Friday, January 07, 2005

A skeptical view

Tom Foremski at Silicon Valley Watcher has an interesting column questioning whether deals such as the Washington Post's purchase of Slate and Dow Jones' of Marketwatch make sense, or as he puts it:

Why would two companies that have not made much/any money with online publishing make a success out of buying two online media companies that have not made much/any money publishing online?

One plus one never makes two in such cases, it usually just makes one. If you don't know how to make money in online publishing, buying another company that hasn't figured it out either, doesn't improve your chances of profits. It just means you can lose more money at it than before.

Foremski has some interesting observations, especially on how traditional print operations can't afford to expose their advertising base to online, but when it comes to newsroom cultural problems, I don't agree with all of them. He spends a fair number of words noting the cross-cultural problems of bringing such new-media newsrooms into old media worlds.

Did you know that on the whole, print journalists look down on online hacks? And they will go to great lengths to avoid writing for their paper's online site if the copy doesn't also go into the newspaper? Newsprint staff consider themselves a notch or three above online/wire hacks. That is why many newspaper sites use separate staff for print and online.

I think Foremski is guilty of a little nearsightedness. Even a year or so ago, I would have agreed more. Several studies showed the cross-cultural problems in newsrooms as they dealt with the "brave new world," and we saw it clearly in students, with those in print clearly showing disdain for broadcast. One landmark study out of Brigham Young documented the rather distressing results when it tried to combine its print and broadcast operations.

But that is subsiding. Some subsequent research I and Tim Brown did here showed more willingness among younger print and broadcast students to work together and clearly a desire to learn more about multimedia among all of them. Now, in our print newsroom, we do 45-second promo shots on the student-run cable TV news show, we shoot video and tape audio, and we put it up on the Web, and it's not a second thought among most of our students.

A graduate of not too long ago works at a North Carolina paper where the local TV station has assigned a cameraman to its newsroom to roll on the same stories. Not only doesn't he have a problem with that, but he says he would have a hard time imaging going to a fire or some such without that person's help in pointing out possible interviews and facts he might not otherwise get.

So I think the latter part of this decade will start to see the cultural shift we have waited for as we start seeding newsrooms with these new students. Of course, there's always the argument that once they become acculturated by the newsroom, they could fall into the same old patterns. But I think the result is more likely to be somewhere in the middle.

Foremski's companion, Doug Millison, has a more hopeful take on things. (He has cross-posted it on one of his other blogs,, which is worth checking out as well.)


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