Could the Netflix approach save newspapers?

The Newsroom is my favorite show on television. I've watched since week one. This, despite the fact that I do not have HBO. No, like many other young people who want to see HBO's quality programming, I download it illegally on a weekly basis. I have yet to, like a few of my more-advanced peers, figure out how to do so automatically but manually torrenting it each week is much-preferred to paying for a basic cable package to start and then adding on whatever bundle includes HBO.

But this isn't a rant on the void of nonsense that is cable programming, instead an anecdote intended to underscore the point that if people are going to pay for something, they want value. They don't want to be forced into purchasing something above the price they deem it to be worth, especially in today's world when there are so many alternatives available.

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Mainstream sports journalism to get hit by social media on a whole new front

About four or five years ago, as the decline of print media became obvious and imminent, everyone was quick to point the finger at online outlets. We were all anxious to note the rise of blogs conveniently correlated with the decline of traditional print media. It only made sense; people jumped at the opportunity to read content with a depth and style that had previously never existed.

From there, we saw advertising dollars (both classifieds and other channels) shrink significantly while the reporting staffs dwindled in accordance. Now though, it seems as though we arrived at a good resting point. There's a wealth of phenomenal commentary from the sports blogosphere while the print staffs at sports outlets are filtered to the point where a majority of the reporters remaining are very strong.

While this era has been nice (can 9-18 months even count as an era?), we may see the traditional media outlets that remain get hit hard once again by social media. This time it won't come from fellow writers producing more content, but instead from the very sources they cover.

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BBC News to journalists: learn social media or leave

We're getting beyond the point where it is acceptable for journalists and newspapers to sit on the side and just dip their legs into the icy public pool that is social media. Finally, we're starting to see publications fully embrace it, and not simply as a kitschy gimmick to prove to readers that they're down with the times.

Peter Horrocks took over last week as the new director of BBC Global News and he's determined to change things. From The Guardian's PDA Digital Content Blog:

"This isn't just a kind of fad from someone who's an enthusiast of technology. I'm afraid you're not doing your job if you can't do those things. It's not discretionary", he is quoted as saying in the BBC in-house weekly Ariel. [...]

"If you don't like it, if you think that level of change or that different way of working isn't right for me, then go and do something else, because it's going to happen. You're not going to be able to stop it."

Exactly. Check out the entire post and full Q&A for a bit more.

It's time for newspapers—and sports sections in particular—to adopt a similar approach. This isn't simply about the ability to report either, especially in sports. As much as any subject, readers look to build some kind of connection with the sportswriters they read on a daily basis. Social media has already shown a remarkable ability to foster relationships when used appropriately. For example, if Seattle Times columnist Steve Kelley had used Twitter to further explain a backhanded apology to Erik Bedard, it's possible I'd see where he was coming from. Probably not, but the possibility exists.

Social media is something journalists need to know. And not to simply use for the sake of using, but learn and take advantage of. The more newspapers adopt such a strict policy, the better.

Good idea for sports: Journal-Register Co. will issue video cameras to all reporters

Rarely do you see newspapers taking drastic and ambitious steps in an era when one false move could bring down a publication for good. That's why it's so enlightening to see the Journal-Register Co. making major moves to advance and improve coverage provided by the company's 19 daily and 150 other newsapers.

As noted by the New Haven Independent (via the Editors Weblog), CEO John Patton told the company's 3,100 employees that they no longer work for a 'newspaper company', but a 'media company' instead.

“We’re not looking to make any cuts,” Paton said, clearly pumped about the prospect of inventing a new business model at a chain that had lagged behind the rest of the industry in adjusting to the digital age. “We need to improve [local coverage]. We don’t need to make it worse.”

Patton has some good ideas for improving the quality of coverage, one of the best is that all reporters at the company will have Flip HD video cameras within 30 days. This, I think, is something every newspaper should adopt, even if it means purchasing one for every three reporters—having them checked out when necessary. Sports sections would appear to benefit as much as any part of the newspaper.

While images and audio are better than providing print copy alone, video brings content to a completely new level. Of course, there are certain restrictions with where video is allowed (locker rooms, etc), but in any situation where it can be used, it almost always should.

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New York Times style pay wall could work in sports sections

Pay walls are nothing new to sports journalism. Since as long as I can remember, ESPN.com has always offered its Insider section. It certainly doesn't only apply to the big guys. As a Packers fan, I've seen and been annoyed by one on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. While I frequent each of these sites, I've never even considered going beyond the pay wall. The New York Times plans to offer something a little different, a model that could make sense for sports sections and other newspapers looking to earn revenue beyond what they are getting from advertising.

The Times plans to go with a metered strategy, where readers will be allowed to read a certain number of free articles before being asked to subscribe. Here's some reasoning behind going with that over a traditional pay wall:

But with the painful declines in advertising brought on by last year's financial crisis, the argument pushed by Keller and others — that online advertising might never grow big enough to sustain the paper's high-cost, ambitious journalism — gained more weight. The view was that the Times needed to make the leap to some form of paid content and it needed to do it now. The trick would be to build a source of real revenue through online subscriptions while still being able to sell significant online advertising. The appeal of the metered model is that it charges high-volume readers while allowing casual browsers to sample articles for free, thus preserving some of the Times' online reach.

While I'm not advocating the use of a pay wall, I think there's a few reasons a metered strategy could work for sports sections if they choose to go that route.

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Will social media lead to less access for sports reporters?

Social media has given fans a completely new level of access to the lives and thoughts of many professional athletes. As I write this, I can see that Kevin Durant and a few teammates are spending part of their off day at the Mall of America. This isn't something a reporter could use in a postgame article but we've already seen athletes use Twitter to share their thoughts from the locker room and other technology could make the content even more rich. One has to wonder, even skeptically, if reporters will be eliminated as a middleman and athletes will be capable of communicating with athletes directly.

Brian Gleason of PR In Sports has a great post on the subject. In it, he compares Bill Simmons' views on the subject and those gathered from an interview with NBA public relations expert Terry Lyons.

First, Simmons:

Fast-forward to the Twitter era. Access for reporters and writers has dwindled faster than A-Rod's pectorals. With newspapers dying and the Internet not yet subject to the same libel scrutiny, journalism is getting nastier and more detached -- fewer stories broken, infinitely more snark. That will cause stars to weave even stronger cocoons, and the chasm between us will keep growing.

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The Apple tablet and how I'd use it as a sports fan

January 2010 appears to be the month of 'The Tablet' as online journalism and tech chatter shifts from summarizing the 'aughts' to speculating what Apple's rumored tablet could mean for this year and beyond.

Some claim it will save print journalism while others struggle to see where it will fit in amongst the smartphones and laptops. I have to say I fall somewhere in-between. Apple's tablet certainly has the potential to be a game-changing device but do I really need one? Not quite yet but it isn't impossible to imagine a time when Apple tablets become very prominent, not only as an e-reader or some other kind of middle device, but one that could compete with traditional laptops.

It's hard to get an exact feel for what the tablet could be capable of with most speculation revolving mostly around the hardware. However, The Wonderfactory and Time, Inc. put together a great video showing what Sports Illustrated could be like on a tablet.

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Sports Information Directors beginning to value social media over mainstream coverage

One of the primary goals of public relations is to have any actions and events that highlight the subject in a positive light be covered and publicized by the mainstream media. Say you work on the media relations staff of a university athletic department and your school's basketball team spent part of Christmas Eve at a food shelter helping feed those are less fortunate; you want that covered. Well, stories like this—and other 'harder' news—may soon be covered and spread much differently.

Mike Enright, UConn's Associate Athletic Director/Communications, believes social media could change everything.

He believes the day may come where UConn fans will pay to read uconnhuskies.com plus its Facebook and Twitter extensions to feed the appetite that sports sections used to fill. [...]

“Our athletic director (Jeffrey Hathaway) is emphasizing social media,’’ Enright said. “Forty percent of our budget is for development of social media. It’s where we’re going. It’s going to become more and more a focus of our job.’’

Social media presents a range of new opportunities and a complete increase in control of coverage for universities and professional sports teams but on the other side of the coin, this may present a whole new challenge for journalists.

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In covering Tiger, newspapers should do as bloggers do, break 'fourth wall'

This Tiger Woods saga serves as an anecdote for the striking polarity between mainstream print media and less 'upright' online outlets. As days go on, this coverage becomes more and more ridiculous but, at least in the early stages, this is a story the populace wanted to know about.

As the story moved from "Tiger was in an accident and it may have been caused by a domestic dispute" to "Let's count the mistresses," newspapers obviously wanted out. There comes the separation between some online outlets and newspapers: covering what people want to hear about vs covering what they believe should be covered.

As long as the publication isn't going too far in either direction, neither is wrong, but if you're choosing to hold back on coverage, it should be communicated why.

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