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The [Wednesday] Papers

"John Oliver Has Given Us The Best Defense Of Newspapers Ever," syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker writes.

Please tell me: Who is against newspapers? Why this constant need to defend them?

Nobody. Nobody is against newspapers.

People are against crappy newspapers. People are against some things newspapers do. But nobody is against newspapers on the whole; this is a straw man made of newsprint by intellectually unable people.

Newspapers haven't been foundering for decades because people are "against" them. Newspapers have been foundering for decades because of a plethora of greedy, short-sighted business decisions combined with a change-resistant newsroom culture built on fear and arrogance.

This need to constantly cry out that this article or that investigation proves the worth of newspapers - and of journalism in a broader sense - is maddening, and illustrates perfectly the ignorance of those doing the pleading.

Who doesn't believe journalism has value?

Advertisers en masse no longer believe that newspapers - or their websites - deliver the kind of value they once believed they did (and they're right, though that belief was largely built on an illusion of how many people saw their ads and how effective that was), but that is not the same as the public not believing that journalism has no value.

And neither does the unwillingness of more folks to subscribe to newspapers - print or online. Newspapers have always been sold at a cost far less than what they take to produce, because readers are the product being sold to advertisers, and gathering as many of them as possible (or as many with the "right" demographics) is thus a business objective. Also, the vast majority of what a newspaper produces isn't worth a single penny to one reader or another. Only a tiny fraction of what newspapers produce is Journalism, and in a democracy, no one should have to pay for the rest to find out their mayor is a crook.

A failure of newsrooms - filled with journalists who posit themselves as instant experts of everything - to understand these basic concepts of their own industry has gone a long way toward the industry's near-total failure to adapt to the digital age, which offers so many more opportunities than the print age. That way lives salvation.

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From a 2007 article about famed (to those of us in the know) Wall Street newspaper analyst John Morton:

He sees two key missions for the nation's dailies in the next few years. They need to invest in news gathering to make themselves more vital resources in their communities. And they need to convert more of their operations online as quickly as possible in order to reduce the burdensome costs of newsprint, printing, and delivery.

That was almost 10 years ago.

Morton also offered some context for the economic woes afflicting a business that has witnessed the breakup of some of its major publicly owned chains.

"This is still a profitable industry. Publicly reporting companies last year showed profit margins of almost 18%. There are some industries that can only dream of delivering a profit margin like that."

The industry has always been unusually profitable. Where did all that money go? Perhaps some industrious reporters should investigate!

One message he has frequently stressed was that the business was producing enviable profit margin despite Wall Street's lack of enthusiasm.

Still, Morton acknowledged that those current 18% margins are down from about 22% a few years ago and there are problems on the horizon. He is particularly skeptical about whether newspapers will use the move to the Web to broaden their coverage and appeal or as an excuse to shrink their newsroom.

Morton said the online world poses the greatest challenges and offers the best opportunities for the industry.

Emphasis mine.

Morton holds that if newspapers use the Web the right way, it could be of great benefit. "I've seen the P and Ls (profit and loss statements) of some news sites. Their margins are up over 50% in some cases," he said.

There are real savings to be had for newspapers if they can move more and more of their publication online. If an advertiser shifts a dollar of spending in the local paper to only .40 cents online, the math can still work for newspapers, Morton said, but only with reductions in printing and delivery costs.

The key for the industry, he stressed, is how the parent companies handle their online revenues - whether they use them to bump up profit margins or invest in reporting resources.

We've seen which direction most papers have gone, and it hasn't been pretty. Meanwhile, reporters and editors who like to "keep their heads down" have buried themselves in ignorance instead of leading the charge to a brighter future. Because, you know, that's for the other guys to figure out - the guys we hate because they're just in it to stuff money in their own pockets and they don't really get what we do, meaning, they don't understand the product. But just leave it up to them and make sure the water committee meeting is staffed.

Come to think of it, newsrooms don't understand the product, either.

*

The answer isn't complicated: true digital-first thinking and more innovative, revenue-producing products in various niches, delivered in various ways. It's not about civic journalism, hyperlocal journalism, data journalism, ad technology or the latest doohicky - despite what the mediocrities at the nation's foundations think, having flushed millions of dollars down the toilet in an effort to seem smart and with it.

I'll repeat just two examples of my thinking:

1. If I ran a news organization in Minneapolis-St. Paul, I'd invest in a website (along with e-mail newsletters and other platforms) that covered the fuck out of the Mall of America. I'd use the profits to subsidize public affairs journalism on my main site. There are opportunities like that in every city.

2. That's the local play. There's also a national/global play available to many organizations. If I'm the Tribune Company tronc, long ago I would have taken advantage of my reporting staffs around the country to create national political and sports sites - Deadspin, only with an ethical compass, more original reporting and more innovation. Or, say, a version of Grantland. You've already got the staff and an infrastructure. Sadly, you don't have the mindset, or the skill, really, but no one one was better positioned than newspapers to do all the things that have undercut newspapers. Instead of laying off national political reporters because, hey, you just need one to serve all the company's properties, they could have created something like Politico, only better. Add a subscription newsletter and Capitol Fax-like site for local congressional delegations and you're good to go.

And then, think beyond these traditional subject areas. Some of you out there know what I mean - the stuff I've talked about for years. Ripe. Just sitting there.

Second Amendment People
Here's a sentence I never thought I'd write: Thomas Friedman wins the day with this absolutely perfect column:

Friedman was once great, you know. He was an excellent Middle East correspondent for the Times, and his book From Beirut to Jerusalem is a tour de force filled with uncommon insight, Edward Said notwithstanding.

Sadly, Friedman's world has become flat since then, perhaps too comfortably cushioned by his berth as a Times columnist, his immense wealth, and a need to replicate insight that once came from hard-core reporting but now originates purely inside his own mind, and the minds of his airplane seatmates and the world's wisest taxi drivers, whom he has great luck in always hailing.

But today, on Trump, he nailed a perfect landing just when you thought it had all been said as well as it could have been on Twitter.

*

If you only read two things today, make this the second thing after Friedman's column. Again, hugely insightful.

*

I thought this was pretty good. Crickets.

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Rod Baloneyvich
A lot of foolishness, again, from the punditry. I'm working on it.

Meanwhile, from the Beachwood vault: Blago Ruling Indicts Media.

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Proposal: A gag order for any pundit, columnist, journalist or even citizen who suggests what Blago's sentence should be just out of "feel" and without any regard to actual U.S. sentencing guidelines, along with a full reading of the indictment against him, the judge's explanation, and the decision by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the convictions. If you think Blago has been wronged, please cite the law, the guidelines, and precedent.

More to come on that.

Paul O'Neal
In the queue, along with a lot of other stuff. I'm trying.

Also, I need a million dollars. I'm totally willing to start with half up front.

Being Civil
"Chicago police have shot 702 citizens - killing 215 - in the past 15 years, according to Police Department records obtained by the Tribune under the Freedom of Information Act. Not once have federal law enforcement officials brought criminal civil rights charges against an officer in those shootings," the paper reports.

My understanding is that federal civil rights charges will also not be forthcoming against officer Jason Van Dyke in the Laquan McDonald case; that decision was apparently made several weeks ago.

*

"The office of U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon declined to answer questions about why the federal investigations have taken years, and why no Chicago cop involved in a police shooting has been charged."

*

You'd think Fardon could have just said this, which is what the Trib reports:

"U.S. Department of Justice officials say that as much as they would like to bring more federal civil rights cases, their hands are tied by laws that require them to prove that officers acted willfully - that is, they intentionally sought to deprive someone of their constitutional rights. Incompetence, bad training or mistakes in judgment do not meet that standard.

"It is, by all accounts, a high bar to clear for a prosecutor. State and local prosecutors can charge officers with a variety of crimes for conduct that is reckless or negligent; in the case of a fatal shooting, say, they can charge first- or second-degree murder or manslaughter."

*

This is a problem:

"Here in Chicago, it is difficult to get a handle on exactly the role federal authorities play or how often they are asked to investigate questionable police shootings. Cook County prosecutors do not keep statistics on how often they seek assistance from the FBI or the U.S. attorney's office. The Independent Police Review Authority, the city agency that investigated more than 400 shootings by Chicago police officers since it was created in fall 2007, only began this year to track cases referred for possible federal investigation.

"For its part, the federal government also lacks complete or accurate data on police shootings. The Justice Department could not say how many times a police officer has been prosecuted on civil rights charges for wrongly shooting a citizen. In the wake of a series of shootings by police recently, FBI Director James Comey called the lack of data on officer-involved shootings 'embarrassing and ridiculous.'

"The U.S. attorney's office in Chicago could not determine if a city officer has ever been prosecuted federally for an on-duty shooting."

You can't manage what you don't measure.

And you only measure what you want to manage.

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Who Owns Our Cities?
"[W]hat marked these investments in the 1980s was utility. The buyers wanted and needed to be in New York or London. Today, the high incidence of shell companies is more about storing money and hiding it, than actually using the buildings," former University of Chicago sociologist Saskia Sassen writes in a piece we're carrying today. Go read the whole thing. But I'll excerpt the key part here:

"These days, I would argue that whether the investment is foreign or national may matter less than the fact that it is corporate. Corporate investment tends toward large-scale projects; either in large developments, or in smaller urban plots that are assembled into one larger plot. Often, existing properties are torn down to build entire new mega-projects - taller, larger, fancier than what went before.

"This kind of large-scale urban development entails significant shifts in ownership; from small or medium businesses to large corporations, or from public to private. Some of the most noxious 'site assembly' developments happen when a single owner buys one or two city blocks, and the city authorities cave in to their requirements by eliminating little streets and parks, and privatizing everything.

"We are witnessing a deep history in the making: a systematic transformation in the pattern of land ownership in some of our major cities. Whether it's national or foreign, large-scale corporate investment absorbs much of the public tissue of streets and squares, and street-level commerce. It shrinks the texture and scale of spaces that are accessible to the public, and ultimately changes the very character of the city."

*

Related: Occupy Pie!

"Someone somewhere is privatizing my general surroundings."

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Illinois State Bird On Forever Stamp
Chosen by Illinois schoolchildren, immortalized by the United States Postal Service.

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BeachBook

Brooklyn's Population Now Rivals Chicago's.

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States Vie To Shield The Wealth Of The 1%.

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McDonald's Japan Posts Profit Boosted By Pokemon Go.

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TweetWood
A sampling.

*

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The Beachwood Tronc Line: Although the Content Monetization Machine People, maybe we can. I don't know. That would be horrible.



Permalink

Posted on August 10, 2016


MUSIC - The Weekend In Chicago Rock.
TV - Trump's Disastrous FCC Chair.
POLITICS - Filing: Walmart CEO Made $22.4 Million Last Year.
SPORTS - Teens Still Underreporting Concussions.

BOOKS - America, We Need To Talk.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Beachwood Photo Booth: Wyoming, Michigan.


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