Newspaper readers don’t have the kind of relationship with newspaper reporters that they do with famous columnists, authors or the talking heads on TV. As far as readers are concerned, newspaper reporters are pretty much anonymous. So what’s the big deal, if some of the nation’s best newspapers including The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Houston Chronicle and The San Francisco Chronicle are running articles written by offshore “reporters” and publishing them with a fake byline?
I guess it depends on your point of view. It’s clearly a big deal for journalists. One of the best in the business, David Carr of The Times, notes, “while the rest of us were burning hot dogs on the grill last week, the newspaper industry seemed to be lighting itself on fire.”
The Journatic employee, Ryan Smith, who spoke to This American Life, describes how he pretended to be from the Houston Chronicle when speaking to a source in Texas for a story. He also describes how much of the copy he was tasked with editing originated in the Philippines and was full of grammatical errors. Smith also wrote a confessional for The Guardian about his experience at the company.
My stomach turned and my guilt grew. The company I was working for was harming journalism: real reporters were getting laid off and were being replaced by overseas writer-bots.
Naturally, Journatic’s CEO Brian Timpone, has another story to tell. “We were writing things that were controversial. Our writers were being threatened individually by the subjects of stories. We did it to protect them from the threats.”
He also notes that the articles in question needed to have bylines so they would show up in Google News results. Uh huh.
As a writer, I am a knowledge worker and member of the Creative Class. Which is to say, I am busy developing not only words that make meaning, but dollars that make ends meet.
That’s the deal with the Creative Class. Creative people gather in special places, and through the power of our collective ingenuity we create wealth for ourselves and the communities we call home.
But not so fast. “The Rise of the Creative Class is filled with self-indulgent forms of amateur microsociology and crass celebrations of hipster embourgeoisement,” argues Jamie Peck, a geography professor and vocal critic of Richard Florida’s theories.
Freelance writer Frank Bures of Minneapolis shared that gem in Thirty Two, a new bi-monthly magazine for the Twin Cities. Like me, Bures was seduced by the idea that we aren’t alone in a world where writers are not highly prized. No, we’re members of a club. No, not a club, a class. Yes, we are in a class where we’re always learning and striving, and the future is bright.
Bures suggests that Florida “took our anxiety about place and turned it into a product. He found a way to capitalize on our nagging sense that there is always somewhere out there more creative, more fun, more diverse, more gay, and just plain better than the one where we happen to be.” Given how dreamy writers and entrepreneurs can be, it was an easy sell.
Bures also recounts conversations with Brazen Careerist, Penelope Trunk, on the topic. Bures calls her an “apostle of Floridian doctrine.” Nevertheless Trunk points out, “If you want to look at a city that’s best for your career, it’s New York, San Francisco or London. If you’re not looking for your career, it doesn’t really matter. There’s no difference. It’s splitting hairs. The whole conversation about where to live is bullshit.”
Of course, “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit,” notes Harry G. Frankfurt. Which makes me want to point to other popular tropes that are really just steaming piles of fecal matter.
Warren Buffett, the greatest investor the modern world has ever known, just ponied up $142 million to add Richmond, Virgina-based Media General to his list of prized companies.
Media General operates 18 network-affiliated television stations and their associated websites, plus several dozen community newspapers across the Southeastern part of the U.S. Titles like Richmond Times-Dispatch and Winston-Salem Journal are well known, but most of the others like The Goochland Gazette and The Bland County Messenger have small circulations in the range of 5,000 – 25,000, according to paidContent.
Is the old man getting sentimental, or is this truly a wise investment? Both, I reckon.
“I’ve loved newspapers all of my life — and always will,” Buffett, who delivered newspapers as a boy, wrote in a letter introducing himself and his newly formed BH Media Group to the Media General team.
Berkshire Hathaway purchased The Omaha World Herald, its hometown newspaper last year, and has owned the Buffalo News since 1977. Buffett has also been on the board of The Washington Post and owned a large share of that national paper for years. One might say he’s making Omaha something of a genuine media town now. As a native of the hilly river city, I’m happy about that.
Of course, there are others with other more important media matters on their minds. Professor, consultant and writer Clay Shirky, for one. He argues that “ordinary citizens don’t pay for news. What we paid for, when we used to buy the paper, was a bundle of news and sports and coupons and job listings, printed together and delivered to our doorstep.” Shirky believes that news has always been a loss leader subsidized by advertisers. And now those advertisers are off to greener pastures. “Ad dollars lost to competing content creators can be fought for; ad dollars that no longer subsidize content at all are never coming back,” he contends.
GigaOm writer, Mathew Ingram, adds that “the subscription price of a newspaper and circulation revenues in general have historically only accounted for a small proportion of a media company’s overall revenue. In most cases, the bulk of that revenue comes from advertising.”
I’m a fan of both Shirky and Ingram, but I don’t agree that all the value is in the platform. The Oracle of Omaha believes there’s value in content and he wants his new newspaper managers to find ways to maximize that value for readers (who will be asked to pay for the content, regardless of the platform). “It’s your job to make your paper indispensable to anyone who cares about what is going on in your city or town,” Buffett outlines.
Digital Book World is running an interview with Seth Godin, author of several best selling business books, including Unleashing the Ideavirus, The Bootstrapper’s Bible, Purple Cow, All Marketers Are Liars, Poke the Box, and more. Here’s a slice of the interview, where Godin advises writers to walk way from their financial expectations. Q. Many authors […]
I lit up this morning when reading an article in the pages of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab. The article describes the inner workings of AllNovaScotia.com, a startup business journal in Canada’s largest Maritime Province that charges a healthy $360 a year for access to content. From what I can tell there is no free version. […]
Author and consultant, Joseph Grenny, writing in Business Week, sees a future where we learn to manage our internet addictions with the help of technology. Smartphones, tablets, MP3 players, GPS-enabled gadgets, and ubiquitous Internet access will continue to feed and exploit the natural human proclivity toward immediate gratification. In 2012, we’ll become more acutely aware […]
Are you suffering from Information Age blues? Drowning in data with no time or inclination to sort through it all? You are not alone. “The issue nowadays is to some extent the need for good filters, pushing away information after centuries of seeking it,” writes Quentin Hardy, Deputy Tech Editor of The New York Times. […]
Portland-based essayist and author William Deresiewicz explores what kind of values support the hipster persona in the opinion pages of The New York Times. “What’s the affect of today’s youth culture?” he asks. In other words, what’s going on underneath those pork pie hats and ironic t-shirts? Today’s polite, pleasant personality is, above all, a […]
I loathe the state of TV news today. The American public is fed such a distorted view of events, filtered as they are by bought-and-paid-for pundits, not reporters. Clearly, this sad state of affairs calls for a response, and The White House, for one, has one. Since April of 2010, White House videographer Arun Chaudhary […]
“It isnâ€™t the consumersâ€™ job to know what they want.â€ -Steve Jobs Steve Jobs passed away from a rare form of cancer last week at the age of 56. Since then, I’ve read a handful of articles about the man and the impact he made on modern culture. Maybe you have too. The one article […]
Steward Brand is an icon, and a man I’m learning more about. His thinking is central to a talk I’m preparing to give at Geekend in Boston next month. It was in 1984 that Brand, founder of Whole Earth Catalog, helped put together the first ever Hacker’s Conference, held in a remote part of Marin […]
In the wake of a week of violent protests in Great Britain–spurred, as they were, by the police killing of Mark Duggan–I’m not surprised to see authorities and mainstream media cast blame in any and all directions, including in the direction of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. I’ve long contended that citizens’ media, […]
The New York Times just introduced me to Jstor, a notâ€“forâ€“profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive of over one thousand academic journals and other scholarly content. Jstor is in the news because Aaron Swartz, a 24-year-old agitator for […]
As a person with five active blogs, multiple Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, Flickr, Vimeo, and so on, I truly appreciate the following performance. I think it’s important to ask yourself if maybe you’re over sharing. When I look at Twitter, in particular, I feel that many people are over sharing, which is annoying. People […]
Over the past few years, I have not been devouring books like I once did. Mainly, because I absorb and reshape so much online content on a day-to-day basis, that the idea of leisure time reading now seems other than leisurely to me. Which is lame. Thankfully, I fixed the lameness for a time this […]
I’ve been tossing around the idea that my writing, editing and publishing “isn’t about me, it’s about you,” for some time now, and I have to admit it’s a tricky concept to wrap my head around. The academic view is that writers, editors and publishers are people with something to say. But the definition is […]
On Sunday night, I launched a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo, a site that provides a platform for small business owners, filmmakers, writers and others looking to launch and manage on online fundraising effort for their project. It’s been a humbling 48 hours. As you can see from the following screen grab, we have plenty of […]
Sean Power, of Ottawa, Ontario is happily reunited with his stolen laptop, thanks to free tracking software called Prey. According to HuffingtonPost, Power received a report from Prey indicating that his laptop was in use at a Brooklyn, NY bar. Power called the police, but they said he had to make a report in person. […]