Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get

Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get

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by Ken Doctor

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The New News

Reports of the death of the news media are highly premature, though you wouldn't know it from the media's own headlines. Ken Doctor goes far beyond those headlines, taking an authoritative look at the fast-emerging future.

The Twelve Laws of Newsonomics reveal the kinds of news that readers will get and that journalists (and citizens) will


The New News

Reports of the death of the news media are highly premature, though you wouldn't know it from the media's own headlines. Ken Doctor goes far beyond those headlines, taking an authoritative look at the fast-emerging future.

The Twelve Laws of Newsonomics reveal the kinds of news that readers will get and that journalists (and citizens) will produce as we enter the first truly digital news decade.

A new Digital Dozen, global powerhouses from The New York Times, News Corp, and CNN to NBC, the BBC, and NPR will dominate news across the globe, Locally, a colorful assortment of emerging news players, from Boston to San Diego, are rewriting the rules of city reporting,

Newsonomics provides a new sense of the news we'll get on paper, on screen, on the phone, by blog, by podcast, and via Facebook and Twitter. It also offers a new way to understand the why and how of the changes, and where the Googles, Yahoos and Microsofts fit in. Newsonomics pays special attention to media and journalism students in a chapter on the back-to-the-future skills they'll need, while marketing professionals get their own view of what the changes mean to them.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Doctor spent 21 years working in various capacities for the Knight Ridder media empire until the company's sale in 2006, and he offers an overview of the very changes that swept him out the door. But far from expressing bitterness about the barrage of blogs and Web sites that have brought old media giants like his former employer to their knees, Doctor is an enthusiastic, even giddy champion of how advances in digital technology are reshaping news media. He reels off buzzwords and corny catchphrases (“It's all beta, baby”; “I'm not a Chump, I'm a Champion”), but sheds little in the way of insight, analysis, or, frankly, news. His rules for “newsonomics” tend to be disappointingly obvious: “Create multimedia, aggregate, blog, master the technology, and market virally.” Perhaps to compensate for the lack of substance, Doctor has tricked out the book with sidebars, bullet-point lists, and interview transcripts, emulating the eye-catching style so prevalent in the blogosphere. In doing so, he inadvertently draws attention to what some might consider the chief limitation of the digital boom—that for all the technical innovation, there's still no substitute for good writing and solid reporting. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Media analyst and former managing editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Doctor offers his take on 12 trends currently shaping the dissemination of news by the mass media. In detail-packed chapters (with one trend per chapter), the author discusses the endlessly available news content, how the "digital dozen" media behemoths are pairing global reach with an increased focus on local news, the importance of niche publishing and advertising, the differences between amateur blogging reporters and professional reporter bloggers, and more. Each chapter also includes sidebars about various aspects of the old and new journalism models and Q&As with an impressive cross section of new media players. Although the story of how content is produced and consumed has been covered before (think Chris Anderson's Free and David Weinberger's Everything Is Miscellaneous), Doctor manages to strike a new tone that's well balanced between nostalgia for the old world and acceptance of (as well as optimism for) the new. VERDICT Doctor's analysis might be a bit detailed for the recreational reader, but it's essential reading for journalism students and those interested in media culture.—Sarah Statz Cords, The Reader's Advisor Online
From the Publisher

“Ken Doctor is one of the smartest people I know in the news business. Where so many people have their heads in the clouds or under the table, he faced reality a long time ago. He gets the economics, the technology, and the personalities of the new news world. He knows the winners from the losers. His book is quite simply the best primer so far to the future of the news.” —Michael Wolff, author of The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch

“The business model to fund journalism is broken. Ken Doctor picks up the pieces and offers hope to those smart and brave enough to embrace change.” —Gordon Crovitz, former Publisher, Wall Street Journal, co-founder Journalism Online

“This is a wonderfully informative and conversationally written book that should be a must read for anyone interested in the future of journalism. "Newsonomics" captures the energy, passion, creativity and opportunity of this transformational period for journalism and the media. It's fun to read and full of relevant facts and context.” —Robert J. Rosenthal, Executive Director, Center for Investigative Reporting

“Ken Doctor is one of the most important and readable analysts in media today. With Newsonomics, he creates some optimism that there is a way to navigate the difficult terrain. Newsonomics is a must-read and will leave you energized.” —Bernie Lunzer, President of The Newspaper Guild-CWA

“Whether you are in the news business or some other industry, Newsonomics, offering sensible ideas for moving forward in any business, is a case study on how quickly your business model can be transformed.” —Clare Hart, President, Dow Jones Enterprise Media Group

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Twelve New Trends That Will Shape The News You Get

By Ken Doctor

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2010 Ken Doctor
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-6834-8


In the Age of Darwinian Content, You Are Your Own Editor

It's amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper. — JERRY SEINFELD, comedian

Control your own destiny or someone else will. — JACK WELCH, magnate

You used to be able to count your daily news sources on one hand. If you were the average American, you read your daily newspaper, watched the evening news, and subscribed to several magazines. In the car, maybe, you caught some news on the radio.

It's not for nothing that Walter Cronkite and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were household words to my parents' generation. These guys weren't talking heads. They were editors. Along with their staffs, they picked what they thought we needed to know that evening. And then packed it neatly into thirty minutes. Weekends, well, that was leisure time. News happened Monday to Friday.

Newspaper editors played the same role.

In 1994, I became managing editor of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, a daily of about 200,000 circulation in the Twin Cities, with more than two hundred people working in the newsroom. Managing editor, as in M.E., as in the second-ranking editor. A key M.E. responsibility: making a final decision on what went on Page One the next morning. At first, it was both exhilarating and anxiety producing. Knowing that the pick I'd ratify would determine what some 400,000 readers saw first thing the next morning gave pause.

I was a gatekeeper.

Today the familiar gatekeepers — top editors at daily papers, those who put together the evening news broadcasts — have lost their audiences and their sway. Those newspaper gatekeepers used to bring their readers the world — national news, international news, business news, sports news, entertainment news, and local news. Now it's that last area — local — that may be their refuge from the Internet storm.

For decades, more than 1,500 daily newspapers — most of them, chain-owned — created their own national pages, their own world pages, their own business pages, their own national entertainment pages. Sure, corporate offices tried pushing economies of scale, suggesting pages that were centrally produced, at far less cost. Most local editors rebelled, though, and the work most industries would consider redundant stayed in place for a long time.

"We'll tell our readers what's important," local editors bellowed. In fact, for all the editor concentration and cost, readers were getting a bit of New York Times lite, Washington Post lite, and Los Angeles Times lite, plus a smattering of AP and other newswires. Readers — that's you — are no dummies and figured it out, once technology released the stranglehold of local editors. Why take your local editors' edited, truncated-for-print versions of The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and hundreds of other complete sources? Why settle for New York Times lite from your local paper?

Why, indeed? And so, many of us have migrated, at least for part of what we need to know, from the daily print paper to Internet news reading. In fact, not just many, but most. As 2008 closed, the well-regarded Pew Research Center told us that the Internet had surpassed newspapers as a national and international news source for the first time. (See "Newsonomics 101: The News Revolution by the Numbers," page 2.)

The Internet brought that level of change in one quick decade, in less than one generation. Now readers can get the full-bore report of all of those publications and much, much more, if they know where to look (usually Yahoo, Google, and the like), for free.

That's why we start with Law No. 1: In the Age of Darwinian Content, You Are Your Own Editor. We have now become our own gatekeepers; we no longer see the news world as a gated community.

We live in a news bubble. We don't so much get the news as the news gets to us, sometimes surrounding us. At work, in our cars, at home — and even in elevators and at gas pumps. It's now hard not to know what's going on.

News of actor Heath Ledger's death, in January 2006, traveled at the speed of the Web, the very definition of viral news. One friend told me he was amazed when his grandmother e-mailed him the news!

Now, we move among formerly separate worlds — print and broadcast, news and features, news and blogs, the deadly serious and the deadly funny — effortlessly.

We can pick from The New York Times or The Dallas Morning News or the Chicago Tribune. We can watch CNN or ABC or listen to NPR's All Things Considered or Ira Glass's fine feature journalism on This American Life when we have the time to tune in. Agence France Presse and Reuters bring us coverage from around the world, and the BBC, The Economist, and The Guardian reverse a couple of hundreds of years of history and recolonize America with their reporting. The blogosphere can deliver dozens of viewpoints daily, with the Huffington Post targeting progressives as Red State targets conservatives.

Miss the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, want to catch Rachel Maddow's show, or need to catch up on the latest antinews with Stewart and Colbert? Do it online when you want to. All that and reams more get tossed together, mixed and matched, endlessly, through each twenty-four hours.

Key to this news revolution is a huge change: We've leapt from a point of scarcity — readers could only get to so much news and information, depending on their budget and where they lived — to a point of near universal and largely free access. Similarly, advertisers, who used to have to compete for scarce placements to reach us consumers, can now choose from a nearly infinite "inventory." That produces this irony: The scarcity-to-plenty transformation that gives consumers great choice has limited news producers' ability to provide that choice.

How do we get a sense of the news production that we have lost? It's easiest to see in individual stories that may never have been published. (See "Newsonomics 101: The Impact of 828,000 Stories Not Published," below.)


• Yahoo News has long been among the top news sites in the United States. Yahoo was the first to figure out that people wanted choice. If you want to see a variety of takes on a new administration policy or the starlet disaster story du jour, enter a few words into a search box, and you're likely to get 367 or more responses. Search engines are agnostic about geography, as well, with news from Raleigh, Rome, and Rawalpindi equally clickable.

• New news brands and bylines have sprung up seemingly overnight. Sites like Politico, the Huffington Post, Slate, and Salon all have large devoted followings, while thousands of niche sites of lesser size have regular and sizable audiences.

• Missed ABC's This Week or NPR's Morning Edition? Timeshift, watching and listening when you want at the click of a mouse.

• We've moved from having only U.S.-centric choices to worldwide choices. While many newspapers have cut back coverage in their Washington, D.C., bureaus, worldwide media have ramped up; the BBC's staff of fifty is one-third larger than it was in 2005. Arab cablecaster Al-Jazeera hosts a staff of more than one hundred. Overall, 796 media outlets from 113 countries now have offices in the nation's capital, compared with 507 outlets from 79 countries in 1994, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

• News video is now mainstream. At least half of Americans watch news video at least monthly. Already one quarter watch video on their phones, though that number includes YouTube entertainment fodder as well as "news."

• Blogs are a key part of our news diet. One in four Americans reads blogs at least weekly, according to research conducted at Outsell, for whom I serve as an analyst.

Consider how many times a day you get e-mail messages, or Tweets, or Facebook wall postings with suggested links to news stories or blog posts or podcasts or Web reports of one kind or another. RSS readers can turn streams of news into a big, endlessly flowing river. We can be inundated with news alerts delivered to our e-mail, e-mails delivered to our phones, phones that beep or play marimbas at the sound of any incoming information. It can all be overwhelming, but it's the world we are creating.

It's not so strange. It's just like olden village word of mouth, magnified by what I like to think of as the magic of our time, what I call prestidigitization. Technology has unshackled news from its physical packages — a newspaper, a catch-it-once-or-else radio show, or a TV newscast — and preserved it and let it free, as we'll explore deeper in Law No. 7.

While traditional command-and-control media, like daily newspapers and broadcast news certainly maintain strong, if diminished, gatekeeping functions, think of the other gates, though, that have opened for all of us. Among them: blogs, podcasts, Twitter feeds, Facebook scrawls, LinkedIn messages, satellite radio, niched cable news, and news parody that's often really news itself. Those are some of the new sources, and they are mediated weakly. Sometimes, we fetch them ourselves, but often we now get our news and information touts from the people we know.

So on the one hand, we've become free agents, choosing our own news. On the other, we've become each other's editors. We fulfill the functions that those daily anchors and editors used to do. It's lots more ungainly, less well-packaged, and harder to summarize at the day's end.

In an average day, we still consume about as much news as we did a decade ago, about sixty minutes a day. The counters, though, now have a hell of a hard time counting. Not only do we have more choice, but we've become a nation of news multitaskers, taking in radio or Internet audio while taking care of the kids or working.

If we're spending about the same amount of time consuming news, and we have a lot more choice, then we have a situation in which infinite news confronts scarce time.

And so we come to the notion of Darwinian content. Those old-time gatekeepers used to decide what part of the news to which they had access would be made available to us readers. About 10 percent of the incoming wire news at a daily newsroom made it into print; the rest, never to be read, disappeared into the ether.

Now we individually have almost infinite news choice. We are unshackled from the physical limitations of old-world newspaper and broadcast delivery. Our time, though, is still limited. So the fight is on: Which news content wins and which loses?

Talk about survival of the fittest. Only the fittest news will make the cut.

What constitutes fit? We're still working that out.

In a war of Darwinian content, it's not just the best content that will win. It's not a meritocracy. News-producing companies that adapt best and quickest will win. Certainly journalistic quality has something to do with those prospects. As important, though, is how well the news companies creating the content have adapted to the ways of the Web. In this book, we'll see that the emerging winners are those companies that are learning how to use technology better than the other guys, how to engage the social nature of Web news reading and response, how to focus their offerings to specific audiences, and, of course, how to sell advertising related to the news.

Those that excel will win: That's the stuff we'll be reading and watching. Those that fail the Internet transition test will follow the New York Herald Tribune or Life magazine or the Mutual Broadcasting System into oblivion.

Think of it, maybe, as an extension of the Reality Show era that has transformed TV. It's our new News Reality Show, in which the sharp-elbowed players — some we may like, some we may detest — use every means to win. With great frequency, someone gets kicked off the island. That's the new news world, which is no longer staid and steady. It seems no one is more than a few steps away from being pushed into the sea.

Consider that we're at the beginning of this choice revolution. When we began reading news on the Internet in the midnineties, we were tethered to large, bulky desktop computers. We went to the only available digital reading source. Now we can take all manner of reading sources with us. First, the portable laptop joined the desktop. Now, though, we've got iPhones, Kindles, Sony Readers, and this year a slew of new more-paperlike screens will emerge.

Will these choices include the good old ink-on-paper product? The short answer is yes, for a while, in most but not all cities and towns. You'll be paying for it the way you pay for a Starbucks coffee, though closer to a Starbucks price than the quarter a newspaper used to cost. You'll be buying a niche product, made for those (mostly baby boomers and up in age) who prize the comfort, habit, and feel of newsprint.

Yes, the printed newspaper is obsolescent, but our on-the-move reading choices are multiplying rapidly. In fact, most of these new devices are intended for us as consumers of news, information, and entertainment. Compare that to the desktops and laptops; those were machines — "computers" — aimed at helping us produce things. So, long way around, we're moving back to products, like newspapers, that are about us as consumers.


Excerpted from Newsonomics by Ken Doctor. Copyright © 2010 Ken Doctor. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

KEN DOCTOR spent twenty-one years with Knight Ridder, long the country's second-largest newspaper company until its sale in 2006. He served in key editorial and executive roles and then completed his career there as VP/Editorial, VP/Strategy and VP/Content Services for Knight Ridder Digital in San Jose. He writes the popular Content Bridges blog, serves as news industry analyst for the research and advisory firm Outsell, and appears frequently on television and radio as a media expert.

Ken Doctor spent twenty-one years with Knight Ridder, long the country's second-largest newspaper company until its sale in 2006. He served in key editorial and executive roles and then completed his career there as VP/Editorial, VP/Strategy and VP/Content Services for Knight Ridder Digital in San Jose. He writes the popular Content Bridges blog, serves as news industry analyst for the research and advisory firm Outsell, and appears frequently on television and radio as a media expert. He is the author of Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get.

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