During President Barack Obama’s talk at Facebook headquarters yesterday he spoke about how “we've got all sorts of disruptions, technological disruptions that are taking place, most of which hold the promise of making our lives a lot better, but also mean that there are a lot of adjustments that people are having to make throughout the economy.
And I thought I couldn’t open this talk today in any better way today than to say that, well … “there are all sorts of disruptions, technological disruptions that are taking place” for those of us in the journalism and in the media industry. And that “the rapid technological changes we face hold a lot of opportunities, but create some real challenges" for media companies. President Obama’s words can be adapted as a pretty succinct analysis of our industry today; it captures much of our current reality.
And yet …. I recently saw another quote attributed to an America writer Irene Peter on change that in some way demystifies some of the transformation happening in local journalism today. Peter said, “Just because everything is different doesn't mean anything has changed.” And that is so true. We are using all kinds of technology to report news to different audiences in different ways. But our journalists’ contribution to our community essentially remains unchanged: we’re telling the narrative of a large slice of our collective experiences every day. It is really exciting the ways in which we can tell that story now: not only in words and still pictures but with video and slideshows and Twitter’s 140 characters. And the promise of technology is that we can do a better job telling more stories, more completely, in more timely and in more diverse ways.
There is a lot of ground I could cover today on the trials befalling my industry or the resources we’re amassing to address them. But I thought it more important to talk in more simple, more direct terms about the Dispatch and what you can expect from us in the next 12 months, and then to open this up to a discussion and question-and-answer period.
So … you might have noticed a few changes at the Dispatch recently.
For one, you may have seen articles and ads demonstrating that we’re reaching out more than ever to engage you in what we call our Community Media Lab. Recently our sports writer David Johnson held a class on Twitter at the Oneida Public Library and at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 7 our online editor Leah McDonald is going to hold a discussion there on Twitter. On June 6 at 11 a.m., our editor Kurt Wanfried will return to the library to discuss the art of blogging and how to build audiences for your blog.
If you notice … there is a pattern there - several workshops on social media. But our Community Media Lab is much more than that … we looking to lead a discussion this summer on local involvement in the Civil War and we’ve got the beginning of an idea of capturing local resident stories on video about their life in the area and their remembrance of important events like what it was like to grow up in Oneida in the 50s, and life on a local farm a half century ago, and what our readers remembered about shipping off to serve in foreign wars.
As a further extension of the Media Lab and related to my earlier mention of the “slice of our collective experiences” that the Dispatch reports on each day … we can only make the “slice” of the community we cover significantly larger by opening up the pages of our newspaper and our Web site to you, our readers. Currently we have 12 blogs – five staff-written and seven written by community members. Our goal is to expand the number of community participants by more than seven-fold to over 50 by the end of the year. We can’t be everywhere, we can’t have all the expertise and access, and we can’t represent every point of view locally … but collectively we can capture life here more accurately, more fully than could any newsroom. If you are interested please see general manager Karen Alvord or me after lunch today. It only takes a couple simple steps for us to get you ready to blog with us.
You may have also noticed we post videos on our site most days now. This has added a whole new element to our storytelling. Soon we’ll offer a feature where you, too, can upload videos to us for posting on our site. So that junior varsity or Little League sporting event, or dance recital or science fair, or public meeting or news event you find yourself at – to be frank, we don’t have the resources to cover them all – can still be shared with the community on our site.
You may have also noticed we have expanded the content on our site – for instance, we now deliver a lot of business news online with our media partner, The Street. This content will make its way into our print products as well. And look for an announcement soon on expanded regional, national and international sports coverage as well.
Another new feature you’ll see information about in the Dispatch over the next few days is SMS text alerts. If you’re not familiar with the phrase … these are the text messages that about three-quarters of cell phone users can receive. If you have a phone that has text messaging, you can sign up for alerts that our reporters will send from the field to cue you in on local breaking news as it happens – before the story can be written or the video posted. We won’t send them too early or late in the day so that the message alert doesn’t wake you if you use a sound prompt … and we won’t send more than a few each day. But if you who like to be among the first to know the outcome of a municipal board vote or important trial, or the development of a major crime or fire or accident as it is happening, or other events of importance, this feature is for you …. And it is free. It is part of our fast to slow philosophy to news coverage. We’ll send you important updates via text, post more information to sources such as Twitter and Facebook, and then roll out stories, videos and photos to our Web and mobile products – more on the latter in a minute – and finally, publish a print version of much of the news we cover.
I mentioned mobile briefly – the text message alerts are the first step in a mobile strategy we are rolling out this year. This is an important development for us – roughly half of mobile phone users access news online. We will also optimize our Web product for your smart phones, roll out mobile video capabilities, and develop smart phone and tablet applications that deliver news, as well as offer electronic versions of our newspapers.
I am talking a lot about our new digital platforms but we also have something you may be familiar with called the Oneida Daily Dispatch, our print product that you may have home delivered or pick up on a newsstands. A lot of the buzz about the Dispatch lately has been about changes we have made to our print edition:
- The fact that we are now printing color on every page.
- The fact that we are now outsourcing printing the the Dispatch and our Oneida-Madison Pennysaver, Rome Observer, and Southern Madison County Living to the Syracuse Newspapers.
- The fact that we no longer contract with carriers to deliver the Dispatch; we now contract with Syracuse Newspapers as well to deliver it.
So let me address some of the rumors head on – and then I will it open this up to take your questions.
Have we been sold? No, we contract with the Syracuse Newspapers to print our newspapers because it is no longer an efficient use of resources for any newspaper to use their press just a few hours a day. These partnerships are happening all over the place – sometimes they are internal developments. At The Record in Troy for instance, we print two sister dailies, the Saratogian and Daily Freeman from Kingston, as well as six weekly newspapers and a Hispanic newspaper. Sometimes these relationships are between two newspapers who do not share a common owner; a well-known example is USA Today, which for more than 25 years has contracted with newspapers outside of its parent company, Gannett, to print and deliver its daily product in areas around the country.
We also have the Syracuse Newspapers deliver our daily print edition for the same reasons and again, this is a common development in our industry. The Times Union in Albany, for instance, delivers 19 titles for 12 different companies, including the aforementioned Troy and Saratoga daily newspapers. These are just some of the ways newspapers are addressing the disruptions in our industry … which include technological developments as well as economic concerns such as rising fuel and health costs, among many others. It no longer makes economic sense to leave a printing press idle 16 or more hours a day and it no longer makes sense – with gas $4 a gallon - to pay a carrier to deliver just a single product to your neighborhood.
Another rumor: That by printing elsewhere and having a partnership with another company to deliver our newspaper that we are somehow de-investing in the community. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Again, the conversation returns to those disruptive technologies I mentioned. Media is rapidly fragmenting – the economics of TV station or network ownership, of radio station ownership, and all other forms of traditional media has evolved rapidly in the last decade. We still have profitable businesses. We still have loyal audiences. And some of us are forging ahead in this new environment in exciting ways. But there are developments that have in layman’s terms, really rocked our world in the past couple years:
- Our financial “challenge”? Newspaper advertising has shrunk by half since 2005, for one. Another is the investment required in product development while we strive to improve our traditional ones.
- The “opportunities”? Digital ad revenue now exceeds print ad revenue nationally and more people are accessing our news than ever.
Not everyone is impressed with the changes. We have some readers who only value the print product – the same newspaper we have delivered to them in many cases for decades, and in some cases, for several generations to their families. We understand that and will continue to deliver you a newspaper. But we are in an age where news is becoming highly customized. Some of us want it delivered only via the Web and smart phones, some of us only use the print product. Some of us want it all. The fact is that this “disruptive technology” we have talked about has grown our audience to perhaps its largest ever. We now have over 98,000 people reading the Oneida Daily Dispatch and/or oneidadispatch.com each month, and more reading the Oneida-Madison Pennysaver and our Southern Madison County Living monthly. In Rome, where we have the weekly Rome Observer and a companion Web site, our monthly reach exceeds 30,600 adults each month. These are huge audiences we can’t reach in print alone … and here is that word again … it presents a huge “opportunity” for local businesses as well. These products deliver terrific results for advertisers because of the expanded reach, the increased frequency and the level of reader engagement we offer.
This is an exciting time at the Dispatch. We’ve entered a new age in community journalism and we are working to make our coverage more compelling and more complete than it has ever been before. The changes you have seen in the first quarter of this year are the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Our goal is to cover the news – not necessarily be making it. But there will continue to be developments we share with you throughout 2011 and beyond.
We hope you see each of these changes in a positive light – we’re working to bring you more news, in a more timely way, using all the technologies you might employ to access our coverage. We believe, to paraphrase President Obama from yesterday, that these “disruptions that are taking place ... hold the promise of making our lives” a little better. These “disruptions” are making us journalists be more nimble, more targeted, more thoughtful, more creative, and less complacent about how we deliver news.
And yet, as I also stated at the top of this talk, “Just because everything is different doesn't mean anything has changed.” We have chronicled the lives of the members and institutions of our local communities for over a century, and that isn’t going to go away … the coverage in fact, we know, will continue to get much better.
Now I would like to open the discussion. Who has questions?
To read a related talk to the Oneida Rotary Club in February 2011, click here.