A New Philanthropy

My university’s decision to sell its public radio station (KPLU) to Seattle’s (KUOW), has upset lots of KPLU listeners both on and off campus. You can read the PLU president’s rationale here and decide for yourself how persuasive it is.

The sale is being reported as $8m, but it’s really $7m since $1m is $100k worth of radio advertising for ten consecutive years. At a recent faculty meeting the president said young adult radio listening is down 41% which prompted me to ask him why then the $1m in advertising.

Tacoma’s newspaper puts the sale in a larger context:

What’s happening to KPLU’s news team has been happening across the United States for the last decade. Battered by the Great Recession and the migration of audiences to the Internet, America’s traditional news operations . . . have collectively been forced to shed many thousands of professional journalism jobs.

That would merely be tough luck for those companies if new digital media were picking up the slack. Many traditional media companies . . . have successfully migrated to the Internet themselves. But online news rarely attracts the kind of advertising revenue that the old media once enjoyed.

It’s not just lost advertising revenue, it’s Craigslist and other on-line publications which have siphoned off classified revenue, another critical stream.

The Tacoma paper predicts what will happen next:

Shrunken newsrooms and fewer reporters and news editors. With fewer reporters, there’s less news. Pardon the sarcasm, but it’s remarkable how much less scandal there is in government and the corporate world now that fewer journalists are on the lookout for it.

The Web creates an illusion of abundant news. There is in fact an abundance of commentary about the news; political websites and blogs are saturated with punditry and ideological spin. There’s also a lot of news that’s been recycled, aggregated, tweeted, repurposed and attached to ads on the Web. But there’s less real bedrock information out there than it appears.

The Good Wife and I went a little cray cray last weekend and went to two movies. One of those, Spotlight, is the story of the Boston Globe’s 2000-2002 reporting on the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal.

Even though the story happened only 14-15 years ago, it felt like much longer. Almost like entering a time capsule. It’s a last gasp salvo against the march of the internet, an engaging case study of important investigative reporting. Unbelievably, the editors kept slowing down the journalists, telling them to take more time, meaning using more resources.

Since power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, a vibrant democracy depends in large part on a free and tenacious press that repeatedly asks challenging questions of people in power. Legions of journalists are sounding a warning, saying few media entities have the financial wherewithal to do original, excellent investigative reporting.

But I’m unaware of journalists thinking creatively about alternative revenue streams. So I will offer an idea. What if super wealthy philanthropists gave less to the (normally) already super wealthy universities they attended, and instead, made seven and eight figure gifts to our once great newspapers, or their newer online competitors, to create endowments for them, just like colleges and universities have, so that they can count on the revenue those endowments would generate.

And what about endowing journalists more specifically, like an endowed chair at a college or university? The Daniel Pearl Chair of Southeast Asian Reporting. The David Carr Chair of Media Studies. Seems to me this idea might appeal to super wealthy lefties and right wing nutters since the resulting investigative light would shine on scoundrels of every conceivable ideological bent.

Postscript/Administrivia:

• Thanks to Adele for filling in for me last week.

• I just don’t get the Kobe worship (Rest in Peace moms). He’s shooting 31%! If he cared about the Laker’s future half as much as he does himself, he’d retire right now.

• Happy to report that I ran the Seattle Half Marathon Sunday without either calf rebelling. My time suggests what I’ve suspected, I’m getting older. My brother informs me my time was five minutes slower than his personal record. Forgets to mention Grease was the top grossing movie when he ran that race.

 

 

 

Feeding the Spirit. . . Slowly

Most days I’m bullish, in a two-thirds kinda way, on our future. But about a third of accelerating modernization worries me. For example, young people gravitate almost exclusively to high speed, visual media that leaves the future of non-visual slow mo media like National Public Radio extremely vulnerable.

This was painfully apparent the other day while I was listening to NPR while driving through downtown Bend, Oregon. I learned that the “Talk of the Nation” call in program was going off the air after 21 years. Something about a $7m debt. Next, as I drove back to Sunriver, I listened to a riveting, seemingly unbelievable (it was April 1st) story about a Portland State University student who got caught in a gruesome, downward sex trafficking spiral.

And I thought it was an exotic, mostly Southeast Asian story. I needed educating and was schooled by a memorable story that stuck with me the way powerful journalism does. Journalism that educates, pricks your conscience, and tugs at your emotions.

Youtube videos are often funny diversions from day-to-day life, but few rise to the level of powerful journalism.

I had to listen to the same station for twenty minutes and use my imagination to envision the young women’s harrowing story. Devalued attributes in today’s social media landscape.

I’m a frugal fool meaning my money saving strategies are sometimes irrational. So I identify closely with my friend who likes the Washington Post. I sent him a link to a recent article that described the Post’s new pay wall. He quickly fired back, “It will never work, I’ll just read the minimum number of articles and then turn to other news sites.”

But when it comes to the potential of our journalism to challenge our intellect, hold our public officials accountable, and sometimes even nourish our spirit, we get what we pay for.

I can’t help but wonder, no make that worry, about what happens to 21st Century media when young people are unwilling or unable to paint pictures for twenty minutes and their parents refuse to contribute to the salaries of the skilled men and women who excel at telling our stories.

Of Breakfast Tables and Technological Change

One of my fondest childhood memories involves my older brother who loved making my life miserable. He routinely read the morning sports page and comics while eating toast weighted down by peanut butter and honey. Inevitably, a few drops of the honey would spill over onto the paper, so that when our dad read it, pages would stick together. Prompting dad to snap and drop a “g*d dammit” much to my delight.

Fast forward forty years to our Olympia, WA breakfast table. The GalPal and I grew up in newspaper reading families so we’re part of the diminishing newspaper reading minority. I read lots of local and national newspapers on my laptop and iPad. But as you know, the heavy hitters—led by the New York Times—have started to charge for more than very minimal access.

We have a local paper weekend subscription which runs $13.33/month or $160/year. 52 weekends times three days equals 156 issues a year at a cost of $1.02/per. That’s a terrible value, but it’s a concession to marital peace. For some reason Betrothed has to hold the paper in her hands on the weekends. I hear divorce costs more than $160.

And we subscribe to the Wall Street Journal which runs $8.33/month or $100/year. That’s the educator’s discount price. The regular price is three times more at $26/month. 52 weeks times six days minus holidays equals about 305 issues/year at a cost of 32.7¢/per for me and 98¢ for the masses. That’s for home delivery and complete digital access on any device.

The WSJ subscription is about to expire and I’m thinking about switching to the New York Times digital/tablet edition. No home delivery. Unlimited access on any computer and tablet. Smart phone access is a little more. Educator’s discount price, $10/month; regular price, $20/month. That’s $120/year for 365 issues meaning about 32.9¢/per for me and 66¢ for the masses.

Another option is PressReader, the best choice for serious news junkies. It’s like a cocaine addict buying a personal cocoa field. For $30/month subscribers gain access to 2,300 newspapers from 95 countries, representing 54 languages. Here’s a 4+ minute video introduction. They’ve provided me with a sample subscription which I’ve been trying out. It’s a promising application, but it may not have your local paper. Also, it takes 10-15 seconds for papers to download and moving around within papers takes some getting used to. If it was my only option, I’d adjust quickly and like it, but I’m going to pass on paying three times more for way more content than it’s possible to process.

As if the newspaper subscription water isn’t muddy enough, two more options include the online news aggregator Zite which I’ve reviewed before (here) and Pulse another news aggregator which I really like and highly recommend (both available at iTunes). Pulse works especially well for skimmers. In fact, I dare you to find a rival.

For the love of all things digital, someone please convince the GalPal the answer is obvious. Read the local paper online, use $120 of that $160 in savings to subscribe to the New York Times, and use the remaining $40 to buy more dried mangos.

Lasting, Meaningful Work

Print versions of newspapers are endangered species. In part, for that you can thank Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist. Craigslist, which I’m a fan of, has crippled print classified revenue. For the newly unemployed journalists this is a negative and painful turn of events, for the rest of us it should be a precautionary tale about the Information Revolution and our children’s educational futures.

The plight of print newspapers begs a question: In an Information Revolution characterized by increasing global interdependence what type of K-12 and higher education experiences will enable young people to find lasting, meaningful work? More specifically, what knowledge, what skills, what sensibilities will increase the odds that young people will avoid economic dislocation as a result of increasing automation and outsourcing? 

Too few educators are asking those questions.

The young, internet savvy students in my globalization course are familiar with foreign call centers, but are surprised to learn the extent outsourcing is taking. As a reminder that whatever data or services can be digitized and sent abroad for processing probably will be, I provide each of them with a one inch long piece of coaxial cable to keep in their pockets throughout their PLU experience. After distributing the pieces of cable, I ask them what they think the key ingredients of an outsource-resistant education are.

Initially at least, they stare at me blankly (51 seconds in).

After awhile though, the wheels start to turn, and they begin responding with thoughtful insights.

Instead of revealing their thinking, what do you think?

Historically, a part of the “American dream” was that children would enjoy an even better quality of life than their parents. Now though, many anxious parents wonder whether their children will enjoy their same quality of life. By themselves, high school diplomas, G.E.D’s., and even higher education degrees don’t guarantee anything. Just ask the journalists at the Christian Science Monitor or Seattle Post Intelligencer.