Friday, July 10, 2009

I'm Flattered

Media Newcomer?

I’m flattered and humbled. Really. I just found out this afternoon that the has NewsMcNabb included in “Your A List”: “City Life/Media Newcomer”. Here’s the link:

Strangely, I was in the process of writing a new post taking stock of NewsMcNabb. A reporter for the Daily Texan had contacted me regarding an article she is writing about bloggers in Austin. Leigh Patterson had asked for my perspective having transition from day-to-day journalism to a journalism/media criticism blog. I read what I wrote to her, and I decided that it was a good way of taking stock of NewsMcNabb and other media at this moment in time.

After retiring from TV news, I was convinced more than ever that there was a void. In this market nobody was writing critically about media and journalism.

On a sporadic basis, someone at the Austin Chronicle would write a piece about something they’d seen or read. Frankly, I didn’t find much of what the Chronicle wrote about the media helpful in that it seemed as one-sided or biased as they claimed my TV station at the time, KXAN TV, was. More recently, Kevin Brass has written a few stories about trends in Austin journalism for the Chronicle. Brass is quite qualified and much of what he writes is spot-on, but Brass has several irons in the fire, and journalism/media criticism isn’t his sole focus.

I saw that nobody was writing about the newspapers—good, bad, or ugly. Somebody should since there is so much change, stories weren’t being told. Further, I knew from the inside-out all of the almost desperate changes that were going on in TV stations and their newsrooms. All, print and broadcast, are doing more with less. Staff members are cross-training on posting stories, pictures, and video to the web.

A byproduct of doing more with less is that the overall product was and is often suffering. If the Fourth Estate is a pillar of democracy (and I believe it is—check out Iran news) then, someone needs to explain what’s going on and how means of finding information essential to our community is changing.

Of course, all of this is facilitated by the Internet. The good thing is that the Internet has leveled the playing field allowing ordinary citizens to have a voice. Anyone can get a blogspot or Wordpress blog. If you can write and if you can develop a following, you can have your own medium for free. Since the juice of journalism still flowed fast in my veins, one fall afternoon, I suddenly slammed an unwitting email list with notification of my blog NewsMcNabb. I have added many, many more since then.


What is true for any successful communications medium is true for a blog: Content is king. Without compelling content that interests or affects people, no medium will succeed for long.

That is one of the things killing newspapers. Many newspapers across the country and here in Austin are buying-out or laying-off longtime reporters. These seasoned reporters commanded a higher salary and benefits, but the newspaper lost their contacts, knowledge, and goodwill. When those newspapers with smaller staffs start using more and more Associated Press or New York Times syndicated stories and fewer strong local stories, the readers notice and move on. The same can be said of television stations and blogs.

If a blog doesn’t deliver focused hyper-local content, it will wither and die. So, I approach almost every post as a news story containing the same elements needed in all news stories—facts, quotes, attribution, organic unity, and precision. Sure, every now and then, I’ll post a screed, but I always warn readers that something has torqued me off, and today’s post may be considered a diatribe. Even a screed should be at the very least entertaining.

The Austin Post (, of course, should speak for itself, but I decided to be a contributor to see first-hand if their concept would work. The goal is to have 100 contributors producing content. If all are writing about something different, the news will be covered. I personally believe there must be some direction to make sure the important stories of the day are covered. I also believe that there must be professional writers and editors who understand journalistic ethics and law. The folks at the Austin Post assured me that the site would be evolving, and what it looks like right now might not be the same Austin Post by the end of the year. They can do this because they are not for profit.

As an independent contributor, I’ll be watching. I can see throwing in my own two cents in future posts. There are other Austin-based, for-profit sites, such as The Austinist, an Austin version of similar sites around the country. They’re sort of the Craig’s list of news blogs. I’ll be watching them too. What am I watching for? I’m watching for high quality content loaded with facts and light on bias. If any such site slings about opinion and nothing else with few facts to back them up, we all should be looking at them critically.

What’s in this for me? Very little so far. I have Google Ads on my site, but I have yet to see any money. Austin Post gives my voice a bigger presence, reaching people who aren’t on my email list and readers who don’t see my notices of posts on Facebook or Twitter. Certainly, I’d like to monetize my blog, but money from any media is not great nowadays.

Once upon a time traditional media were money-making-machines. Now, many media stocks are a fraction of what they once were. I’ve written about that. And “they” say the audience will not pay for content. I believe readers will pay for access to content that they value. Recently, I wrote that people who claim that they won’t pay for content are already paying for content every time they download a song or something from iTunes. Web-only blog sites will face the same financial struggles as the traditional media.

While newspapers have been around for centuries, even newspapers changed over the years. Each new innovation was adopted and adapted by the media users/audience. Now, with the Internet, users have even more agency. They will use those media that fit their own ethos. It’s the new “local”. It makes demonstrations in Iran “local”. One can almost see why the Iranian government thinks that we have interfered with their “election”; there is such a free-flow of information over the Internet.

Local, Austin/Travis County or regional bloggers must fit into this new “local”. Most will not survive over the long term.

So, what have I said? The Internet leveled the playing field. Professional journalists are still going to be necessary for legal and ethical reasons, if nothing else. The Internet is creating a new meaning for “local” which is more of an ethos that a geographic place. The media must be monetized or it cannot continue for very long.

So, is my content making the cut? We’ll see how NewsMcNabb fares in the final voting for the Austin360 A-List. (Shamelessness follows.) Here’s that link again. Here’s the link: I’m told by a former colleague that folks can vote once an hour. You bet I’m smiling!

© Jim McNabb, 2009

1 comment:

Ray Niekamp said...

"Media Newcomer." Kind of like the 30-year veteran who becomes an "overnight sensation." Well, good for you.
I agree that the Austin Post is an interesting and probably needed venture. I often log onto MinnPost, in my former home of Minneapolis. It's more polished than AustinPost, and appears to be better bankrolled. But is this what journalism is becoming -- an online, non-profit service? Ouch.