(Since there was no review last week, this review is covering the last two weeks.)
Big cuts in the Big Easy: Three weeks after news of the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s cutback to three-day-a-week publication broke, the other shoe dropped this week, as Advance Publications laid off about 200 of the paper’s employees, including almost half the newsroom. About 400 employees at Advance’s Alabama papers were let go, too, making it one of the largest rounds of layoffs in recent American newspaper history. Poynter’s Steve Myers has a great link-filled survey of the carnage, while The New York Times’ Campbell Robertson portrayed the scene in New Orleans.
The people of New Orleans were, needless to say, not pleased, and they expressed their disapproval of Advance in a variety of ways. A group of major local businesses and civic organizations formed to try to stop the changes to the paper, and several major TP advertisers signed on. A “Save Our Picayune” rally drew hundreds, and the nonprofit New Orleans news org The Lens captured the deep connection between the city’s residents and its paper in a photo essay, while Poynter’s Julie Moos examined the story behind it.
Advance responded to the protests by saying it wouldn’t back down from its plans and publishing a thoughtful column on the roots of the paper’s changes, but it was also facing criticism from outside the city as well. The American Journalism Review’s Rem Rieder criticized Advance for burying the news of its layoffs while trumpeting a positive video to readers about their coming changes. Jason Berry of The Nation gathered a variety of expert opinions, including “This is a breathtaking gamble” and “This is one of the dumbest decisions by any newspaper publisher ever.”
Advance is modeling the online transition of the TP and its Alabama papers after its former newspaper in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a decision that has brought quite a bit of disdain. Mary Morgan, publisher of another online news org in that city, the Ann Arbor Chronicle, described what she saw as a superficial approach to its community. At the Atlantic, John McQuaid said Advance’s online strategy is more focused on gathering clicks than doing comprehensive journalism, and at the Columbia Journalism Review, New Orleanian Harry Shearer said Advance is taking a cookie-cutter approach to journalism. Fortune’s Dan Mitchell agreed, saying, “Advance’s decision isn’t an investment in the digital future — it’s simply proof that Advance wants to squeeze every nickel it can out of the operation as quickly as possible.” CJR’s Ryan Chittum made a similar point, expressing his disappointment that the paper is gutting its newsroom and moving to a “hamster-wheel” approach online.
The Lab’s Adrienne LaFrance looked to a different model — Detroit, whose two newspapers cut daily delivery down to three days a week in 2009. She looked at the differences between the two cities and also addressed the possibility that people simply won’t miss the print paper.
The futures of print and paywalls: The discussion about the Times-Picayune also bled into a couple of bigger debates about where the news industry is (or should be) headed. The largest one focused on what role print media should have in newspapers’ future, as both the New York Times and American Journalism Review ran features focusing on the potential benefits and dangers for newspapers in moving to a digital-centric approach. The Times looked in particular at the hamster-wheel effect of chasing pageviews in a digital-first context, while AJR looked at the possible importance of targeting niches and experimenting with different models.
GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram argued that doing digital journalism makes news organizations just another voice and doing it well costs lots of money, so if you’re shifting primarily as a cost-cutting move (as Advance seems to be), you shouldn’t expect to retain your authoritative voice. The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade disagreed about the nature of authority online, but agreed that publishers are seeing the move to digital as a cost-cutting measure rather than a way to aggressively move journalism forward.
Reuters’ Jack Shafer put the issue in a different way, describing newspapers “liquidating their goodwill” — by raising prices, cutting delivery days, and shedding reporting costs — as a way of trying to extract money out of their properties before their useful life is up. The news execs cheapening their products might protest that they’re still pouring investment into their papers, Shafer said, but “if you’re winding your company down with no strategy to wind it up, you’re burning goodwill even if you don’t acknowledge it.” Ingram seized on that point and urged newspaper execs to have a real plan for digital reinvention.
The other debate that flowed out of the mess in New Orleans regarded paywalls, stemming from David Simon’s May Columbia Journalism Review post arguing that failures like the Times-Picayune’s will continue occurring until newspapers start charging for online content. Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon gave some highlights of the long discussion in the comments of that piece, and The Batavian’s Howard Owens responded with a comprehensive CJR post of his own listing 10 arguments against news paywalls. CJR blogger Ryan Chittum took up Simon’s cause, issuing a response to each of Owens’ points. At the Harvard Business Review, Justin Fox said it really doesn’t matter what Advance and other newspapers do — the industry has been doomed for a while, and Advance is just trying to get out in front of the collapse.
Apple and Facebook vs. Google: Apple held another product release announcement this week, and, as usual, the tech press went ga-ga over it. If you’re an Apple geek, you probably already know all the details, but if you want to gorge yourself on specs, features, and screenshots, Techmeme has everything you need. The big new product was Apple’s iOS 6, the new platform on which the iPhone, iPad, and iPod will eventually run. TechCrunch has a good rundown of its features, as well as a few quick thoughts.
As part of its announcement, Apple introduced a new laptop, gave an update on its new desktop operating system Mountain Lion, and unveiled an iOS 6 feature called Passbook that integrates all kinds of passes and tickets. (It did not, however, open up Apple TV to outside developers, as some had expected.)
One particularly interesting announcement was the deep integration of Facebook into iOS 6, including quick sharing, Siri integration, and sharing from the App Store and Game Center. Josh Constine of TechCrunch said Apple seems to be borrowing Facebook’s social graph rather than trying to do social tech itself, and The Next Web’s Drew Olanoff said Apple’s new side-by-side display of Facebook and Twitter functions could lead users to see Facebook as the superior network. CNET’s Larry Dignan, on the other hand, saw the Facebook integration as an oversharing nightmare waiting to happen.
There were relatively few big-picture reflections on the announcements: Tech blogger John Gruber saw an anti-Google tint to the proceedings, and Business Insider laid out the ways Apple is going after Google’s products and “trying to make the web irrelevant.” And here at the Lab, Joshua Benton had a few takeaways for news orgs, including advice to prepare for people to expect to talk to your app and the use of Passbook for news org membership models.
Making curation count: A little update on the ongoing conversation surrounding online curation and aggregation of content: It flared up a couple of weeks ago after a speaker was quoted as saying that curation was “replacing creation as a form of self-expression.” That set off The Awl’s Choire Sicha, who said curation was an awful, arrogant word for something that’s actually just collecting other people’s creative work as part of a secondary market. Editor Erin Kissane and Pocket’s Mark Armstrong both defended the practice of curation (if not the term itself) and advised a collaborative approach to improving it as a technique and as a business model.
Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon summarized the discussion, tying it to a satirical post by the Washington Post’s Michael Cavna. On the practical level, the Lab’s Justin Ellis described how one curator, Dan Shanoff, was able to turn his hand-picked sports aggregation site Quickish into something valuable (it was bought this week by Gannett), and Digital First Media’s Steve Buttry and Mandy Jenkins outlined their vision for the news curation team they’re hiring.
Reading roundup: Bunches of smaller stories and and discussions bubbling up over the past couple of weeks. Here’s a quick summary:
— In a significant case for the TV and online video industries, the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating several cable companies for possible antitrust violations in limiting online video use by the broadband Internet customers as a way to keep people from cutting the cord on cable. The story was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, and Mike Masnick of Techdirt laid out the government’s case, which he says is a good one. Fortune, GigaOM and All Things D have analyses of what this might mean for consumers. In a related development, YouTube’s head talked about the possibility of selling paid subscriptions to its videos.
— The social activism-focused magazine GOOD, launched in 2006, laid off most of its staff two weeks ago. The publication’s executives reportedly wanted to become “a Reddit for social good,” though they denied that characterization. The laid-off staffers are going to produce one last magazine issue together, and they’re calling it Tomorrow. Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon and The Atlantic’s Alexander Abad-Santos have good postmortems on what went wrong at GOOD.
— The Chicago Tribune reported that its owner, the Tribune Co., is close to emerging from bankruptcy after three and a half years there, and Ad Age reported that the company would probably sell some of its major assets, including the Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. Reuters’ Jack Shafer looked at the possible futures of the Tribune Co.’s papers, and it wasn’t pretty.
— Warren Buffett continues to dive deeper into the newspaper industry, buying up a 3.2% stake in the Lee Enterprises newspaper chain as well as a small daily paper in Texas. Buffett explained his strategy to Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast, and Andrew Beaujon of Poynter pitted that strategy against Advance’s web-based one.
— AOL survived a fight from some of its major investors who believe that the hyperlocal journalism model they’ve pursued with Patch is a fatally flawed one, as Bloomberg Businessweek’s Felix Gillette outlined. AOL had some positive numbers to throw at them this week, as Patch has posted its best traffic numbers ever.
— Finally, a couple of the many thought-provoking pieces posted over the past couple of weeks: The Lab’s Adrienne LaFrance examined newsrooms’ attitude toward innovation through the lens of the hypothetical (or maybe not so hypothetical!) “smart refrigerator strategy.” And Arizona State j-prof Tim McGuire delivered his manifesto on the state of journalism and what news organizations should and shouldn’t be doing in a rapidly changing media environment.