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Newspaper editors and writers are whistling past the graveyard

Idiom: "Whistling past the graveyard"

Re: Newspaper industry

Prediction: The Korea Times and/or Korea Herald will stop printing within 10 years.

"Whistling past the graveyard" is an old idiom/saying suggesting that someone is trying to make the best of a dire situation. Some people whistling past the graveyard these days are people who work in the newspaper industry. I wish I had bookmarked it, I remember reading a Korea Times commentary about two or three years ago in which a Korea Times columnist or editor was saying that newspapers wouldn’t die. I was laughing so much at the article, I wish I had blogged about it.

* * *

In 2010,  I gave a speech to the reporters on the Ewha Voice, an English-language newspaper at Ewha Woman’s University. I invited Heosong Kim of YTN to join me. The ladies asked me what advice I would give them. I gave them plenty of advice, including: Don’t plan on having a career at a newspaper.

The wonderful ladies at the Ewha Voice. Thanks to Kimmy for organizing the event and to Hoesong Kim for also speaking that night.

* * *

I am old-fashioned enough that I still subscribe to newspapers. I am reading again on a regular basis, so last week I emailed both the Korea Times and Korea Herald to start receiving the newspaper. The Korea Herald answered about an hour later.

The Korea Times? I still haven’t heard from them. I did follow up with a second email. Perhaps
someone will read the email and respond soon.

* * *

The Korea Times recently ran a cute little article: "Learning English through newspapers."

Photo #1: Teacher using the online version of the Korea Times

Photo #2: A stack of newspapers that may have had some studying asking, "Do they still print newspapers?"

Well, okay, they won’t be asking that question for another 5-10 years. The point the Korea Times is missing/hoping people won’t realize is that people who want to read the news want to READ. Newspaper, iPAD, iPHONE, online paper, blogs, etc.

Newspapers may have made sense at one time,
but so many are already dying, going digital, laying off staff, losing money, losing circulation. And these times may be remembered as the good times in the future.

Definitely some newspapers will remain
around, but most of them will go digital or bankrupt.

* * *

In a commentary in today’s Korea Times, executive managing director Lee Chang-sup tells some truth, writing:  

* According to a survey by the Korea Press Foundation (KPF), in 2012, newspapers incurred a loss even though sales rose by 4.6 percent.

* While 82 percent of the respondents in the KPF’s 2002 survey said they read newspapers, only 40.9 percent said so in the survey for last year.

* The KPF reported online media posted
an increase of 23 percent in sales and 5 percent in profit last year.

"The KPF predicts this decline will continue as
readers switch further to free online news."

Ah! But don\"t they know the value of reading English newspapers--or is it that they want to read the news but aren\"t loyal to the particular source?  He notes that there the ideological divide in Korea has spilled over into the newspapers. Apparently Korea’s all-or-nothing society is reflected in its newspapers.

* * *

People like reading more than they like
newspapers. Newspapers have so many weaknesses now. The digital age is an obvious one. But why is the digital age such a threat. For one, it lowers the cost of delivering information. Two, it does so in real time.
Three, people want to choose what they want. Newspapers give you a little bit of everything, and well after the time that I have read about it somewhere else. The sports scores? Yes, the local papers have one or two pages of sports. I can read those--or hang out at and read many stories about a variety of topics.

North Korea? Yes, I can read the local papers--or spend hours online reading commentary from a host of Websites. If you call in love with a particular delivery form--and your audience has moved on to another well?

Lee Chang-sup made many great points, but we part on a few points. And even when I agree with his point, there is still a problem with his analysis.

* * *
Like a lot of print journalists,

* he criticizes online media for making mistakes.
* being sensationalist.
* forego credible sources and proper attribution (including taking a swipe at Wikipedia).
* and then, as is the habit of many journalists, blames the readers.

Criticism of Online Media 

* Making mistakes

Back in the 1990s, plenty of reporters were blaming online media for making mistakes. But then, print reporters were also making many mistakes. This is the Early Adapter Effect. True, in the beginning of a new cause, technology or way of doing business, there are bound to be problems. But then, as those problems are getting fixed, some keep referring to the past.

There are plenty of examples of this, such as Japanese products. Young people may not know there was a time that Americans laughed at rinky-dinky Japanese products. Well, that was until those products got better. American labor unions and American manufacturers were still referring to those rinky-dinky products, even after they had surpassed American products.

The same is happening with online media. Sure, there is plenty of trash on it. Whatever you want to find on the Internet, you can find it (or you can be the first one to put it there). As long as print journalists keep acting like it is still 1995 then they won’t deal with the Great Disruptor that is the Internet.

* Being sensationalist

Of course, the Korea Times never tries to be sensationalist. Even when the Korea Times shares known Urban Legends "Getting organs stolen after a drinking binge" with its readers, it isn\"t trying to be sensationalist.

* forego credible sources and proper attribution (including taking a swipe at Wikipedia).

Again, this is an argument from the past being repeated. Wikipedia started in 2001--at that time, it was a joke. There have been problems with it, to be sure, but that is a snapshot view of life, not the dynamic form. Its got so many volunteers and workers. It is a great resource for finding information quickly.

Wikipedia says it has 35 million users--but I guess we shouldn’t trust that number because Wikipedia is the source...

* But my favorite point is when he blames readers.

Years ago, a friend of a friend was working as DJ. We were at his club one night--nobody was dancing. Did he start playing different tunes? No! Instead, he said, "These people don’t know good music."

Far too many times, I have heard reporters say the equivalent, "These people don’t know good reporting."

Lee says that readers are more interested in sex than serious political issues--and I don’t doubt that. 

I‘ve been engaged in numerous social causes. So many times, I wished that more people would join up with us. But you know what? I don’t complain about the people who aren’t there. I do my best with the people who are available. The Korea Times has plenty of readers (I guess). What are they doing with those readers now? What are they doing to reach other English-language speakers who would still like to read a newspaper? Should I forward him my emails to the paper twice asking for them to start sending me their newspapers?

But there is a deeper problem. I‘ve known enough journalists over the years to know that they think when they get criticized that they are doing a good job, that readers don’t understand. For a short time, I was a member of a few different journalism groups. And they’d all say the same thing: If both sides are angry at you, then that means you are doing your job.

My question: But what if you are really doing a lousy job? Everybody could be angry at you because you are a crummy journalist.

And that gets to a point: It is only in journalism that I hear the service providers openly complain about the customers. In other fields, people want to find out what their customers or potential customers want so they can provide them with that.

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