Monday, November 10, 2008

Print, pixels, and objectivity

Unfortunately I must resort to this blog as my primary means of communication with our readers, as one of our editorials has been censored and I cannot use the printed page to convey news, information, and opinion to you all.

The editorial was pulled not because it was factually inaccurate or used inappropriate language, but because it's nature was self-deprecating. Though this editorial may have been self-depricating to the printed page and to the tradition of it as we have come to know it so far it is - in fact - a matter of actual events that are occurring as we speak.

I have grown up with comics on Sunday mornings. I've come to love getting ink smudges on my fingers from combing through the paper. I love searching the internet for news but it doesn't come close to holding a sudoku in my hands or folding the page containing the crossword into quarters. I need the smell of ink in the morning as much as I need the smell of coffee or orange juice. There is something of a visceral osmosis that occurs from holding the front page and taking in the printed pictures, the headlines, and the saw-toothed edges of the page. Newspapers are my life, and I love the printed page.

That said, it would take an incredible amount of ignorance, arrogance, and narrow vision to dismiss the massive trends sweeping printed media, namely the hard times that our fellow media members are experiencing at papers like the Chicago Tribune, LA Times, and Christian Science Monitor. We don't welcome them, we don't like them, quite obviously, but the fact of the matter is this; news is moving to electronic format and away from the tradition of the major daily. Is it sad? Surely. But it's hard fact, and to deny that fact is simply dishonest.

Neal Schuett has written a solid editorial that discusses some of these changes, and I was made aware of the fact that it will not be running well after deadline Thursday night. This is not my decision, and I have unsuccessfully appealed it, and will continue those efforts as I think ignoring editorial content and/or news because we (as professionals) do not care for it's intonations is completely against what journalism is about.

Though we may have disagreements from time to time (now being one of those times), please understand that I am immensely proud of my fellow staff at the Daily Iowan. Even those that I may disagree with. They are people of incredible talent, and they make decisions that they believe are best for the paper. They are not without integrity, and they are good people. They have nothing but my utmost respect.

I'll keep you all updated and inform you of any news. Thank you for your readership.

Nate Whitney


As the editorial in question will never see printed page, I have been granted permission to run it, in full, here on The Podium.

I hope that in reading this we can further a discussion on these issues, because they ARE out there and they ARE happening, and a frank discourse with our readership concerning these issues is imperative, if only because I feel - as journalists - it's our job to bring you all the information that's available to us, and not just the things we care to talk about.


The Monitor: Harbinger of Change or Kiss of Death?

On October 28, 2008, just under a century after the Christian Science Monitor first began publication, Editor John Yemma announced that the Monitor will shift in April 2009 to a predominately online news site with a weekly print magazine. In an industry that is witnessing circulation numbers slip and a steep decline in revenue, the Monitor’s decision to go almost completely paperless is an experiment many fear signals the end of an era.

Almost every American is familiar with the Norman Rockwell-esque picture of the family bread winner with a cup of hot coffee in one hand and with the other holding the daily newspaper as the kids sit down at the breakfast table to eat. Rockwell’s memoriam to the quintessential American family has gone wireless. Mom in her office with her morning brew staring at a computer screen while Dad tinkers with his BlackBerry and kids listen to their iPod Touch doesn’t invoke the same warm fuzzy feeling. Morning routines are completed with checking e-mail and reading RSS feeds at broadband speed instead of taking the time to peruse the Wall Street Journal or complete the New York Times Crossword.

The Chicago Tribune reported that when New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. was asked about whether the Old Gray Lady will still be in print ten years from now he responded, “The heart of the answer must be we don’t care. But we do care.” Traditionalists cling to the print form as a symbol erudite American culture. However, nostalgia for reading daily prints certainly hasn’t stopped the five percent decrease in circulation, reported by the Audit Bureau, over the last six months. Nor has it stopped the decline in revenue from print advertisements. Faced with less revenue, the Tribune reports even Time, Inc. and Gannett Co. are laying off six percent and ten percent of their work force respectfully.

During an economic crisis, consumers won’t tolerate the rising subscription fees for daily and weekly prints when they are struggling to pay the utility bills. Furthermore, tech-savvy consumers are demanding online forums, interactive news feeds, and up-to-the-second news updates all to be at their fingertips via their mobile phones or at the click of a button. News prints are cumbersome, wasteful, and are becoming less cost-efficient in comparison to the free blogs and RSS feeds popping up on the Internet daily. Why subscribe to the Times, the Post, or the Tribune for information that comes up for free in Google Reader when you open your Internet browser?

While iGoogle widgets themselves may be free to users, as anyone at the Daily Iowan can tell you, the news won’t deliver or write itself. Your favorite blogger, Facebook notes, and Twitter feeds depend on someone to relay and compile the news as it happens around the globe. The future of news may be online; however, it won’t be free of charge. Selling online ad space alone won’t pay for the cost of running a newspaper. The Christian Science Monitor’s profits depend largely on daily subscription fees. Even with the move to a predominately online medium, Managing Publisher Jonathan Wells told the Tribune, “Ad revenues from our Web site and circulation revenue from our print and e-news editions form the basis of our business model” (emphasis added).

Hopefully the Monitor’s great experiment will work; thus, encouraging more national and international papers to take the plunge into unknown future that is e-news. Switching to paperless news mediums will lower production costs, decrease the amount of fuel and energy required to print and deliver a daily paper, and it will decrease the substantial amount of waste that is created by once-read daily prints. Traditionalists may be resistant to an e-news future; however the Monitor’s resolve to go paperless should be supported as not only a smart business decision but an eco-friendly choice as well.


taco said...

I can only assume this editorial was scrapped because it's ten years past deadline. Welcome to 2008, Neal and Nate.

This is no longer cutting-edge journalism biz foresight. Every citizen who follows news is aware this is happening/has happened. It's not shocking anymore, not a newsmaker, not controversial, not preventable, not undo-able. Neal's final paragraph even acknowledges that it's not inherently good or bad, just a change of the times.

So, the point of writing an editorial on it now is what exactly?

Nate said...

Yes, Taco, it's old news so we should ignore it.

That's the point. Put down your lovely insults for a second and but your disgust for me and my staff aside and think about it from the standpoint of journalistic objectivity. Shouldn't we discuss these issues and not ignore them? It's being ignored because it doesn't behoove our financial interests to discuss it.

By all means, if you still miss the point, continue to rant away and insult us for not being as good as you could be in our position(s).

taco said...

So the point is not the content of the editorial, but the fact that it was rejected by "someone"?

I'm sorry, I'm not convinced that this dull Ric Romero-esque piece was a challenge to your corporate overlords and that the Daily Iowan is being oppressed based on the facts you've presented. You're part of the mtvU network and as entrenched in electronic publishing as any respectable local publication ought to be at this particular moment in time.

I've written stories that didn't make print either. Blaming a corporate conspiracy is a bit much for one story, unless you're witholding essential details in your blog posting.

If you're suggesting that you shouldn't have any editorial oversight at all and that DI writers ought to be able to spout off whatever insulated ignorant rantings they want without any experienced oversight - something that wouldn't come as a surprise to me given a number of the DI staff's deep involvement in the blogging community - I'm not in favor of that at all. That's the professional hurdle you have to rise above to distinguish uninformed personal opinion from informed journalistic opinion.

Nate said...

Excellent. Ric Romero? Nice.

Honestly, Taco, why would I make this up? To bump up the Podiums readership another ten hits or so a day? Big deal.

If you don't believe me, honestly I don't care. Your comment actually makes me feel better, because even if you did know the whole story you'd likely come up with some lame reason to dismiss it. You don't deserve that knowledge.

Have you emailed Christopher Patton yet?

taco said...

I never said you made anything up. I said I'm not convinced there's a story here. Unless you're not telling me something, this clearly got rejected because it's distantly behind the times. There's nothing controversial about it, much less interesting or thought-provoking. You have yet to explain to me what exactly your point is of sharing this besides to vent and blame your personal frustrations.

I also never respond to internet-tough-guy egotism. Chris won't discuss issues with me here on the blog when I'm rabid to. What exactly does he think I expect out of him in a physical confrontation? A sudden spark of understanding and brotherhood? I thought it was a bad joke the first time he suggested, I was apparently wrong.