joel (Kill us a song, you’re the piano butcher), among other gems. And when the echoes of the worst karaoke ever experienced in human history finally died, it took a few moments for us to realize the madness had stopped.

And there was much rejoicing.

Gnu Xmas Klassic

Funny sketch by  Power Salad. High-fiber comedy!

Santa Claus is getting hip to the times. No more Christmas Eve world cruise. Nope, this year Santa is telecommuting.

Rudolph’s on furlough.

Santa’s logged onto his LAN. Don’t bother leaving cookies, he’ll delete them with his pop-up blocker (Wonder if he uses Mozilla?)

Santa working in his birthday suit?  “We’re sorry for that ugly image on Christmas Eve.”

Picture is curiously high-res, given that it features paper-bag puppets!

Another nail in the coffin

When it rains, it pours.

As news outlets shrink, disappear or merge, j-schools are responding in kind:

COLLEGE PARK, Md., Dec. 11 – The Knight Center for Specialized Journalism will cease operations at the end of this month, it was announced today by Dean Kevin Klose of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.

“The Center’s achievements in providing in-depth training for journalists to improve their competencies are well-known and highly regarded across the news industry,” Klose said. “The rapid changes in news media technology and economics require new thinking. This move will enable us to focus fully on designing new approaches to the challenges of 21st-century journalism.”

The future is now …

While mourning Editor & Publisher’s passing, Poynter Institute librarian David Sheddon unearthed an old E&P from 1984 that featured predictions by Leo Bogart,  regarded at the time as the leading researcher and deep thinker about the state of journalism:  “Newspaper organizations will be comprehensive information providers rather than publishers. They will generate not a single product but a variety of products available to users through different means” — including moving pictures on a “lap-board.”

The piece was headlined “Newspapers in 2084,” so it’s a coupla decades ahead — or behind — itself. Still. I remember lots of hand-wringing among professorial types in the early ’80s as newspapers adopted “modular” layouts, USAToday came into being (and was generally pooh-poohed as nooz lite) and circulation had clearly begun to fall. This was before you could pop open your Web browser to see headlines about Tiger Woods’ “infidelity” and the latest news of your favorite football team/pop star/political pundit. Just like Leo said we would.

Not all of his predictions were spot on, but I couldn’t help but be impressed — and yes, a tad depressed — to find myself reading about it and subsequently commenting about it on my MacBook “lap-board” computer.

I guess I am one of the lucky ones to have survived losing my newspaper job long enough to find suitable work in a journalistic endeavor that makes full use of the “lap-board” using moving pictures, audio and Ye Olde Print-Style Text.

I spent a substantial portion of yesterday troubleshooting my recalcitrant HP “lap-board,” alternating between it and my trusty MacBook, which works just fine but is handicapped by not having the local office network installed. Why I even bring this up is only to point out that it is possible, even advantageous, to live in harmony amidst both Mac and PC worlds. I admit some bias in finding Macs easier to navigate and troubleshoot, but I also find PCs do some pretty cool stuff too.

Now if somebody at Microsoft could explain why Windows 7 can’t convert a sound file to MP3 without downloading an app that makes it (and/or the HP “lapboard”) go bonkers, I’d be much happier.   Bill Gates, are you paying attention?

Atlas shuddered

For years, Editor & Publisher was a leading forum for discussing the state of journalism and media in general. For years it published a popular repository of jobs for reporters, copy editors, photographers, graphic artists and so on. Well. As it and other media watchers have been following the agonizing decline of traditional media, E&P itself has now slipped into that vortex. And now it is gone. A statement from Mark Fitzgerald and Jennifer Saba :

“After years of covering the death of newspapers, we here at Fitz & Jen got to experience it first-hand this morning. The Nielsen Company has made the decision to cease operations of Editor & Publisher (E&P) in its 125th year.”

Bnet media analyst and general media guru David Weir was tipped off to the death of E&P by a fellow Bnetter.

The usual suspects have been rounded up: plummeting circulation, loss of advertising revenue, competition from ever-expanding media outlets (Internet! They’re giving it away!), failure to respond to changing market conditions, etc.

Editorial cartoonist Steve Greenberg summed it up thusly:

“America is all-too-quickly heading toward an era quite possibly without daily print newspapers. but it’s very sad to see that its leading industry journal — the watchdog’s watchdog — is about to be put to sleep.”

But a cartoon Greenberg penned more than a decade ago, pictured here, succinctly tells the tale of newspapers’ struggles to recapture readers (a quaint holdover from our ink-stained days).

And it’s not as if newspapers haven’t tried to adapt. But numerous forces conspired against them (including their own people at times).

Example:  Waaay back around 2000, The Akron Beacon Journal had decided to create a new position: e-journalist. I was interested. The e-journalist would be dedicated to the Web product (Ohio.com) and would use all the tools available:  old-fashioned writing, audio, video, photography. There were Guild issues to get past: Typically photogs were photogs, reporters were reporters and copy editors were gruff-but-lovable (sometimes) wordsmiths, and rarely did jobs cross over.  That hurdle appeared to have been cleared. Then the budget cuts came. The Wall Street tail wagged the corporate dog.  And that was the end of that. Except that staffers, some quite reluctantly at first, began to regularly contribute blogs, video, extra online photos and so on.

But then the economy tanked, the paper’s biggest advertisers cut back further, and online revenue still doesn’t come close to matching past print revenues. Ad lineage continues to drop, news hole continues to shrink and the ranks of “former” journalists swell.

Is it too late to save the printed product? Is it worth saving? (Short answers: Maybe. And yes.)

Time will tell.

One thing I do know, having experienced some of this firsthand:  More and more journalists are joining the former middle class that increasingly finds itself slipping into a lower socioeconomic rung, perhaps permanently. Or, at the very least, it’s going to take a long time to recover. There are only so many jobs out there and the competition is fierce. How many bloggers does the world need (he wrote, blithely unaware of his own irrelevance)? And who will feed them?