Sips from the Firehose

Apr 22

A Path Forward: Teaching Entrepreneurs How To Survive

Posted: under Digital Migration.
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I edited the Starting Point report; we studied 60 professors in 14 countries to learn how students were being taught digital business skills

cover of starting point research project entrepreneurship sembramedia
Published in three languages – click to download the PDF version in English

In 2019, it is more evident than ever that traditional media is still locked in a death spiral. The Cleveland Plain Dealer used to have 350 reporters & editors. Now it has 33.

“…overall newsroom employment dropped nationally by 23 percent and in newspaper newsrooms employment dropped by 45 percent. More than 2,400 media jobs have been eliminated so far this year…”

Pew Research Center analysis of Bureau of Labor statistics

We’re seeing the effects of this cycle of destruction everywhere; the entire concept of truth itself is under assault. The digital platforms that were supposed to step to the fore and provide this wonderful place where news & information would flow freely, have instead become the darkest and most malignant part of the problem.

“Not our problem,” they say, as they instead concentrate on maximizing profit. Meanwhile, democratic societies are waking up to realize that when tragedies and violent attacks happen, the first thing that needs to be done is not to rely on social media to pick up and report the truth … no, those heady days that I chronicled here in this space of “citizen journalists” getting the truth out about the Fukushima reactor meltdown …

… those days have been replaced by performative social media-fueled massacres. To defang these terrorists, Sri Lanka shut down Facebook and YouTube.

In this environment, we need actual journalists and news reporters more than ever. But how do we teach them to survive in such a chaotic digital environment?

I’ve written extensively here & elsewhere over the years about what I call the “Great Digital Migration.” To extend this metaphor, if we’re going to be going from the place where we’ve been – traditional media – to an ultimate destination that is still somewhat uncertain, we are going to need some kind of direction.

Or we’re just going to wander around aimlessly until we run out of resources. Which is a pretty fair description of what the last 15 years have been like for the “mainstream media.”

The biggest takeaway from the research is that we are still in dire need of professors who have the skills & experience as digital entrepreneurs, so they can teach students a realistic view of the media ecosystem they’re about to find themselves scratching out a living in.

We need more of these smart, committed, passionate teachers.

I’ve had to deliver a reality check to my own students; it’s why I worked so hard to try to give them skills that were applicable to other careers.

Many of the professors interviewed said that
understanding this tectonic shift is crucial to
comprehending what it really means when we talk
about entrepreneurial journalism.

“One of the most complex issues for me is having my
students understand the importance of entrepreneurial
journalism in the context of our country,” says Abraham
Torres from Mexico.

Elizabeth Saad from Brazil says that her students
come to the course with a “distorted” idea of what
journalism is actually like these days: “They think
they’re going to work in the newsroom and go out onto
the street to report. Things have changed a lot.”

Juan Luis Manfredi is convinced that entrepreneurial
journalism is real, not a fad, adding: “The reality is that
launching your own entrepreneurial journalism project
is going to be the most likely way to find a job.”

The sad fact is that in the near-to-mid term, most young journalists are going to have to either accept “hamster wheel journalism” at digital outfits that are desperately chasing clicks … or just quit the profession in favor of PR or consulting (as so many of my former students have done).

Those who want to stick with journalism as a career are going to have to DIY things. The bad news is that there are still significant barriers to building an audience while simultaneously building solid revenue streams.

The good news is that it can be done.

We just need to teach young journalists what that looks like.

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Apr 17

The Great Digital Migration: A Long, Featureless Trudge Into … What, Exactly?

Posted: under Digital Migration, newspaper crisis, Newspaper Deathwatch.
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27 Print Dollars for $1 Digital; Social News; Papers in Trouble; Kodak v. Fuji

I posted this picture via Twitpic earlier today, and my digital brethren quickly chimed in on how much they felt like this in their daily lives. And I get it. Working in the media industry these days is far, far different from the way it was when the journalists of my generation got into the biz. Looking back at recordings from the early 90s, I am struck by how much free time we all seem to have had back then – these days, you feel like you can’t take your eyes off your Twitter feed for even a second, lest you miss the Next Big Meme and are thus branded as a digital troglodyte who “just doesn’t get it.”

people walk across sand dunes in a vast desert

Strung out and exhausted, journalists are wondering when this migration ends, or even when they might run across a handy signpost telling them which way to go. (click to embiggen)

So yeah, if you feel like you’re lost in the desert and that the only future involves your bones bleaching in the sun next to a steer skull … well, maybe it’s because most newsrooms these days evoke the feeling you get when wandering through any of the weathered ghost towns that dot the arid landscape in Arizona and Nevada, left behind when the seams of gold and silver petered out.

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Nov 12

Newspapers’ Dying Swan Song: SF Chronicle Tries Glossy Paper, Splashy Color

Posted: under Digital Migration, infographic, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers.
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Print die-hards claimed that all that was needed to reverse the audience migration to the internet was to make newspapers more “lively” in appearance. Early verdict: looks pretty, but the advertising still isn’t there, and that sound you heard was Mort Zuckerman puking and weeping over in the corner.

I’ve been in the Bay Area for a convention of “[fill in blank] for Dummies” authors and various business meetings, and I’ve taken the opportunity to scope out what the San Francisco Chronicle has been doing with its much-ballyhooed investment in glossy magazine-style paper for the front pages of its sections, and the use of high-quality color images.

SF Chronicle - Front Page Wraparound Ad

This is a strategy that is also being pursued in New York by NY Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman, who has invested more than he would like to admit to (millions? hundreds of millions?) into high-tech printing presses, capable of churning out massive print runs with razor-sharp color. The 15-tower, triple-width ultra-compact Commander CT press looks a lot like the last-generation Nikon F6 film camera. It was the apex of film technology, what many analysts recognized at the time as “the perfect camera” — but that alas, was rolled out just as every working professional made the move to use digital.

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