Major Publishers Forge New Ways to Make Content Profitable

Four major publishers Tuesday reaffirmed their commitment to print and discussed revenue ideas that strengthen their product.

This discussion came out of an executive roundtable at the Key Executives Mega Conference in New Orleans.

The publishers of Star Tribune Media Co., USA Today, The Omaha World-Herald and The Dallas Morning News conferred the revenue opportunities of their content.

The Dallas Morning News is blazing trails in modern media by bringing in new revenue by selling access to story archives. Companies in Dallas have been seeking out content to fill company newsletters, websites and blogs, so the paper is making its archives available through its digital agency. Clients pay an average of $4,000 a month for services that include access to the archives.

“Marketing has become a content war and nobody is better positioned to win a content war than a content company,” Jim Moroney, publisher and CEO of The Dallas Morning News, told the more than 500 attendees at the national conference. He urges other news organizations to try his model. “I think it can work on any scale in all markets,” Moroney said.

The publishers also discussed how they are acquiring revenue from their digital content. Each of the publishers, except USA Today, has some sort of paywall.

Do you think that these new ways to bring in revenue for content will be sustainable and profitable? How do these efforts to increase revenue affect news consumers?

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New Documents Cast Doubt on ‘In Cold Blood’

Newly reexamined documents from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation have brought in to question the validity of Truman Capote’s 1966 bestselling account of the murder of the Clutter family, “In Cold Blood.”

“In Cold Blood” solidified Capote’s reputation as a literary innovator and portrayed Alvin Dewey Jr., the lead detective on the case, as a “brilliant, haunted hero,” reported Kevin Helliker of The Wall Street Journal.

The KBI assisted Capote in reporting the book, offering him access to their case file, but the relationship between the authorities, Capote, and the reliability of his reporting have now been called in to question.

A long-forgotten cache of KBI documents from the investigation have revealed contradictions to Capote’s depiction of crucial events in his book, which he claimed to be “immaculately factual.” Also, an independently unearthed contract shows that Capote required Columbia Pictures to offer Dewey’s wife a job in 1965 as a consultant to the film version of his book for a fee far greater than the U.S. median family income that year.

The documents state that the KBI waited five days after an informant stepped forward to reveal the names of the killers to dispatch an agent to the Kansas farmhouse where one of the suspects had been living with his parents. In “In Cold Blood,” the KBI sent someone as soon as they heard the news.

Why would Capote change this blatent fact in his book?

Duane West, the prosecutor who ultimately convicted the killers, said this gap is no mystery to him. West, 81, remembers when he first heard the names of the killers, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, on Dec. 5, 1959 at a morning meeting of the investigators. “Dewey said it wasn’t them,” Mr. West recalls. “Dewey was convinced it was somebody local who had a grudge against Herb Clutter.” However, Dewey’s “In Cold Blood” character never spoke his lines conveying his doubt at this point in the book.

This latest discovery is only the latest of criticism of “In Cold Blood,” the accuracy of which has been questioned for years.

“Capote blurred the line between truth and untruth, despite his claims of impeccable accuracy. His embellishments — which vary from allegedly misquoting people to making composite characters to ending the book with a scene that never happened — have bred ill will,” Van Jensen of the Lawrence Journal-World said.

Did Capote embellish Dewey’s character in exchange for inside information? What is considered “crossing the line” in regards to journalists and their sources in terms of friendship? How closely  involved should journalists be in the process of  official investigation?


Author Insults Thai King, Editor gets 10-year Sentence

On Jan. 23,  a former magazine editor was sentenced to 10 years in prison for insulting Thailand’s king in violation of the country’s strict lèse-majesté law. Although the convicted, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, 51,  did not actually write the incriminating articles, he was convicted for publishing them and targeted by the court for directly challenging the lèse-majesté law, which makes it illegal to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen, heir to the throne or regent. The author fled to Cambodia.

The “defamatory” articles  never actually named the king, but  Thailand’s constitutional court ruled that  “the writing conveyed connection to historical events.” The first article told the story of a family that plots to kill millions and quash democracy, and the second piece was a fictional tale of a ghost that haunts Thailand and plots massacres.

The editor defended his magazine’s articles in court, saying that the lèse-majesté law violated freedom of expression. The court brushed aside the challenge, stating that insulting the king “wounds the feelings of Thais who respect and worship the king and the monarchy.”  The king deserves “special protection” because he is “the center of the nation,” the court said.

International groups immediately criticized the court’s decision.  Prominent organizations such as the United Nations, the  European Union,  Reporters Without Borders, Freedom House and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance have all spoken out against the Thai verdict. Human Rights Watch  said it would “further chill freedom of expression in Thailand.” Thai chief justice Thawee Prachuablarb defended the lèse-majesté law, arguing that it reflected Thailand’s culture, which is different than that of other countries.

Why is it important that the media act as a global watchdog? What right do foreign countries have to criticize the cultural laws and values of other nations? Did the court’s decision really help defend the king?


Prepackaged News

As local TV stations are struggling to fill more hours of air-time, syndicated news stories are appearing on local newscasts across the country.

TV Networks such as ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and CNN have pumped out syndicated stories to their affiliates across the nation for decades. However, today so many more stations receive and use the stories from such feeds now than they did in the past.

Syndicated feature stories used to run only when a local story ran late or fell through, according to Deborah Potter,  executive director of NewsLab. Today, fluffy fodder has become a staple rather than a fallback for local news operations as they are now forced to fill huge amounts of air time.

Is this a problem? Conan O’Brien highlighted the humor in this issue when he strung together 28  nearly identical clips of stone-faced local news anchors repeating the opening line “Is this the end of e-mail overload?” while introducing a syndicated story about a new software program. This story went out to CNN Newsource’s over 800 affiliates and aired on at least 225 stations.

A lapse of experience in local news rooms has also been cited as a contribution to the prevalence of prepackaged news. Average pay at local TV stations rose by just 2 percent in 2011, failing to keep up with inflation. “That’s likely the result of stations adding people who are mostly entry-level– or at least paid at a noticeably lower rate than existing staff,” says Bob Papper of Hofstra University. As pay has remained stagnant, air-time has increased by more than an hour since 2008.

Are media corporations more qualified than our local journalists to bring us the news? Is there any danger in relying heavily on network corporations to bring us the news? Is there any hope to improve local news stations?