Incredible Sources

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One of the primary complaints that traditional journalism and the newspaper industry has of the digital channel is that is lacks "credible sources."

The traditional mass media seems to have some kind of lock on "credible sources," and it’s something that no digital channel can ever, really, lay claim to. Journalists are trained professionals. They ask the tough questions. They dig down deep, they get three independent sources to confirm any piece of information, they work their sources and spend countless hours tinkering with the right words to create the best story.

Are journalists the only group of writers who are above the rest? Would you expect something different from a chapter President of the Society of Professional Journalists? 

Betty Clapp is the Cleveland chapter president of the Society of Professional Journalists. In the February 27th, 2009 edition of their newsletter, Writer’s Week, this was her "President’s Message" titled, A Modest Proposal (the link is to a PDF file):

"It has been a tough week for newspapers. The parent company of two area newspapers, The Morning Journal in Lorain and The News-Herald in Willoughby, sought Chapter 11 protection last Saturday. That brings the industry crisis home. The changing nature of the business also dominated Plain Dealer editor Susan Goldberg‘s presentation, ‘Newspapering in the Internet Age,’ to Cleveland’s SPJ last week at the City Club. She said the PD was still in the black, but she didn’t depict a rosy picture for the future of the printed page.

Not surprisingly, Goldberg mentioned that younger readers rely on the Web for news. That’s not news. Younger readers have never turned to newspapers for news. But the problem today is really with advertising. Everyone blames newspapers’ problems on advertising’s shift to the Web. And this is where I’m lost. Because nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, whether they are 18 to 35, 36 to 70, older, younger – nobody ever admits to reading advertising on Web sites.

I spend time on-line, but I don’t consider myself a heavy Internet user. And I generally don’t read ads on Web sites. But even friends who pay their bills, plan their vacations and buy their clothes via the Internet say they don’t read ads. They use Web sites, they use links, they get RSS feeds, they’re on-line hours at a time. But all profess to jump over those pesky ads. Marketers talk about hits, the number of people who visit a Web site where ads appear. But ‘hits’ won’t pay the bills. ‘Hits’ are not reading.

So I think we need some evidence that people don’t really read Web advertising.

Which should send advertisers back to print.

Which should save newspapers."

Did you catch that? When advertisers realize that people don’t "read" ads online, they’re going to come back to newspapers.

Perhaps some statistics on the growth of online advertising might shed a little more depth and perspective on this (just look at Google). When the newspaper industry and journalists blame the online channel for their woes, do they really think that this is going to sway the mass population and how they consume news? Magazine advertising cut into newspapers. Radio advertising cut into newspapers. Then television advertising, and now the online channels. Newspapers have had the advantage all along to innovate, lead and integrate. They chose not to develop their websites early on. They chose not to act immediately when Craigslist started to grow. They continue to send out messaging like the message above.

Do you think that newspapers are feeling this pain because of the digital channel, or is it because of their content and an ever-shrinking public interest in newspapers? 

(hat tip: Jay RosenPressThink via Twitter).


  1. Truth is people in newsroom have no idea how ads are sold – or bought.
    I’m waiting for the statement: if adv. and circ. had been doing their jobs, we’d still be in business.

  2. There’s life for print, but mostly not the print we see today. I believe a new generation of publishers will produce print people will want to read BECAUSE it’s in print. With eyeballs on the page, advertisers will spend money there.

  3. I don’t know.. my own feeling is that most ads get equal response from me.. whether on TV, online, in print or on the Radio… if I am interested, I listen, if not, I use my mental PVR if you know what I mean.
    But the idea that the only TRUE journalists are working in print is totally wrong.
    I am a trained journalist, and I’ve worked for every media line there is (though my stint in TV was only 6 weeks)… the credibility is equal, and to generalize like that is just, well, bad research.
    Yes, people have to understand the difference between News and Opinion, and between Wikipedia and secondary sources, but those who USE the internet for their news, KNOW THAT.
    Anyway, my two cents, well written, Mitch.

  4. Newspapers have to understand that ‘online’ – be it news or whatever else – not equals ‘offline’. They are completely different media channels with different rules and mechanisms.
    What leads Mrs Clapp to believe that readers respond to paper ads? I personally don’t read American newspapers because I’m used to European papers without commercial cluttering.
    Two approaches:
    1.) Clean in front of your own door first. See what went wrong or how changes in reading behavior / offerings need adjustments at home.
    2.) Study online behavior (people DO click ads when they consider them relevant, allow social interaction like commenting on articles and respond to them, etc.) and open additional revenue streams through online alternatives.

  5. Print is shrinking because it has been slow to change, plus the rising costs of distribution have not been solved. Also, they have not learned to listen to the audience and adapt to the niches.
    Fresh leadership that creates new ways to engage readers by using the web to interact and listen will save print, but I agree with Mr. Holtz that it will never be the same.
    It is natural that marketing dollars will follow audience as it shifts toward the web. However, advertisers that continue to damage their brands with messages that set high expectations, but deliver average products and services will continue to have their ads ignored, raising the cost of market share. What do you do, buy more ads in a shrinking circulation, further increasing the noise?
    I believe this adds to the perfect storm print faces and may be accelerating dollars toward the cheap distribution of the web.

  6. i don’t think that readers are interested in what’s right or wrong when it comes to what their news source is, only whether it works for them. morality and nostalgia have very little place in it.
    we’re going to be seeing a lot of “if only we had…” in the next few years from these people. i hope a few of them clue in earlier though.

  7. “A mind once expanded can never return to its original dimensions.� Once change occurs, the toothpaste seldom returns to the tube, those who think otherwise may be clinging to false hope.
    The newspaper industry has had a lot of time to “get with the program�. Some have, and some have not. Even though I’ve lived in San Diego for many years, I still look at nearly everyday to stay informed of the happenings of my old hometown.
    Early on my father used to mail clippings of interest from the paper to me but soon he realized I had the same access online as he did on his doorstep. It has made for great topical conversations.
    Newspapers with talent should have been making the migration years ago, rather than holding on to deteriorating business models. Of course there is a need for professional journalists, and news organizations that have the strongest reputation should evolve into additional outlets for them.
    Good journalism is essential to a good democracy. Therefore, citizen bloggers who are interested in playing that role should be adopting the same code of conduct and improving their craft. Hopefully they are up to the challenge.

  8. Great post Mitch and I can definitely empathize with Betty Clapp but I respectfully disagree that online advertising is ineffective – as I believe that is what she implies by ‘not read’. There are countless studies that prove the effectiveness of online advertising just as there are countless studies proving the same for offline (newspapers included). The growth of online is about being where consumers are spending their time and I think it’s hard to argue that people are spending a lot of time online. To support Betty though, online advertising won’t be ‘read’ if it is out of context – wrong place, wrong time, wrong audience and wrong message. But again, those rules also apply to the offline world.

  9. I spend time on-line, but I don’t consider myself a heavy Internet user. And I generally don’t read ads on Web sites. But even friends who pay their bills, plan their vacations and buy their clothes via the Internet say they don’t read ads. They use Web sites, they use links, they get RSS feeds, they’re on-line hours at a time.

  10. I spend time on-line, but I don’t consider myself a heavy Internet user. And I generally don’t read ads on Web sites. But even friends who pay their bills, plan their vacations and buy their clothes via the Internet say they don’t read ads.

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