Monday, January 14, 2008

Back in the saddle (Carnival of Journalism 2)

Well, just back from the "2007-08 New Grandson Tour" and into the crucible of the first day of classes, so I have not had a chance to think many deep -- or shallow, for that matter -- thoughts, but a few things ran through my mind as I was on the road, trying to crib Internet access where I could:

  • I wonder if sometimes what we're doing online forgets what it's like for those without high-speed access. Sure, the figures tell us more and more people have it, but there remain significant pockets - demographic and geographic -- that don't. In my case, it was a situation of son and daughter-in-law having moved into a new house and not having it yet and other relatives who will never have it. Between "borrowing" high-speed from a few unprotected sites and spending hours on dial-up, I was pretty much able to keep up with e-mail. But RSS? Too much of a hassle. Many of my favorite news Web sites? Big, omnivorous time sinks.
  • This comes to mind because while I was near Louisville, its Metropolitan Housing Coalition released a report about high rates of home foreclosures, and buried in it (page 25 - click on Read More and you'll get a PDF) is this about one of the causes:
  • High expense or debt levels - extraordinary transportation costs – driving vehicles with low gasoline mileage and/or substantial maintenance needs, jobs requiring extensive non-reimbursed driving or commuting, having a number of cars in the household; high utility costs due to poorly insulated home or energy inefficient elements or systems; extensive deferred maintenance needs or a household disaster such as a fire; high communications related expenses – cell phones, internet, cable television; little or no savings and high levels of debt; financially naive or lacking money management skills; excessive credit card bills; and using equity in home to pay ongoing monthly expenses. (Emphasis mine.)
    Now, let's not overplay this, but it's one of the first times I've seen telecommunications expenses listed as an explicit factor leading to financial distress. But maybe, as a generation of journalists on the cusp of an era when we may no longer control our own "printing press" (not necessarily a bad thing -- but that's for another post), it's time we took some serious notice of this. The more I though about it, and tallied my telcom bills, the more I wondered if we are heading into a period even more unsettling than we have foreseen so far -- as more and more efforts shift to digital, will our audiences be able to afford us?
  • Feedblitz rocks! The ability to take RSS feeds, turn them into e-mail digests, then download those e-mails for offline reading was a godsend. (I use an online, not an onboard, RSS reader, and even had I used an onboard one, the online time to do the RSS downloads still would have been questionable.)
  • Putting Wi-Fi into its restaurants may be one of the smarter moves McDonald's has done. The price is generally reasonable (and some restaurants are free, especially overseas), and although I didn't use it on this trip (other things intervened), knowing a reliable, almost high-speed connection is widely available should attract business (see also). Right now, Mickey D's is a bit balkanized among service providers, but if it could swing a national deal at a set price, I could see news organizations negotiating in bulk and telling reporters that if they have to file, head to the nearest arches. (Maybe they already do, and I'd like to hear about it, if that's the case.) If MickeyD's picks up a Coke or two in the process, it becomes very lucrative. Think about how many "road warriors" in all forms of business this could attract (yeah, there are technologies like Wi-Max, too, but the arches are a lot more ubiquitous right now, even more so than Starbucks and its Wi-Fi).
  • Enough already with the Facebook widgets! Sure, a fair number are fun, but if I get one more vampire or werewolf or Scrabble or news quiz invite ...
  • A lot of the stories I read about the potential breakup of Landmark concentrated on the Weather Channel. They missed or glossed over the 800-pound (or $850 million) gorilla, Dominion Enterprises. People I've talked with inside and outside the company say the classified publications could surprise in the price they fetch. And don't underestimate Landmark's community newspapers division, based in Shelbyville, Ky. It not only has a good number of highly profitable newspaper titles, but its stable also includes real estate magazines (probably hurting a little now, but likely to rebound) and some highly trafficked sports Web sites in partnership with Rivals. In fact, the nine larger papers may well be the consolation prize. This will be a very interesting breakup to watch, if it happens.
(Now, back to the baby pics. Chrs.)

Adrian Monck is hosting this month's Carnival of Journalism.

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