If You Thought Unpaid Internships Were Bad, Just Wait ‘Till You Read This!

•May 4, 2010 • 1 Comment

Since this is my last post for the semester, I was planning on ending on a positive note–you know, maybe talk about some optimistic new venture in the tumultuous news media.  But as I was reading through today’s Media Bistro news feed, I came across this story on Yahoo News that just stood out to me as being absolutely absurd.

Over the past few months, the idea of unpaid internships has been under scrutiny.  I am glad for that, since I think that unpaid internships are unfair; if you are working for someone, they should be paying you.  I know that many of these unpaid positions offer college credit, but the fact is, some students (such as myself) don’t need the extra credits–they just want to gain some helpful work experience.  Additionally, college credit should only be earned through learning something; and, unfortunately, many of these internships are really just fetching coffee and doing busy work.

The media industry, in its current state, is one of the toughest to get an internship in.  So, what can a young, aspiring journalism major do?  Well, if you’ve got the money, you’re in luck!

Internships at several news media companies are now up for auction.  You pay big bucks, to work for free!  Doesn’t that sound enticing?  I don’t think so.

The Yahoo news article listed several of the winning bids from this year’s auction:

-Internship at the Huffington Post: $9,000 (last year it was $13,000)

-Internship at Vanity Fair: $2,900

-Internship at Vogue: $42,500 (are you serious?!)

-A week interning at Esquire: $1,000

-Internship at Black Enterprise: $550

-Internship at Niche Media: $500

These are just a few of the auction results.  According to the article, the money raised in the auction goes to support the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

This internship auction just adds to the list of shocking changes that have come about in the news industry over the past few years.  Although one can make some educated guesses about how the news media will look in 5 years, based on trends and what seems to be working now, it is difficult to predict exactly how it will end up.  I plan on continuing to pay attention to changes in the industry, and I am excited to see what kind of crazy things will happen over the next few years.

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Future of Journalism Panel

•April 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

From April 26th to 28th in Los Angeles, the Milken Institute held its Global Conference for journalism.  During this conference, a panel was held to discuss the future of journalism.  On the panel was several veteran journalists, including Arianna Huffington, Bill Keller of the New York Times, Andy Lack from Bloomberg, Gordon Crovitz from Journalism Online, and Vivian Schiller from NPR.

Bill Keller and Arianna Huffington at the conference

The members of the panel talked about the importance of the use of social media.  They cited the Huffington Post and New York Times’ resourceful use of social media during the uprising in Iran.  Journalists were kicked out of the country, and Iranian journalists were thrown in jail, so it was up to the thousands of people on the street witnessing everything firsthand to provide the rest of us with information.  Professional journalists were then able “to arrange, package, vet this material…[it] is a collaborative process.”

Another interesting point brought up was the idea that this collaborative effort can only improve the amount of truth that is provided in journalism.  Huffington explained how professional journalists are more easily swayed by people in power; they get too close to their sources.  As an example, she described how business journalists did not see any warning signs of the financial crisis because they were too entrenched in what their sources were feeding them.  People on the ground, however, don’t have access to talk to these people in powerful positions, they get their information directly from personal experience.

I feel that this point is debatable, but interesting.  I definitely see her point and do agree with it.  There definitely are positive results that come out of this hybrid journalism, also known as the pro-am model.

To see a video clip of Huffington discussing the points mentioned above, or the video of the entire conference, go here.

A New Role for Media Companies

•April 27, 2010 • Leave a Comment

In this drastically changing media world, another new trend is emerging.  An article in Advertising Age explains how media companies are taking on a new role: advertising agency.

Traditionally, media companies were just the outlets for advertising content created by ad agencies for advertisers.  Sometimes, the media company would tailor the content, whether it be print or video, to better fit the publication or station.  It was only really in local media, like local radio stations or newspapers, where the media company would actually create the advertising content.

Now, media companies are creating this ad content not only for their own outlets, but for others as well.  For example, Conde Nast–which owns several magazines and websites, including Vogue, style.com, Allure, GQ, Lucky, and Wired.com–created YouTube and Facebook advertisements for clothing designer Kenneth Cole.

So why are media companies creating content for advertisers that may be published in competing media properties?  Well, it is still another opportunity to gain revenue, and it will also deepen the company’s relationship with advertisers so they would be more likely to advertise with the company anyway.

Advertisers consider using media companies beneficial because they “want deep integration with content, and they’re finding that the content producers themselves are often the best creative partner.”  Additionally, some advertisers might question why they are paying an ad agency for content that will be advertised right next to competing content produced by the same agency.

As with any new venture, there is some skepticism that comes with media companies creating ad content.  The article questions ulterior motives of media companies: “How can media companies create ads for some marketers while trying to sell their ad inventory to as many advertisers as possible?”  Ad agencies, on the other hand, have the sole purpose of creating unique, meaningful content for their clients.

I think that there is definitely a viable opportunity for media companies in creating advertising content.  However, as with any new venture, there are a few downsides involved.

In an aside to his article, Brian Steinberg gives advertisers a list of things to watch out for when deciding whether to use a traditional ad agency or a media company:

What to consider if you’re using a media outlet to do your creative or marketing services:

WILL YOUR ADS BE DISTINCTIVE? A media company should know better than anyone what works best in its pages or on its air, so it makes sense to ask it to tailor your message to that. But, are the personnel skilled enough to make sure the ads they create help your message more than their content?

MEDIA COMPANIES HAVE OTHER BUSINESS TO CONDUCT. Is the focus on helping you sell more of your products or services or on selling more of the media outlet’s advertising inventory?

IS THE WORK SCALABLE? Media companies often do creative work geared for their properties. Can the work run elsewhere?

COULD YOU DAMAGE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR CREATIVE AGENCY? It’s hard to tell an established ad firm you’re branching out, so consider how to deliver the news.

Yahoo Gets It!

•April 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

After my two pessimistic posts last week, I found an article today on Mediaweek.com that left me feeling hopeful.  The article outlines Yahoo’s new plan to hire more traditional journalists to bring original content to the site.

Yahoo, which according to the article is “already the Web’s biggest publisher, driven by a successful mass-market aggregation formula,” receives over 40 million unique visitors per month.  Since it is already successful in the digital media world, this plan to add original content will only add quality to the site.

Vice President of Yahoo Media Jimmy Pitaro said that even with such a high number of unique visitors, it is still difficult to sell advertising.  “The idea is that voice is important,” he said in the article, “We are going to build out an identity and personality for Yahoo’s content.”

So far, Yahoo has made several hires, including the following:

-Russ Walker, formerly an editor for WashingtonPost.com, will be Yahoo’s politics editor

-Andrew Golis, formerly of Talking Points Memo, will assemble a team of bloggers for Yahoo

-Anna Robertson, formerly of ABC News, will be Yahoo News’ director of multimedia and social media

-Courtney Reimer, formerly of MTV Networks, will manage a group of entertainment blogs

These are just a few of the journalists that Yahoo has hired, and Pitaro says that there will be more to come.  Yahoo will focus on specific topics to add this original content to–news, business, entertainment, finance, and lifestyle.  It already has seen success in its sports division, which started regularly breaking news in 2006 after hiring Dave Morgan, a former editor at the LA Times.

In addition to adding original content, Yahoo will also focus on several other goals.  Many of which we have discussed in class.

First, Yahoo plans to better organize its aggregated content.  Walker, the new politics editor, emphasizes the goal of acquiring repeat visitors to the site–this means logically categorizing content, rather than having “just a bunch of feeds.”

Another aspect that Yahoo will focus on is social media.  Robertson plans to actively update Facebook and Twitter accounts for Yahoo, both by linking to content and seeking comments from readers.  Getting readers to actively participate in the site, through comments, will help to increase “user engagement.”   One of the metrics that Neilson uses to judge how popular a site is, besides number of unique visitors, is the amount of time each visitor spends on a site per session.  Yahoo is currently lacking in this measurement compared to other news sites, such as CNN.com.

Finally, Yahoo plans to add more original video series to its site.  This is probably the most exciting aspect of Yahoo’s enhancement.  We have been talking a lot about the opportunities with online video.  In my post a few weeks ago, I discussed how there is a large opportunity in online television advertising, as the medium is rising in popularity.  Additionally, we discussed in class how making video news stories for the Internet can be much more insightful than for broadcast.  It is a nonlinear form–users can watch as many videos as they want in any order that they want.  I think that adding video series to Yahoo will be a great success as more and more viewers find out about it.

I’m excited to see the results of these goals that Yahoo has proposed for itself.  Also, I am glad to see another company that realizes where consumer trends are going and focusing on quality and originality.

The Lines Between Advertising and News Aren’t Just Blurred; They’ve Been Crossed

•April 23, 2010 • Leave a Comment

L.A. Times reporter James Rainey wrote an article called “On the Media: KCBS ads masquerade as news” after a puzzled news consumer asked him whether a 90-second piece he saw on KCBS Channel 2 news was news or advertising.  The piece featured one of KCBS’ health reporters, Lisa Sigell, and featured an interview with the chief medical officer of the City of Hope Medical Center.  “CBS Healthwatch” logos also appeared on the screen.  This particular segment was about cancer treatments.  A few weeks ago, a similar segment was aired that described the importance of screenings for colorectal cancer.

To many viewers, this would seem like a series of health news stories.

But they’re not news stories at all.  The City of Hope is an advertiser on KCBS, and claims on its website that it has been paying for “targeted medical informational” spots on the station for 12 years.

So why do these advertisements look so much like news segments? TV news stations are getting desperate.  Historically, consumers have been muting commercials or using the time to get up and run to the fridge; and now, new technologies are decreasing commercial viewing even further–by allowing consumers to fast forward through commercials.  So in order to keep money coming in from advertisers, salespeople are offering them something called “added value.”  It’s similar to product placement you would see in a movie or television show, but now its integrating products into the news.

The idea of businesses being able to pay to have themselves or their products featured on the news is appalling to me. As a business major specializing in marketing, I know that the marketing department at these news stations should be able to come up with something more creative to bring in revenue–oh yeah, and ethical!

An official from KCBS claimed that “people in the read world saw the segments for what they were.”  Bullsh*t.  I have mentioned a few times that everyone should be required to take news literacy classes to become well-informed news consumers, but the fact is: most people don’t.  Most people will not be able to tell when they are being fed news stories that a company paid for.

The KCBS official also said that the segments were not a reward for the advertising dollars that City of Hope spends on regular advertising, and the fact that they featured Sigell was done under an old news director.  The new director, Scott Diener, “would not allow news personnel in such ‘sponsored spots,’ the station official said.”  I hope this is true, for the news consumers’ sake.

If the news media keeps going in this direction, it will lose all its integrity.  I think Rainey describes the situation well at the end of his piece–this new form of advertising is “Something like friends with benefits.”

Newsday Goes Soft on Sports

•April 22, 2010 • Leave a Comment

An article on the New York Observer’s website this week discussed a new policy at Newsday–no more negativity.  Newsday editors decided that they want the paper to have a “softer” tone in its sports section, and eliminate any kind of name-calling, criticism, or sarcasm.  The new sports section would be just straight-up facts.

So what’s wrong with that? You might ask.  Isn’t objectivity one of the primary journalistic goals?

Well, yes, objectivity is important, but Newsday’s editors are refusing to print columns with harsh tones and connotations as well.  Some feel that this is a form of censorship.  Columns are opinion pieces, and readers look for the personality of the writer when reading them.  Especially in sports–a topic that is based on competition among teams–having a harsh opinion is customary.  Simply stating the facts with no opinion or analysis would most likely bore sports fans.

Many of the sports reporters are not pleased with the new direction the paper is taking, and many of their stories have been scrapped or severely edited to adhere to this new policy.  One disgruntled reporter was quoted in the Observer article, saying “It’s rank censorship…you can’t tell journalists that there are things to avoid and call it anything but censorship.”

Though a spokeswoman for Newsday denies any connection, some reporters believe this new policy is a result of a change in ownership.  When Cablevision acquired the paper less than two years ago, executives James and Charles Dolan were put in charge.  Aside from Newsday, the Dolans also own the Knicks and the Rangers.  To me, this speculation does seem to have potential.

One of the sources that the Observer spoke with from Newsday went so far as to say that this “feels like another blow to the integrity of the paper [since Cablevision acquired it].”  Columnist Wallace Matthews was so disgusted by the policy that he ended up leaving Newsday; he now writes for ESPN’s New York website.

The article makes it clear that there is no hard evidence that the Dolan’s are censoring the sports section, but the fact that it creates such speculation is bad enough.  Newsday has been making the news quite a bit lately, but not in a positive light (having only 35 paid subscribers to its website, editor John Mancini because of the way the paper was covering the Knicks, and so on).  The last thing the paper needs is for this speculation to turn out to be true, and if it is, then it is a sign of poor journalistic standards–catering to shareholders to increase value, rather than a focus on quality and accuracy.

Watchdog Role Remains Strong

•April 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Television network ABC is partnering up with online political fact-checking site PolitiFact for its Sunday morning program “This Week.”  The weekly program features political guests in varying levels of government for an interview session with host Jake Tapper.

In the past, it was the responsibility of the anchor to ask probing questions, keep guests from avoiding or twisting questions, and follow-up when necessary.  However, it is easy to let misinformation slide when conducting an interview, especially, i would assume, when that interview is with a politician trained in public speaking.  For example, the New York Times article announcing this fact-checking partnership notes that on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani “said without being challenged that ‘we had no domestic attacks under Bush, we’ve had one under Obama.’…The interviewer, George Stephanopoulos, admitted online later that he had made a mistake in not following up.”  It’s understandable; everyone makes mistakes.

But now, with sites like PolitiFact, those mistakes can be fixed.  After watching “This Week,” viewers now have the option to go online and find out where the facts stated by politicians stated on the show stand on the “Truth-O-Meter” ranging from true to half true to false to pants on fire.  (After a bit of quick exploring on the site, I was glad to see that some statements do reach the level of pants on fire–I just wish that more people would see it.)

On ABC’s website page for “This Week” it is easy to spot the link to the PolitiFact report relating to that week’s particular show; it’s right up top, just below the main picture.  The only setback to this new idea for verification is that it takes a few hours for PolitiFact to fact-check the interview and post the results online.  Hopefully viewers of the show will be interested enough to wait a few hours to find out the truth, as it is up to them–ABC does not plan on having anchors revisit issues later in the week.  As Tapper stated in the Times article, “our show is about the news today and not what was said a week ago.”

As the news media shifts to the Internet, many worry about the trade-off between speed and accuracy.  In many cases, the pressure to get information posted quickly–even to the point of being in real-time–on the Internet is lowering the standards for accuracy.  However, quite the opposite is true in this case.  The Internet is actually enhancing accuracy for a legacy medium: television.  I think this is a great idea, and though it still has some kinks to be worked out, I hope to see more things like this emerge in the future as we transition from legacy media to new media and a mash-up of both.