Turn Track Changes On

March 21, 2013

As a (mostly) native Bay Stater, and a fan of good music and political journalism, I was sad to hear of last week’s shut down of the Boston Phoenix.  The Phoenix covered Boston politics, culture and music with its own brand of gritty, independent reporting since 1966.  The publishers declared that the decline in national ad revenue forced them to stop the presses on March 14.

Unfortunately it’s a common saga as news enterprises old and new strive to adapt amidst tumultuous change in the economy, technology, consolidation, social media and advertising.  One of the tougher pills to swallow for staff and fans of the Phoenix was that the outlet had just reinvented itself six months ago, to positive reviews, transforming from a weekly tabloid into a glossy magazine.

Clearly, reinvention isn’t always enough, but it is the name of the game for those still in the media biz.  And that means those of us who depend on the fourth estate, and all the platforms and channels that comprise it today, need to pay attention to what’s happening out there.  Here’s just a smattering of things we’re seeing in the field:

  • Alliances:  From Climate Desk to the Media Consortium to Free Press and others, journalists and outlets are joining forces, sharing knowledge, repurposing content and to some extent, circling the wagons.  In local markets, cooperative arrangements across media platforms are on the rise.  In Seattle, for example, there’s one between KING TV, the Seattle Times and some of the hyperlocal news outlets like West Seattle Blog. Knowing how media are networked to one another is an opportunity to maximize the efficiency and reach of your efforts.  From April 5-7, Free Press will be hosting the National Conference for Media Reform in Denver, with a power packed lineup of speakers, workshops and more, all focused on building a movement to “change the media and build a better democracy.”
  • Uber Social:  The NY Times, BBC Academy’s College of Journalism and the Knight Foundation are hosting a social media summit next month, “a discussion about the next wave of social media in journalism.”  No wonder, as the expectation on journalists to tweet/blog/promote their reporting continues to grow.  Stories that ‘trend’ online float to the top.  Stories that don’t: buh-bye.  Increasingly, LinkedIn is a platform journalists turn to for experts and sources.  How is your social media engagement with reporters?  Don’t wait too long.
  • Mission-Driven, High Quality, New Models: Midwest Energy News, Grist, Sightline, InvestigateWest, Environmental Health News and many others are carving new pathways for news and content generation, and they are attracting seasoned journalists who know how to report and tell stories to do it.  There is no cookie cutter approach to business model, strategic approach, focus or reach.  But the results are consistent when it works: good content is released into the stream.  Once it’s out there, well, see the previous bullet.  As good stories spread, they begin to shape and compete with traditional news media in all sorts of interesting ways.
  • Innovation:  So many examples out there, but two great ones that just popped over the last week.  The first, the NY Times experiments with a more structured approach to online comments in their coverage of Pope Francis’ election. A mini-survey, 100-word limit, and a tool to filter comments by perspective.  Also a big data pull for the paper.  And speaking of data, check out this story about sensor news networks, cicadas, and Radio Shack.  I’ll leave it at that.

Let us know what else you are seeing out there, we love intel from the field.  Below are a few resources you might want to check out.  They provide great reporting and commentary as this all plays out in real time.

In the end, the Boston Phoenix newsroom signed off, fittingly, via Twitter, using Edward R. Murrow’s ‘good night and good luck’ as their farewell to the city of Boston.  A dignified, graceful exit to be sure, and in the context of all these transitions, rather poetic.



John Lamson