inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #0 of 276: Emily Gertz (emilyg) Thu 25 Jan 24 15:43
    
Welcome to State of the News 2024, with veteran journalists and
journalism educators John Schwartz and Paula Span.

From Jan 30 - Feb 12, we'll be discussing the challenges facing the
news industry in 2024 and beyond, how outlets and journalists are
covering the news (or failing at it), how two of the nation's top
journalism schools hatch tender young reporters and teach them to
fly - and more.

I'm Emily J. Gertz, fledgling co-host of Inkwell with Jon Lebkowsky
<jonl> and David Gans <gans>, and I'll be moderating our discussion.
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #1 of 276: Emily Gertz (emilyg) Mon 29 Jan 24 18:01
    

We're kicking off this conversation amid a dismal run of staff cuts
at some of the biggest names in U.S. journalism. The latest run,
that is.

Last week, the Los Angeles Times, the largest newspaper in
California I believe, announced it was laying off 115 (120 by some
accounts) employees, more 20% of the newsroom. Apparently it's one
of the paper's biggest staff cuts in its 143-year history, as
millionaire owner Patrick Soon-Shiong said it was important toward
"building a sustainable and thriving paper for the next generation."

According to The Guardian, "Young journalists of color were
'disproportionately affected; by the layoffs, the Los Angeles Times
Guild said in a statement, with many Black, Asian American, and
Latino staffers losing their jobs, despite the Soon-Shiong family’s
public commitment in 2020 to diversity in the paper’s staff, which
it said 'has never truly reflected the region'."

Forbes and Business Insider also announced layoffs last week (3% and
8% respectively), as did Sport Illustrated by more than 100
staffers, to move toward a "streamlines business model." 

Coincidentally, the layoff included every union member at Sports
Illustrated, but no managers or supervisors. The NewsGuild of NY and
the SI Union have filed an unfair labor practice charge with the
NLRB.

In November, Condé Nast announced layoffs of roughly 300 staffers -
5% of employees - including at The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. Also,
Vox followed up a 7% layoff at the start of 2023 with a 4% layoff.

Last year also saw The Washington Post (owner: billionaire Jeff
Bezos) cut 240 jobs through buyouts; the closure of Jezebel; and
cuts at NPR of around 10% of staff, at least 100 people

None of this even begins to describe the decimation of local news
outlets. According to the Medill School of Journalism at
Northwestern U., since 2005 the nation has lost 3,000 newspapers and
43,000 newspaper journalist jobs over the past 19 years: one-third
of its newspapers and two-thirds of newspaper journalists.

"While digital outlets have emerged to fill some voids, they're
closing at roughly the same rate as new ones start, the report said.
There is talk of public financing helping the industry, and more
philanthropic money is coming in, but none of that has changed the
trajectory," according to AP's coverage of the report last November.
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #2 of 276: Emily Gertz (emilyg) Mon 29 Jan 24 18:31
    

Why has all this happened? Because Craigslist, Google, Facebook and
a few other entities decimated once-lucrative U.S. journalism
revenues, which came largely from selling reader eyeballs to
advertisers, particularly in the classified pages.


Yet despite this and even more than I've mentioned - such as
vertical integration of ownership since the 1990s, or the rise in
violent attacks on journalists and vicious online harassment over
the past decade or so (particularly toward people of color and
women) — university journalism programs remain a going concern. 

Why is that? What's motivating new people to get into this
devastated industry at this dark time? Where are the jobs - and how
are news outlets doing at finding new ways to pay for them? 

Inkwell is thrilled to welcome veteran journalists and journalism
educators Paula Span and John Schwartz to discuss these questions
and more over the next two weeks. 
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #3 of 276: Emily Gertz (emilyg) Mon 29 Jan 24 18:43
    
This topic is world-readable, and non-members of the WELL are warmly
invited to participate by sending questions or comments to inkwell
-at- well.com. 

If you'd like to join the WELL, please go to
https://www.well.com/join/ to learn more.

John and Paula will be our guests through Feb. 12. As the
conversation grows, this topic will automatically paginate to keep
the length manageable. 
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #4 of 276: Emily Gertz (emilyg) Mon 29 Jan 24 18:47
    
The public-facing version of Inkwell, including this discussion, can
be found at https://people.well.com/conf/inkwell.vue/topics/

To bookmark this conversation, go to:

http://tinyurl.com/state-of-the-news

or

https://user.well.com/engaged.cgi?t=541&c=inkwell.vue&f=0
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #5 of 276: Emily Gertz (emilyg) Mon 29 Jan 24 18:55
    
Also - a correction:

My Inkwell cohosts are David Gans, <tnf> on the WELL, and Jon
Lebkowsky <jonl>.
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #6 of 276: POOR TASTE IN KISS-WRITING (jswatz) Mon 29 Jan 24 20:03
    

Hi, everybody! We've got a lot to talk about, and not all of it has to be
depressing. (I promise! Though a lot of it is, and thank you, Emily, for
making me want to lie down in an empty bathtub and breathe slowly until I
stop shaking.)

   Here's a good story from the NYT that lays out some of the challenges for
journalism and journalists — though Emily's recap really tells you what
you need to know:

   <https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/24/business/media/media-industry-
layoffs-decline.html>

   I worked at The Times from 2000 until 2021, with the last 7 years of my
career there with the climate team. I've also worked at The Washington Post
and Newsweek, and my first paying job in journalism was at The Daily Texan,
the school newspaper of UT Austin. Coming back to Austin, and teaching
journalism at the school where I got the bug, has been fantastic. Well, if
you don't count Texas politics.

   Anyway! Looking forward to our conversation. AMA, and yes, IATA.
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #7 of 276: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 30 Jan 24 03:36
    
The Times, after wobbling for a bit, seems to be going from strength
to strength lately, becoming something of a "national newspaper" in
the British sense.

It's a bit worrisome that it has so few companions in that niche -
maybe none.  It seems like all the country's other major newspapers
are in serious trouble - except perhaps the WaPo, which is doing OK
only because Bezos is willing and able to lose lots of money running
it.

Is my impression correct?
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #8 of 276: Emily Gertz (emilyg) Tue 30 Jan 24 07:14
    
John, I will take that as a backhanded compliment of my vivid
writing style.
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #9 of 276: POOR TASTE IN KISS-WRITING (jswatz) Tue 30 Jan 24 08:03
    
Emily, yes -- you described the state of the news biz so very well
that I got a big sad. But it's a new day, and I'm better now!
Compartmentalization for the win.

    Thank you, Mark -- I worry that the news media landscape looks
too much like a "winner take all" market, with winners winning
because they are winning. Winner-take-all markets can be disrupted,
but this means if you're not the tentpole, you're likelier to have
problems. 

    So local markets lost their media competition, and now those
sole news sources in broader markets are squeezed, as well — for all
of the reasons Emily laid out. 

    This is not the kind of thing that ever made me feel smug when I
was at the NYT. When other news organizations get scoops, it makes
you more competitive. More scared. And being scared is good for
reporters; it raises the competitive metabolism, and makes for more
news out there. 
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #10 of 276: Tiffany Lee Brown (magdalen) Tue 30 Jan 24 08:09
    



I am very excited that this is excellent journalists and teachers are
appearing here on the well for this conversation. As a freelance writer
myself, I have been part of this collapsing industry for many years.

it stands out to me that in most nationally visible conversations about the
crisis in news and journalism, the media is assumed to be large, city
newspapers along the lines of the New York Times. I have made crappy money
writing for alternative weeklies, and these days for a small town weekly,
and I think we have much to learn from these entities.

The small papers and magazines and websites—the ones where the line between
journalism and local boosterism is utterly blurred, where everyone knows
that objectivity is pretty much a fruitless endeavor, generally don’t
attempt to break a Watergate scandal.

Yet I feel they serve the public in some really significant ways. I would
love to hear discussions that acknowledge the role of these alternative
news universes. Some of them are even managing to remain independent when
the newspaper of record for a particular city or region is getting gobbled
up by some crappy mega corporation.

Pardon any typos etc., I am dictating this post because I have a wrist
injury.
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #11 of 276: J Matisse Enzer (matisse) Tue 30 Jan 24 08:29
    
How much income does it take for an organization to be a healthy high
quality news source?

What are the mechanisms for funding journalism that are or can succeed in
the post-print-advertising age?

Tiff: one example of a long-lived local news source that is pretty much
exactly what you describe is the weekly Point Reyes Light:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point_Reyes_Light_(newspaper)
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #12 of 276: Paula Span (pspan) Tue 30 Jan 24 10:12
    
Hi all.

Last week and the week before truly were bloodbaths. Besides the LAT and
Sports Illustrated and Conde Nast and the WashPost buyouts -- which sent
some of the paper's most experienced writers, editor and critics walking out
the door -- there was the sale of the Baltimore Sun to a Sinclair exec who
doesn't look at all like good news.

So, the paradigm in which billionaires rescue the news biz by buying up
prestige publications doesn't look solid. The Boston Globe apparently is
still profitable, but guys like Bezos and Soon-Shiong have shown that
they're unwilling to prop up news organizations, even when they can afford
it.

Another alternative that was briefly cheering was the nonprofit newsrooms
popping up around the country. Some are stable, but it was worrisome when
the Texas Tribune, on of the most successful, did its own round of staff
cuts. https://www.austinchronicle.com/daily/news/2023-08-23/texas-tribune-
lays-off-journalists-and-entire-copy-desk/

So did Houston Landing a couple of weeks ago.

I'm honestly not sure who or what can rescue local journalism, and local
these days means big cities without stable publications.

(The Times points out, however, that local TV news is hanging in there.)
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #13 of 276: Paul Belserene (paulbel) Tue 30 Jan 24 11:10
    
I was just going to ask you, Paula, what would it take to make local
and regional journalism sustainable. 

I've encountered from time to time what looks like people trying to
establish a network of local/regional outlets, networked in some
way. I'm struggling to remember the name of one of them.

Short of journalism as a public utility (and wouldn't that be nice)
what are the factors for making journalism sustainable in the US
these days? There's subscriptions, there's ads, there's doodads like
crosswords and Wordle... what else?
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #14 of 276: Paul Belserene (paulbel) Tue 30 Jan 24 11:46
    
Oh, and another question:

What has been the effect of the terminal enshittiication of Musk's
plaything XTwitter?

Specifically, 
1) how are journalists dealing with it
2) what is the effect on local and regional organizations that
gravitated to it for timely announcements
3) is there any kind of policy/suggestion on its use coming from
large news organizations which used to expect their journos to be
active on it?
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #15 of 276: Frako Loden (frako) Tue 30 Jan 24 13:47
    
Has anyone seen the new documentary STRIPPED FOR PARTS: AMERICAN
JOURNALISM AT THE CROSSROADS? I'm going to one of the two sold-out
screenings of this film playing in Oakland tonight. Described thus:

"The story of one secretive hedge fund that is plundering America’s
newspapers and the journalists who are fighting back. Investigative
reporter Julie Reynolds, Denver Post editorialist Chuck Plunkett and
a handful of others, backed by the NewsGuild Union, go toe-to-toe
with the faceless Alden Global Capital in a battle to save and
rebuild local journalism across America. Who will control the future
of America’s news ecosystem: Wall Street billionaires concerned only
with profit, or those who see journalism as an essential public
service and the lifeblood of our democracy?"

Trailer: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knkLfMsME0M>
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #16 of 276: Tiffany Lee Brown (magdalen) Tue 30 Jan 24 14:07
    

oooh! sounds promising.

i hope there are similar documentaries about hedge funds and PEFs buying up
medical clinics, hospitals, and nursing homes. 

so much of our essential societal infrastructure is up for grabs, bought up
and squeezed out by the grabbiest. how are news organizations faring in
less venal cultures and countries?
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #17 of 276: Alan Fletcher (af) Tue 30 Jan 24 15:32
    <scribbled by af Tue 6 Feb 24 11:41>
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #18 of 276: Alan Fletcher (af) Tue 30 Jan 24 15:34
    <scribbled by af Tue 6 Feb 24 11:41>
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #19 of 276: Emily Gertz (emilyg) Tue 30 Jan 24 16:34
    
Regarding a sustainable business base for journalism:

In 2018 I was a Tow-Knight Entrepreneurial Journalism fellow at the
CUNY* Graduate School of Journalism. 

One of the things I learned was that now, most outlets (on media
other than TV, let's stipulate) need to diversify their revenue
streams to at least five different sources of income, meaning
subscriptions, classified and display ads, and at least three
others.

Putting on events...providing some sort of client services
(ProPublica sells data sets, for instance: see
https://www.propublica.org/datastore/)...sponsored content...

This is where the non-profit news model can comes in, because it
expands the options to memberships, grants, and individual
donations.

Another potential revenue stream is nurturing a cash cow to pay for
the newsroom. This is why papers have real estate sections, for
instance, or travel sections.

I don't know specifics about the layoffs at the Texas Tribune,
although I vividly recall the chill they caused, because TT had been
THE standard-bearer for successful non-profit local and regional
news. I can imagine reasons other than "non-profit news doesn't work
full stop," however.

What sometimes gets forgotten is that non-profit does not mean NO
profit. It means putting the profit back into the business, instead
of paying it out to owners/shareholders.


*City University of New York
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #20 of 276: Emily Gertz (emilyg) Tue 30 Jan 24 16:37
    
Tiff, do you know how The Nugget is keeping itself afloat?
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #21 of 276: Emily Gertz (emilyg) Tue 30 Jan 24 16:59
    
Regarding local TV news, the unfortunate problem there has become
concentration of ownership. Since the Telecommunications Act of
1996, diversified ownership of for-profit radio and TV stations has
nearly gone extinct.

There's an internet-famous chart still floating around, first
published on the Frugal Dad blog (oop), that notes: "In 1983, 90% of
American media was owned by 50 companies. In 2011, that same 90% is
controlled by 6 companies." 

In 2011 they were GE (which owned NBC Universal, which is now owned
by Comcast), News Corp (which sold 21st Century FOX to Disney and
spun its news, sports and broadcasting assets off to a successor
called Fox Corporation in 2019), Disney ('nuff said), Time Warner
(bought by AT&T in 2018; sold to Discovery Inc. in 2022), Viacom and
CBS (which merged in 2019, effectively ending Viacom as a separate
entity).

While the 6 companies may have changed, as far as I know the
statistic remains correct, overall. 
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #22 of 276: POOR TASTE IN KISS-WRITING (jswatz) Tue 30 Jan 24 18:21
    

Emily, that's a great point about diversifying revenue sources. The collapse
of print advertising and the small profit in online advertising pushed the
NYT and WP into subscription/paywall territory. That definitely doesn't work
for everyone. The NYT is also drawing money out of people for its great food
subscription, from The Athletic, and from puzzles and games, among other
things. They are keeping a lot of plates spinning.

   As for hedge funds stripping newspapers for parts, I love this story from
Dan Barry of the NYT:

<https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/10/us/alden-global-capital-pottstown-
mercury.html>
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #23 of 276: Alan Fletcher (af) Tue 30 Jan 24 18:43
    <scribbled by af Tue 6 Feb 24 11:41>
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #24 of 276: b n (ellen) Tue 30 Jan 24 19:32
    

I think printed/delivered is becoming a thing of the past. we get the NY
Times and SF Chronicle delivered, or used to. the extremely reliable
delivery person was laid off the first of the year. since then, it's been
worse than spotty. one delivery person my partner encountered seemed
stressed, and said he was a temp. I think that was Saturday and we haven't
seen a paper since. (calling and asking for redelivery has been fruitless.
humans reached are incredibly sorry, but...)
  
inkwell.vue.541 : John Schwartz and Paula Span: State of the News 2024
permalink #25 of 276: Alan Fletcher (af) Tue 30 Jan 24 22:32
    <scribbled by af Tue 6 Feb 24 11:41>
  

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