DPI-659 Assignment 4: Business Models/ Production and Consumption of News

Our class today focused on journalism as a business, but I can’t help but think that journalism’s failure to understand the threat of the internet from a business aspect is closely tied to its failure to understand the threat of the internet from a journalistic aspect as well. I’ll try and speak about both here.

Interior of Tribune Tower lobby. (photo credit)

The business of news is something I’ve worried about since I was 18, when I went out looking for my first job in journalism. It was 1999, and while doomsday hadn’t quite yet hit the news business, things were starting to decline. That summer, I worked as a stringer, earning a dollar an inch writing stories on local government for a weekly paper in New Hampshire. In order to make enough money to get me through the next semester of school, I supplemented my reporter’s income working full-time as a lifeguard and teaching sailing lessons a few nights a week. That should have been a sign.

I became a journalist because I loved to write and didn’t want to work for “the man.” When I graduated from college, I landed a job at the Orlando Sentinel, covering municipal government in a town halfway between Orlando and Daytona Beach. That job, and the bureau I worked in no longer exist. Upon enrolling in a 401(k), I found out that the Sentinel’s parent company, Tribune, put their match in company stock, unless I opted out. I caught this after a couple paychecks and asked my dad what to do. He advised me to have the match put into a Vanguard account, sell the Tribune stock I had, and buy myself a six-pack with the proceeds. That should have been a sign.

In my first three months on the job my colleagues embedded with the military as the U.S. invaded Iraq, and the space shuttle Colombia broke up as it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere. Both were huge stories for the paper, but they weren’t enough to pay the bills. Actually, deploying reporters to cover these stories probably exacerbated the situation. Newsgathering is expensive, and the paper announced cuts soon after I got there. Around the same time, company executives were getting six-figure performance bonuses. I remember feeling galled that I was working 60+ hours a week to create the product that was the bedrock of a business (no one buys a paper for the ads) with no prospect of a raise, while company executives got bonuses that equaled six years of my salary. Turns out, I was working for the man.

I remember sitting in the newsroom watching colleagues twice my age take buyouts, and eventually get laid off. I remember thinking how hard it would be to reinvent yourself at 50, with a mortgage and kids in college. And yet, even as colleagues bemoaned the decline in news, they were slow to take steps to save it. Shirky talks about this in his book: how legacy media institutions colored by their narcissism bias failed to comprehend how big or disruptive the internet was. Something that was once hard and expensive, was suddenly easy and cheap. The New York Times 2014 Innovation Report says as much, as well, pointing to a culture that prized the print product, while digital-first competitors expanded rapidly.

Newsrooms were slow to warm to the internet, seeing it not as competition, or even as a tool, but as a conundrum. Even now, in 2016, news organizations are still having conversations about how to effectively use the web to gather news. At the same time, their business models were extremely fragile: as Nicco Mele notes in his Shorenstein Center podcast, for 150 years journalism has relied almost exclusively on revenues from advertising funding. This fragility was especially hard felt in places like Florida, where tourism drove the economy. In the post-9/11 economic downturn, tourism declined, taking the paper’s ad revenues with it. It is almost incomprehensible to me that an entire industry would rely on one revenue source to fund it. Yet, history is full of examples of businesses that relied on a narrow revenue stream, failed to innovate, and succumbed: Kodak, Studebaker, and Blockbuster, for example. Comfortingly, none of these businesses makes an appearance in the Constitution. The press, however, is another story.

The press, on one hand, is a business. On the other hand, it is so much more. So what is to come?

Shirky notes that, “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.” But for more than a century, newspapers have been the bedrock of journalism. If not newspapers, what?

I’m reminded of the lobby of the Tribune Building (now tronc, Inc. headquarters), which stands today as an almost ironic beacon of the importance of journalism. There, inscribed in stone, are reminders of the mission and value of a free press. Among them:

“Newspapers are the sentinals of the liberties of our country.”
–  Benjamin Rush

“Our liberty depends of the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
– Thomas Jefferson

Shirky ends his post hypothesizing that over the next few decades, a “collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need.” To me, that sounds like saying over the next few decades, we might find a treatment for cancer, but in the interim a lot of people will die. In the meantime, what will slip through the cracks without a fourth estate to watch for it?

Here’s what I know: Newspapers were late to the internet game. Newspapers are expensive to print. Newsgathering is expensive. The model is broken. Something has to change. Society will lose a lot if it doesn’t.

Here’s what I think could help: Newspapers could be non-profit, instead of owned by publicly traded companies. This would help ease some of the revenue pressures. Newspapers could go digital, ending the need for expensive printing and distribution operations. Newspapers could diversify their revenue streams, taking some money from advertising, but also crowd-funding stories, and seeking foundation support.

Is it enough? Maybe not. But then, if I had all the answers to this, maybe I’d still be in the news business.



DPI-659 Assignment 3: Evaluate a Wikipedia article

My favorite part of Clay Shirky’s TED Talk was the beginning when he spoke about Martha Payne and her food blog, NeverSeconds.

As this blog began as a food blog, I was instantly interested in Martha and her clever idea. In fact, I spent the rest of Shirky’s talk reading Martha’s blog on my iPhone, and had to go back and watch it all over again because I forgot to pay attention to what Shirky was saying. Oops.

Given that this week’s assignment is to evaluate a Wikipedia article, I thought I’d check out what Wikipedia had to say about NeverSeconds.


The post is 780 words long and contains 29 references, mostly from news articles. The entry gives a broad overview of what Martha’s blog is and the money she has raised for charity. The entry does a good job of publishing information about Martha’s blog, without focusing too much on her, outside of activities associated with her blog.

I kind of hated that there are no photos of Martha or any of her school lunches on this post. Given that photos are the premise of the blog, it was kind of a bummer. I realize that’s because Martha hasn’t published any of her photos under a creative commons license, but I still miss it. I think this is a challenge that Wikipedia faces: oftentimes there are no photos on an entry or the photo is low-quality because people don’t publish them under creative commons licenses.

About 320 words of the entry are dedicated to the controversy created by the Argyll and Bute Council when they banned her from taking photographs of her lunch at school. This is one of the concerns I have about Wikipedia: it seems to amplify scandals and disagreements. It appears that the article was published in the midst of Martha’s trouble with the town council, which isn’t surprising. Without the scandal many thousands of people might never have heard about NeverSeconds.

But it seems that with the passage of time, as interest in the issue waned, so did interest in the Wikipedia article. Though the article appears to have been edited twice this year, NeverSeconds is still listed as “operational” despite the fact that Martha hasn’t posted in more than two and a half years (last post February 4, 2014). And since individuals can’t edit posts about themselves, Martha can’t contribute any new information that might be relevant, like the fact that her blog is no longer operational. The post also doesn’t mention that Martha and her dad wrote a book in 2012.

Finally, the article notes that by June 2012 Martha had raised more than £90,000 for Mary’s Meals, which intended to use the money to build a new kitchen at a primary school in Malawi. A quick Google search shows that Martha topped £100,000 later that year.The sidebar on the page notes that Martha has revenue of more than £142,000, which she’s given to Mary’s Meals. But why hasn’t that total been added to the body of the article? (Martha’s Just Giving page notes a total of more than £145,000).

Given that this all took place two years ago, I wondered: did the kitchen ever get built? A visit to the Mary’s Meals Wikipedia page indicates that it did! But why isn’t that information on the NeverSeconds entry?


Dateline: Katahdin

I’ve been lucky to do some pretty magical hikes over the past year: from admiring the foliage on Mount Chocorua to exploring slot canyons in Utah to hiking from the south rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River and back up in one day. None of that prepared me for Katahdin.

While most people know that Katahdin is the end of the Appalachian Trail, I don’t think people realize how absolutely grueling or divinely spiritual this mountain is. It is really a very special place. I hesitate to even write about it, since the Baxter State Park Authority already heavily regulates the number of visitors and with the creation of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, I suspect traffic will only grow. From what I saw at Acadia and the Grand Canyon, that is a mixed blessing.


My group was pretty late in making plans, so we chose to hike on a Tuesday, figuring it would be easier to get lodging and parking permits. Anyone planning to hike Katahdin needs a parking permit. Maine residents can get one at anytime. Non-residents can register up to two-weeks in advance. There aren’t many to give out (27 permits at three lots = >100), so registering as early as possible is recommended.

The alarm went off at 4:30 the morning of our hike. After a night of enjoying the lake and enjoying one another’s company, it felt early. The only things motivating me were peer pressure and the knowledge that if we weren’t in the parking lot by 7 a.m., they’d give our spot away to someone else.

It was an hour’s drive to the Katahdin Stream parking lot. The sun was just rising as we pulled in. A quick bathroom break, gear check, and our group of eight was ready to go. We were on the Hunt Trail at 5:45 a.m.


The first mile was uneventful. We all hung together, chatting and ambling up a fairly friendly trail. We arrived at Katahdin Stream Falls (1.2) miles in what seemed like no time, where I realized that I’d forgotten to start my Garmin (hence the walk up is short on the screenshots below).

There was a pit toilet just past the stream, which I made use of knowing there was nothing else on the trail. I had zero desire to answer nature’s call above the tree line if I could avoid it.

The trail got steeper after the falls and the group started to stretch out. I was paired up with a girl from Maine who was pretty close to my speed. We made quick work of the next mile, even as the rocks on the trail seemed to get bigger. Around mile three we started running into thru-hikers who were on their last day of the Appalachain Trail. They were easy to spot as they hiked up the trail like it was nothing, with sizable packs on their backs. The culmination of the journey was surely a special day for them, and it made me wonder at the distance they’d come: 2,200 miles.

At around mile 3.5 we emerged from the woods above the tree line. The views were spectacular. 08-fullsizerender-12

Little did I know, the climb was about to get much harder. The next mile was more a climb than a hike. My walking sticks went into my backpack as I needed arms and legs to haul myself up over the rocks on the trail.


It was really a full body effort, requiring almost an hour to make it a mile.


11-fullsizerender-16Looking back at the hardest mile. 

The view was the saving grace.

Once at the top of this ridge, it was an easy walk past Thoreau spring and to the summit. After that mile of drama, summiting was almost anticlimactic.


Almost. But not really.

We summited at 9:25 a.m., 3 hours and 40 minutes after we’d started. I was feeling pretty smug and triumphant about the whole thing, thinking it wasn’t even 10 a.m. and the hardest part of my day was behind me.


We basically had a 360-degree view from the top. It was dramatically beautiful.


We started chatting with other folks on the summit while waiting for our friends to arrive. I tend to prefer loop hikes to out and backs and was trying to figure out if there was a way to avoid going down the way I’d gone up… you know, just to see something new. It was a beautiful day- not too hot and not to windy- and I had mixed feelings about hiking Katahdin and not doing the Knife Edge.

After consulting a map and our friends, my partner and I decided that we’d go down the Knife Edge to Pamola Peak and then take the Helon Taylor trail the rest of the way down. This would put us on the opposite side of the mountain from where we’d started, so we’d have to hitchhike back to town. Worst case, our friends could come back to get us if it got too late.

Looking towards the Knife Edge

Having just summited in under four hours, I figured the rest of the day would be a cake walk. I was so, so wrong.


The trail was hard almost immediately. The Knife Edge is an exposed ridge, less than three feet wide in some places. The trail drops off on either side rather dramatically, and with no other mountains of comparable size nearby, vertigo sets in. You feel like if you fell, you would fall forever. Almost immediately, I started having a mini-panic attack. I knew intellectually that I was not going to fall off the side of a mountain, but it sure felt that way.


The trail was rocky, and there was nothing to hang on to for support. Sometimes the rocks wobbled. Sometimes you had to use your whole body to climb up them. I just kept telling myself to put one foot in front of the other, to take is slow and steady.


It was nerve wracking. We inched along, taking deep breaths and focusing on the trail ahead.

Finally, we were near the end. The worst was behind us, I thought. And then we came to a cliff: 50 feet of near vertical scramble. We went down one, and then had to climb up another.


With this, we were there. We’d reached Pamola Peak.


Traversing the mile-long Knife Edge had taken an hour and a half. No speed records there.

It was sort of awe inspiring to look back and realize I’d walked along the top of all of this.


Still, I was glad it was one.

We embarked on the Helon Taylor trail, which was easier but still tricky. Lots of loose gravel and a few steep parts. The trail seemed to never end.

Finally, we reached Roaring Brook Campground, where we plunged our feet and legs into a frigid stream for as long as we could stand it. Even with the ice bath, my quads were sore for days.

A friendly family from Pennsylvania picked us up on the side of the road and reunited us with our group. There was celebratory steak and a sauna. And then, a very good sleep.

Baxter Peak (5,267 feet) and Pamola (4,919 feet)
Up: Hunt Trail
5.2 miles. 3 hours, 40 minutes

Down: Knife Edge (1.1 miles) to Helon Taylor (3.2 miles)
4 hours, 37 minutes (1 hour, 30 minutes on Knife Edge)