April 2019 Thoughts about Local Media

created Apr 2, 2019 - updated Apr 4, 2019

This is a rambling stream of conscience that contains over 5,100 words, producing an estimated reading time of 28 minutes.


Mediagazer headline:

https://mediagazer.com/190401/p25#a190401p25

http://www.cleveland.com/news/2019/04/plain-dealer-lays-off-a-third-of-unionized-newsroom-staff.html

Cleveland daily paper The Plain Dealer has laid off 14 unionized newsroom staff, mostly reporters, as part of its December announcement to cut 29 jobs

https://mobile.twitter.com/BlakeAued/status/1112835158757998597

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has cut 90 percent of its journalists in the past 20 years. It now has 32 people to cover a region of 3.5 million.

How many households? And how many households/people have at least a digital subscription to the Plain Dealer?

It sounds like a simple lack of interest in the daily newspaper by most area residents. It's not the fault of Big Tech that provide tools and services that people find useful and enjoyable.

For unknown reasons, most residents have grown disinterested in their daily newspaper. Maybe the newspaper industry needs to blame cable TV and network television.

Studies continue to show that most people obtain their local news from TV, which I find strange, since many years ago when I watched local TV news, it contained little local news. It was mostly commercials, weather, sports, and wire stories.

Most of us have internet access, especially with phones. We can get weather much easier now than 10-plus years ago. I don't know why people tune into local TV news stations to obtain local weather info.

In 2013, I created my own local weather web app at: http://toledoweather.info. The local TV weathercasters provide weather too simply for me. I like the technical details that occur in the National Weather Service's "Area Forecast Discussions" and the NWS Storm Prediction Center's "Convective Outlooks" and "Mesoscale Discussions."

But the role of TV weathercasters is to take the complex info, provided by the NWS and distill it down into bite-sized nuggets that layman TV viewers can digest. That's probably why local residents watch local TV news, but the mobile weather apps provide simple info too.

Sports, that's the biggie. I think that a local digital media startup that focused only on local and regional sports would be a successful business. It seems that many people around Toledo enjoy following high school sports, even when those people don't have kids in school.

I don't follow high school sports, but I did not grow up in the Toledo area. But then again, I don't follow any sports, except for the Cleveland Browns and the NFL.

I have not been following the men's NCAA basketball tourney that's occurring now, although Deb and I watched most of the second half of Sunday evening's game between Michigan State and Duke.

We got home from a long day of birdwatching along the lakeshore on Mar 31, 2019, and I flipped our Roku TV to the over-the-air antenna to see if any hoops action was playing.

Michigan State University is located only about an hour and forty minutes north of us, and Deb has cousins who graduated from MSU. The game was very entertaining. The score remained tight with numerous lead changes.

The next sporting event that I plan to watch is The Masters golf tournament. Then I might watch the U.S. Open. Outside of that, I won't see TV commercials until the NFL starts playing in August for the preseason and September for the regular season.

I prefer to get my info by reading text, instead of watching video, such as TV news. I like listening to the radio and to podcasts over our Amazon Echo.

But in 2018 and continuing in 2019, we've become big fans of watching YouTube channels over our Roku TV. We are not subscribers to YouTube TV, whatever that is, but we watch channels, produced by small businesses, artists, crafters, and other makers. We support them by buying their products or via funding through Patreon.

I'm wild-guessing that most people have little interest in reading 500-word to 5,000-word news articles in print or digital formats. Maybe people are too distracted, and they quickly bounce around from silo service to silo service, skimming only the headlines that appear in their noisy, littered social media feeds.

Is that Big Tech's fault? Nope. People CHOOSE to spend their time that way. I don't understand why people choose "to get" their news from social media silos. I cannot grasp that concept. I get news from, wait for it, the websites of the news orgs, either directly by visiting the websites or indirectly through the media orgs' RSS/Atom feeds that I consume in theoldreader.com feed reader or in my own simple web-based feed reader app.

I don't know how a newspaper could make a lengthy analysis article about the city budget interesting enough to attract readers. Maybe the article needs animated or produced as a comic book.

It seems that people prefer to view a flood of images, videos, and short pieces of text on their social media silos.

I don't know. Has anyone produced a study to determine why people in the Cleveland area or the Toledo area or some other similar area have grown less interested in their local daily newspaper over the past 30 years?

It's not a decline that has only occurred this decade. The newspaper decline began long before Facebook started in 2004. The decline began before Craigslist started in 1995. But those services, along with Google and who knows what else, are convenient crutches for the newspaper industry to blame.

Back around 2004, an alleged letter leaked from Block Communications, the owners of the Toledo Blade, said the Blade had not been profitable, since the early 1980s. This year, John Robinson Block, the executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which is also owned by Block Communications, claimed that the PG loses millions of dollars every year.

The internet was invented around 1970. The web was invented around 1990. It appears that some of the newspaper industry started to decline before the web got invented.

Who made the decision in the newspaper industry to give away their craft for free on the web? Craig Newmark did not make that decision. Mark Zuckerberg did not make that decision.

I've always believed that when the newspaper industry can start looking inward and blaming itself for all of its problems, then maybe it has a chance to improve.

But I have also believed that while local news will still be valued by at least a small percentage of residents in the future, local newspapers will not be a part of the future digital media landscape.

Newspapers carry too much archaic baggage from the 20th century. Local news needs to be produced by brand new local, digital, media startups that are built from the ground up, starting small and nimble and only growing and adding services if necessary and if possible.

If the sustainable funding does not exist, then the local media startup remains small and limited, until funding is available to add people and products. These startups should be built for the long haul, growing slowly.

  1. Again, one new startup could focus only on sports.
  2. Another startup could focus only on local politics, business, and technology.
  3. Another startup could focus on education, parenting, and health.
  4. Another startup could focus on arts, entertainment, and the outdoors.

All of those startups would be owned by different people. Nothing related among the media orgs would exist, except for the local angle.

And yes, all of those local digital startup would need to charge users a fee to access their content. No freebies. 100 percent hard paywalls. I would subscribe to numbers 2 and 4.

If the media orgs, however, adopt a non-profit funding model that accepts grants and donations, similar to public radio, then the media orgs could make their content free for everyone.

As long as the media org sustainable, and no conflicts of interest occur with the donation route, then any funding model is acceptable in my opinion.

This looks like an interesting new local media org that started this week, and it covers New York City. It seems that such a media org could find a sustainable model in an area as giant as NYC.

https://thecity.nyc

As a nonprofit news organization, THE CITY relies on donations and grants from foundations, individuals and sponsors who support our mission to produce hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

Maybe the initial arts, entertainment, and outdoors startup fails, but someone else could try to make a go, covering those same topics. People will have to try. It requires risk-takers. I believe that people are willing to pay for quality. If the info is useful, then people will fund it.

But if people can be informed about the arts, entertainment, and outdoors by using their social media silos, then they won't subscribe to the local media org.

I think that the local sports org would have the best chance of succeeding. People like to view photos and videos of sports action. People like knowing scores, standings, and other sports stats, especially when compared to previous years. The local sports media org would need to host its own message board for subscribers. Sports fans love to blab.

All of the local media startups would need to offer email newsletters and podcasts and maybe host events that could also be a source of revenue.

Eventually years down the road, local media consolidation could occur, but that's jumping way ahead. No need to worry about that now.

My post: The Future of Local Newspapers

More about The Plain Dealer layoffs.

https://mobile.twitter.com/ByRosenberg/status/1112870197289934849

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has laid off one-third of its staff. Two decades ago, the newspaper had 340 journalists. Now it's down to 33. Nationwide, more than 2,400 media jobs have been cut this year - about 26 gone per day

The following idiotic statement was made by an alleged journalist, working at The Daily Beast.

https://mobile.twitter.com/NoahShachtman/status/1112876239755399168

A. What's happened to local news is a tragedy. There's no other word for it. B. It's happening in part because local, mom-and-pop businesses have turned to Facebook instead. C. Yes, the same Facebook that's leaking your private information and radicalizing your grandpa.

Wow. He tried to explain the newspaper industry's 40-year decline in a single tweet. That's intellectually infantile, and that's probably giving him too much credit.

Also, note the mass generalization by the journalist, regarding grandpas. That's expected behavior from most users of the cesspool of the internet, but when journalists act that way, then I question the need for journalism.

And that's the first time that I have heard mom-and-pop businesses possibly getting blamed or being used as a reason for the decline of local newspapers. I'm failing to grasp his point on that claim though.

Yes, many small, local businesses that have started in the Toledo area over the past 10 years do not maintain their own websites, hosted at their own domain names. These businesses rely on their Facebook pages and other social media silos to attract and inform customers.

When I want to know something about one of our small, local businesses, I don't check their websites even if they have websites because the websites are updated infrequently. I search for their Facebook pages.

Sometimes, a business has its Facebook page set in a way that I cannot read it because I don't have a Facebook account.

Typically, I ask my wife because she uses Facebook. That's how I get informed about happenings at many small, local businesses. Either I try to check Facebook as a non-Facebook user, which is incredibly cumbersome, since Facebook uses a hostile web design, or I ask my wife.

I don't like it. I wish that small business owners maintained their own websites TOO, but small business owners have a lot to do to stay afloat, and trying to manage their websites could be a waste of their time, considering the other options that exist on the social media silos.

The small business owners know that they can reach more people by using Facebook, instead of updating their websites if they own websites. Most small business owners do not want to incur any admin tax for maintaining websites. It's easier to update their Facebook pages.

For a while earlier this decade, I considered boycotting small businesses that did not maintain their own websites, but that would have accomplished nothing. I harm the local businesses, including people I know, by not giving them my money, and I deprive myself from enjoying the art and craft, produced by many of these businesses.

Why did that Daily Beast journalist mention mom-and-pop businesses using Facebook when most media orgs have enslaved themselves to social media silos this decade?

People prefer to view social media over the daily newspaper websites. Business owners prefer to use social media over managing their own websites, probably because the business owners feel that its a better use of their time, and it can lead to more revenue. And the media orgs have determined that its better to abandon their own brands and involve themselves as much as possible with the social media silos to help generate revenue.

If social media usage is good for the media orgs, then it's acceptable for the mom-and-pop businesses.

Media orgs participate in nearly every new project announced by the big tech silos. The media shares or publishes a ton of its content on social media. The media has grown dependent upon referral traffic from social media. The media has lost its independence. It's not big tech's fault. I blame the media for choosing to enslave themselves to big tech, instead of saying, "Hey, if you want our news, visit our websites."

But media orgs create some of the worst websites on the planet. Their websites are massively bloated with obnoxious JavaScript, ads, trackers, and other crapware.

The media creates websites with hostile reading experiences. Most users won't complain. Users may not know why they despise the media's websites. The users simply move on and stay within their social media silo accounts.

And the horrible media websites have directly or indirectly caused big tech to offer new products, such as Facebook's Instant Articles, Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages, and now Apple's new News+ subscription service.

It's hilarious, pathetic, and sad to hear some media orgs express joy with using Google's AMP product, which exists to make media websites display faster on mobile devices that might have slow connections because the actual bloated media sites might never display completely over slow internet connections.

The media orgs could do this themselves by creating simple websites without relying on big tech, but the media chooses differently.

A Twitter user asked the Daily Beast journalist a question that I don't think has ever been researched thoroughly.

https://mobile.twitter.com/jackshafer/status/1112876922290278402?p=p

Not enough readers care about local news. Right?

I would say, yes, but why? Why do we care less about local news today, compared to 20 to 30 years ago? Why have we grown disinterested in local politics?

The Daily Beast journalists responded.

https://mobile.twitter.com/NoahShachtman/status/1112886539640602630?p=p

I honestly don't know the answer to that.

Wow. It's 2019, and the answer does not exist yet. It's easier to blame Craigslist, Facebook, and Google. And that has proven to be winning strategy over the past 20 years for the newspaper industry, right?

What's needed are local, wealthy residents, willing to invest in new local, media, digital startups. But these wealthy people won't waste their money. What's needed first are ideas people who are willing to make the startups work if provided with startup funding. The investors like to bet on sure things.

That Daily Beast journalist's tweet continued with:

I know people care about local sports and local schools and local crime, which should give a paper plenty to do. I also know that the path most papers have taken -- cut the staff, run a bunch of wire copy -- is totally insane.

Local sports, yes. Local schools and crime, not so much, at least not enough to fund a local media org.

People follow crime reports by subscribing to neighborhood Facebook pages. People probably discuss schools on social media too.

I doubt many people are interested in the minutes from a public school board meeting, which is unfortunate.

But all things local sports seems to have a lot of interest. The first local digital media startup should focus on sports because if that fails, then covering politics is probably doomed. Obviously, any failures could be attributed to poor execution and not the lack of interest by local residents for the topic.

In my opinion, a local sports media org would have the best chance of succeeding first. If that happens, then someone might be inspired to launch a local media org that focuses on other topics.

If local residents get accustomed to funding a local sports media org, then they might be interested in funding another local media org that covers other topics of interest.

Blaming mom-and-pop businesses and denigrating grandpas accomplishes nothing. He's a Twitter user. He's probably more interested in useless snark than producing anything meaningful.

That Daily Beast journalist represents the decline of the open web. The media's dependence upon silos harms the open web.

https://mobile.twitter.com/NoahShachtman?p=s

@thedailybeast's Editor in Chief. Back in the day: @Wired, @ForeignPolicy, @BrookingsFP. noah.shachtman@protonmail.ch PGP: bit.ly/2F08XmX
noahshachtman.com

Hey, he has website that uses his own domain name. Cool. But the last post to his website was dated 2013. The link pointed to a Wired article that he wrote. No blog section on his website. Not cool.

He has made over 45,000 tweets though. Not cool. He could have reality detachment. With that much Twitter activity, he most likely wallows in a filter bubble, an echo chamber, a vacuum.

It's hypocritical for journalists or media people to criticize big tech when the media people are heavy users of big tech, instead of posting their thoughts on their own websites. Or at least copying their silo content to their own websites.

And this is one of the worst practices that occurs on the web, and too many journalists do this:

Instead of posting a WEB LINK to the WEBPAGE, the knucklehead contributed to the media's war on the web by taking a screenshot of the TEXT statement and making a tweet with the attached IMAGE. ???

And naturally, the journalists invent an excuse for such an obnoxious practice: it's a workaround to Twitter's 140 char/280 char post limitation.

Uh, yeah. Blogging or simple CMS tools were created in the late 1990s and early aughts that allowed individuals to post content to their own personal websites. I began using the small blogging tool Greymatter in 2001 to manage my first blog. I could create long text posts nearly 20 years ago.

The journalists could help the open web and maybe encourage more social media users to embrace the open web if the journalists promoted content, hosted on their personal websites, and if the journalists promoted the idea of feeds and using feed readers. I wish that journalists would lead by example, regarding the open web. Their actions could inspire some social media users to launch their own personal websites, which would grow the open web.

It does not have be a binary choice between the open web and silos. Users can enjoy both. The IndieWeb concepts make it easier to enjoy both, especially for Twitter users.

Imagine how the media could help the open web and the IndieWeb if journalists attended IndieWeb Camps and wrote about their experiences, and the journalists maintained their own personal websites that supported Webmentions and interacting with Twitter from their personal websites.

But nope. It's much easier for the journalists to use Twitter to bitch, whine, piss, and moan about big tech. The journalists may be unaware that they are contributing to the demise of the open web.

When social media users observe journalists and media orgs using social media heavily, then why should users visit the websites of media orgs?

Social media users rely on native mobile apps. If journalists posted to their own personal websites, maybe more users would be aware of the old URL concept and visit websites directly or access websites via feed readers, including websites managed by media orgs, provided that the media simplified their websites, making them usable.

I wish that the media would focus on their own domains, instead of promoting social media from their domains.

Journalists have grown severely addicted to Twitter. They probably won't admit that, but it seems true. Journalists invent excuses as to why they MUST use Twitter.

Allegedly, the cesspool of the internet is the best place to get breaking news, which is synonymous with incorrect news.

The journalists' heavy use of Twitter has contributed to bogus stories spreading wildly. Too many journalists share bogus stories without taking the time to ensure that the stories are correct.

This fast pace misinforms people, and the media is partly responsible. I wish that the media would embrace the Slow News Movement.

The journalists rationalize why they MUST use the cesspool of the internet while chastising others for using Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc.

Regarding the social media silos, the journalists and the media orgs have adopted the "Do as I say and not as I do" attitude.

The media pushes for government regulation of big tech, but did the newspaper industry complain about its monopoly or near monopoly on local advertising, especially classifieds and their outrageous pricing "back in the day?"

When the local newspapers dominated the local ad market, that was okay. But when newspaper advertising gets replaced by big tech, then it's a problem.

The Blade had no issue with suing the Toledo Free Press out of business earlier this decade for a petty issue. The TFP began around 2005 as a free weekly newspaper. A few years later, it added a second printing that focused on arts and entertainment.

Why was the Blade worried about a free, twice-a-week newspaper? Because the TFP attracted advertisers that might have advertised with the Blade. The Blade filed a frivolous lawsuit against the TFP that got hung up in the courts, costing the TFP too much money.

One of the founders of the TFP previously worked for the Blade. The TFP ran a cartoon that criticized the Blade owners or something like that. Somehow, that editorial violated some kind of separation agreement with the Blade.

If the TFP struggled or was only a small, twice a month newspaper like the Toledo City Paper, then the Blade probably would not have sued the TFP. But the TFP enjoyed good success by 2010, and that probably alarmed the Blade for some reason.

The Blade had the money to tie the case up in the courts for years. The Blade got what it wanted: the closure of a local media org.

The Blade had the money not because it's profitable but because the other businesses owned by the Block family are profitable. The Block family's other businesses, such as the internet and cable TV divisions, subsidize the Toledo Blade's existence.

In my opinion, the Blade's actions toward a popular local newspaper appeared to be:

When I see stories about the decline of the local daily newspaper industry, I think about our daily newspaper, the Toledo Blade, forcing the closure of a useful, twice-a-week local newspaper.

The Blade contributed to the decline of local media coverage for Toledo.

I'm digital subscriber to the Blade. I chose the $9.99 per month option, instead of the $100 per year option. I want the option to cancel immediately.

I started my Blade digital subscription in March 2019, about a month ago.

I created my own web app to read the Blade simply and efficiently. My Blade reading web app subscribes to the following RSS feeds.

I only access the sports feed because the stories by the Blade's outdoor writer are unfortunately mixed in with the sports.

Last fall, the Blade introduced its latest hideous web design. The article content is not stored within HTML tags. It's stored in JSON. The Blade's new web design requires JavaScript to display text.

But since each article page contains the article content in JSON, then my web app fetches the page, parses out the JSON, and displays the article to me. I do not store article pages on the server. My web app creates and displays the articles to me dynamically.

It's a simple, lightweight, and effective way to read the Blade. I do not share my web app with anyone. This setup bypasses the Blade's lame metered paywall design and most importantly, it displays news to me without ads, JavaScript, trackers, etc.

This is the best designed media website: https://text.npr.org, but NPR's funding model allows for such a design.


Dave Winer's Apr 2, 2019 media thoughts.

http://scripting.com/2019/04/02/132922.html

A week from this coming Saturday I'll give a keynote talk at the ISOJ conference in Austin. The way it works is I talk for 20 minutes or so, then I answer questions from the host, Rebecca MacKinnon and from the audience. Here's my current thoughts on how to approach it.

I'll start by showing the cartoon done by a Pulitzer-prize winning editorial cartoonist about the bloggers who were invited to the DNC in Boston in 2004. I was one of them.

The cartoon betrays a point of view. His was that bloggers only had a PC, where reporters covering the DNC had a wealth of experience. It's a bold, condescending, arrogant statement and it's nonsense.

I was 49 that year. My credentials at the time were just as impressive as his. I had a good education from a good school. I had spent decades proving myself in my field and had risen to the top. I had invented a bunch of technology that were in very wide use, and would form the foundation for all computer networking to come.

I had been writing my blog for nine years at that point, and if I do say so myself, was a good writer. We were in the process of starting podcasting at the time. And I was just one of the DNC bloggers. The others were just as accomplished. You had to be someone special to be at the DNC in 2004.

If he had bothered to find out who he was dissing, if he had any humility at all, he would have been embarrassed to be so wrong. Yet this is so much of what bloggers heard from professional news people.

I don't mention this because my feelings were hurt, rather because it's a blind spot that has kept journalism from rising to the opportunity that is the two-way web. It's why Facebook is growing like a weed, and journalism is collapsing.

Journalists could survive without Twitter if the journalists embraced the open web/IndieWeb by using:

This approach would help reduce the rapid spread of bogus stories by journalists. This approach would reduce the reliance on the big tech social media silos that the journalists bitch so much about.

By embracing the Slow Web Movement and the Slow News Movement, I don't think that the journalists would fall behind in the local news cycle. They might believe that they are not current on the news, but if the goal is to inform the public, then the focus should be on correct news and not breaking news that could be incorrect.

Too many times it seems that the media embraces the motto that it's better to be first and fast than correct. An incorrect story can always be corrected later when nobody is paying attention.

Despite my criticism of the media industry and journalists, I would have loved to have been a journalist 20-plus years ago and to be a journalist today, especially if the job relied a lot on writing and data analysis.

As a journalist, I would also learn some computer programming in languages like Python, Lua, or JavaScript, or if the job required a lot of data analysis, then maybe the R language.

I would also learn about web design and typography. As a journalist today, I would want to be familiar with HTML, CSS, and client-side JavaScript. I would experiment with creating server-side and client-side web programming and design.

That tech knowledge would co-exist with traditional training that occurs with being a journalist, such as interviewing, research, writing, and editing.

I think that being a journalist would be one of the best jobs to have today, despite the industry's woes.

I had hoped that my Stepdaughter would seek a career in journalism. When she was in high school, I encouraged her to write for the school paper, which she did in her first three years of high school. In her freshman year, I edited her stories. When she was a senior in high school, however, she wanted to focus on other studies.

She graduated from the University of Toledo but not with a degree in journalism, like I had hoped, but she graduated with degrees in psychology and nursing. I guess that's okay :)

Since graduating college, she has worked as a nurse, and she's currently pursuing a degree to be a nurse practitioner. She has helped a lot of people, and it's great to have medical professionals in the family. Her husband is also a nurse. We ask them a lot of medical questions, and they provide great answers.

Maybe one of my four nieces or one of my grand-kids will become a journalist some day. I'd like to see a family member create investigative stories that cover local issues.

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