“Have You Tried Turning It Off and On Again?”

When you’re the poor sucker who gets stuck with the general newsroom phone line at a news organization, you get a lot of weird and wacky calls. Sure, you can be the first one to get the breaking news tips, but you’re also in for a world of crazy requests, silly questions and “great” story ideas.

During my term at the helm when I was a reporter for a local newspaper I got story tips on everything from giant and or oddly-shaped vegetables, to an old tree that got knocked down in a storm (believe it or not, I had to cover that last story). Sometimes it was just acting as a general knowledge base for a population of people that don’t have access to or don’t know how to use Google.

We all lamented our turn with the general tip line, but what I had never considered was that those who work in the IT and technical support field get screwball questions and requests every day as long as they are in the field. I should have realized this – my computer programmer husband to this day still gets funny requests from my family on how to fix their computers.

But it wasn’t until I read over a press release of a survey of chief information officers around the United States about some of the ridiculous requests and questions that I realized reporters have nothing to complain about; never once have I been asked, “How do I clean cat hair out of my computer fan?” or “Can you come over and plug this cord in for me?”

Here are some other doozies:
“How do I remove a sesame seed from the keyboard?”
“I need help drilling holes in the wall.”
“Can I turn on the coffee pot with my computer?”
“I dropped my phone in the toilet, what should I do?”
“How do I pirate software?”

These get even better:
“I’d like to download the entire Internet so I can take it with me.”
“How do I start the Internet?”
“Will you show me how to use the mouse?”
“My computer won’t turn on or off.” (The computer was unplugged in that case.)
“How do I send an e-mail?”
“How do I click on different files?”

Yes – these are all legitimate questions that have been asked by people across the country. It seems like there is still quite a digital literacy gap in the population, which requires patience and understanding by the IT or help desk support staff.

What questions have you heard others ask – or you yourself asked – of your IT staff? Chime in and see if you can beat some of those previously mentioned.

Read All About It! (On the Internet)

Thank goodness we didn’t have the Internet in the 1800s, as we never would have been blessed with newsies… God bless those kids. Anyhow, it seems a majority of Americans under 30 are getting their news from the Internet. Not too suprising, but the stats are worth viewing. Mashable writes:

The Internet is now the main national and international news source for people ages 18 to 29, a study from the Pew Research Center reports.

In 2010, 65% of people younger than 30 cited the Internet() as their go-to source for news, nearly doubling from 34% in 2007. The number who consider television as their main news source dropped from 68% to 52% during that time.*

Of all 1,500 American adults surveyed, 41% say they get their national and international news from the Internet, up 17% from 2007. Sixty-six percent cite television — down from 74% — indicating the trend is spreading among other age groups.

Forty-eight percent of those ages 30 to 59 cite the Internet as their main news source, up from 32% in 2007, while television went down from 71% to 63%. Though the number of those in the 51 to 64 age group who consider television their main news source (71%) is about the same, those who turn to the Internet (34%) is nearly equal to the number who cite newspapers (38%). The amount of people 65 and older who get their news from the Internet has risen from 5% to 14%, but television remains the chief source for 79% of respondents.

These numbers fall in line with the rise of the personalized news stream online. Both Facebook’s news feed and Twitter() launched in summer 2006 but didn’t catch on until 2007. Both sites have seen explosive growth since 2008. Tweet counts have increased from 5,000 daily in 2007 to 90 million daily in 2010, while Facebook() went from 30 million users in 2007 to more than 500 million users today.

In addition, the television viewership culture has shifted in the past few years. Between media streaming services on the web and, more recently, Internet-TV connection devices like Roku and Boxee(), people have more viewing options than ever before. With the ability to personalize what news and entertainment you consume, these television watching methods have become more desirable for many.

Are Computers the New Newsies?

It seems that while the newspaper industry continues to struggle to adapt to changing revenue models, news consumption in the U.S. remains fairly strong. This likely confirms what most thought, but it’s nice to put some numbers to the discussion, and hopefully serves as encouraging news for the industry itself:

Mediapost reports:

According to a new comScore release, more than 123 million Americans visited newspaper sites in May, representing 57% of the total U.S. Internet audience, as the New York Times Brand led the category with more than 32 million visitors and 719 million pages viewed during the month. The average visitor viewed 22 pages of content on the New York Times. Tribune Newspapers ranked second in terms of audience with 24.8 million visitors, followed by Advance Internet and USA Today Sites.

Jeff Hackett, comScore senior vice president, said "… even as print circulation declines, Americans are actually consuming as much news as ever… it’s just being consumed across more media," said. "The Internet has become an essential channel in the way the majority of Americans consume news content today… 3 out of 5 Internet users read newspapers online each month… as advertising rates for digital move closer… (to) traditional media, the economics of the news business… look(s) a lot more promising."

The study shows that among the top site categories where display ads appeared in April 2010, online newspapers accounted for 2.4% of impressions but a higher 6.7% of display advertising dollars. The average cost per thousand impressions (CPM) on online newspaper sites was $7, higher than each of the other top site categories and nearly three times the average CPM for the total U.S. Internet at $2.52.

People Read Newspapers Online, But Won’t Pay for Privilege

Challenges abound in the newspaper industry as it struggles to reconstruct a profitable model. While many anticipated just having subscribers pay for access to online content, it seems the potential subscribers have other ideas.

As someone who’s worked in community journalism, I understand both sides. I’d say people need a viable, authentic source for unbiased news, although there’s nothing to say a thorough, non-ideological blog couldn’t provide the same service with a staff. But, how would he/she get paid? The answers are out there, we just need to keep searching. In the meantime, here are some interesting poll results from CNET:

Would you pay to read your favorite newspaper online? Most say no, at least according to a new Harris poll.

With traditional print newspapers struggling to turn a profit, many have turned to the Web as a means to stay afloat. While some offer their online content free of charge, other papers have played around with subscriptions by charging readers a monthly fee. But that strategy may backfire, says a Harris poll released Wednesday.

Among more than 2,000 online adults surveyed, 77 percent said they wouldn’t pay anything to read a newspaper’s stories on the Web. And among those willing to pay, 19 percent would cough up between $1 and $10 a month; only 5 percent would shell out more than $10 each month.

The poll also revealed what many newspapers have already experienced–that readership of traditional news is steadily dropping. Just 43 percent of the people surveyed said they read a newspaper each day, either in print or online. Around 72 percent read a paper once a week, while 81 percent read only once a month. And 10 percent said they never read a newspaper.

One factor in the decline of the daily newspaper is age. The younger you are, the less interested you seem to be in reading the daily news. Among folks 55 and older, 64 percent still read a daily paper. Among those 45 to 54, 44 percent catch a daily paper, while 36 percent of adults 35 to 44 do. But of those 18 to 24, only 23 percent said they read a paper each day, while 17 percent said they never do.

NOTE: It was also recently discovered that Newsday’s foray into charging for online subscriptions fell flat, garnering just 35 customers in three months.

People are Actually Reading Newspapers (Online)

Ragan’s PR Junkie explains readership of online newspapers are actually up, although the number of hard copy readers continues to plummet.

Guess where 40 percent of Web traffic went each month in the third quarter of 2009?

I’ll give a second to consider it …

Give up?

The answer is newspaper Web sites.

“An average 74 million people visited a newspaper Web site each month in the third quarter of 2009, equaling just under 40 percent of all active U.S. Internet users,” MediaPost’s Erik Sass reported. The data, Sass said, comes from the Newspaper Association of America, which cited researched by Nielsen Online.

This marks the highest number of visitors in a quarter, since Nielsen began tracking this information in 2004. MediaPost noted that this milestone is especially encouraging for newspapers, because this was an off-year, meaning there were no big news events like the Olympics or a presidential election.

UPDATE: Online readership may have flourished in the third quarter, but overall sales of hard copy newspapers dropped sharply. Newspaper circulation fell 10 percent, between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, compared to the same time last year, according to The New York Times.

Media is Struggling, But Likely Right Time for Businesses to Advertise

For media professionals, a The Wall Street Journal’s Media/Marketing page on January 15 was about as uplifting as listening to The Cure while awaiting sentencing, with the jury foreman being a kid you stole lunch money from in 5th grade. Here were the headlines of its top two articles: "Newspapers Move to Outsource Foreign Coverage" and "Magazine Ads Evaporated in 2008, Faster as Months Went On." 

Here were some not-so-fun facts about magazine ads:

  • In 2008, fourth quarter magazine advertising plunged 17% compared to a year earlier
  • 2008 also saw drops in the first three quarters (6.4%, 8.2% and 12.9%, respectively)
  • Automakers bought 24% fewer magazine ad pages during 2008

But let’s also not forget there is an upside to all this; it may be advantageous for your business in terms of magazine advertising. If your competitors are not advertising and you are, you’ll get the most possible bang for your buck. So if you’re waiting to strike while the iron is hot, now is likely the right time.

In fact, this article from Wisconsin-based InBusiness Magazine sums it up quite aptly:

Since 1949, there have been many studies of the effects of advertising spending during recessions, and most studies have come to a similar conclusion: advertisers win business from those who don’t advertise (duh!), and advertiser sales and market share grow at a dramatically faster rate than non-advertisers for the next 3-5 years.

In one study, the advertisers sales growth was 14 times greater than non-advertisers. Holy competitive advantage, Batman!

(Truth be told, Batman has never needed to advertise, as far as we know. Although, come to think of it, he may need to take some serious PR measures following his outburst at a photography director that went public last week.)

Shameless plug:  If you’d like information about advertising in our popular BizVoice magazine (approximately 15,000 subscribers), just e-mail Jim Wagner at [email protected].

Recovering Journalist Outlines Future of Newspaper Industry

Came across an interesting blog called Recovering Journalist. As a recovering journalist and editor myself, I found it noteworthy. After all, if you love making no money, all the while wondering which of society’s finest you’re about to get an irate phone call from, then journalism is the profession for you! (My recruitment pitch needs work, I know.)

But this post discusses the future of the industry and what we may see in the coming year in order to improve profitability for newspapers nationwide. Here are some highlights (or lowlights). For further detail, read the full post:

  • More downsizing
  • More bankruptcies
  • Death of two-newspaper towns
  • Reduced publishing frequency
  • Better Web/print balance
  • Sharing, clustering and consolidation
  • Outright closings

Regarding the Web/print balance, reporting veteran Mark Potts contends:

Forward-thinking papers will do a better job of making their Web sites stand as solid alternatives to the print product, and may reduce the size of the print edition as an alternative to shutting certain days. This goes double, at least, for advertising: Newspaper sites need to get much smarter about Web advertising, to make the Web edition a much more robust contributor to revenue (and a more realistic replacement for lost print revenue). That involves going way beyond the banner ad to make real strides in contextual ads, search ads, targeted ads, non-traditional revenue sources, premium services and, especially, stepping up efforts to sell to small local advertisers that large newspapers traditionally have ignored.

Communicating Change in Obama’s White House

PR Junkie has a pretty interesting post up today about the Obama administration and its communication strategy. Like me, many Americans are anxious to see if the administration holds true to its campaign promise of government transparency. 

This article contends the administration itself is communicating the transition and possibly circumventing the print media altogether:

So does Obama’s popularity and promise of change mean a return to print readership in America? Maybe inside corporations, but not among the general population. In fact, it seems an Obama administration may bury print newspapers.

The same day Torr’s article ran on Ragan.com, The Washington Post published a story about the Obama administration’s plans for reaching around the media to communicate with citizens.

“Obama aides and allies are preparing a major expansion of the White House communications operation, enabling them to reach out directly to the supporters they have collected over 21 months without having to go through the mainstream media,” The Washington Post reported …

Kennedy invigorated and solidified TV as a medium; Obama will do the same for Web 2.0. If you haven’t already, check out his transition Web site, Change.gov. Among the many features is a blog, constantly updated newsroom, information on the growing list of appointees and, perhaps most importantly, an online suggestion box.

To see the Obama transition team’s blog, visit it here.

CS Monitor Moving to Web: A Harbinger of What’s to Come for Newspapers?

Many of us have been saying it: One day newspapers won’t be in print anymore, and we’ll get their information from our computers. I was an editor of a newspaper who got out of the business a little over two years ago, and I’m not sure I’ve read an actual print version of a newspaper since — although I frequently visit their web sites. Granted, I think I’m allergic to newsprint as I have an immune system (and occasionally a disposition) comparable to the Bubble Boy on "Seinfeld,"  but there’s also been no reason to. However, some say there are folks who will always want a tangible copy, so I guess the argument for print still exists. 

At any rate, the Christian Science Monitor, which is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary, is now set to change its business paradigm to focus on the Web.

Judy Wolff (chairman of the board of trustees for the Christian Science Publishing Society) cited three goals that drove what she called "our evolving strategy" for the Monitor:

• Producing a website that can be updated 24/7 and delivered instantaneously "better fulfills Mrs. Eddy’s original vision" for the Monitor to be daily than does a five-day-a-week paper delivered by mail with frequent delays.

• Focusing resources on the fast-growing Web audience for news rather than on the economically troubled daily newspaper industry "increases the Monitor’s reach and impact." The Monitor’s website currently attracts about 1.5 million visitors a month.

• Eliminating the major production and distribution costs of a daily newspaper will allow the Monitor to "make progress toward achieving financial sustainability" while supporting its global news resources.

I’m still not totally sure how this profit model would work for other papers, though. The Monitor has the benefit of being subsidized by the Christian Science church as the paper is estimated to lose, in all its forms, $18.9 million this year. Also noteworthy is this excerpt:

This is a period of extreme financial difficulty for all news organizations. New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., for instance, was asked at a conference in California on Oct. 22 whether the Times would be a print product in 10 years. "The heart of the answer must be (that) we can’t care," Sulzberger said. He added that he expects print to be around for a long time but "we must be where people want us for our information."

Read the full article here. Let us know what you think. Is print dead or will the average American reader always have a little ink smudge on his fingers?