Senate Democrats have embraced a new big-money fundraising vehicle — after repeatedly blasting the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made it possible — that could help candidates, state parties and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee tap wealthy donors for even more cash.
The new “jumbo” joint fundraising committee, dubbed the Grassroots Victory Project 2014, marks the Democrats’ first foray into the territory opened up in April after the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling.
That decision eviscerated the so-called “aggregate” campaign contribution limits that capped at nine the number of candidates a single donor could financially support at the maximum level.
Paperwork recently filed with the Federal Election Commission indicates 26 Democratic candidates and party committees stand to benefit from money raised collectively through the Grassroots Victory Project 2014.
This means that thanks to the McCutcheon ruling, donors this year may give more than $178,000 a piece to the new Grassroots Victory Project 2014, which would distribute the funds among its 26 members.
Senate Democrats' de facto reversal on McCutcheon comes as they brace for a midterm election that will determine whether they cling to a slim Senate majority or lose it to Republicans. The GOP must pick up six seats to win the majority.
Dan Backer, the conservative attorney behind the McCutcheon case, laughed when informed of the Democrats’ new jumbo joint fundraising committee.
“I’m thrilled to help the Democrats demonstrate their hypocrisy,” Backer said. “It’s taking advantage of the freedoms that have been given to them through the McCutcheon decision. They’re dirty free-riders, and I wish them all the best as they raise even more money from the likes of Tom Steyer and George Soros.”
Backer added: “There is no fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to generating as much money as possible for their campaigns.”
DSCC spokesman Justin Barasky declined to comment for this story, saying “we will have more information about our Grassroots Victory Project soon.”
The DSCC has operated a website touting a "Grassroots Victory Project" since early this year.
That website argues that Democrats in key states like Arkansas, Iowa and Louisiana are being outspent on the TV airwaves by “the Kochs and their friends,” referring to the conservative billionaires David and Charles Koch, whose political network reportedly plans to spend $290 million ahead of the November election.
“To fight back, we’ve launched an unprecedented midterm field program: The Grassroots Victory Project!” the DSCC website continues.
In addition to the DSCC, the Grassroots Victory Project 2014 committee includes 11 state and local party committees in battleground states:
- Democratic State Central Committee of Louisiana
- Iowa Democratic Party
- Democratic Party of Arkansas
- Colorado Democratic Party
- North Carolina’s Wake County Democratic Party Federal Campaign Committee
- Michigan Democratic State Central Committee
- Georgia Federal Election Committee
- Alaska Democratic Party
- New Hampshire Democratic Party
- Kentucky State Democratic Central Executive Committee
- West Virginia State Democratic Executive Committee
Fourteen Democratic Senate candidates will also benefit:
- Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska
- Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota
- Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina
- Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana
- Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon
- Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas
- Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire
- Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado
- Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia
- Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa
- Rep. Gary Peters of Michigan
- Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes
- West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant
- Michelle Nunn of Georgia
Several Democratic politicians who stand to directly benefit from the new Grassroots Victory Project 2014 have previously blasted the McCutcheon decision in messages to supporters.
Franken, for instance, argued that the Supreme Court had “stripped away some of the last remaining protections against keeping even more money out of our elections.” An email from the Minnesota Democrat email urged his backers to sign a petition to “protect our Democracy” and “stand against” McCutcheon and the 2010 campaign finance ruling Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations to make unlimited expenditures for or against candidates.
Colorado’s Udall, meanwhile, said the McCutcheon decision is “definitely a good deal for billionaires and special interest groups looking to buy elections.” He added: “Coloradans are tired of outside spending and extreme television ads. Thanks in part to the McCutcheon ruling, we’ll see even more bombarding our airwaves.”
And Nunn, the Georgia Democrat angling to win the state’s open U.S. Senate seat, declared the McCutcheon decision “bad news for anyone who believes that democracy should be about the voices of the many — not a few billionaires.”
All the while, the DSCC’s sister committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said this of the McCutcheon decision: “Every voice in America deserves to be heard equally. But the court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC allows the ultra-wealthy to drown out middle-class Americans at the polls. We need campaign reform to keep our democracy fair and, quite frankly, democratic.”
As recently as Aug. 13, the DSCC itself lambasted the McCutcheon decision.
“The Supreme Court’s misguided rulings in the Citizens United and McCutcheon cases have opened the floodgates for secret spending by corporations and billionaires,” it wrote in a fundraising email. “And super-rich right-wing donors like the Kochs have wasted no time in taking advantage of this free-for-all.”
Alexander Cohen contributed to this report.
We often think of the Internet as a breeding grounds for idea exchange — a place that lends itself perfectly to sharing viewpoints on topics both trivial and complex. But according to Pew Research Center, there’s something deeper happening in your social media networks that goes against what many of us may perceive.
What they’re calling a “spiral of silence,” Pew found that sites like Facebook and Twitter are often being avoided as outlets of discussion for political and controversial issues such as the Snowden-NSA revelations for fear that followers will disagree with the poster’s views.
Not only do those 1,801 people polled seem to have an aversion to airing out their opinions on social media, but Pew found that “people who thought their social media friends disagreed with them were less likely to discuss the issues in face-to-face gatherings, as well as online forums.” Still, 86 percent of Americans said they would have an in-person talk about the NSA’s mass surveillance program, though only 42 percent of Facebook/Twitter users said they would post about the issue on those platforms.
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
Facebook too, according to this story in Quartz by Sruthijith KK.
Hundreds of journalists working at the Times of India and its sister publications have received a peculiar request from their employer: hand over your Twitter and Facebook passwords and let us post for you.
Even after you leave the company.
Under a contract unveiled to employees last week, Bennett, Coleman and Company Ltd—India’s largest media conglomerate and publisher of the Times of India, Economic Times, among many other properties—told staffers they are not to post any news links on their personal Twitter and Facebook accounts. This runs counter to many social-media policies in newsrooms across the world, which often encourage journalists to share content widely.
But BCCL, as the company is known, is telling journalists that they must start a company-authorised account on various social media platforms. They also have the option of converting existing personal social media accounts to company accounts. On these, they are free to discuss news and related material. The company will possess log-in credentials to such accounts and will be free to post any material to the account without journalists’ knowledge. It is now also mandatory to disclose all personal social-media accounts held by the journalist to the company.
In other words, use social media for work — but either give us permanent control of the account or set up a new one that won’t benefit you personally after you leave.
Control of personal social media accounts continues to be one of the more interesting labor/management battle lines in news.
Maybe the homepage is alive after all: Quartz is trying a new twist on the traditional website front door
It was only a couple months ago that Quartz was making a bold proclamation: “The homepage is dead, and the social web has won.” The behavior of news consumers online was shifting rapidly away from the old way — going to a news site’s homepage, looking for an article that interests you — to one fueled by the streams of links found in social media.
RELATED ARTICLEQuartz: The new biz-news site is a technological and structural innovator, with only a few hiccupsSeptember 24, 2012This argument wasn’t a new one for Quartz, which launched two years ago without a traditional homepage. Type qz.com into your browser and you’d be thrown directly into the site’s top story. Rather than the usual back-and-forth of website navigation — homepage, click, back arrow, click again, back arrow — Quartz wanted you to scroll from story to story.
So if you went to qz.com yesterday morning, you could be forgiven for being confused. With a new redesign that launched late Sunday, Quartz has gone retro and built an actual homepage. And they did it for the reason just about every other news site has a homepage — to build up reader loyalty.
But Quartz still has a twist. Rather than the usual arrangement of links to top stories, the new Quartz homepage is centered on The Brief, a tailored summary of business and international news under the rubric of “Your world right now.” (It’s also sponsored, currently by Comcast.) “It’s intended to be read straight through, like a well written memo from a trusted advisor,” Quartz senior editor Zach Seward wrote in a post announcing the site’s redesign. The Brief is modeled after Quartz’s successful email newsletter, The Daily Brief, which similarly offers quick hits of what readers need to know. But unlike the email, which is sent out every morning, the Brief will be updated regularly throughout the day.
“There’s something very convenient about getting something in your inbox that you want to be receiving on a regular basis,” said Seward, a former Nieman Lab staffer. “The one thing this isn’t is that — obviously you have to come to it instead of having The Daily Brief come to you, but they’re somewhat complementary and we expect that readers of one are likely to be readers of the other.”
Pre-redesign, 90 percent of visitors to Quartz’s website arrived through article pages, with just 10 percent coming through the qz.com front door. Part of that is Quartz’s focus on social distribution of its stories, the idea that every story starts with an audience of zero. But Seward said it’s also a chicken-and-egg scenario: “If you don’t build a homepage for people to go to, they’re not going to come to it.”
Any news site aims to build up user loyalty. For most, that means return visits to the homepage, but Quartz found an unusual route to habit-building through its daily email, which gets open rates north of 40 percent. The new homepage approach merges the two. Quartz doesn’t expect the shift to significantly change the percentage of visits that start on the homepage; rather, Seward said the site hopes to grow overall audience while creating an experience that will encourage users to stay longer on Quartz.
“The intended use of [The Brief] is loyal return visits. We need to gauge whether we see that happening at all, and then at what frequency.” Seward said. “The frequency is less about measuring the success of it — frankly, I actually think we don’t know yet. It’s so new, and there aren’t enough analogous products out there to really tell if we should be expecting people to just be twitchy and checking it all the time, or if they have one time in their day when they check it and it’s just that once a day. That’ll inform what we should be doing with the writing of the briefs in the first place.”
RELATED ARTICLEBuilding permission structures for short content (Vox edition)May 19, 2014The Brief also takes a cue from Glass, a subsite Seward launched earlier this year that focuses on television. Headlines on Glass are presented in an outline format where users can click on them to get more information or added context that drops down. Quartz has taken the same approach on the Brief, with arrows you can click on to get more information about some stories.
Beyond the front page, the redesign cleans up what was already a relatively uncluttered site by news standards, stripping out clutter. Article pages now give even more room for visuals. The old look featured a menu of other Quartz stories, internally called the queue, on the left side of the page; that’s gone now, with users needing to click a hamburger button in the top left corner of the page to make it appear. Only 20 percent of readers who went onto read a second story on the site used the queue, Seward said. The rest just utilized Quartz’s continuous scroll which brings up the next story at the end of the current one you’re reading.
As has been true since its launch, Quartz is designed primarily for mobile devices. Initially, the primary target was the tablet, then ascendant, but phones have been persistently more popular in its traffic logs, so smaller devices were the focus on this redesign. (Seward noted that the distinction between tablets and phone is decreasing as phone screens continually increase; new iPhones with 4.7″ and 5.5″ screens are due on Sept. 9.)
This was the first time one of Quartz’s redesigns have been done in-house, its previous two iterations were designed with the assistance of outside firms. Other new features include new pages for obsessions, topics Quartz has taken a particular interest in covering, as well as new presentations for charts and graphs.
Quartz’s business side was intimately involved throughout the redesign process, publisher Jay Lauf told me, noting that many of the ways the redesign will benefit the editorial staff will also be a boon for advertisers. Quartz previewed the new site to advertisers, and Lauf said their reaction was “overwhelmingly positive.”
Quartz doesn’t run traditional banner ads, instead offering what it calls Engage ads, which appear as you scroll between stories, and Bulletins, its name for sponsored content. As part of the redesign, native ads on Quartz will have access to all the changes the site is implementing, and Engage ads now stretch to the edge of the page. They’re also three times as large as they used to be on smartphones, Lauf said.
“The increase in real estate tries to leverage the functionality of these devices that sort of foster interaction when the content presents itself well,” Lauf said. “People who use their phones love to tinker with tapping and swiping and just exploring things that are interesting to them. It’s hard to do that in small chunks of real estate.”
Everyone knows most federal lobbyists aren't going hungry. But how much pay does one lobbyist truly command?
You won't find the answer in federal lobbying disclosures, which only require a lobbying firm to reveal how much money a client pays them on a quarterly basis. That's regardless of whether a client is purchasing the services of one lobbyist or an entire team of them.
Several lobbying contracts obtained by the Center for Public Integrity through federal court filings do, however, reveal the hourly market rate at one notable firm for lobbyists of different skill and experience levels.
In 2010, the Washington, D.C.-based Carmen Group said it would charge Xavier University of Louisiana $1,250 an hour for its "most senior" lobbyist to work beyond what was otherwise a flat-fee billing arrangement with the school.
Carmen Group's "most senior" official is its chief executive officer, David Carmen, who founded the bipartisan firm in 1985 and is the son of Gerald Carmen, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and administrator of the General Services Administration.
In 2005, the Carmen Group said it would charge Louisiana Construction Systems a comparatively modest $850 an hour for lobbying services from its top official, according to a contract between the lobbying firm and its client.
On the other end of the spectrum, Carmen Group quoted a $75-per-hour fee for "junior personnel" to lobby on behalf of Louisiana Construction Systems in 2005.
The hourly fee increased to $100 by the time the Carmen Group negotiated a contract with Xavier University of Louisiana, which is now mired in a breach of contract lawsuit with its former lobbying firm.
Another Carmen Group contract — a 2009 public relations agreement between the firm and the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada — quoted firm Managing Director Nicole Korkolis as working for $390 per hour as part of calculating an overall monthly fee of $8,500.
Meanwhile, Managing Associate Don McClure would be paid $250 per hour, Associate Judy McBride $175 per hour and Associate Sabrina Ram $100 per hour, according to the agreement.
Marc Miller, general counsel for the Carmen Group, declined to discuss the firm’s relationships with its clients or specific elements of its agreements with them.
This year, the Carmen Group's lobbying clients have included more than three-dozen entities, many of them local governments, public agencies, colleges and hospitals. Among the other notable clients? Japanese telecom company SoftBank, resource management firm Veolia Environment and medical outfit HealthFirst.
Facebook announced a tweak to its News Feed today that aims to reduce unwanted “spammy” content in user feeds. Good news for readers frustrated by those stories, bad news for the publishers that have been making money by promoting their websites via “clickbait.” But what exactly is clickbait?
@greghoward88 lol clickbait now just means "things I don't personally like"
— Charlie Warzel (@cwarzel) August 21, 2014
Clickbait is in the eye of the beholder, but Facebook defines it as “when a publisher posts a link with a headline that encourages people to click to see more, without telling them much information about what they will see.” But they won’t be demoting links based on verbal clues.
So how do we determine what looks like click-bait?
One way is to look at how long people spend reading an article away from Facebook. If people click on an article and spend time reading it, it suggests they clicked through to something valuable. If they click through to a link and then come straight back to Facebook, it suggests that they didn’t find something that they wanted. With this update we will start taking into account whether people tend to spend time away from Facebook after clicking a link, or whether they tend to come straight back to News Feed when we rank stories with links in them.
Another factor we will use to try and show fewer of these types of stories is to look at the ratio of people clicking on the content compared to people discussing and sharing it with their friends. If a lot of people click on the link, but relatively few people click Like, or comment on the story when they return to Facebook, this also suggests that people didn’t click through to something that was valuable to them.
RELATED ARTICLEYou won’t believe Upworthy’s new way of measuring audience engagement until you read itFebruary 6, 2014In other words, if people aren’t reading or talking about your content, soon they might not see it on Facebook at all.
Lots of people assume that sites that pull in huge traffic from social media — like BuzzFeed, for example — achieve those figures by using “clickbait.” But in reality, original content, even in list format, is something people are likely to read and share and comment on, which means Facebook is probably fine with it. Even lower brow sites that try to churn out viral headlines might evade this new News Feed obstacle if they can get people to spend a few minutes on site. As The Awl’s John Herrman points out on Twitter, that doesn’t jive with how people in the media define clickbait.
@kevinroose I think time-on-site favors a lot of stuff that media people equate with "clickbait"
— John Herrman (@jwherrman) August 25, 2014
Facebook doesn’t have any editorial obligation to promote breaking news or think pieces or longform; their obligation, as they’ve repeatedly stated, is to satisfy their users. Apparently, the company feels the best way to determine if users are satisfied is by measuring the length of time they spend looking at something.
Facebook is a platform with enormous power over publishers. If they’re making moves toward time on site as a lead metric, you can bet content strategists across the web are already coming up with ways to hang on to your eyeballs.
RELATED ARTICLEThe newsonomics of Gannett’s “newsrooms of the future”August 25, 2014Gannett is right: Newsroom job titles do matter.
The largest newspaper company in the United States is revising its job titles, bringing in some that would have seemed foreign to newsrooms not all that long ago — including content coach, community content editor, and engagement editor. Gannett is making these changes as part of a broader initiative to create “newsrooms of the future.” So what do those heading up newer digital-only news sites think about them?
Rob Wijnberg, editor of the Dutch crowdfunded De Correspondent (“The newsonomics of European crowds, funding new news”), sees real value in job titles — but wants his staff of correspondents to pick them themselves:
When I started The Correspondent, I consciously chose not to introduce traditional titles. Instead, I let every correspondent come up with the job title that matched their personality and journalistic mission the most. Now we have job titles that seemed peculiar at first, but really fit the journalist very well, like Correspondent [for] Progress (he writes about how the world gets better every day); a Correspondent [for] Privacy and Surveillance; we even have a Correspondent [for] Peculiar People. Those titles are very important because it reinforces the mission a correspondent sets for him or herself.
Tried-and-true titles have their place in Amsterdam as well, with another twist:
We do have some traditional titles like editor-in-chief [Wijnberg] and publisher [Ernst Jan], but only because the outside world has to know who is in charge of what. Internally, those titles are less important. The title “editor-in-chief” is even applied to all editors, because I say to them that they are editor-in-chief of their own blog (which reinforces the responsibility for their publications: they don’t write for the platform, they write for their own audience, which is very different).
This unconventional thinking about titles derived from Wijnberg’s stint at the morning daily NRC Next. There, he saw how conventional titles placed unnecessary limits on reporting:
One of the first things I did when I became editor-in-chief for NRC Next was to get rid of the newsroom titles like “foreign desk,” “economy desk,” for two reasons: (1) These desk names reflect the world as it was in the ’70s and ’80s, with the cold war at its height, when countries, borders, and “national economies” mattered a lot more than they do in a globalized world. (2) People tend to use these desk names as judicial borders: “We” only write about economy because “we” are the economy desk, “we” don’t write about that, because that’s in a foreign country, etc. In that way, it stimulates tunnel vision. I wanted non-economy journalists writing about economy, and foreign correspondents writing about Holland as well.
At two-year-old startup Quartz, reporters’ titles look fairly traditional (as do BuzzFeed’s). The beats correspond somewhat with the site’s “obsessions” identity; that’s similar to De Correspondent’s notion of news people following passions. Interestingly, it is editors’ titles that have been more flexible.
Says Gideon Lichfield, an Economist hand who helped shape Quartz:
I was global news editor until recently and that meant editor of most everything that wasn’t op-ed. Now I’m just called senior editor, but my job includes being features editor, overseer of the Daily Brief, and house style guardian. The new global news editor, Heather Landy, has a somewhat narrower job than I did because our staff has grown. Zach Seward is senior editor and creative director, and that means part product development for the site, part head of the “Things” team (interactives and data journalism), and various other things.
I’d say our titles have served more as placeholders than as descriptors. Each role, especially the more senior ones, has had to be pretty flexible to suit changing needs. That’s the nature of a small and growing outfit as much as it is the nature of a digital one. I’d say we pay more attention to the things that need to be done and figuring out who should “own” them, rather than trying to define roles. But I would assume any startup is like that.
Finally, we can look to another veteran of the traditional press, former Philadelphia Inquirer editor Robert Rosenthal, who has pioneered a groundbreaking new model with the muscular Center for Investigative Reporting. Rosenthal sees the same thing that Gannett execs see: the need to create new jobs that meet the demands of the digital world.
Nearly five years ago we came up the job of distribution editor and engagement specialists. That role has morphed for us into…one job because of our strategy. We not only distribute the content, we engage with the publisher, their audience and our audience. It’s not something I would have thought about very much when I was the editor of The Inquirer…The digital content creators are again clear titles that reflect their skills. I can remember thinking we needed new titles as we added staff and were creating jobs that did not exist in the traditional newspaper newsrooms I had spent my career in.
Coming up with the titles is, in a sense, the easy part. From his experience, Rosenthal precisely lays out the challenge that Gannett, Advance, and all new re-shapers of newsrooms face.
The first step is thinking about what you need and then creating the new jobs. Then, having the vision, commitment and strategy to make sure they succeed and that everyone in the newsroom understands what they do and their value to them. And, of course, that they have the skills to deliver.
Photo of imaginary org chart by Jim Parkinson by Nick Sherman used under a Creative Commons license.
RELATED ARTICLEKen Doctor: 10 takeaways from Gannett’s blockbuster announcementsAugust 5, 2014It’s easy to ridicule Gannett’s latest newsroom proclamations. The company recently set itself up for satire by announcing “newsrooms of the future” — at the same time it was separating print assets from broadcast and digital ones and launching new rounds of buyouts and layoffs.
It’s harder to divorce the ideas behind the newsroom redo — many of which make some basic sense, and indeed are being used by highly regarded news startups — from Gannett’s own on-again, off-again innovation history. Real questions of corporate authenticity and staying power bedevil any grand pronouncements. Let’s look at this tangled web of newsroom change and try to make sense of it.
Even when Gannett has done good and smart things, its achievements can be obscured by how it operates. An example: Years ago, Gannett emerged as an early leader in newsroom diversity, on its staffs, in management, and in the content of its papers. While Gannett’s peers — Tribune and Knight Ridder, among them — urged and cajoled editors to do better, Gannett enforced its mandates, down to counting the race, ethnicity, and gender of all faces appearing in its papers’ photographs.
It worked, at least to a degree. The papers indeed looked more like the communities they served. But at the same time, this approach to the craft of journalism counted only the most basic of things, enforced through rote counting — a very Gannett approach. Now Gannett — like Advance in its revolutionary capitalist fervor (“Gannett cribs from Advance Publications playbook for struggling newspapers”) — seems intent on a new cookie-cutter approach to change, no matter how well intended.
The list of job descriptions (courtesy Jim Romenesko) now being imposed in five Gannett newsrooms — The Tennesseean in Nashville, The Asbury Park Press in New Jersey, The Greenville News in South Carolina, The Pensacola News Journal in Florida, and The Asheville Citizen-Times in North Carolina — are in many ways commonsensical, including content coaches, community engagement editors, and producers. In total, there are 16 job descriptions that are intended to be used company-wide, and to connect with a new set of metrics, including traffic and other digital countables.
Even if the ideas seem a little paint-by-numbers, the internal name for this restructuring project is Picasso. It’s this penchant for grandiose naming that invites disdain. It doesn’t help (as Romenesko pointed out) that Gannett has already announced such “newsroom of the futures” projects over the last decade, from crowdsourcing to “Information Centers.”
In journalism, we don’t buy and sell futures like hogs. At our best, when we make mistakes, journalists own up to them and move on. News companies that blithely ignore their pasts strain their own future believability.
Consider that after a decade or so of huffing and puffing about building the future, one Gannett editor could promote the latest initiative by saying: “Readers are going to notice very quickly that we’re not just shoveling out printed copy up on the website…The biggest change for us is going to be a hugely expanded [team of] digital producers.”
Still shoveling after all these years? After all these great pronouncements of change and digital leadership? How could that possibly be? What does it tell us about the likelihood of this newest newsroom of the future is to work?
Lost in the many shuffles within Gannett in the last month — separating into two companies, buying Cars.com, announcing the new newsrooms — is its next major round of newsroom job cuts.
After years of shrinking, Gannett has decided to get yet another jump on the revenue declines to come. Figuring that print advertising will continue to decline annually in the high single digits — as it has for the last three and is this year — the company is taking about 15 percent out of many, if not all, of its 81 community newsroom budgets now, preparing for 2015 and 2016.
That 15 percent is in dollars, not jobs. So it makes sense for publishers and editors to take out the highest-paid jobs, as many companies have done. Translation: More than 15 percent of editorial and community knowledge is being lost.
It’s easy to paint the laying off/buying out of veterans as simply getting rid of the digitally clueless. There’s some of that, of course, but this is mainly a financial exercise, as is most of the change we see sweeping the American news industry this year. Gannett’s editors (and some are quite good) are left to make sense of their smaller deck of cards and work around the edges of a one-size-fits-all reshuffling to preserve the integrity of their work.
Gannett’s cut is notable because it’s so large — on top of more than a half-decade of cuts — and because it anticipates the scale of a “rightsizing” of these newsrooms for next two years. That’s optimistic, given that the print slide is accelerating in certain ways.
There are several reasons for the downward spiral of local news companies. One, though, is very apparent but seldom acknowledged by publishers: Most news publishers are providing lower quality products year after year and charging more for them.
That’s not Gannett’s announced strategy, but it’s been its de facto one. And unfortunately, it’s not alone. Within the last month, we’ve gotten new numbers on newsroom loss.
By the latest ASNE counting, 20,000 jobs have been lost in U.S. daily newsrooms over the last decade, a drop of over 35 percent. There are 36,700 remaining daily newspaper jobs in the U.S, a drop of 3.2 percent year over year. (By way of comparison, local TV stations employ 27,300, according to recently released annual Bob Papper benchmark survey, down 1.4 percent. In local TV news, as in local newspapers, employment is in a seven-year slide. Add up the number of local broadcast news jobs and those in daily newspapers, and they still don’t equal print newsroom employment of a decade ago.)
Not all jobs are being cut equally. Both Gannett and Advance, among others, have thinned the ranks of both managers and editors generally. As someone who’s both managed a multi-editor-layered metro newsroom and depended on myself for editing of some of my Newsonomics work, I understand how the world has changed. The blogging revolution (remember that?) changed our sense of how many touches copy needed. At the same time, readers notice the epidemic of typos and, more importantly, incomprehensible stories, especially when they are being charged 10 to 50 percent more than they were three years ago. They think they’re paying for a “professional” newspaper or website.
Certainly, we need the engagement people, the audience development people, the multimedia producers and more. But let’s not try to kid anyone — ourselves or the readers — that the old-fashioned institution of the knowing, checking editor is a vital role in the food chain. Knowledge, expertise, judgment: We value all those qualities in editors.
Sure, we can add in coaching — mentoring has always been a key ingredient in the best newsroom cultures. Coaching and editing, though, don’t equate, especially in newsrooms increasingly populated by underpaid, relatively inexperienced younger journalists. Even as we recognize the value of the more amorphous community intelligence, and attempt to add it to the news report, greatly diminishing editorial intelligence is a recipe for disaster — and business failure.
In a whisk of a Gannett second, “managers” and “editors” have been lumped into single category. Relatively late to the game of whacking middle management, a swath of newsroom intelligence has been redefined as “layers” and discarded.
Take the words of two of Gannett’ editors, leading the new newsrooms. Here’s Hollis R. Towns, Asbury Park Press executive editor/vice president news:
We are flattening our management structure to be more nimble, with fewer hierarchical reporting lines and fewer managers. Reporters will be able to post to APP.com directly, cutting layers to give you the news more quickly and efficiently. Reporters will be empowered to roam for news and listen to you in a more self-directed way. The stories they write will be based on what you read and click on.
And Stefanie Murray, The Tennessean’s executive editor: One major goal of the reshuffling is to have more “self-sufficient reporters producing publication-ready copy.”
Less editing can make sense in the digital age. The idea of none, especially in less and less experienced newsrooms, is a silly one. Again, this isn’t craft snobbery: Editing is part of why people pay for newspaper company content over other news.
Gannett papers’ public pitch, inasmuch as there is one, can be summed up in a word: More. There’s neither evidence that readers want more, nor that these diminished staffs can really create more, at least more of any meaningful quality for readers. Yet a third part of this particular reimagining, along with the job cuts and the new job titles, is a greater emphasis on counting. As we’ve seen the hamster wheel put into effect here and there, counting pageviews seems ascendant. That’s ironic, because in 2014, the direct relationship between pageview (or unique visitor) growth and digital advertising growth is becoming increasingly weaker. (Though, to be fair, the quest for clickbait has gone truly global, now including the Chinese government press. Facebook alert: Please label appropriately.)
This set of restructurings, then, is as likely to obscure the fundamental issues of our times as it is to solve them.
“More,” as expressed in Nashville and more widely, isn’t a winning market idea. Further, the reading public — a.k.a. customers — could care less about internal shuffling. They want better products and services, and that’s not what Gannett is announcing.
The lack of product acceptance isn’t an abstract issue for Gannett. The company’s paywall strategy has stumbled, as it has seen double-digit loss of print circulation volume in some markets. Why? It raised prices in double-digits while failing to offer paying readers a reason to stick with their papers. Its introduction of USA Today content in its local players, a higher quality/lower cost plan, may make good financial sense, but it’s unlikely to sway local readers who buy papers for local news.
How are these new plans going to deal with that big issue? That’s the big commercial question for Gannett: What will these reduced, lesser-experienced staffs offer their communities of sufficient value?
RELATED ARTICLEThe newsonomics of how and whyJuly 25, 2014The impact metrics movement offers one way to count value beyond commodity pageviews, to get at this more elusive question of the value of news products and services the business is delivering. In a world that rewards journalistic product by volume, we go back to the divide between Who/What/When/Where journalism and the higher-value How/Why, with the latter clearly more useful to citizen readers as they try to make sense of disconnected facts (“The newsonomics of how and why”).
Ask readers, and many will tell you they want smarter, deeper, and wider — and that they’re willing to pay for it. The best case scenario of our era: The New York Times’ success in signing up both all-access and digital subscribers. We do have a few regional models — more on them in the months to come — that, Times-like, have kept their newsroom staffing and community knowledge capacity high, and invested in the product against the odds. What the smarter publishers are focusing on is that kind of meaningful engagement with their news brands, better serving a smaller stratum of readers willing to pay.
Those relative few, though, pale against the tide of now-standalone newspaper chains trying to cut their ways into the “newsrooms of the future.”
Photo of Gannett headquarters by Shashi Bellamkonda used under a Creative Commons license.
The idea for a Hack Week at The Verge was fairly simple, says editor-in-chief Nilay Patel. Looking at the example of how quickly sister publication Vox.com spun to life — nine weeks — and started building new story tools, widgets, and other products, Patel wanted to find a way to share some of the toys within the family. “We wanted to throw the doors open and bring some of that big, integrated spirit to The Verge,” Patel told me.
That was, of course, before his staff made this: “Touch my body: the top 10 Nilay Patel videos on the internet.” Including, apparently, his turn in a feature film called “Paper covers rock: The rise and fall of Woodstock Willy.”
RELATED ARTICLEHomemade code: Vox Media invests in its own tech through a three-day hackathonMarch 20, 2013Media companies, especially the more digitally-oriented ones, have started to make a habit of throwing hack events to MacGyver together new and interesting tools for storytelling. In the case of Vox Media, hack days and hack weeks have become a part of doing business. But this time they did it with a twist: They would do it out in the open, in front of readers, and people on the editorial side would be just as involved as developers and designers.
The goal, Patel says, was to test out new tools, get immediate feedback from users, and get everyone from Vox Media playing around on the site. “We have a bunch of tools we want to use and we’re overthinking, because we want everything we launch on The Verge to be perfect,” Patel said.
That’s why you’ll find quizzes on which sci-fi robot is right for you, and a listenable history of Kanye West samples complete with accompanying YouTube clips. There are photo sliders showing magazine covers from the year The Simpsons debuted, and a timeline showing the history of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
On the surface, the stories might seem trivial (I, for one, am interested in things like Doctor Who and the egomania of Elon Musk), but Patel said the idea is to get the staff comfortable with all the elements at their disposal. “We’re just going to try to use these tools so that the new ways of storytelling are ingrained in us when we want to do something that’s not as much of a throwaway,” he said.
But they’re also making more permanent changes to the site, including a rollout of a beta of a responsive design version of The Verge. They’re also planning to create a hub for shorter, sharable materials on The Verge, similar to the GIF repository that is Lookit on SB Nation, or IDK at Eater.
In throwing the doors open to the site for new types of storytelling, they also wanted to bring in more voices from across Vox Media. The effect is something like a crossover episode of your favorite shows, when The Jetsons meet The Flintstones, or when Steve Urkel showed up on Full House. Or, in this case, Ezra Klein of Vox.com writing about the future of politics, Spencer Hall of SB Nation on drugs and gambling in the future of sports, and Vox Media editorial director Lockhart Steele on getting back to the spirit of blogging. “I’m trying to push [Vox Media CEO Jim] Bankoff to write something,” Patel says. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Crossing site boundaries might be an expected result of The Verge’s new leader, which did the same. Patel, who was a cofounder of The Verge, left the site in March to help launch Vox.com. He returned to The Verge as editor in July after Josh Topolsky left for Bloomberg. He said he wants The Verge to “become a better Internet property” by trying more dynamic methods of storytelling and finding new ways of engaging with readers.
The quickest way to do that was to let Verge writers jump right in and start playing around. At the beginning of the week, staffers were given access to a dashboard of new tools to use on top of Chorus, Vox’s vaunted CMS. Lauren Rabaino, a product manager for The Verge who is leading the hack week, said they gave staffers tools to create timelines, lists, and quizzes along with some training. That was Monday morning; after that, they were on their own to use the new toys anyway they like.
That serves a couple of purposes, says Rabaino, as it helps test the tools for bugs and shows what features are missing. “We quickly found out as people played with them, they had ideas for them,” she said. Putting the editorial and product people on similar footing, as well as in the same room, gives both sides a clearer understanding of each other, she said. So when a developer says no to a project, a writer might have a better idea of the reasons why, Rabaino said.
Giving writers more control over the way stories are presented will eventually have the benefit of taking some day-to-day responsibilities away from developers. That means the product team can focus on bigger ideas rather than custom interfaces for individual stories, Rabaino said. One thing they hope to build by the end of this week is a better reader submission tool, that lets users offer photos or other content to be used in stories, Rabaino said.
“It lets the community engage in way that the community hasn’t done before, but always had the potential to do because we have such a strong, opinionated, tapped-in community,” she said. “They know everything Nilay Patel has done and have a GIF of it.”
RELATED ARTICLEHow Vox.com was built in 9 weeks, not 9 monthsJune 6, 2014Vox Media is thinking much bigger now. The company started with a federation of sports sites and grew to a media company whose properties crosses into tech, gaming, news, food, and real estate. With last fall’s addition of the Curbed network of sites and launch of Vox.com, the company has reorganized the way its tech talent works. In the past, each site had a dedicated product team; now the company has one large team that can dispatch people to work on projects on a case-by-case basis.
RELATED ARTICLEPress Publish 4: Trei Brundrett on how Vox Media has built a web-native media company with editorial ambitionJanuary 30, 2013Trei Brundrett, chief product officer for Vox Media, said the company wants to create as much cross pollination between the editorial and product teams as possible. As a digital media company that also considers itself a technology company, there’s an emphasis on people who understand tech no matter what their day-to-day job entails. Hack events are a way to get both sides to work together because you’re letting people out of their normal responsibilities and giving them free rein to come up with new ideas, he said. What that does is bolster a culture of experimentation and collaboration in the company — which could lead to new products and more hack weeks across other Vox Media sites. Brundrett said he thinks that process is already a success.
“One of the things that’s awesome about this to me is I’m actually not there,” he said. “That’s a total victory to me. This is just something the team is good at now.”
Photo from The Verge hack week by Thomas Ricker used under a Creative Commons license.
As Stephen Colbert or any great satirist will tell you, a key to satire is to always stay in character. In The Onion’s case, that “character” is an absurd, alternative world invented to comment on the real one. Every aspect of the fake world has to ring true for the trick to work. That includes the visuals. When nothing you publish is real, every single image has to be made from scratch. “We want to make sure that we’re making our Onion-world fully realized and very real,” says Ben Berkley, managing editor of The Onion. It’s all in service of the joke.
”What we do is not actually journalism” is the catchy title of a study into how online journalists in Slovenia and Serbia perceive their work and their professional role within the newsroom.
The study’s title – a quote by an online journalist working at the Slovenian daily Delo – shows the dilemma faced by online journalists. Their main task consists of shoveling in-house print content online, reassembling press agency news or simply copying them, and translating foreign media news. Due to time pressure they only seldom produce original content. For this reason they do not regard themselves as “true journalists”.
However their answers suggest that they provide “fast news” and “credible information” and also see themselves as timely impartial mediators of social reality.
For their study Igor Vobič (University of Ljubljana) and Ana Milojević (University of Belgrade) conducted in-depth interviews with five (out of ten) online journalists from the Slovenian Delo and four (out of nine) online journalists from the Serbian Novosti. All interview partners were under 35 years at the time of the survey in 2011.
Delo as well as Novosti were established in the 1950s and were “societally owned” until the fall of socialism, then they were privatized. Both newspapers started their news websites in the late 1990s. In the 2000s, they set up online departments, which were separated from the print department in terms of space and staff. Two years before the survey by the media researchers the managements of Delo and Novosti started to rethink the role of their online journalists and online news and to integrate the print and online newsrooms. At the time of the interviews the print and online journalists at Delo were already working in a common newsroom, at Novosti they were trying to integrate the print and online processes and content without a common newsroom.
The interviewed online journalists from both newspapers complain that they are not “not regarded as equal” by their print colleagues. An online journalist from Delo says: “Some print journalists are arrogant. They regard us as a bunch of students. It is constantly implied that ‘old-school’ print journalism is the real thing. Nothing will change until online journalists become older“.
If at all, cooperation between print and online only takes place in the morning and afternoon editorial meetings; ad-hoc arrangements are rare. There is also a big difference in the employment status: Most of the interviewed online journalists are engaged in short-term contractual, casual, temporary and freelance work. Most of their print colleagues have a permanent contract, with paid sick leave better career development.
Both at Delo and at Novosti the online journalists feel “underestimated” by their print colleagues. An online journalist from Novosti said: “It seems that print journalists do not understand or do not want to understand that speed is essential online. The mindset is ‘let’s take it easy’ “.
The quick pace of work is however also one of the main problems of the online journalists. They emphasize that they do not have time for one of the most fundamental principles of journalism: to verify information. They rather rely on the accurateness of their colleagues who are their primary source of information.
On the one hand the online journalists from Delo and Novosti are of the opinion that they don’t do “true journalism” and regard themselves as “recyclers”, “robots” and “copy-pasters”. On the other hand however they call attention to the importance of online news in the process of opinion making and political participation. “With the news we provide, people can act not just like a flock of sheep, and they cannot be manipulated easily. They can make better decisions”, says a Delo online journalist.
However they hardly ever write critical articles, they are far away from taking a role as a watchdog. The answers from the Slovenian journalists however suggest that they absolutely would be able to “reveal stuff” and “control the powerful” if they had more time and the financial incentive.
A Serbian online journalist acknowledges, “journalism is pure economy. We hunt for clicks by following what is out there online and what might get our readers’ attention. Maybe I was naive, but I pictured journalism differently”.
Vobič, Igor; Milojević, Ana (2013): „What we do is not actually journalism“: Role negotiations in online departments of two newspapers in Slovenia and Serbia. In: Journalism, published online 10 December 2013
- Trushar Barot, Assistant editor of the UGC and Social Media Hub, BBC News, ‘The changing face of newsgathering in the social and digital age’
- RISJ seminar, Wednesday 11 June