Print media: We’re still here

Even as publications, GLBT and mainstream, continue to close their doors, there are a few of us in the newspaper business that think print media is going to hang on. Barely, mind you, but hang on nonetheless. Much of my tepid optimism comes from the fact that many of print’s online competitors, everything from blogs of all [...]

Print media: We’re still here Print media: We’re still here

Print media: We’re still here

Even as publications, GLBT and mainstream, continue to close their doors, there are a few of us in the newspaper business that think print media is going to hang on.

Barely, mind you, but hang on nonetheless.

Much of my tepid optimism comes from the fact that many of print’s online competitors, everything from blogs of all sort and type to such push-delivery services as Twitter, are already beginning to surpass the overkill stage. There is such a thing as saturation, and there’s only so much ad revenue to go around.

And it’s less about the delivery and all about the ads. Media outlets are businesses, something people often tend to forget. At a recent community forum at OutCentral, a few present vocalized their disappointment that Out & About only came out monthly. Others said they got all their news online, so they never picked the print version up. Another faction weighed in with the common-sense notion that a paper can only publish if it has healthy ad revenue, so if they want to see more frequent editions, support the advertising side of things.

For me, it’s all about content. A web component is great for putting out immediate news, which can then be followed up either online or in print in a much more in-depth fashion. Utilizing every available method to get the word out is good journalism. Now compare that to the vaunted blogosphere, much of which reads like this:

Blogger: I think the Tennessee Legislature is a pack of buffoons. ItchyGirl agrees with me (insert link to blog here), and so does RowdyBoy (insert link to blog here). Not surprisingly, GOPDude doesn’t (insert link to blog here). On balance, then, I’m right in saying that they’re a pack of fools. Please leave a comment, and be sure to click on the donations link so that independent blogging can continue!

That’s not journalism, and it’s a stretch to even call it op-ed material. But that’s what has been replacing the outlets that cover the county-commission meetings, which have the tedious stories about tax rates, which sit in on the legislature’s subcommittees. And when all of that mundane, boring, comprehensive and necessary coverage is gone, people will miss it. And they’ll want it back, whether in print, online or both.

The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s managing director, Michael Tune puts it this way:

“It’s awful about what’s happening to traditional media at the moment, but it’s incredibly interesting to see how those same people are coming up with new models to keep going forward. There’s a lot of negative press about journalism right now in terms of the closings, but there’s some optimism as well about what to expect.”

Tune compares print media to where movies found themselves as television was introduced. I think that’s whistling past the graveyard to a certain degree, in that the movie industry has always been able to differentiate itself pretty effectively from the Boob Tube. Some of its more awful efforts (Cinemascope, anyone?) to do so, however, do put me in mind of the horrid online experiments that print media continues to indulge in. (Yes, there’s at least one in town, but I won’t be catty.)

Tune was kind enough to send over a couple of editorial pieces that discuss all this in much finer detail, so here they are if you’re interested:

On the death of the Southern Voice:–Southern-Voice-means-to-LGBT-media-?

On the Miami Herald’s efforts to raise money online for its survival:

On balance, I continue to think that there’s going to be a market out there for traditional (please don’t call it legacy) media, but it’s going to be a fight. The only plus of a down economy is that it’s taking out some of the lesser lights online as well, so that going forward readers and advertisers can expect a much better corps of providers delivering news and information. Online will always be able to be first, but being first at the expense of being the best, or even being accurate, is taking its toll. Once you lose the reader’s trust, you’re in a perilous place. There’s a lot to choose from out there these days, and the savvy readers are picking and choosing from multiple sources. For that reason, print shouldn’t settle for just staying in the pack. Print’s goal should be not just to be a source, but also to be a preferred one.

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Ordinance coverage heats up, Tennessean takes some heat

As the proposed changes to Metro’s nondiscrimination policy grind their way to a second reading, coverage has been popping up more frequently in various outlets, notably The Scene and The City Paper. Both gave a pretty good rundown on things today (thanks to Mr. Woods for linking to the O&A article that ran last week), and the CP’s Nate Rau penned an excellent commentary that lays out the issue, where things are now and who the players are. Used to be something that a daily would do, but ours is busy defending itself against charges of cronyism.

And speaking of which …

Sunday’s Tennessean featured its usual column by Mark Silverman, but this time around the editor’s usual chatty missive about what the paper’s up to these days was decidedly more testy. In fact, as he defended the paper and columnist Gail Kerr from accusations that they’re in bed with embattled PR firm McNeely Pigott & Fox, Silverman threw out a whole series of defenses.

Among them: 1) The paper’s newsroom staff signs ethics agreements saying they won’t favor one side, take gifts, and so forth; in fact, the Tennessean’s is much more “stringent” than those at “other media outlets.” In Silverman’s mind that’d probably include Channel 5, which aired a report tying Kerr’s columns to her working relationship with MPF, as well as the “most-read” blogs in town. 2) The PR flaks contacted other media, too. And they ran stories that could be construed as favorable. So there. 3) The Tennessean has and continues to cover the convention-center issue, up to and including reviewing bid documents and filing FOIA requests to see ‘em.

The column went on and on, and reminded us all that the Tennessean has the biggest circulation in town and some good reporters. All true, but taking credit for reviewing public documents and covering MDHA meetings is rather silly when that’s the sort of thing beat reporters should be doing lest they lose their jobs. And as to relationships, cozy or otherwise, whenever I have had lunch, dinner, drinks, whatever with PR types who wanted to place a story in a publication I wrote for, I always asked how much they were being paid, and for what services. They’ll bitch, but if it’s a public contract they’ll come across with the info. Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see any stories about MPF’s contract, or overruns thereof, in the daily’s pages until all hell broke loose at City Hall.

Lastly, Mr. Silverman extended an invitation to sit in on news meetings, which are held daily at the paper. If you’ve got time, go; it’s an opportunity not often extended, and for that he deserves some credit. Let’s just hope it doesn’t replicate some of these town-hall congressional meetings of late. After all, people around these parts hate the librul media almost as much as they do the gubmint.

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Going, Going Gone

At the risk of sounding even more crotchety than I usually do, I continue to be dismayed at the cherry-picking approach displayed by our local media when it comes to covering events.

Last night’s Metro Council meeting was instructive. The television types were well represented, as was at least one print outlet, but most were there to cover the ongoing saga of the guns-in-parks bill (which would let Metro opt out of newly passed state laws). When that vote happened, they scurried out the door for the most part.

However, Councilmember Megan Barry’s bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to Metro’s nondiscrimination policies also hit the floor for a second reading, and there was some pretty heated commentary. It had just weathered a very combative subcommittee hearing as well.

As I said, there was at least one other print reporter on hand, so it wasn’t as though the issue was ignored; we’ll see how the coverage plays out. But back in the day, I can remember going to county-commission meetings and staying gavel to gavel, then back to the newsroom to write and file the story.

I suppose the corporate types who run the biz these days have forgotten, and the new crop of reporters doesn’t know because they have precious few mentors in the newsroom to ask, but people actually used to buy newspapers to read about what their governing bodies are up to – all of what they’re doing, not just one or two hot-button issues.

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Ordinance coverage fairly calm – so far

Ordinance coverage fairly calm – so far

chamber meetingWhen speaking to the Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce last night, Metro Councilmember Megan Barry noted that the move to add sexual preference and gender identity to Metro’s existing nondiscrimination ordinance was moving along well.

More to the point, she noted that the churches (read: conservative GOP) hadn’t gotten terribly involved thus far. That’s likely to change as the second reading comes around on Aug. 4, and as groups such as the Tennessee Family Action Council of Tennessee and Tennessee Eagle Forum begin to seriously lean on wavering council members. This is a red-meat issue to their supporters, and a great chance to raise money going into the 2010 elections.

That’ll likely ramp up the media attention the issue is getting. So far it’s been fairly tepid, with the Tennessean weighing on the issue’s existence but not much else beyond its pro-forma pro-and-con offerings, and the City Paper and Scene staking out positions ranging from positive to petulant.

For her part, Barry is framing the issue in catch-up terms – if Louisville and Cincinnati have this, why on earth don’t we? And it’s an argument that’s working. She’s got 10 cosponsors, and all she needs in the end is 21 ‘yes’ votes to make it happen. Even in 2003, when the language included much more than employment, it only failed by one vote. Ask Howard Gentry if that affected his campaign for mayor.

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Vacancies Mount In Local Newsrooms

As of yesterday afternoon, the Nashville Business Journal found itself down two reporters and a news editor. That won’t last long, as there’s plenty of former Tennessean types floating around town, not to mention the casualties from other media outlets throughout Middle Tennessee. The Biz Journal also benefits from its corporate parent, American Cities Business Journals, having a very deep bench of talent, some of whom may well wish to transfer here.

What’s starting to happen, though, is that journalists who find themselves out of work are exploring the online market rather than pulling up stakes and moving to a new city. Simple reason for that – there aren’t any jobs. The industry continues to contract, and until people wake up and realize that the members of the vaunted blogosphere aren’t going to cover county commission meetings and the other nuts and bolts of a local daily, the shrinkage will keep going. (It’s worth noting that the conglomerates aren’t exactly helping the cause – a quick review of who the Tennessean lets go, and who it keeps, more than capably makes that point.)

(And while we’re on the subject of the Nashville Business Journal and ACBJ in particular, full disclosure time: I was a staff reporter there from May 2000 through November 2003. RIP Mr. Shaw – you understood the value of a good newsroom and quality reporting/editing. You will be missed.)

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