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Newspapers Moving Beyond the Page

By Ben L. Kaufman · December 6th, 2006 · Media, Myself & I
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Gannett has told The Cincinnati Enquirer and the rest of its 90-plus dailies to recreate themselves for the world of Web sites, video, bloggers, Podcasts and technology not yet invented.

The morning paper's distinctive thud won't vanish immediately. Instead, Gannett "papers" will become 24/7 "information centers" that constantly deliver news in a "platform agnostic" approach using any medium consumers prefer . . . including newsprint for the foreseeable future.

Jargon aside, it's an innovative approach to the traditional task of bringing audiences to advertisers through news. It's also a survival issue as newspaper companies try to regain lost readers and advertising.

Changes have begun at The Enquirer. It must be exhilarating for some and scary for others. There will be casualties as traditional jobs are redefined.

Unlike ridicule that in 1982 greeted Gannett's USA Today as "McNews" or worse, the 24/7 information center is eliciting mostly positive, if sometimes guarded, responses from media commentators. Success won't go unnoticed by other papers that embraced USA Today's innovations as it matured into one of the better US papers today.

The Gannett reorganization promises micro news at the neighborhood level, a renewed commitment to watchdog journalism, greater interactive Internet conversations and potentially valuable "crowd sourcing" that invites the public to dig into problems and share what they know/learn with reporters.

However, the 24/7 information center also revives the "deadline every minute" pressure of news services, with the accompanying risk of losing the substance that fuller, critical reporting and skeptical, savvy editing often provided at daily papers.

To judge for yourself, see Gannett memos at The Cincinnati Enquirer and the rest of its 90-plus dailies to recreate themselves for the world of Web sites, video, bloggers, Podcasts and technology not yet invented.

The morning paper's distinctive thud won't vanish immediately. Instead, Gannett "papers" will become 24/7 "information centers" that constantly deliver news in a "platform agnostic" approach using any medium consumers prefer . . . including newsprint for the foreseeable future.

Jargon aside, it's an innovative approach to the traditional task of bringing audiences to advertisers through news. It's also a survival issue as newspaper companies try to regain lost readers and advertising.

Changes have begun at The Enquirer. It must be exhilarating for some and scary for others. There will be casualties as traditional jobs are redefined.

Unlike ridicule that in 1982 greeted Gannett's USA Today as "McNews" or worse, the 24/7 information center is eliciting mostly positive, if sometimes guarded, responses from media commentators. Success won't go unnoticed by other papers that embraced USA Today's innovations as it matured into one of the better US papers today.

The Gannett reorganization promises micro news at the neighborhood level, a renewed commitment to watchdog journalism, greater interactive Internet conversations and potentially valuable "crowd sourcing" that invites the public to dig into problems and share what they know/learn with reporters.

However, the 24/7 information center also revives the "deadline every minute" pressure of news services, with the accompanying risk of losing the substance that fuller, critical reporting and skeptical, savvy editing often provided at daily papers.

To judge for yourself, see Gannett memos at www.citybeat.com/2006-11-29/ gannett_plan.pdf.

· · ·

I love deadlines. They allow me to relax; nothing more can be done. When something newsworthy happens in the next hour or day, I must ignore it or ponder. The Nov. 7 election was such a moment. Here are some of the election issues I ponder:

Poll stories are easy. Someone does the work and you report the results. But why are polls news?

Candidates complain that unflattering information was released "for political reasons." Why is that news?

Reporters must set the agenda for candidates, not vice versa, and the The Enquirer's brief Q&A of candidates on various issues was a first step.

Ads that accurately criticize an opponent's record are more helpful than those in which the candidate promises to bring a mower in his '93 Buick and cut my lawn.

Campaign ads that distort an opponent's record and/or demonize him/her are meant to suppress the vote or deprive voters of accurate information. Such ads flout a bedrock purpose of the First Amendment: open and vigorous political speech that informs voters. With today's technology and the omnipresence of toxic political ads, we need adjudication of complaints and sanctions before campaigns end.

The Cincinnati Bar Association wisely damned GOP campaign ads that demeaned candidates who are criminal defense attorneys, especially public defenders, who, they said, defend "the worst of the worst." Providing indigent criminal defendants with competent attorneys protects their Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. This says everything about us but nothing about the accused. Objections spring from the same barbarism that opposes telling suspects that they have a Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate themselves.

Victorian voices resonate in our post-election rush to wash away the slime. Winston Churchill is credited with saying, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." Before that, evangelist Charles H. Spurgeon is said to have assured worshippers, "A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on" and "If you want truth to go round the world, you must hire an express train to pull it; but if you want a lie to go round the world, it will fly: It is as light as a feather, and a breath will carry it."

We need smarter reporting about "evangelicals." "Evangelical" has become the code word for white, anti-abortion, anti-gay Protestants who idolize Republicans. However, many blacks are anti-gay, anti-abortion and evangelical Protestants but vote Democratic.

Curmudgeon Notes

· Lots of Republicans shared Democrats' anxiety about the integrity of ballot counts and voted absentee. Last month the Hamilton County Board of Elections said 18,981 absentees voted for Ken Blackwell for governor of Ohio, while 19,461 voted for U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland; and 20,055 voted to re-elect U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, while 19,349 voted for U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown.

· Individuals are Democrats. It is the Democratic Party, not "Democrat Party," as Republicans have taught today's journalists.

· AP stories in the Enquirer and Post refer to new Ohio legislation affecting "registered guns." AP erred. Ohio has no gun registry. HB/SB 347 affect motorists with conceal/carry permits who carry loaded, concealed handguns. It is the person, not the weapon, whom the state licenses.

· The New York Times broke again with still-intimidated news media to show American casualties. It showcased strong reporting and vivid photos of funerals at Arlington National Cemetery and a Marine radio operator being wounded by a sniper in Iraq.

· Covering combat deaths of local military is no-win. If the news media make a big deal of it, they're accused of being insensitive or anti-Bush. If they don't, they're accused of being timid or pro-Bush.

· It's time to revisit a local soldier's widow to learn how she and the kid(s) are doing.

· Al Jazeera, the 10-year-old, Qatar-based and emir-financed Arabic satellite network, finally is broadcasting Al Jazeera English to complement its Arabic programs and english.aljazeera.net site. No major U.S. cable/satellite system has agreed to carry it, only GlobeCast plus three Internet sites: Jump TV, VDC and Fision. It also is to be streamed live on english.aljazeera.net. What don't American execs want us to see?

· University presidents rarely fault friendly local news media. But fearing he might be misunderstood, NKU President James Votruba sent out an all-hands e-mail last week, saying, in part, "Many of you may have seen yesterday's Enquirer article on my 10 years at NKU. The article quoted me as saying, 'This is my place.' In fact, what I said was, 'This (NKU) is my kind of place.' The misquote reflects language that I would not use. In fact, this is our place and, whatever success we've had over the past 10 years, is because we've worked together to make it happen."



Ben L. Kaufman teaches journalism ethics at Northern Kentucky University.
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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