Will the LA Times Be Next?

In For Immediate Release #437,  contributor Eric Schwartzman interviewed Los Angeles Times veteran, author, LAObserved.com blogger and UCLA online newsroom editor-in-chief Kevin Roderick.

Roderick’s role is interesting.  He spent nearly 25 years at the LA Times and now follows the paper, among other journalism-related activities on his blog.  In a recent post, he cites Kinsey Lowe, former of the paper, as emailing:

Sorry ladies and gentlemen, but after nearly three decades I’m giving it up.

I support all your efforts but this latest affront is just too much to let it pass. Not the notion of selling advertising on Page 1, but the nature of the ad itself. What a desperately, astonishingly tired idea. It makes the Staples debacle look absolutely brilliant.

I’ve already strung along for far longer than was even convenient.

I still pay for the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, and maintain Variety and other paid online-only subscriptions.

I know this is a betrayal, and for that I’m sorry, but “they” won’t understand anything less.

There used to be a sort of truism about newspapers, that you could ruin a reputation overnight but it takes 10 years to build a new one.

So Georgetown students, here’s this week’s assignment.  Listen to the entire podcast, and post your comment or question on our blog.  And for that extra added element of intellectual curiosity, you may want to listen to the whole of Eric’s interview as well.

Posts are due no later than 5:00pm on Tuesday April 14th.  Those panicking about not filing their tax returns may want to start this one early…




  1. Catherine Avery Says: April 13, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    Throughout this semester, I have been questioning the time frame for the “evolution” from print media to an online forum, and after listening to Kevin Roderick’s analysis of this shift; I was struck by his comment about the existence of a polarized landscape for communicators. More specifically, my ears perked up when Roderick was talking about the new definition of community as a result of the influx of social media outlets. I was excited to learn that I am not the only communicator working in an education institution that questions if the presence of a YouTube page or Twitter account will be effective in creating an online community for my organization.

    While the emergence of social media has been a great tool for relationship management, I do wonder what the long term affects of an online community will do to an educational institution like UCLA. Will alumni still want to come to reunions when they can just keep in touch through Facebook? When will phonathons fade away when “Twee-a-thons” are now surfacing in universities? Unfortunately, I think that it will take at least a decade to be able to assess the power of social media and the affects that they might have on well-established communities.

  2. Kevin Kaveski Says: April 13, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    I’m cynical about the expansion of new media and its perceived dethroning of other media outlets such as newspapers, TV, and print as primary sources of communicating. In Kevin Roderick’s interview he talks about the risk of niche communications and becoming niche communicators, which concerns me as I’ve heard many of my peers tell me that twitter will redefine how business and communications will operate from now on. I would argue that it provides a different albeit unique opportunity for people to communicate in a different way. (When e-mail was pushed mainstream, everyone said that the postal service would fall apart. Yes, it ultimately changed the way the postal service conducts business but it still operates and exists).

    Catherine brings up the question of if alumni will want to come to reunions if they can keep in touch with Facebook, or if we will resort to “Tweet-a-thons” rather than phone-a-thons. I perceive that there will be a push back from communicators and receivers. While new media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Myspace allow users to connect, it cannot imitate human interaction or develop person-to-person relationships. I’d welcome some debate on this.

    Something that concerns me is that Roderick and Schwartzman point out the problem with the Times, but haven’t offered a solid solution towards fixing the problem. Has creativity to maintain readership hit the wall? Does Roderick truly believe that traditional newspapers have run their course?

    Ultimately the success of new media will be defined by user’s ability and want to use the mediums. The Chancellor of UCLA has a Facebook page (353 friends) and UCLA established a Youtube channel (1,280 subscribers) which may prove to be successful eventually. I want to hear how this programming coincides with the UCLA overall campaign and what percentage of their communications effort is put toward these programs?

  3. Mark Story Says: April 14, 2009 at 3:32 am

    Kevin and Catherine,

    Two good posts and some intellectual dialogue going on here. I like it.

    Let’s just hope that the rest of your classmates use their remaining 10.5 hours to complete the assignment as well.


  4. Keith Parent Says: April 14, 2009 at 6:41 am

    It is clear that traditional print media has major changes to make in its business plan or otherwise face extinction. Isn’t the idea of evolution true to any company or business that uses communications to enhance its products or services? Neville brought up three examples of how twitter and new media have created new business and products that allow people to send and receive messages. These products, like the “plant water monitor” Twitter application, provide foreshadowing of our future in communications and PR. As we study and work towards our Master’s degrees in 2009, these types of discussions suggest a much more dynamic and interactive Public Relations environment of the future.

    If social media interweaves itself with other forms of communications, PR professionals garner a more powerful place at the table. This is because we have the knowledge and know-how to translate new media measurement and application into revenue for an organization or business. Shell mentioned that Katie Paine had expressed the need for personality to drive social media. I found it interesting that she made this point, and appreciated that Holtz countered by explaining that it really depends. If providing information is the main purpose of using twitter than the personality or lack there of behind that information is a formality. The flexibility of social media in this respect is what makes it the future of PR; it is also why smart newspapers and media outlets have turned to “iReporters” and “new models” to communicate messages. While people still value communications with a personality, raw data streamed in a more efficient manner allows consumers to save time and energy.

  5. Felicia Akoh Says: April 14, 2009 at 7:54 am

    Traditional media is really losing its place in the western world, but not the case in areas like Africa and Asia. A lot needs to be done to help survive this fate, rather than complaining, else traditional media would be a history.

    As Kevin points out, “Roderick and Schwartzman point out the problem with the Times, but haven’t offered a solid solution towards fixing the problem.” I think we should try to provide solutions to any problem we detect.

    What I consider funny is the use of social media by all organizations. It is a pretty idea for the Chancellor of UCLA to create an online media newsroom, but what becomes of their traditional media like the campus newspaper. I believe to an extent it would be a waste of resources since most of the news stories on the newspaper would be discussed online.

    Catherine posed a very good question “Will alumni still want to come to reunions when they can just keep in touch through Facebook?” I would say YES. Social media no doubt brings people together, but at certain points we need or desire to meet with our fellow peers to share a bottle of drink or so.

  6. Zhazira Bukina Says: April 14, 2009 at 8:24 am

    Kevin Roderick’s comments on how daily newspapers can leverage social media are insightful and in tune with a facet of Web 2.0 that has slowly but surely influencing our opinions, attitudes and our behavior. Of course, traditional media is not dead, but challenged by social media. Today social media encompasses the various activities that integrate technology, interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio. Some defines social media as “You & Me,” while traditional media is only “You.”
    Kevin Roderick answered the question how traditional media can regain its relevance: to engage with the community. There is still an opportunity for the traditional media to participate in the community program and represent the community; to recognize their achievements and reward the community. The current problems of traditional media should teach us that so-called brand engagement is the key. It is not only about messaging. It’s about engaging with our customers – living with them, talking to them continuously and above all being a friend.

  7. Shana McMahon Says: April 14, 2009 at 9:48 am

    The idea of niche communities and niche communicators makes me a little weary because when assessing the growth of social media for say educational institutions, I am always skeptical on wondering how long people’s obsession with them will last. Twitter and Facebook are a new form of social media, but the question always lingering in the back of my mind is how long will it last and how much should people rely on it now? Kevin makes a good point of it being a new unique way of communication, but I do not believe this new way of communication will take over newspapers, TV, email, etc. it will just change their form of communication. Evolve it.

    Working in the new media world we use all of the social networks to communicate with people but, it does not mean we take away from people meeting face to face. People still seek comfort in a person to person to communication and in some instances the social media is a perfect way to call people together to do this. I wouldn’t say that traditional media is disappearing, but more evolving and changing with the times that people are calling for.

    Kevin Roderick does give us an answer on how traditional media can regain its relevance, which is to engage with the community and you can see some of the major newspapers doing that. On newspapers such as the New York Times Online of the Los Angeles Times Online people are able to leave comments to the reporters on what the think about the article. Slowly, traditional media is changing to encompass what people are calling for, we are just not seeing it as fast as in major social networks, which is why some people could be thinking traditional media is on the downfall.

  8. Social media is becoming more prevalent, but it doesn’t seem different from any of the other discoveries like the Internet or the telephone. Although new forms of communications are evolving, traditional media still exists. People often fear change and oppose new technology because they don’t understand it.
    It is going to be extremely difficult for print media outlets to stay appealing to their audiences considering social media outlets are feeding news updates by the minute. Kevin Roderick mentioned the effectiveness of some of these social media outlets in particular businesses and institutions. It is exciting to see how companies are using social media outlets as a way to influence consumer decisions. It’s just extremely necessary to reiterate the importance of monitoring these feeds to protect brand and reputation. Also I found it interesting to discover how organizations or institutions rely on the web to relay the news. Will social media replace print media? What will happen to the quality of the news? How can one identify with credible authors? What happens to the percent of the world that isn’t Internet savvy?

  9. Sunaina Bhatnagar Says: April 14, 2009 at 10:23 am

    There are several thoughts are going through my head after listening to last’s podcast and reading my classmates’ responses.

    First of all, Catherine, I really enjoyed reading your comment about polarizing niche communities that are created from these social networking sites. You bring up a great point of what to expect in the future with the entire craze over social media and online communities. I hope we don’t one day have reunions online, but this may happen sooner than later. Indeed these tools are useful in creating engaging and expedited conversations, but these conversations must not replace face-to-face interactions, which are critical for building two-way relationships.

    After listening to Kevin Roderick’s views on the challenges facing the newspaper industry, particularly, LA Times, I couldn’t help but to think of the bigger picture of all this. Author Clay Shirky, who wrote the book, Here Comes Everybody, sums up my thoughts. Shirky points out in his blog that “society doesn’t need newspapers, but rather, what we need is journalism.”

    Also I believe that it is important that we use the tools provided to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers. I loved Eric Schwartzman’s analogy that you can’t use hybrid techniques to fuel a Cadillac when referring to the newspaper industry. He talked a little bit about the power of reaching directly to constituents via Web sites.

    According to engineer Gordon Moore’s Law, every two years computer technology will become twice as fast and half and cheap. Thus, this means an exponential growth for internet technology. What does this mean for newspapers? Well I think we need to shift our attention from saving newspapers to saving journalism and preserving that.

    It is terrible that newspaper institutions are shutting down, but what is even more disturbing is not having an accurate journalistic account on news. I’m not bashing citizen journalists, but as Shirky points out we must keep in mind that we may be relying on amateurs as researchers and writers. I’m sure some of social media experiments will fail, and some niche communities will eventually cease to exist. However, one day we will hopefully find a way to disseminate brilliant journalism in an adequate and popular fashion.

  10. Alec Jeffries Says: April 14, 2009 at 10:38 am

    The demise of traditional media is linked to an economy plagued by recession. As consumers look for ways to cut costs, social media and Web 2.0 markets will continue to expand while print media fizzles out. The Times must establish a quick media outlet and shy away from costly, and un-environmentally friendly, traditional media practices.

    The Times intellectual resources will inevitably shift to assisting organizations such as UCLA better understand social media tools. The “new media brain-drain” is beneficial for Web based news sources such as UCLA’s online news room, a media outlet structured similarly to a traditional newspaper. Even traditional media journalists and editors are scrambling themselves to become familiar with the new media evolution. Who doesn’t want to increase marketability during a turbulent job market?

    New media is on the rise and consumers are rapidly learning the lingo. What was once thought to be a news market targeting tech-geeks and youngsters is changing to include all demographics. Even my eighty-two year old grandfather reads his news online, font size 24 mind you, on his very own computer.

  11. Erinn Dumas Says: April 14, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    I enjoyed that all three stories on FIR #437 were related to social media. I believe that it is important for companies to begin integrating their traditional media with new media and using social media as a supplement.

    Michale Netsley touched on social media indirectly when speaking about the 2009 Young Asians Survey. From the information he provided, I would reach out to the Asian youth by utilizing both online and offline media, since they utilize both media outlets. I would also target the Asian youth because of their influence on household decisions. The data he provided is helpful for a PR professional because they could cater their PR tactics to reach members of this audience more effectively.

    In Eric Schwartzman’s interview with Kevin Roderick, Kevin spoke on the dangers of a polarizing media landscape. For me, this goes back to the beginning of class when we talked about catering a message to specific audiences. In this case, specific audiences may have to be reached in various ways depending upon how they get their news. So I don’t think that there is a danger in polarizing media, I think it’s more beneficial. This will allow the PR professional to reach members of their target audience in specialized ways, making PR campaigns more effective.

    The third part of the podcast was most intriguing because of my marketing background. I agree with the suggestion that consumer marketing companies could use social media to reach out to their customers, however, companies should be mindful of the way they use social media. In my opinion, the best form of social media is a corporate blog, an interactive video, or an online chat with a company spokesperson.

    Another interesting part of the podcast was that FTC is going to update their rules to include social media and there was a lot of backlash, because of this. Shelton said that he thinks it’s interesting that people are objecting to the rules being updated. I don’t people are as upset about the rules being implemented as they are about their companies possibly being sanctioned if someone blogs misinformation about their company. I agree with the president of AAAA, saying that the sanctions are extreme, because a company can’t censor how someone feels about their company and the company shouldn’t be penalized for this.

  12. Tzu-Ying(Daisy) Chen Says: April 14, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    The fate of print media has been widely discussed since the rise of the Internet in 1990s. People can easily access news, press releases and advertisement by using computers at home or portable devices like the iPhone and Blackberry etc., without carrying a big copy of a newspaper. While the convenience of the Internet gradually threatens the existence of traditional media, such as the press, it is time that the traditional media people take action to go hand in hand with the trend of advanced technology.

    The discussion in Podcast #437 is so thought-provoking that I cannot stop thinking about the convergence of communication technology. In the face of the problems and challenges that the print media have, Roderick mentions thinking about a new definition of community. From my standpoint, the new definition is reached by communicators who use advanced technology to integrate the social media with print media, and people who receive messages from the convergence of both social media and print media. The print media have to know how to adapt themselves to the trend of technology and take advantage of it to differentiate themselves from social media. What kind of benefits cam print media obtain from social media? If the last copy of newspaper will be thrown away in 2050, how should print media change to continue providing the same quality of news coverage? Simply put, the print media should embrace the trend of technology to produce more powerful content to meet their audience.

    The same problems and challenges that public relations people are also experiencing now are how communication is changing the way relationships are maintained between clients and the public. It is challenging to survive in the Internet age, but public relations people can successfully reach the public with the power of new technology if they know how to take social media into account and create compelling content to attract the public.

  13. Shakirah Hill Says: April 14, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    I may be a bit naive about this whole social media wave, but I honestly believe this phase is going to die down. Traditional news print is not going any where for quiet sometime. What print media has that Facebook and Twitter do not have is credibility. Sure, the news time frame is expanding and there is more work for less reporters but society has placed an increased value on the news that it receives from print media. Social media has its advantages but like everything, there is a time and place for it. Social media sites are not places where people can go for credible news.

    I can definitely understand Roderick’s concern about the turn that print media is taking, particularly the LA Times, nonetheless, just as Alec said what is happening to print media is only the result of the recession not society’s lack of interest in print media. Too many newspapers are shutting down without exhausting all options to remain a float. Print papers such as the Politico and Congress Daily are on to something by appealing to niche audiences. These papers are reaching out to specific audiences and offering business competitive rates that include print access but also online access.

    Perhaps, newspapers should join the social media wave by offering competitive package rates for print circulation as well as online access as opposed to allowing anyone to sign-up for online usage. This could possibly increase the demand for the purchase of print media but also offer online usage for those customers who are more technology driven.

  14. How we receive and push news is changing with the growth of social media and its increase usage level. However, that doesn’t change the fact that consumers still want news from a reliable source, a term usually associated with the brands the Los Angeles, New York Times and Wall Street Journal have built. In Eric Schwartzman interview, Kevin Roderick discusses many issues the Los Angeles Times is facing.

    The topic of newspapers and journalism losing ground has been gaining attention in recent months as newspapers have cut their staff and some smaller newspapers have stopped printing altogether. Yet, I disagree that traditional news will lose relevance or even be completely erased because of social media. Traditional print newspapers will have to evolve just as they did with the invention of the radio and television and use social media platforms to their advantage.

    Social media platforms such as twitter and Facebook are used to share news and topics that interest individuals, but many items being tweeted are news articles that users found and wish to share. In fact some twitter users only “re-tweet” news stories they found on twitter or online. Social media shouldn’t be a replacement for journalism or traditional media, but a tool to disseminate the news, discuss news with readers and in some cases be a source for a reporters next story idea.

    The marriage between social media and newspapers cannot happen overnight, as each news outlet needs to asses who their readers are and what their needs are to ensure they provide the best customer service. For example La Voz in Phoenix which is a weekly Spanish language paper, is not going to gain as much as the Arizona Republic if it goes on twitter or Facebook, because their audience doesn’t make up the users on these networks.

    What I am curious to know is if universities have seen a drop in applications to their journalism programs? I would also like to know how universities are adjusting journalism programs to fit the new era of journalism because if traditional journalism is losing to community/citizen journalism not only will newspapers be affected, but so will universities (less applicants means less money), professional journalist and even public relations professionals.

  15. Alicja Patela Says: April 14, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    After listening to the podcast and reading my classmates responses, I thought about several things. Personally, I read the news every morning online as opposed to buying a copy on my way to work; I have been doing that for years now. My parents on the other hand, wake up each morning, and go outside to grab the daily paper. Even if the price of newspapers was to go up, I still think my parents will continue to subscribe because they are used to receiving and reading print. We mentioned in class the importance of knowing who your audience is and interacting with them in an easy and comfortable way. Newspapers have a certain older loyal audience and then a there is the younger audience, who would much rather have access to the same news online along with other media outlets such as RSS feeds and alerts.

    I work in education, twitter and facebook wouldn’t really work for us but at the same time we want to explore and extend social networking and media outlets. We have been exploring various social media outlets and are now in the process of starting forums, chats and online learning communities. Our audience (academia & deans) might be more responsive to these social networks and this is something that we plan to test pilot next year. Our members enjoy seeing each other face to face, at meetings, conferences and dinners. Personally, I think that no form of social media and social networking, (regardless of how new, popular and advanced)can take the place of or substitute actual human interaction, as some classmates have mentioned. What’s important to remember is to find a balance for you and your audience that encompasses both new online media and offline media.

  16. Yinka Olajide Says: April 14, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    It is very sad that the print media is going through so much. I am not really persuaded that the print media is going to die. Human beings the way we are wired need some kind of physical interaction which cannot be satisfied by having all communication medium online. There is a certain void that the print media fills more than any other means of communication.

    Niches are inevitable in every phase of our lives, whether we like it or not we are all not going to do the same things the same way. It will serve us a lot to recognize that and learn how to live with it, which explains the different types of communication; print, online radio, television among others. It is erroneous to think that a tool like UCLA online newsroom is going to replace the print media. What I got from the interview with Kevin Roderick is that even he is not too sure about what exactly works, but is willing to do lots of trial and error.

    The print media has proven over the years that it is here to stay. Like every other industry, it is just going through some economic trials which given time will bounce back with the economy.

  17. There is a generation gap issue that all newspapers are struggling with and LA Times is of no exception. The GEN Y’s have been raised on a steady diet of multi-media technology, SMS messaging, online chat services and tools like FaceBook and YouTube. Meanwhile, Gen X’s have adapted to the “instant communication” subculture by tweeting, blogging, using delicious feeds and other CGM platforms to build key social and business relationships online. It’s no wonder then that X and Y want news ON DEMAND, in addition to content customized to suit individual preferences. Roderick pointed out some of the challenges facing the L.A. Times – trying to maintain relevancy with junior staff that has replaced seasoned veterans and coping with the demands of an audience that isn’t interested in the old paper format any longer. But I believe the niche concept is a good one – a paper that uses social media as a branding mechanism and delivers content that its constituents care about may be a good survival tactic. The niche concept is good because the things that matter to people on the west coast have little relevancy on eastern shores (Lakers, case in point).
    UCLA’s online newsroom could be a case study for other papers like the Times – analyzing best practices utilized by others within your industry is something all businesses do when faced with tough times and transitional periods. In sum, the L.A. Times should use their younger staff to their advantage and explore new mediums to reach their audience and build relevancy by developing a niche.

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