Three Cutting-edge Companies

Christian Science Monitor:  After switching from a daily to weekly print edition in Oct. 2008, the Boston-based centenarian has made strides in online/multimedia storytelling.

GlobalPost:  Supported mostly through online-advertising, international media newcomers GlobalPost also draw revenue from their Passport program, allowing users to pay up to $199 a year for access to correspondents, a voice in the newsroom and more in-depth information.

National Public Radio:  Take it from NPR–listen to your listeners.  Six days after finally heeding the demand for podcasts, NPR’s “Story of the Day” skyrocketed to No. 1 on iTunes’ charts and the growing use of the Internet broadcasts has redefined the organization’s model for selling underwriters and sharing proceeds with nationwide stations.


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Perspectives on the Evolution of Journalism

The optimist– ten reasons why the future is a brighter one

The cynic– worries that the inaccuracy that plagues many blogs will soon infect mainstream journalism as the two converge

The uncertain– a blogger’s short-term optimism, and long-term doubt

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Lamb’s Vision of the Future

The Internet journalist of tomorrow will not be defined by his/her tech-savviness alone, but by the same earnest drive that moved print journalists of yesterday, newsbook writers of old and town criers of yore to accurately record and honestly share the happenings of the world, according to Gregory Lamb.

“To be in journalism today, you can’t be a technophobe,” he said in a recent interview.  “But on the other hand you don’t have to be mister and missis gadget guru.”

As the next generation of reporters take the reins at the Christian Science Monitor, where Lamb has worked since 1972 after he graduated Principia College, a growing number perform unprecedented jobs and utilize state-of-the-art technology.  Likewise, Lamb’s first job at the Monitor was in the wire room, communicating with correspondents via teletypes and Telex, a primitive form of email, all of which, down to the wire room itself, no longer exist.  But as journalists and media organizations adapt to the changing technological landscape, where information is shared and published instantly by self-sufficient, all-in-one reporters, profit-margin has been slow to catch up.

Alexander Kaufman:  How has your work changed from when you began your career as a journalist to now?

Gregory Lamb:  Obviously the technology.  The nature of the stories themselves, the big change is writing for the Web.  That’s really a fundamental rethinking that substantial.  Besides that, a news story has been a news story a feature story a feature story, but there have been rends saying that people want shorter stories or … to increase international or national coverage.  But every few years we have to recast ourselves as any news organization.

AK:  How many online writers are on-staff at the Monitor?

GL:  It’s growing.  When I think about Web jobs, we’re creating jobs [for people] here that you wouldn’t all call journalists.  They’re doing the underlying tech and support we need.  I would agree with Steve [Ainsley, publisher of the Boston Globe] that the industry is shrinking so the more versatile the better.  It’s important that a journalist can do print, broadcast, understand blogging, can use Twitter, can use Facebook.

AK:  The Monitor’s recent switch from a daily print to a weekly, coupled with a beefed up Web site, has made headlines in other newspapers as news organizations everywhere struggle to find profit in the Internet Age; how do you see The Monitor’s business plan succeeding?

GL:  It has.  We’re still trying to get a new content management system (proprietary software that will let people file faster and more easily and the average user will find it a simpler system to work on; it will be even more centered on Web first) in place that will make us even more efficient and will make the Web site even more useful but we’ve had a growing traffic to the Web site and the weekly has gotten much more subscriptions than the daily had.  More and more readers are going to find us online.  That’s where we can grow our audience.  We have a legacy of readers who might enjoy the weekly product even more than the daily product.  These stories are more reflective and stand back, and that’s kind of a Monitor aspect.  The weekly keeps us grounded right into that way of thinking.  When you’re on the Web, you’ll be pulled into thinking what happened and what can we write about it in the next minute, next five minutes.  We run at a deficit and have for decades, and going online really expanded our audience and eventually we hope we’ll bring in advertising revenue [from the Web site].

AK:  Have you seen a reduction in staff since the switch?

GL:  I think in the course of doing that, along the lines of half a dozen jobs were lost.  I don’t know if people took voluntary buy-outs.  Since we’ve done it, a little over six months, I don’t think we’ve had any more jobs going away.

AK:  Media mogul Rupert Murdoch frequently complains that Google searches have undermined his Wall Street Journal’s new business model of paying for some stories, do you believe the Monitor’s business model helps to avoid such an inevitable problem?

GL:  Yes.  I really want him to do it.  I really want him to get off of Google.  I would love to see the experiment run, but I wouldn’t run it here at the Monitor.  On a personal sense of it, it kind of goes against the ethos of the Web.  To start walling things off, though we have to find a model to pay for news.  But it’s working to some extent for the Wall Street Journal, people can pay and do, but their stuff gets read less.

AK:  Boston media newcomers GlobalPost, who publish exclusively online, allow users to access a plethora of information for free, but grant paying members access to more pressing stories and consider input from members on upcoming stores, do you see a business like that working?

GL:  It wasn’t even invented by the Internet.  There’s sort of the free sample then the next level and the next level.  Depending on how much value information has for you, you’re willing to go from paying nothing, to a little, to a little more.  I think that’s a great model to explore.  It puts the control in the readers’ hands, access and inside knowledge in the organization.  I wouldn’t be surprised to us do something like that.

AK:  How long has the Monitor been a publication for international news, and how does that affect your audience?

GL:  I think it’s been part of the paper for the 101 years it’s existed.  It’s always had an international aspect.  We’ve been known as a source of international news.  But sometimes we emphasized our national coverage more as a business plan, you know we’ve got to beef up this side of it because most of our readers are in the U.S. and they want to known about the U.S.  We’re one of those publications with correspondents in other countries.  That doesn’t make us unique but puts us in a small group that still has international coverage.  You see international emphasis because, yeah, there is.  It’s our contribution, the right fit for us.

AK:  Now that you are on the Web, allowing global access to your stories, how does that shape your audience?

GL:  We sure expect the international audience to grow.  I think we have something that’s valuable to them, I suspect the Globe might be saying, “we have people who are interested in Boston all around the globe; they have family, lived here, went to school, etc.  How can we tell the world about our region of the world and what’s happening here, we’re here and we do that well.”  The Monitor has a different purpose of putting a reader in the chair and saying “I’m a citizen of the world, how does it affect me directly and indirectly?”  I think the readership in whatever country would find the Monitor a resource.

And finally, Lamb wanted to share this with aspiring journalists of today:

“To those folks who really want to stay in journalism, I think there’s  away to do it, whether setting up a blog site or the like.  We need journalists.  I hope students who are coming up now and want to pursue journalism don’t run off and do something else.  Society needs–the world needs–intelligent, topflight students who want to become journalists.”

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Is Modern Journalism Leaner or Lesser?

An editorial in TIME proposing that nitpicking news consumers can’t expect much with tightened budgets.

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Globe’s Ainsley, Baron Think Journalism Will Be A-OK, In The Future

By Alexander C. Kaufman


When my friend Sarah graduated from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut with a degree in journalism last year, the prospect of work was grim.  We had met the summer before, working at a newspaper in Long Island, where we both reported, wrote and edited articles on local happenings, although her real passion was for music journalism.  Over coffee she shared her dreams and ambitions to land a job at one of the alternative music magazines she read, having fallen under the spell of the byline.

Then the economy sank into recession.  Print publications that had already grown shaky on their legs since the rise of the Internet dropped their journalists like flies, before dissolving themselves.  Last we spoke, Sarah had conceded to interview for a job at a public relations firm in Manhattan.

Long have marketers and PR people intermingled with journalists, both of whom create and utilize media to reach as broad an audience as possible.  But many reporters, like Sarah, tend to have more a passion for telling, not selling, a story.

But as the industry evolves in the wake of the Web, Boston Globe publisher Steve Ainsley and editor-in-chief Marty Baron, both diehard newspapermen, are seeing a convergence of their respective sides of the business.

“The future journalist must embrace change, be entrepreneurial, operate alone [and] anticipate uncertainty,” Baron said, adding that, along with traditional skills in interviewing, investigation and research, a journalist should have the business-smarts to recognize what viewers and readers will buy.

“New, young journalists may leapfrog ahead of older journalists” because of their fluency with new technology, he encouraged.

But while Baron expressed optimism about news media, which he purportedly believes to be thriving and expanding thanks to the explosion of online media outlets, Ainsley, whose realm of expertise is in marketing the product Baron and the Globe’s reporters create, has found his job increasingly difficult, as even staples of newspaper income, such as classified advertising, goes on the Web for free.

“From the business side [of the newspaper industry], without an innate belief that you’re doing ‘God’s work’, you’ll sell something else,” Ainsley said in defense of the passion he shares with Baron for journalism despite the misconception that publishers care more for   “Everyone who works at a newspaper has an underlying core belief that you’re changing your community for good.”

He added that the future news products, like its author, must be “considerably more flexible” and  agile and “news organizations that thrive will take smart, calculated risks at the right time.”

It appears, then, that both men expect not only veracity but versatility from this next generation of newsmen, who must be both technologically adept and business-savvy and must service a public already saturated with easily accessible information.

“Why should someone go into journalism?” Baron said, voicing the question of every aspiring journalist.  “Opportunities are expanding, people have the chance to move ahead in a field that in the past would have taken them a long time to move forward in.”

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This Blog Could Soon Be Realer…

By Alexander C. Kaufman

Gregory Lamb has whetted our lips for a coming technological phenomenon: augmented reality.  In his latest post in Innovation, a technology blog, he provides five different examples of computerized perception, be it with glasses, iPhone applications, scannable baseball cards, among others.  The brief summary of augmented reality which began the post was almost the only text in the article, the overviews of the examples being Youtube videos.

Though Lamb promises a full article next week, the videos exemplify the diverse range of products available to computerize everyday life.  A BMW technician dons a pair of glasses which digitally instruct him on how to do repairs.  An iPhone user in London seeks out a nearby Underground station on the smart phone’s screen.  By imaging a parcel in available shipping box sizes, a US Postal Service customer selects the best fit.  Esquire magazine premiers a barcoded publication with interactive features for the computer.  A baseball card collector plays a miniature videogame with his cards.  Gamers are enthralled with tags that activate 3D action figures onscreen.

Needless to say, virtual reality is no longer the mere plaything of arcade-goers and science fictionists.  And as it is further synthesized into everyday life, so is electronic storytelling into journalism.  While the post contains little text besides an introductory summary and a title for each video, the videos themselves provide the meat of the article.

And moreover, Lamb shows the variety and breadth of available products and just how accessible a digitalized view of the world has become.

Here are the videos:

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What’s the Good Word?

By Alexander C. Kaufman

Technological advancement seems to be ebbing always at the average attention span; brevity dominates and defines modern nonfiction, abridgment hastens the intake of fiction.  So it makes sense that late Hartford (Conn.) Stage Company director Michael Wilson’s arrangement into a nine hour epic of Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Horton Foote’s entire dramatic oeuvre would be appropriately cutting-edge to be reviewed by Gregory Lamb.

Wilson, who had a close professional relationship with Foote, had originally wanted to perform each of the latter’s nine plays. In late 2007, Lamb reported, Wilson got to agree to Foote to condense his work into three, three-hour plays as to make them all viewable within a day.  At the time of his death last March, the playwright had completed the three part saga entitled “The Orphan’s Home Cycle.”

Here is how Lamb describes the “Cycle”:

The plays track the life of Horace Robedaux from the time he is a young boy whose father has died to the time after the death of his father-in-law when he becomes the family patriarch. Like a classic hero, Horace must meet a series of challenges from an early age. Yet he manages to survive and eventually prosper. The character of Horace is based on the life of Foote’s own father.

Among the themes Foote explores are the elusive search to find “home” and the question of how people face adversity. Horace is on an “Odyssey,” Wilson suggests in program notes, “as profound and epic as Odysseus’ return journey.”

The three-part play, divided into “The Story of a Childhood,” “The Story of a Marriage” and “The Story of a Family,” closed in Connecticut last month, but reopened in New York on Nov. 5, where it will run until Mar. 28, 2010.

Alongside recent technology and book reviews, Lamb’s write-up of Wilson’s production is relevant to his state-of-the-art beat.  The Broadway industry grossed $943 million from 12.15 million tickets between 2008-9, according to data collected by the Broadway League, an organization for the theater industry, enforcing the idea that the thespian is perhaps as much a part of modern culture as Lady Gaga and “Slumdog Millionaire.”

In fact, there exists a parallel between Wilson’s production and Lamb’s own work.  Journalism–and Lamb’s writing is a testament to this–is becoming increasingly trimmed down in order to make the information more palatable in an era where an instant feels like a year.  Likewise, many journalists are now considering a standardized shortening of articles to 500-words or less.  This trend of condensing written work seems to be part of a new wave for briefer written word.

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