Print media decline

David Carr laments in “As print media declines” that the “sky is falling” in print media:

“It has been an especially rotten few days for people who type on deadline. Just Tuesday, The Christian Science Monitor announced that, after a century, it would cease publishing a weekday paper. Time Inc., the Olympian home of Time magazine, Fortune, People and Sports Illustrated, announced that it was cutting 600 jobs and reorganizing its staff. And Gannett, the largest newspaper publisher in the country, compounded the grimness by announcing it was laying off 10 percent of its work force – as many as 3,000 people.”

Amazing how Carr classifies “people who type on deadline” as an exclusive term for those in print.

I also wonder why “newspaper Web sites” are referred to as such. Why can’t we call a “news site” a news site and be done with?

And here’s Carr’s pitifully ignorant old media apologizer comment: “The blogosphere has had its share of news breaks, but absent a functioning mainstream media to annotate, it could be pretty darn quiet out there.”

Phooey. Wake up and smell the roses and hear the din Mr Carr. It’s as “noisy” out here as the clatter of any newsroom. For every newspaper that dies, thousands of news sites sprout up. The ignorance on Mr Carr’s part is that this won’t qualify as “mainstream media”. Mainstream is over-rated, just as Wall Street analysts had over Main Street bloggers about a month or two ago.

Finally, he quotes Google’s Eric Schmidt: “If the great brands of journalism – the trusted news sources that readers have relied on – were to vanish, then the Web itself would quickly become a ‘cesspool’ of useless information.”

Consider a ZaaK433 comment:

“if the great brands of journalism — the not so trusted news sources readers don’t rely on — were to vanish, then the Web itself would quickly fill the vacuum and see the attention it deserves and become a decentralized but trusted source of information.”

Enough said.

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Related:10 reasons why there’s a bright future in journalism
Econ bloggers gain clout in financial crisis

News site as wiki : Wiki North East

Can a news site draw more readers via a complementary wiki?

Paul Bradshaw posted on E-Media Tidbits about the U.K. daily Trinity Mirror’s launch of what he describes as a wiki-blog hybrid at Wiki-North-East.co.uk from an idea from web developer Louise Midgley.

Midgley, 28, who works for Trinity’s North-East division ncjMedia, won a cash prize and will also get a future share of any profits from her idea.

The wiki-blog features up to 12 years’ worth of digital archives documenting the North East England’s events and people that were not previously being used on ncjMedia’s sites.

Bradshaw says:

“I’ve written extensively on wiki journalism and its possibilities, and it’s great to see some experimentation in the U.K. However, at this stage there is a small problem: It’s very hard to find anything to edit.

For instance, Wiki North East features several “topics,” such as Kevin Keegan or wind farms. But users cannot edit these topic overviews themselves — only the “articles” underneath them. To further confuse things, “articles” that are taken from the newspaper archive are not editable. Also, at the moment, those are the only articles I can find on the site.

In other words, there’s nothing to edit. The result is something of a wiki-blog hybrid.

The most obvious button, “Add your content to this topic,” does allow you to create an article from scratch. (You also can add a topic — you can only do that from your account page.)

This approach is puzzling. One of the reasons Wikipedia was so successful is that it did not start with nothing — it took content created in a prior (edited) incarnation, along with copyright-free encyclopedia material. Wikipedia also explicitly invited users to help with incomplete entries (”nubs”).

Wiki North East might benefit from a similar approach:

-Make archive articles and topics editable.
-Offer incomplete content that needs editing.

In other words: Let go!

Of course, the biggest challenge is building a community that cares enough about the site to repair the inevitable vandalism. Good luck with that.

Actually, I like the interface of Wiki North East — it’s clearly more user-friendly and less dour than Wikipedia.

Perhaps, for any news org, the proposition of assigning a few to manage the many Wikipedia-style may be too scary. Especially for smaller media companies trying to re-charge their sites with limited resources. The threat of suits also may be too high a price to pay for naively trusting everyone to play nice.

Even Wikipedia has changed its policy on this, and the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post have aborted free-to-critique projects after being deluged with crude comments from highly-motivated trolls.

Wiki North East encourages readers to dig deeper for information in a site they can trust. Credible content is more link-worthy and baits advertising.

The next step is for the project to constantly provide links to more contemporary stories/most-viewed stories on its current sites in the ncjMedia stable and vice versa and perhaps to link out to blog posts about the region.

Related today:
Where Are the News Org Wikis? by Amy Gahran
J-Schools Use Geo-tagging, Wikis, iPhones to Teach
Loudun library with county-wide Wiki

The girl in the window

(via Mindy McAdams)


A very moving story by Lane DeGregory of the St Petersburg Times of a feral child Dani imprisoned in her own home:

Just before noon on July 13, 2005, a Plant City police car pulled up outside that shattered window. Two officers went into the house — and one stumbled back out.

Clutching his stomach, the rookie retched in the weeds.

Plant City Detective Mark Holste had been on the force for 18 years when he and his young partner were sent to the house on Old Sydney Road to stand by during a child abuse investigation. Someone had finally called the police.

They found a car parked outside. The driver’s door was open and a woman was slumped over in her seat, sobbing. She was an investigator for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

“Unbelievable,” she told Holste. “The worst I’ve ever seen.”

The police officers walked through the front door, into a cramped living room.

“I’ve been in rooms with bodies rotting there for a week and it never stunk that bad,” Holste said later. “There’s just no way to describe it. Urine and feces — dog, cat and human excrement — smeared on the walls, mashed into the carpet. Everything dank and rotting.”

Tattered curtains, yellow with cigarette smoke, dangling from bent metal rods. Cardboard and old comforters stuffed into broken, grimy windows. Trash blanketing the stained couch, the sticky counters.

The floor, walls, even the ceiling seemed to sway beneath legions of scuttling roaches.

“It sounded like you were walking on eggshells. You couldn’t take a step without crunching German cockroaches,” the detective said. “They were in the lights, in the furniture. Even inside the freezer. The freezer!”

While Holste looked around, a stout woman in a faded housecoat demanded to know what was going on. Yes, she lived there. Yes, those were her two sons in the living room. Her daughter? Well, yes, she had a daughter . . .

The detective strode past her, down a narrow hall. He turned the handle on a door, which opened into a space the size of a walk-in closet. He squinted in the dark.

At his feet, something stirred…

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Link to Multimedia Report by Lane DeGregory and Melissa Lyttle.

The Real Great Depression

Scott Reynolds Nelson steps away from his microfiche and talks about how the current recession is a lot less like the 1929 recession and resembles more of his research of the Panic of 1873:
Quote:

When commentators invoke 1929, I am dubious. According to most historians and economists, that depression had more to do with overlarge factory inventories, a stock-market crash, and Germany’s inability to pay back war debts, which then led to continuing strain on British gold reserves. None of those factors is really an issue now. Contemporary industries have very sensitive controls for trimming production as consumption declines; our current stock-market dip followed bank problems that emerged more than a year ago; and there are no serious international problems with gold reserves, simply because banks no longer peg their lending to them.

In fact, the current economic woes look a lot like what my 96-year-old grandmother still calls “the real Great Depression.” She pinched pennies in the 1930s, but she says that times were not nearly so bad as the depression her grandparents went through. That crash came in 1873 and lasted more than four years. It looks much more like our current crisis.

The problems had emerged around 1870, starting in Europe. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, formed in 1867, in the states unified by Prussia into the German empire, and in France, the emperors supported a flowering of new lending institutions that issued mortgages for municipal and residential construction, especially in the capitals of Vienna, Berlin, and Paris. Mortgages were easier to obtain than before, and a building boom commenced. Land values seemed to climb and climb; borrowers ravenously assumed more and more credit, using unbuilt or half-built houses as collateral. The most marvelous spots for sightseers in the three cities today are the magisterial buildings erected in the so-called founder period.

But the economic fundamentals were shaky. Wheat exporters from Russia and Central Europe faced a new international competitor who drastically undersold them. The 19th-century version of containers manufactured in China and bound for Wal-Mart consisted of produce from farmers in the American Midwest. They used grain elevators, conveyer belts, and massive steam ships to export trainloads of wheat to abroad. Britain, the biggest importer of wheat, shifted to the cheap stuff quite suddenly around 1871. By 1872 kerosene and manufactured food were rocketing out of America’s heartland, undermining rapeseed, flour, and beef prices. The crash came in Central Europe in May 1873, as it became clear that the region’s assumptions about continual economic growth were too optimistic. Europeans faced what they came to call the American Commercial Invasion. A new industrial superpower had arrived, one whose low costs threatened European trade and a European way of life.

As continental banks tumbled, British banks held back their capital, unsure of which institutions were most involved in the mortgage crisis. The cost to borrow money from another bank — the interbank lending rate — reached impossibly high rates. This banking crisis hit the United States in the fall of 1873. Railroad companies tumbled first. They had crafted complex financial instruments that promised a fixed return, though few understood the underlying object that was guaranteed to investors in case of default. (Answer: nothing). The bonds had sold well at first, but they had tumbled after 1871 as investors began to doubt their value, prices weakened, and many railroads took on short-term bank loans to continue laying track. Then, as short-term lending rates skyrocketed across the Atlantic in 1873, the railroads were in trouble. When the railroad financier Jay Cooke proved unable to pay off his debts, the stock market crashed in September, closing hundreds of banks over the next three years. The panic continued for more than four years in the United States and for nearly six years in Europe.

The long-term effects of the Panic of 1873 were perverse. For the largest manufacturing companies in the United States — those with guaranteed contracts and the ability to make rebate deals with the railroads — the Panic years were golden. Andrew Carnegie, Cyrus McCormick, and John D. Rockefeller had enough capital reserves to finance their own continuing growth. For smaller industrial firms that relied on seasonal demand and outside capital, the situation was dire. As capital reserves dried up, so did their industries. Carnegie and Rockefeller bought out their competitors at fire-sale prices. The Gilded Age in the United States, as far as industrial concentration was concerned, had begun.

As the panic deepened, ordinary Americans suffered terribly…

Interesting lessons as banks start to collapse around us and rescue plans and bailouts are rife. Nelson goes on:

The echoes of the past in the current problems with residential mortgages trouble me. Loans after about 2001 were issued to first-time homebuyers who signed up for adjustablerate mortgages they could likely never pay off, even in the best of times. Real-estate speculators, hoping to flip properties, overextended themselves, assuming that home prices would keep climbing. Those debts were wrapped in complex securities that mortgage companies and other entrepreneurial banks then sold to other banks; concerned about the stability of those securities, banks then bought a kind of insurance policy called a credit-derivative swap, which risk managers imagined would protect their investments. More than two million foreclosure filings — default notices, auction-sale notices, and bank repossessions — were reported in 2007. By then trillions of dollars were already invested in this credit-derivative market. Were those new financial instruments resilient enough to cover all the risk? (Answer: no.) As in 1873, a complex financial pyramid rested on a pinhead. Banks are hoarding cash. Banks that hoard cash do not make short-term loans. Businesses large and small now face a potential dearth of short-term credit to buy raw materials, ship their products, and keep goods on shelves.

If there are lessons from 1873, they are different from those of 1929. Most important, when banks fall on Wall Street, they stop all the traffic on Main Street — for a very long time. The protracted reconstruction of banks in the United States and Europe created widespread unemployment. Unions (previously illegal in much of the world) flourished but were then destroyed by corporate institutions that learned to operate on the edge of the law. In Europe, politicians found their scapegoats in Jews, on the fringes of the economy. (Americans, on the other hand, mostly blamed themselves; many began to embrace what would later be called fundamentalist religion.)

The post-panic winners, even after the bailout, might be those firms — financial and otherwise — that have substantial cash reserves. A widespread consolidation of industries may be on the horizon, along with a nationalistic response of high tariff barriers, a decline in international trade, and scapegoating of immigrant competitors for scarce jobs. The failure in July of the World Trade Organization talks begun in Doha seven years ago suggests a new wave of protectionism may be on the way.

In the end, the Panic of 1873 demonstrated that the center of gravity for the world’s credit had shifted west — from Central Europe toward the United States. The current panic suggests a further shift — from the United States to China and India…

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