Warning: this post contains graphic scenes

Circulation declines. Source: The Awl. Click for full graphic.

Today, a roundup of some graphs related to yesterday’s release of newspaper circulation numbers in the United States.

Warning, these graphs may disturb anyone who believes printed news isn’t fading fast. Discretion is advised.

  • How much has newspaper household penetration fallen since WW2? From almost 130 per cent to only 33 per cent. Allan Mutter charts it.
  • How is circulation changing at the country’s largest papers? Hint: You wouldn’t want to work for the SF Chronicle. The NewsCred blog paints a colorful but ugly picture.
  • How has circulation changed for six major newspapers since 1990? If you’re the Wall Street Journal (which can count its paid online subscribers in total circulation) things are great. Otherwise, this is a roller coaster that now only goes downhill. The Awl tracks the trends.
  • And finally, how have newspapers themselves reported circulation? With fewer hard numbers, more references to percentage changes and a focus on trying to tell their own positive story. Again, from The Awl.

First report from The Local’s virtual assignment desk

Citizen journalist Elisabeth Donnelly was the first to have her work published as part of a new program on The Local, a community website operated by the New York Times.

Responding to an invitation on The Local’s new Virtual Assignment Desk (see earlier blog post), Donnelly covered the 88th Precinct Community and Youth Council meeting last Wednesday June 10.

Although her report didn’t follow the traditional inverted pyramid style of news writing, it was packed with interesting details about the meeting, which elicited comments and follow-up questions from her readers.

Donnelly was one of three readers who volunteered for the assignment.

The Virtual Assignment Desk (pictured) now appears throughout The Local, with editors inviting readers to not only accept reporting assignments, but to suggest some too.

NY Times challenges to readers to become reporters

The Local - neighbourhood websites operated by the New York Times

Neighbourhood website The Local, a project of the New York Times in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, will launch a virtual assignment desk next week.

Readers are invited to propose assignments – and to carry them out, starting with this one:

We’re looking for someone to go to the 88th Precinct Community Council meeting next Wednesday, the 10th.

It’s at 7:30 p.m. at 333 Lafayette Ave, the Pratt Towers apartment complex, in the community room. At these things, the precinct commander, Capt. Anthony Tasso, or his appointed proxy, will field questions from the audience. There are a few other presenters. It’s usually pretty interesting, or at least the good parts are. Sometimes it even gets a little heated.

We’re looking for someone to go, take notes, take a photo and write up the festivities. Get exact quotes and names of the people you’re quoting. And send the results to us by early Thursday morning. We can explain the details and give you basic training.

The way of the future? I wonder if the “lucky” volunteer will realize how many people from the “mainstream media” will be to watching this with enormous interest.

Is the NY Times social media editor social enough?

Jennifer Preston

No sooner does the New York Times announce the appointment of a social media editor than bloggers wonder aloud why she has had such a low profile in the social media universe thus far.

The credibility of Jennifer Preston [pictured] has been called into question by Ben Parr at Mashable and Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb, who say they found little evidence of her in the usual social media venues.

And Gawker figures it’s all part of a NY Times plot to clamp down on the use of social media by staffers, rather than foster more of it.

Among Ms Preston’s alleged anti-social behaviour: she kept her Twitter updates private until after her appointment to the new position. Her Twitter followership appears to be surging now, however.

The Times’ move comes several months after a Canadian newspaper, the Globe and Mail, appointed a “communities editor”. The paper chose its technology writer, Mathew Ingram, who was already a prominent blogger and avid user of social media.

– Hat tip: J-Source

Ideas on membership-funding of newspapers

Further to my previous post about the NY Times considering selling memberships to help fund its journalism, Steve Outing at Editor & Publisher today posted some useful ideas on how to entice members with more than coffee mugs, t-shirts and tote bags.

Here are some of his most innovative and promising ideas, in my opinion:

* Every newspaper member gets exclusive discounts from a large group of participating newspaper advertisers. Rather than the anachronistic printed coupon books that have been around for decades and are sold for fund-raisers (in Colorado these are called Gold C Books and sell for $10), allow members to use their mobile phones to show retailers, restaurants, etc. their discount coupons after entering their password. This eliminates the problem of leaving the coupon or coupon book at home, since most of us carry our cell phones everywhere. A special app for smartphones could identify nearby discount deals based on your current location, or be browsed or searched.

* Advertisers should be persuaded to take part in the member discount program as part of their overall ad deal with the newspaper and its digital services, so there’s a wide variety of discounts and deals to be had.

* Consider deals with groups of restaurants, or ski areas. A paying newspaper member can get one free meal (when another is purchased) once per month at a selection of participating restaurants, or one free ski lift ticket per month. If our hypothetical newspaper membership is only $10 a month, it’s a no-brainer that you buy a membership if you like to eat out or ski.

As Outing points out, the key to making memberships work is in offering value. If people won’t pay for online journalism directly, perhaps they can be persuaded with discounts on other things they buy.

NY Times considers another run at paid web content

New York Times

When it comes to funding online news, most ideas revolve around either wringing more dollars from advertisers, or somehow convincing consumers to pay for access to content.

The New York Times continues to explore the latter approach, despite the disappointing returns from the Times Select pay wall which was dismantled in 2007 after two years of operation. [For more on Times Select, watch this video interview with former Times VP-Digital Vivian Schiller.]

Writing in the New York Observer today, John Koblin quotes Times executive editor Bill Keller as telling staff this week that the company is consider two options:

  • Allow users to view content freely, then charge if they go over a certain limit
  • Invite users to contribute voluntarily through a NY Times membership – the benefits of which could include access to special online content

Jeff Jarvis lampoons the first idea, pointing out that it (like other content payment ideas) discourages readers from doing exactly what websites want: spending more time on site, and viewing more content.

Readers’ inner dialogue is not hard to imagine: ‘Uh-oh, should I read that next story – and see that ad and maybe find something worth linking to and bring in other readers? It might start costing me. I’d better conserve my Times characters; they’re adding up; already read 20,000 of them. I think it’s time to go elsewhere now.’

The second approach is hard to imagine taking hold – although at least in the United States there is a tradition of voluntary financial support for public broadcasting from individuals and institutions. And really, isn’t membership-based access to content just another way of saying “paying for content”? The challenge for the Times will be to make that fly in a way that Times Select couldn’t.

Koblin says Times execs will make a decision by next month.

Linking is good thinking

There’s nothing like a long weekend (Monday being “Family Day” here in Ontario) to catch up on a bit of reading.

Among the nuggets I got to today was this Dec 3 item on why Frank Rich of the New York Times is such a prolific linker in his online columns.

Rich told Edward J Delaney at Nieman Journalism Lab:

“It helps bulletproof the column, because if they say ‘He must be making that up,’ they can look and see — here’s the source, take a look and judge it for yourself….If I’m citing a figure, at the most banal level, from the Labor Department or a poll or an economic report, [why not] link to the whole document it comes from?”

Publishing goes high-tech

Research and development departments are not something one generally associates with newspaper companies – even those that have remodelled themselves as multi-channel news companies.

But at the New York Times, Nick Bilton leads a team designing technologies “that will become commonplace in a 24-48-month time frame.” Another sign that the Times is investing now for a post-print future.

Emily Nussbaum, in a January 11 piece in New York Magazine, provides a glimpse into Bilton’s research lab as well as the organizational attitudes and decision-making that enable nytimes.com to produce such ground-breaking features as the US Election Word Train.

Read this article for inspiration.

Imagining the world without a (printed) NY Times

New York Times

Writing in the current issue of the Atlantic under the stark headline End Times, Michael Hirschorn warns that the newspaper industry’s transition to a digital business model will be neither smooth, comfortable nor leisurely.

2009 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for the industry as it contends with shrinking advertising revenues in its print editions, the migration of readers to the internet, high debt loads and the sudden onset of a global economic recession.

Hirschorn regards the position of the New York Times as particularly perilous, as the company needs to find US$400 million by May in order to avoid defaulting on part of its US$1 billion debt load.

Not everyone agrees that the Times situation is quite so dire. But Hirschorn still makes some interesting conjectures on how newspapers such as the Times can best succeed in a post-print world:

Continue reading

NY Times covers local news with new blog

At a time when national and international news is available just about everywhere online [including on portal sites, webmail services and news aggregators], in-depth local coverage is being recognized as a key competitive advantage for newspaper websites.

Even the New York Times, one of the strongest news “brands” globally, is emphasizing local news online. The paper today launched the City Room blog, with content provided by more than seventy Times journalists assigned to New York City and the metropolitan area.

The emphasis here will be on reporting, not punditry or snarky commentary. The blog will feature news-maker interviews, documents, web resources, photos, videos and other multimedia, as well as updates and follow-ups on the day’s news.

But the most important feature, we hope, will be the reader discussions…

…When we look around the web, we see people in their separate corners, divided by ideology, by neighborhood, by their obsessions. Our obsession is New York City, and we hope New Yorkers will gather here in good faith for civil discussion about the issues and problems of the day.

Commenting is moderated. There’s also an extensive blogroll, including links to rival news organizations.

You’ll be pleased to know that access to the City Room blog does not require a Times Select subscription.