Newspaper dumps print edition

Is this a sign of the times?  The Capital Times, an afternoon newspaper in Madison, Wis., is moving most of its operations online.  Editor Dave Zweifel announced this week that the Times is dropping the print edition in favor of the Web:

The daily newspaper will no longer be hamstrung by an unyielding deadline that locks us into content that can’t be changed until 24 hours later. On the Web, that “paper” can change with the news on a minute’s notice.  All of this, unfortunately, doesn’t come without a downside. Because producing the news for the most part electronically doesn’t require as many people, there will be a reduction in our newsroom staff and in Capital Newspapers’ production and circulation departments.

The Times will add a semi-weekly print magazine for subscribers.  Most afternoon newspapers in the United States folded years ago, while the Times kept going thanks to a joint operating agreement (JOA) with the morning paper in Madison. That JOA is likely to provide the funds to sustain the new Web paper.

How will the Times online plus magazine be different from the dead tree version?  Zweifel told Poynter’s Jill Geisler that the journalists who remain will need new skills:

Snappier and witty writing style for the Web. Ability to brief and condense breaking news, but also to do multiple-source analytical and explanatory journalism for a magazine-type format.

Interesting that he doesn’t mention multimedia.   Seems to me that boosting the use of video and audio, adding interactivity and all the other elements that make Web journalism its own specialized form would be critical to the success of an online news publication.


Remembering McWethy

The death of former ABC correspondent John McWethy came as a shock. He died this week doing something he loved–skiing in Colorado. He was 61.

I knew Jack as both a competitor and a friend. When I covered the State Department for CBS News in the mid-1980s, Jack was on the beat for ABC News. He was smart, thoughtful and persistent–unwilling to settle for the gobbledegook answers dished out at the daily briefing. I’ll bet more sound bites on the network news during those years were answers to McWethy’s follow-up questions than to any other reporter’s. He had a finely tuned “BS detector”–essential for any reporter who covers government.

McWethy’s friend Bob Steele also remembers him as “mighty skeptical of authority,” and quotes a commencement speech McWethy gave at his alma mater, DePauw University.

The word ‘why’ is, in my view, the most powerful word in the English language. It is the driving force of my profession, and it’s also the driving force and at the heart of your professors, creative sciences, honest politicians, and of good parents.  Don’t stop asking the word ‘why’ just because you’re leaving DePauw. All institutions, all endeavors, all relationships are improved by a good scrubbing using the word ‘why.’ In democracy it is the question we must all constantly be asking our government and our leaders. It is not unpatriotic to question the government; it is unpatriotic not to.

Jack McWethy was passionate about getting to the truth.  But that wasn’t the only example he set.  He was also a fine human being–caring and kind. He was a dedicated journalist and fierce competitor, but he also made time to be a mentor to students and other journalists, including me.  I’ll miss him.   The news business has lost a great role model.  Many of us have also lost a friend.

Print journalism burnout

Research done at Ball State University indicates that young newspaper journalists are not very happy with their jobs. Dr. Scott Reinardy found that young people are the most dissatisfied group in the newsroom:

Interestingly, younger journalists not only reported higher rates of burnout than their colleagues, but those journalists are most likely to express intentions to leave the profession. Among journalists 34 and younger, 74.5 percent either answered “yes” or “don’t know” when asked about leaving newspaper journalism. For young journalists, there clearly appears to be a distinct connection between burnout and career change. The open-ended responses indicate that dissatisfaction with pay, job demands and high levels of stress is whittling away at the commitment of young journalists.

It would be fascinating to know if there have been similar studies done in broadcast or online newsrooms. Can this job dissatisfaction be attributed to the increasing pressures on print newsrooms? Or is this unhappiness permeating all of journalism? If anyone has data or an opinion to share, please do!

Journalism entrepreneurship

It’s a mouthful, but it’s essential. Journalists today have to be entrepreneurs. In Mark Glazer’s view, that means you need to understand the business side of news. He notes on MediaShift that two schools, CUNY and Berkeley, now offer courses in entrepreneurial journalism, and Arizona State has a new Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, run by Dan Gillmor. Syracuse has a class in new media business, as well. But Vin Crosbie, who teaches it, says one class won’t equip students to go into business for themselves:

Taking journalism students, giving them a course in entrepreneurship, and then thinking that you’ve properly prepared them is like taking carpenters, training them how to use a shovel and pick, and thinking that you’ve prepared them to be gold miners. It’s dilatantish. I’d rather first give them at least a course in geology.

Point taken. But there’s real value in at least exposing journalism students to the business side of news. Even if they wind up working for “mainstream” news organizations, these journalists can make the case for better journalism in a way that make sense to the money people. And if journalists want to develop new media outlets for their work, they’re going to have to know how to pay the bills. But what happens to the traditional “firewall” between news and sales if journalists are doing it all?

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