New Orleans’ based newspaper, The Times-Picayune, announced that it is shifting its print publications to a three day a week schedule instead of its traditional seven days a week model. The focus of the paper will shift to its free online content and will attempt to look at ways of making online advertising more profitable. In addition to the Times-Picayune, the Birmingham News the Press-Register in Mobile, Alabama, and The Huntsville (Alabama) Times will also shift to a 3 day print schedule.
[note: see Ted Jackson’s gut-wrenching photo of the T-P staff hearing the announcement.]

Print newspaper subscriptions have suffered significantly in the age of the Internet. Although no one is saying that reporting is becoming obsolete, many of us are thinking that “print” reporting is becoming obsolete and the shift is to online or mobile app platforms. In fact, in today’s Houston Chronicle (print edition) an ad was run right next to this story saying that “Sunday Circulation” was up 2.8% for the Chronicle. Notice how the ad shows the iPhone, iPad, online, and print editions?? We librarians have felt the pains of a shift in how our consumers use our services, but I’d be the first to admit that I would much rather deal with the change in library industry than be a reporter today.

The whole issue of “Print vs. Online” has been raging for years now, with print being a consistent loser. The one element in this battle, however, has been the idea that advertising revenues are what will keep these news resources going (be they in print, online, app, whatever….) However, I just got off the phone with Toby Brown and asked how the heck can advertising dollars be spread over such a large number of resources in a way that can keep them afloat?? I just don’t see how current advertising structures will be sustainable over the next few years. In fact, Fox and NBC-Universal just sued DirecTV because they’ve developed an “ad hopper” which allows DirecTV customers to automatically skip over advertising.

It is a bizarre time in the news and media world these days. As we shift more and more away from traditional sources of news and entertainment, and we go online, streaming or app our way into the future of information access, the economics of the industry will constantly shift in order to try to support the industry. I thought that Vince Gill hit something on the head when he tossed out the fact that music singles today cost 99¢. A single in 1960 cost… 99¢. The prima facie economics of the news and media industry just don’t add up to profits. Consumers don’t want to pay more, pay walls don’t seem to be the answer, and advertisers are being more selective on where they place their ads. I, for one, would hate to be an advertising director in a major corporation right now.

Where will it all lead?? Here’s some of my (random) thoughts on the subject:

  • More “app-based” access. Apps would give the media provider more control over making sure ads aren’t skipped, and that ads are targeted at appropriate users (no Cadillac ads sent to 12 year old girls.) App platforms will include iOS devices, Android (mostly Kindle Fire), and gaming devices like XBox360.
  • More online access. Similar to the app-based, media providers will push their wears to where the eyes are. I’m sure that more attempts will be made to push ads to the right people, and prevent them from skipping over the ads… however, the success rate will be much lower than the app-based platforms.
  • More “subscribe to play” access. Many providers will shift to collaborative efforts and prevent their products from entering into homes that don’t have access to their product in another way. Initially this will mean you need a Cable TV subscription in order to use their online service. I think, just like the pay wall, this will fail. It is already being floated out there to keep Hulu-Plus subscribers from having access to certain shows, if they do not have a cable tv subscription.
  • More “crowd-funded” access. You’ll see more efforts like KickStarter on media projects. I could imagine a newspaper having a KickStarter project that funds their business for a three-month period of time, and in return gives something back to their supporters. People are eager to fund projects that they feel strongly about. Imagine that instead of a subscription, a newspaper says that for $50.00 you support our paper, and in return we dedicate a section of the paper to you or to a cause you support?? For $100 you get your name printed at the top of the first page for one day, etc. May sound silly, but one musician raised $450,000 from her fans. Media outlets do have fans, perhaps there is an opportunity here for them as well??

Everything is going to change. How will it end up?? No one knows. The only thing that seems to be understood at this point in the game is that it will take some clever thinking to come to that answer.

Recently, I had a unique experience of being privy to “insider information” on a hot-topic issue that ran on the front pages of major newspapers across the country. In a way, watching news story after news story come out, it was kind of like being in the middle of a sausage factory, watching it all being made, and being a little disappointed in the process. Without going into any details (my blog is my personal endeavor and I try to keep it that way), I have to say that my eyes were opened at some of the laziness of professional reporting, and my experience has made me think twice about accepting what I read in major news sources simply because they are major news sources.

Here are a few things that I saw that I would have thought were questionable tactics from reputable news sources:

  • The same story getting “repackaged” and “re-titled” over and over again within the same week. I noticed this actually came from the same parent company owning a number of different news titles and needing to fill space. Perhaps one benefit from this was that some of these resources were regional in scope, but most, if not all, were Internet resources, so the story was still accessible to everyone with a web browser. The problem really came from the fact that it looked like the story was presented as being somehow different from the initial story, but when you compared them, it was simply a reprint with a different title and publication date.
  • Reporters quoting other reporters as “facts”. This isn’t new, but it was interesting watching one reporter quoting the story written by another as part of their “fact gathering” process. Most of the cross-quoting was taking pieces of the initial reporter’s conjecture and twisting it into an assumed fact. It was like watching a game of “Telephone” and seeing how it morphed over and over again as the next reporter added another layer of conjecture to the story.
  • Research based completely on what was available on the Internet. I know that the days of Woodward and Bernstein meeting with Deep Throat in a car garage are over, but I at least expected reporters to pick up a phone, or meet with a source in person before writing a story. Instead, what I saw was reporters taking press releases, sending out a “can you give me a quote” email to one or two people, and then writing the story without interviewing a single person. For goodness sake, Above the Law does a better job talking with insiders on a story than some of the most respected newspapers in the country. I watched as reporters chimed in on the comments section of their story saying that they sent an email, but are still waiting on a response. However, I guess in this day of being “first to print,” no one really has time to get out and talk with anyone anymore. After all, if that person does respond, that means a follow-up story can be written and a one-day story can turn into a two-day story.
I guess I expected better out of the corp of professional reporters. I know that they constantly complain about the tactics that the blogosphere takes in running with a story without doing any serious research on the issues, and injecting conjecture into the story in such a way that you can’t really tell what parts are facts versus what parts are conjecture. In this case, however, I watched as a number of professional reporters did the very same actions that they despise from bloggers. 
Ethics and solid professional processes of reporting are two of the most important aspects that hold professionally trained reporters and the sources they work for above the fray of the blogosphere. If professional reporters decide to take short-cuts with those two processes, we all suffer the consequences. I expect better, but I fear that I will just continue to be disappointed.

I’m about to go on a rant about local newspapers that publish on the Internet, but don’t give the “out-of-towner” reader any idea of where the newspaper is located. I’m going to pick on The Daily Journal, but they are by no means the first local newspaper that I’ve had to scour to find out where exactly they are located. So, here’s a little back story.

I got a news feed alert on a story entitled “Freeholders concerned about closing library.” So far, so good… I’m interested in any story that discusses how communities are looking at closing libraries to shore up shrinking budgets. When I arrive to the story, I see the name of the town, but not the state in which the town is located.

Alright… “Bridgeton” doesn’t really sound familiar to me, so I start looking through the story to see if there’s something in there that names the state. Nothing.
Next up… look at the banner for the website to see if it mentions a state. 

No state mentioned either in the banner, or in any of the other links at the top of the page. And with a generic name like “The Daily Journal.com – A Gannett Company” this paper could be anywhere.
So, nothing in the by-line… nothing in the banner… nothing in the top links.
How about looking at the ads? Maybe there will be an ad for a local company that will mention the state??

Hallelujah!! It’s Georgia!!!
No!! It’s not Georgia. Seems that the ads are set up to look at my IP address and identify that I’m coming in from a Georgia IP address. Two problems with this:

  1. I’m not in Georgia… my firm is… I’m in sunny Houston, Texas!!
  2. The fact that the newspaper has ads that adjust for “out-of-towners” lets me know that they understand that people from outside the community are going to drop in, but that they don’t really care to make it clear where they’ve landed.
So now I’m getting a little ticked-off…
I look at the “Help” and “Terms of Service” pages… no luck.
Holy crap!! How freakin’ hard does this have to be??
New Jersey!!
Finally… finally… finally, I see an image near the bottom of the original page that tells me I’ve landed in New Jersey (by this time I’m saying “New Jersey” like the Fred Armisen impersonation of New York Governor, David Patterson.)
From start to finish, it probably took me three or four minutes to track down where this newspaper is covering. Granted, not a lot of time, but completely unnecessary. 
This was my drawn out way of asking that local newspapers that publish out the Internet to realize that you’re now a global operation. Please make it easier on those of us that aren’t locals by making it obvious where you’re located. It will result in at least one less frustrated librarian in the world.

A couple weeks ago, Bob Ambrogi (who has a great looking new site, by the way) reviewed Paper.li, a resource that creates a newspaper-like result out of specific Twitter accounts. Paper.li, or “Daily on Twitter” as they call it, does some pretty cool things, including automatically categorizing tweets into topics (Technology, Travel, Health, Crime, etc.) The resulting page also has embedded video and pictures, which partially satisfied my need for “The Daily Prophet” type interaction. I have to say that I really like what I’ve seen so far, and have a few “advanced features” that you might want to test out for yourself.

About six months ago, we reviewed another Twitter-To-Newspaper site called Twitter Times. I still use it almost everyday in order to catch up with those folks out there that I follow. Right off the bat, however, I noticed that Paper.li offered some advanced features that Twitter Times doesn’t (create a paper based on a hashtag “#” for example).

Make Use of the Hard Work of Others (The Work Smarter, Not Harder Approach)

First of all, you can “Daily on Twitter” someone else account. Why would you want a “Daily on Twitter” of someone else’s Twitter account? One obvious reason is that there a some people out there that have a very focused use of Twitter.  Say they only follow what Law Firms are tweeting; or the only follow topics of politics; or they only follow issues like technology or health. With Paper.li, you can take advantage of all their hard efforts and have a daily synopsis of what issues they are discussing or reading.  Let me give you an example of how this feature would work using the topic of “Health”.

The first thing I’d want to do is look at Paper.li’s “Health Topic” page to see who the “big players” are that already have a “Daily on Twitter” set up. Right off the bat, I found someone that fits the profile I’m looking for by the twitter name of @hxjournprof.

I click on her “Daily on Twitter” feed, and I narrow that down even more by going to the “Health” section of the paper and clicking the “Health” link to take me directly to the health section.  Right away I see this is a gold mine of Health Topic information and I book mark this page to return to later. If I wanted to, I could actually have Paper.li send me an email notification (via the “notify me” link) letting me know when the page has been updated (usually every 24 hours).

How great is that??  I’ve just taken advantage of all the work that an expert in this particular topic has compiled (hope you didn’t mind, Christy!!), and now I have a quick and easy way of keeping up with all that information in one handy place! I think my Dad calls this the “work smarter, not harder” technique. One thing to remember is that the topics are limited, and are automatically generated.  This means that you don’t have a great amount of flexibility, and things tend to get mis-labeled based on the limitations of Paper.li’s taxonomy algorithm.

Create a Newspaper Focused on Particular Twitter Accounts


This approach is something that can be really useful if you set it up correctly. Let’s say that you want to create a Daily on Twitter newspaper based solely on law firms that use Twitter. What I did was set up a separate Twitter account (@amlaw100) and followed a bunch of active law firm twitter accounts. I cheated by going to some twitter lists that I knew of, and just went through and followed the active firms. Within a few minutes, I had about 70 firms that I was following. Then I went back to Paper.li and created a “Daily on Twitter” of law firms. Easy as pie! Now I have a single page I can go to and easily read what the law firms are tweeting about. It’s a nice looking format, and I can share it with others if I wanted… like I’m sharing it with you right now!!

Limits of Paper.li

  • Paper.li is still in Alpha testing, so they could actually pull this at any time, or completely re-write how they set up the results. So don’t get upset if either of these happen, as that’s part of “Alpha testing”. 
  • You’re limited to 3 “Daily on Twitter” papers that you can create. This is based on you giving Paper.li access to your Twitter account… if you have more than one Twitter account, each one can have up to three.
  • Paper.li cannot index “private” Twitter accounts (make sense to me.)
  • Topics are limited and controlled by Paper.li
  • Results are automatically indexed under topics based on Paper.li’s taxonomy, and a lot of results can be mis-labeled, or simply not placed under a topic at all.
Even with all of these limitations, Paper.li definitely has some use for people that like their information in an easy-to-read and easy-to-access format. I highly recommend that you go give it a test drive and see if it is something that you find as useful as I do.

I finally gave in and ordered an iPad 3G this week. Although I do not have it in my hands right now (delivery scheduled for –cross my fingers– ‘late April’), I’ve already have some big plans for it and am looking forward to testing how much I can make use of it.

When I was listening to the podcast of the Law Librarian Conversations from last Friday (4/16), I heard someone (Jason Eiseman or Tom Boone) say that he enjoys his iPad, but what he really wants is something like The Daily Prophet newspaper you’ve seen in the Harry Potter films. Apparently, the iPad has some great features with newspaper-like information, but really lacks the integration of text, video and user-integrated actions that will probably be a reality some day soon. Add to this the idea of having something on a paper-like platform and you’d put a geek like me into a tech-induced coma!!

We’ve seen pieces of the technology for years… animated .gifs, flash and quicktime integrated video (like those “I’m an Apple / I’m a PC” ads that walk around the website you’re surfing), and the new HTML5 videos that are now hitting the Internet. However, we’ve still not seen anything close to The Daily Prophet.

Last fall, there was a couple of ‘video ads’ that appeared in print magazines like Entertainment Weekly. These were novel approaches to integrating multimedia into existing print materials, but probably too expensive and too clunky to go very far in that format. There is some talk about finally seeing “e-paper” video screens that would allow you to have a paper-like platform (although, let’s be honest, it will probably feel more like a stiff piece of plastic more than a piece of paper). This particular e-paper version uses the e-ink like the Amazon Kindle, which means it would be black and white rather than color. I’m actually okay with that. After all, The Daily Prophet is in black and white (although, I’ve never seen a Sunday version to see if they run the comics in color…)

I hope that someday we’ll get something close to The Daily Prophet (only more interactive and maybe in color). Until then, I’ll have to settle for what the iPad can do. I’m sure I can make do with that for now.