Four months later, InstaPundit checks in

Last October, I wrote an item chastising the InstaPundit, Glenn Reynolds, for writing that opponents of a ballot measure to eliminate the Massachusetts state income tax were “pledging a campaign of ‘massive resistance.'”

The problem was that Reynolds had put massive resistance in quotation marks, yet appeared to be quoting no one other than himself.

On Saturday, believe it or not, Reynolds responded — and it appears that he still doesn’t understand how to use quotation marks. He points to a statement by then-House Speaker Sal DiMasi vowing not to implement Question One if it were to pass (it didn’t). But DiMasi never used the phrase “massive resistance.”

I would say that Reynolds concocted a quote, except that he doesn’t even seem to realize that’s what he did. For good measure, he tells me that the reason he appears to post constantly throughout the day is that he’s set up some sort timing mechanism that posts automatically. In other words, many of his time-stamps are faked. Ethical? I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

By the way, if the Glenn (or “Glenn”) who posted a comment to Media Nation isn’t really Reynolds, my apologies. I’m making an assumption that it is, mainly because there’s nothing particularly weird or over-the-top about his comment.

And these people really know how to mangle quotation marks.


Health journalist Tinker Ready launches blog

Longtime health journalist (and Northeastern colleague) Tinker Ready announces that she’s started a health-care blog, Boston Health News. She writes:

I hope to write and link on topics including research, personal health, business and international news. I’m especially looking forward to following the latest attempt at health reform. I’ve covered at least two runs at it — the Medicare reforms of the late 80s and the Clinton proposal. A lot needs to be explained and a million good stories wait to be told.

Ready will be a welcome addition to the local blogging scene.

The trouble with Brill’s not-so-secret memo

My apologies for not being right on top of this earlier in the week. I just had a chance to read Steven Brill’s no-longer-confidential memo, “Turning Around the Times — and Journalism,” posted on Romenesko, and I’ve got a few observations.

First, a bit of praise for Brill, who, near the beginning of his career, wrote one of the bravest books I’ve ever read — “The Teamsters,” about an organization that, at the time of publication (1979), was more a criminal enterprise than it was a union. I don’t know how Brill found the courage to start his car in the morning.

And though I’ve weighed in several times (here and here) on why it doesn’t make sense to think that newspapers will be able to charge a fee to their online customers, I understand the problem. Even though what you pay for a print edition doesn’t even cover the cost of manufacturing and distributing it, the fact — and the problem — is that print advertising is far more lucrative than online advertising. Never is a long time, but it’s beginning to look like Web advertising may never support the public-interest journalism on which a healthy, self-governing society depends.

So I’m sympathetic to, though not supportive of, Brill’s ideas for charging online customers. It’s possible that it might even work for the Times because of its unique appeal. There are probably quite a few people who’d pay for access to the Times, but not for anything else. And therein lies one of problems with his plan, though by no means the only one.

Here’s the biggest drawback I see in Brill’s proposal: it would end blogging, as valuable a journalistic form as has been developed since the inverted pyramid. A really good blog post might link to three, four or five news stories — maybe more. A really good blogger might skim through 10, 15 or 20 stories in the course of synthesizing them into that post. Finally, that blogger might look at many dozens of news sources on a regular or semi-regular basis.

Obviously, bloggers — most of whom are doing it for no money — cannot afford to subscribe to dozens of online newspapers and magazines. Even if they could, they want to know that when they link to particular stories, their readers will be able to follow the links and read those stories as well. How many online news sources is a typical blog reader supposed to subscribe to?

Micropayments, which Brill also mentions, get around this. Properly implemented, they’re deducted automatically. But though 10 cents an article might seem reasonable, do you really want to pay $1 to read a well-constructed blog post and follow all the links? Of course you don’t. No one is going to do such a thing.

Brill says that if the Times charges $1 per month to each of its 20 million unique monthly visitor, that would generate $240 million a year. I’ll withhold my sarcasm, because this is math, and experience tells me that I could be wrong. But it strikes me that Brill has convinced himself that the Times could get a buck out of every person who, at some point during the course of a month, clicks on a link to a Times story that he found via a search engine. Intuitively, it seems to me that they’re not going to do that, and I’m pretty sure Brill would concede the point if he’d think about it.

The only folks who are going to pay $1 a month are the journalism geeks like me, who actually prop open their laptops at breakfast and read a good chunk of the Times online. And I suspect the number of people who actually read the paper that way is far, far smaller than 20 million.

Case in point: Christian Science Monitor editor John Yemma told me last fall that 84 percent of visitors to the paper’s Web site come in via search engines, aggregators and blogs. Let’s say it’s the same for the Times. Let’s say you could get every one of the 16 percent who come in through the front door to pay $1 a month. That’s $38.4 million for the year, not $240 million.

I realize that my critique would appear to leave no way out of the dilemma in which the Times and other newspapers find themselves. I happen to think there may be more life left in the print edition than we all imagined a couple of years ago. I’d raise the price by quite a bit, maybe offer some premium, print-only features (heresy, I know, but worth thinking about) and perhaps offer those well-heeled customers access to some special services.

A solution? No. But it might work as a holding action until we can figure out what’s next.

Media Nation on citizen journalism

Christian Avard of iBrattleboro and the Deerfield Valley News interviewed me at the New England Press Association convention last week. The topic: the role of citizen journalism in the changing news-media landscape.

See you at the NEPA convention

I’ll be at the annual New England Press Association convention this afternoon, leading a workshop on blogging and social media for journalists. Thanks for the help many of you gave me, and I hope to see some of you there.

Above is the slideshow I’ll be using. My goal is to move through it quickly and get into idea-sharing, since I expect many of the participants will have at least as much to offer as I do.

Seeking advice on social media for journalists

This Friday I’m leading a workshop on blogging and social media for journalists at the annual New England Press Association convention. I’m expecting a fairly savvy group — not likely to be too many outright novices. Any advice?

Northeastern student on the scene

Jared Molton, a student in my Reinventing the News course at Northeastern this past fall, was on the scene today following that fatal fire-truck crash on Huntington Avenue. He wrote it up for his blog and posted a slideshow to Flickr. His work then got picked up by Universal Hub.

Photo copyright (c) 2009 by Jared Molton.

Why GateHouse should settle its suit

In my latest for the Guardian, I attempt to break down the issues in the case of GateHouse Media v. New York Times Co. to their essentials — and urge that the two sides settle their differences lest the future of online journalism be harmed.

Monday morning odds and ends

I don’t plan to do much blogging this week, but I do want to call your attention to a few items:

  • Chuck Tanowitz and Adam Reilly have both written sharp analyses of GateHouse Media’s lawsuit against the New York Times Co. I think Reilly is on the mark with his observation that the Globe, through its Your Town sites, is going beyond mere linking and is trying to establish itself as a substitute for GateHouse’s Wicked Local sites, while using GateHouse’s content.
  • Joe Dwinell of the Boston Herald has also weighed in with a good item [link now fixed] on the suit. I do disagree with his characterization of this as “David vs. Goliath.” Both GateHouse and the Times Co. are large, publicly traded media companies that are fighting for their financial lives. Call this Wounded Goliath I vs. Wounded Goliath II.
  • Sean Polay, a top Internet guy for Rupert Murdoch’s Ottaway Newspapers (including the Cape Cod Times and the Standard-Times of New Bedford), says he wouldn’t mind at all if linked to Ottaway content. Interesting, given that Herald publisher Pat Purcell recently accepted Murdoch’s offer to run the Ottaway papers.

Finally, a source has provided me with a copy of Barclays’ most recent report on the New York Times Co., the one that placed the value of the Globe at a mind-bogglingly low $20 million. I have posted it (PDF), so you can have a look for yourself. Perhaps a few gimlet-eyed Media Nation readers can find some gold.

I’m dubious. As you will see, Barclays values the Globe at somewhere between $12 million and $20 million — lower than the value of the “Worchester Papers,” which it places at somewhere between $15 million and $25 million. That can’t be right.

And, come on — the “Worchester Papers”? Does someone at Barclays think the Worcester Telegram & Gazette are two different papers?

More resources on the GateHouse case

Soon it will be Christmas Eve in Media Nation, so I don’t want to get too bogged down with blogging today. But I do want to call your attention to the excellent work the Citizen Media Center is doing on the matter of GateHouse Media’s lawsuit against the New York Times Co.

First, there is Citizen Media founder Dan Gillmor’s nuanced take. (Is Jeff Jarvis going to call his ally Gillmor “clueless”? It’s time for Mr. Buzz Machine to settle down with a nice cup of decaf and take another look at this.) Next, the Citizen Media Law Project offers an analysis of GateHouse’s legal claims. The center is also aggregating information about the case as it unfolds. Indispensible stuff.

Yesterday U.S. District Court Judge William Young rejected GateHouse’s request for a temporary restraining order, which would have prevented the Times Co.’s from linking to GateHouse content immediately. (GateHouse story here; Boston Globe story here.)

A trial date has been set for Jan. 5, which seems pretty aggressive, given that Media Nation hears the Times Co. has been given a deadline of Jan. 6 to respond to GateHouse’s complaint. In all likelihood, the Jan. 5 session will just be a chance for everyone to exchange business cards and New Year’s greetings before getting down to work.