Newspaper of the future

August 27, 2007

The Southern Newspaper Publishers Association is seeking the best and the brightest takes on what “newspapers” will look like in 10 years. The SNPA is looking for “revolutionary inventions that connect and engage readers by redefining how news is presented.”poster

Anyone can enter. The cash prize for the winning entry is $2,000. Deadline for entries is September 15, 2007.

As the contest rules advise, money isn’t a consideration, nor is technology only currently available. The newspaper of 2017 could be distributed on electronic paper. The SNPA is looking for innovative ideas, not business plans. The contest is seeking to push newspapers to imagine new concepts and propel them into stimulating debates.

Here’s how we will play: With your posts, let’s crowdsource a 2017 news publication. Let’s build on each other’s ideas and comments. If we are coherent enough, I will pull together a submission and send it in. If we aren’t, it will have been a useful exercise, forcing us as it will to consider the limitations of contemporary media and news publications, and to contemplate where technologies (Wimax, mobile Web, etc.) are taking us. First one to wade into the idea pool gets a Peppermint Patty.

complete contest information

(What happens if we win? We’ll split the money!)

Leetspeak? Pwning?

August 23, 2007

A fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, August 23, on leetspeak, or an evolving language or vernacular from the world of online gaming. And the reporter, Christopher Rhoads, did a nice job presenting the topic. his lede:

TEh INTeRn3T i5 THr3@+EN1N9 t0 Ch@n93 thE W4Y wE $p34k.

(Translation: The Internet is threatening to change the way we speak.)

My question, and I’d like JoMC 711 folks to chime in here (and hurry; WSJ migrates public content behind its archive walls fairly quickly), is whether in terms of linguistic development this in fact represents progress or regression? It’s an oft-repeated debate — emoticons had us writing profs all in a tizzy — but one worth revisiting, especially given how popular gaming has become. The videogame industry dwarfs the film industry in terms of sales.

Also take a look at the feature the WSJ added to its online presentation of Rhoads’ story. It juxtaposes leetspeak with everyday English using excerpts from one of the interviews he did. I like that use of online to add a layer of information to the story and another dimension to the reader’s experience.

Footnote: “Leet” apparently is slang for ‘good’ or ‘great.’ It also can mean or refer to a soft-finned fish.

Footnote2: Lake Superior State University this year included “pwn” on its annual list of banned words and phrases — those it considers misused, overly used and just plain useless. Others on the list included “awesome” and “Gitmo” (shorthand for Guantanamo Bay).

Can newspapers make your refrigerator smell good?

August 17, 2007

Newspaper circulation’s long-term declines are well-documented, and a new study (.pdf download) from the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics & Public Policy highlights the shift away from push media (newspapers and broadcast) to online pull media (, RSS, Yahoo’s portal page). This shift is comprehensive and permanent, a reality newspapers are grappling with. Shorenstein examined traffic to 160 news-based Web sites and found that while the sites of national “brand-name” newspapers are growing, those of many local papers are not.

Newspaper circulations, from State of the News Media

“Our evidence suggests that the Internet is redistributing the news audience in a way that is pressuring some traditional news organizations,” according to the report. “Product substitution through the Web is  particularly threatening to the print media, whose initial advantage as a “first mover” has all but  disappeared.

Part of the problem for newspapers transitioning to online is perhaps related to self-perception. What business are newspapers in? The newspaper business? In 1960, Theodore Levitt wrote in the Harvard Business Review an article titled “Marketing Myopia,” in which he analyzed the railroads’ economic problems. (Read the article by downloading the .pdf. Thanks to Professor Phil Meyer for the reference to this classic reading. Wikipedia has a robust entry on the article and its legacy.) The railroads thought of themselves as being in the railroad business rather than the transportation business. They thought they had a monopoly, but they failed to see new forms of competition collectively eating away at their core business.

As Professor Meyer explains in his book, The Vanishing Newspaper, the newspaper industry has four choices:

  • Think of another use for their product. Baking soda manufacturers marketed their product as an air or refrigerator freshener when their main purpose – cleaning teeth – was taken by toothpaste manufacturers.

  • Write and edit for those who are still buying and reading the printed product, the elderly. Not a good long-term strategy.
  • Enter the substitute industry, which for newspapers is online news delivery.
  • Or, as many corporate media companies are doing, harvest the business for whatever you can get before it goes under. Raise prices. Reduce quality by laying off editorial staff. Take the money and run, a la the Bancrofts and the Wall Street Journal.

It’s painful to watch. I grew up with newspapers. And sadder still is the imperiled state of original and investigative reporting. Government will be able to increasingly operate in darkness rather than light, and voters will have ever less information with which to inform their participation in our democracy. A more troubling question, in light of the popularity of celebrity media coverage and America’s fascination with the likes of Lohan and Hilton, is whether enough people care.

Unfortunate lynching metaphor

August 15, 2007

Several news outlets, including USA Today, MSNBC and local TV stations, are running a story about Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick with the unfortunate headline, “Noose tightens around Vick.” Vick is black, and he plays in the Deep South, where lynchings were common well into the 20th century. It’s insensitive at best, and to see how many news outlets are running the headline without editing it speaks to how automated news delivery has become.

The virus began with the Associated Press, as best I can tell from doing searches, which ran the headline, “Noose tightens around Vick at amazing speed,” a story by AP writer Tim Dahlberg. (Reporters rarely write their own headlines, by the way.)

I feel the AP should at least acknowledge that the headline might offend, recommending to its subscribers some alternates, perhaps employing safer metaphors, like hot water or collapsing pockets for QBs. What do you think?

The First Amendment and the National Football League

August 7, 2007

I’m grateful that the NFL censored, and censured, “Neon” Deion Sanders. In trampling over the First Amendment, the corporate entity that is the NFL reminded us all that, like any corporation, like all corporations, it has no soul, and it seeks only what is good for its own bottom line, its own shareholders.

We like to think that companies like Apple, Google, the NFL and Major League Baseball seek good over evil. We don’t like to be confronted with the fact that the decision really is between what will generate a profit and what will not, though sometimes, oftentimes, what brings profit is also what is deemed good. Remember Google bending over backwards to appease the Chinese government, screening search findings and pulling off pro-democracy key terms and search hits? Remember MLB declaring all ticket re-sales illegal until it discovered it could make good money at it, then diving in head first with eBay’s StubHubto get a big piece of the action?

I don’t begrudge the NFL’s right to essentially duct tape Deion’s mouth (for lots of reasons). What I do object to is the League’s exempting itself from the First’s provisions while at the same time wrapping itself up in patriotism. The red-white-blue logo, the patriotic theme music for MNF, the Cowboys as America’s team, and on ad nauseum. A corporate monster like the NFL should not be able to have it both ways, but we are a gullible people with very short memories. And we love our football — much, much more than we do the First Amendment. DOH!

In the more recent controversy, in which the NFL is requiring photographers on the sidelines to sport endorsement-laden, brand happy photog vests, the NFL again is defecating on the First Amendment, this time compelling commercial speech by photojournos just trying to do their jobs. What if you don’t want Reebok on your chest? Get another job.

The NFL’s response to photog complaints? If photogs feel so strongly about their ethics, stay away from the games. Note the arrogance. I sincerely hope many do boycott the league, but I also know there is too much money involved and too much fan interest that will override these ethical impulses. I’ll still be pulling for my mighty fish, but with mixed emotions, and with LOTS of commercial interruptions.