Plane Crash in Austin – Why We Need Traditional Media

Today started as a typical day. I had a Round Rock Chamber meeting where afterwards I was able to get more background on a major story our papers are doing for March. After getting back to the office, I was notified about the plane crash. Immediately we wondered what a monthly news organization should do. We have incredible talent. But we are a monthly! In many ways I believe this is what new media people think about even the daily papers…. when they say “your news is old! By the time the paper reaches the home, its old news! We need new media to replace the dead trees.”

Just the night before I got riled up about a post from Jeff Jarvis. He’s one of those guys that talks about how stupid newspapers and newspaper people are and how they are old and dying. In just one day, I had a better argument for the future of our business than any “theoretical,hypothetical, wishful thinking” idea he has blogged about.

The bottom line is that today proved that citizens need traditional media – including print.

It’s not the time to go into all of the reasons why I believe print needs to survive from a business standpoint. Our company has 95% of its revenues coming from our printed product. It’s well-received in the marketplace and I believe a fine product. It also has created 63 new journalism related jobs in less than 5 years. These are full-time jobs. Real salaries. Real benefits.

This 95% in-paper revenue supported what we did today. We weren’t unique in our coverage. I think the television people here in Austin did a fabulous job. But the newspaper people (including Austin’s daily) did our fair job of good reporting. We had the availability of 16 reporters and editors making sure we were not only there, but as we posted new information it was edited and (gasp!) verified.

Some of our company’s accomplishments today:
1. We were the first news organization that confirmed the plane came out of Georgetown – not Waco which was widely spread by bloggers.
2. We were the first news organization on the scene of the house fire in northwest Austin where the pilot allegedly set ablaze before the heading to Georgetown.
3. We had on the scene reporters taking amazing photos (like this one) and tweeting what they saw live.
4. We were the only news organization at the Georgetown airport watching, shooting photos, and tweeting as Williamson County officials cleared a suspicious package left in the car of the pilot.
5. CNN called us to get our reporter on Headline News (only to switch gears to go with a television affiliate – their loss) – we later partnered with a local radio station.
6. We were the first to report that perhaps some of the heroes first at the scene were firefighters actually training in a parking lot nearby.

We would have been able to none of these with just our online revenue. The daily newspaper wouldn’t be able to do it without their printed product’s revenues either. The television stations that did such a fine job could not have if they didn’t have the resources from their broadcast medium.

While the news was coming out, I noticed on my Tweetdeck this post from my friend Will Hampton:

RT @willhampton: Its amazing how we know more than folks on scene about the Why of what happened. In less than two hours! #ATXplanecrash

Folks may take this to mean that the web is all we need to cover these types of events. The truth is, most of the blogs on this subject this early were either wrong or were based on information coming from traditional media sources. For example, you couldn’t do a google search on the pilot’s last words without knowing the pilot’s name. Most people close to what happened today would agree that new media helped get the word out – but traditional journalists helped confirm and provided the resources and the “places” where citizens here and abroad could get the information they wanted.

It was a beautiful thing. Bloggers were helpless to help. They were busy retweeting traditional media’s work. It sure is hard to find someone to write a $20 article in a situation like this. Traditional media used new media the right way using the resources provided by traditional media.

One more thing, bloggers not only didn’t have the resources to help provide new information, they also didn’t have the teammates to help. Our reporters and editors worked together to do what we did.



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36 responses to “Plane Crash in Austin – Why We Need Traditional Media

  1. “The bottom line is that today proved that citizens need traditional media – including print.”

    I think you proved that citizens need good journalism. You didn’t prove a thing about print. Why do I need to read about this story in a newspaper?

    • I didnt go into it much here – but my main point on this is that the print product is the way financial resources are available. The print product gives the publisher the money to pay for this type of coverage. I havent yet seen an online news model that is able to pay for the quality journalism and still provide ROI for the advertiser yet. Do you know of one? I would love to see it.

      • We do some pretty good journalism. There’s been a couple of major breaking stories where we dominated the coverage over our much better staffed print rival. And our advertisers love us and we’re making money.

      • Howard – I think a site like yours is great and if I lived there it looks like I would visit it regularly. And I am glad you are making a profit. I hope you can take that profit and use it to create more jobs and get better content and I hope that model sustains for you and your advertisers. My problem with that model (based on my knowledge) is that there is a point where you cant invest any more resources because the advertiser’s message becomes too diluted online to produce the ROI they expect. It’s not about pageviews its about ROI.

      • My advertisers continue not because they like me personally or think The Batavian is just swell. They advertise because ads on The Batavian work. Period. The ROI is there.

        And as far as growth, there’s lots of ways to grow a business like this that doesn’t rely strictly on the ads model we have now.

        When Adolph Ochs took over the New York Times, it had 18,000 subscribers and was losing money. Twenty-five years later, it had 500K subscribers and $20 million in revenue (and Ochs took only a 5 percent profit margin).

        If you look at the history of any newspaper that started in the 19th century, it started small, understaffed by today’s standards, and with a very different content and business model than a mid-20th Century newspaper.

        Growing a business and evolving it takes time.

        Your broad brush of “it takes only print” and “online media” can’t handle it doesn’t stand the scrutiny of real-world examples such as The Batavian and West Seattle Blog and BristaNet, among others, as well as the empirical historical data of how media companies grow.

        You’re far, far out on a limb with this post.

      • And btw, did you know that The Batavian just won an award for online news General Excellence from the 125-year-old Inland Press Association (third place in the category). IPA is a newspaper trade association. The Batavian is the first online-only winner in IPA’s history.

        We’ve also been recognized locally as Innovative Enterprise of the Year.

      • I think I said your site was great. I am sure if the traditional media went down in your area you would survive. But then you would have to staff up to meet the need. Then you would need to sell more ads. Then your advertisers would complain about ROI….then your margins would decrease, Then you start cutting editorial corners. Then another site like yours pops up with cheaper costs and worse content than what you have now. And thus your town would miss traditional. media and the way you use to do it.

      • I think I’ve thought about this a bit more deeply than you have. You banging on advertising as if that’s the only revenue possibility. Further your assumption that more ads would diminish ROI is quite faulty. I know how advertising on The Batavian works and why it works. Your concerns are completely unfounded.

        While I won’t predict success of my enterprise, there is a plan, a roadmap.

        I’m quite confident that if that roadmap comes together as I envision it, the printed paper, should it unfortunately pass (something I neither predict nor wish), from a coverage standpoint, we would more than pick up the slack, at least in our coverage area ( the paper covers three counties, we cover one). There are frequent days in which we produce more local content than the print staff (though they’ve picked up their game in the last couple of months and are doing a much better job with local coverage).

        My only concern about the possible unfortunate demise of print in a market like this is how will people without online access for whatever reason be able to get their news, but that concern has nothing to do with our ability to actually get the news and do a good job doing it.

        Your overconfidence in the need for print is, I’m thoroughly convinced, quite overblown.

        Whether my enterprise succeeds or fails, there is ample reason to believe that local online start ups (though not the Patch types) will arise, succeed and be ready and able to replace print should that ever be necessary.

      • Howard – I applaud your entrepreneurship and I am sure your passion will take you far. Good luck.

      • While that seems to be true in Austin, that’s not the case everywhere. While it’s great you had the resources to cover every angle on this story, newspaper buyouts and downsizing means that type of reporting is not happening in many markets.

        In many cases the local paper is no longer up to the task. Or was never up to it to begin with. Let’s not pretend all newspapers did a great job of covering local news.

        What bloggers now bring to the table is aggregation (which brings together all angles of a story) and some competition and fresh resources.

        I wish all local papers had the resources and commitment to coverage you show. We’d all be better for it. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking growing print newspaper staff is the future of the industry.

    • Also, there’s a bone to pick on the journalism claim. John posted this status on Twitter: “from Austin, TX: for the newspaper haters: do you want to depend on bloggers in a crisis like 9/11?we learned a lot yesterday”

      Actually, 9/11 was a huge success for bloggers and new media stepping up to cover an event that temporarily disabled much of the NYC mainstream media. See this:

      • Im not saying bloggers dont have a place in this. I’m not saying new media doesnt have an important role! I was tweeting and monitoring twitter all day when the plane hit. I am only saying that the tradtional media model funds the most important parts of the discussion. If traditional media falls, the resources fall with it. I sure dont want anything terrible like 9/11) to happen without the resources of a CNN or New York Times. Period. No disrespect to the bloggers – I want their help too – but if you dont think we would miss traditional media you are crazy. My point is that traditional print media relies on the revenues of the printed product and that without the printed product I dont believe the model sustains.

      • There’s nothing about what I do that relies on traditional media.

        We have a content partnership with the local radio station, but that’s a two way street.

        We break lots of stories. We’ve done FOIL-request based stories. We are lauded by readers for the breadth and depth of our coverage.

        And our advertising is very effective.

        If all the “traditional media” went away, The Batavian would still stand.

  2. I’m going to print this post out so I can fully enjoy it!

  3. John,
    I’d separate your argument into two parts.
    First is a claim that professional journalists play a necessary role in covering a big breaking story. That’s true, but bloggers and curators play an equally important role in distributing and explaining information.
    The second embedded claim, however, falls short. The fact that we need pros doesn’t prove that we need to print a deadtree newspaper. And it doesn’t say anything about the financial realities facing print. Paid online professionals would be even better suited for a breaking story like this.
    We need to not mix emotional claims of “need” with economic claims of sustainability.

    • I agree with your first point. I think “need and financial sustainability” go hand in hand. Its called the free market. My point is that the printed product produces the resources needed to make the good journalism happen. The printed product still produces the best ROI for the advertiser and still produces the vast majority of revenues for news organizations. Your “paid online professionals” is not sustainable. Look at or They generally pay one professional and then outsource the rest. That actually kills the nmber of professional journalists. My “deadtree” newspaper (printed on recycled paper for the record) created 63 new journalism related jobs in 5 years. Let’s see how many Patch creates in their 150 markets.

      • I think we have to separate the quality of journalism from the financial future of the product.
        The expenses of print journalism have never been supported directly. They are subsidized by a newspaper’s monopoly profits from classifieds, display ads, paid obits, inserts, etc. Many of those subsidies are disappearing or eroding. So the fact that there’s still good journalism being done doesn’t mean it will be financially viable.

  4. This is an excellent point. I work for The Scientist magazine. While we produce a monthly magazine, we also constantly update our site with breaking news. We could not do that without the resources provided by print.

    Also – I think having an editorial staff posting news is much more creditable than Joe Blogger. Editorial teams check facts to preventing spreading misinformation! Sometimes the first to report isn’t always correct.

  5. The problem, from all sides, seems to be one of focus.
    If the academics say that “newsprint is dead” they are obviously wrong. Print thrives, and not just in small towns or even Austin Texas. In phoenix, where I live, one of the large dailies has evaporated to internet only, and the other is on life support, but the Spanish language dailies are doing fine, as is the weekly “alternative” paper.

    Had the academics limited their prognostication to Publicly held newspapers in large cities are going down the toilet…” they have a much better argument.

    Likewise, if you say internet only publications can’t compete with print content, the Batavian is a sound rebuttal to this.

    If you say that amateur blogs or semi-pro aggregators such as cannot compete with print or even professional on-lines for content – you’re right.

    I’ve written for Examiner (technically, I still do – but I write about campsites, not breaking news). Only my first two articles had any sort of editorial review. In terms of content or credibility, Examiner is no threat to anyone.

    If The Batavian is making money as an on-line only – good for them. I read the thing. It is, indeed, on par with any other local paper I have read while sitting in a restaurant or hotel lobby during my various travels.
    If you say that you’re on-line only couldn’t make more money with physical distribution: a pile of copies in restaurants, motel lobbies and barbershops like all the other local papers in the US, then you either dwell in an atypical market, or lack the means to secure reasonable production costs. Or the interest to pursue it.

    Fair enough, but most local papers, including the neighborhood specific papers in the Phoenix metro area, cover their cost with printed copies, and anything they pull in over the internet is gravy.

    If you need to make sweeping statements, try this:
    Content is more important in determining ROI than platform.

    Keep it up guys. If I have to depend on the nincompoops who run the AZ Republic for news, the democracy is in trouble.

  6. While I agree with you that there is a place for print media, it is not the powerful and relevant news source that is once was. Many times…not all the time… by the time the newspaper comes out, the news is old and has been reported online by many others. Yes, print has more time to research and do homework, but the simple fact is that it is slow. In this fast paced world, print has taken a beating.

    I will go one step further and say that people and brands can own their own media and don’t need print as much as they used to. At my company, The Big Fat Mouth, a social media agency we tell clients that print does matter, but it is not the be all and end all it once was. The online world and more specifically, social media, has marginalized traditional print media to some extent. You have to believe that don’t you?

    Jonathan Ressler

    • Thanks for the post and your question. I do agree with you and I do believe print has been marginalized. I just believe (as it sounds like you do) that print can still have a powerful voice in the communities they serve. The purpose of this blog isnt to say that new media is bad or stupid (I am blogging) or to say the print is the only important medium. Its’ purpose is to vent a little and to encourage open debate as opposed to the mainly one sided – dead tree, dead industry comments that drive me nuts. It is also to challenge the new media business model (in a good way) and to give voice, experience, and questions to the newspaper (print and online) model. And it was started before what I expereinced during the Austin plane wreck.

      And by the way, your website is very cool.

  7. Hi all,
    Funny I stumbled across this as I’ve just started writing a blog on a similar subject, but what I have to say here is this: Traditional media (not only newspapers but other print media, television, radio etc.) are as important in our day to day lives now as they were when the internet was first birthed.
    The two mediums each have their piece of the market, and each utilize each over as a resource. I do remember not too long ago Google advertising for staff via a number of strategically positioned billboards, now if an organization such as Google, arguably the most powerful entity for drawing in internet traffic, chooses to use so called “old media” in its recruitment approach it only comes to prove that the two sides of the great media divide are not only both necessary to consumers in the world today but are also vital to the growth of each-over.

    Just something to think about.

  8. Yes America needs the press. The press needs to report the news and not create fiction.

    It is very difficult to find the truth on TV news or the Internet.

    Keep the presses rolling.

  9. i agree, books and original writings are important to keep around. we can’t expect to be 100% dependent on technology.

  10. reasonablyforeseeable

    I think that what is really being said here is the idea of professionalism. From which follows:

    1) Online media is mostly amateur stuff. This is true, a huge majority of news online is written by people who have no experience as journalists. It costs nothing to have a blog, so anyone and everyone can get their own online soap box. There are some professional sites, but more often than not, these sites are “professional” by virtue of their origins as print/television media (CNN for example).

    2) Print is mostly professional. This is largely true as well because printing costs money, and if you are going to spend money printing, you will at least want to make sure you have writers who verify their facts.

    Old media therefore becomes a sort of rubber stamp for credibility. Online blogs can say what they want, but it doesn’t really “happen” until it appears in the papers or television. A recent example could be the death of Michael Jackson. Most of us might have heard it via twitter. The immediate reaction then is to go look at the papers or watch the television, or go to a professional news website. The reason is simply – you don’t believe things you see on twitter at face value. In fact all those internet hoaxes running around would tell you that it is quite stupid to do so.

    So if we’re talking about roles to play:

    1) New media is suited to things that do not require much verification, and are constantly changing. Daily news, things like fashion, industries like tech and gaming where new developments happen every day.

    2) Traditional media is more suited for things that require alot of verification. The status of climate change. Deaths. Tragedies. And not to forget, the political function of the press: investigative journalism and the fourth estate. Everyone can shout about politics on the internet. Only those more qualified can talk about politics in print (not to say that current political discourse is good… even in print it is still quite abysmal. But at least, print is a world away from the nonsense you read online).

    • “Old media therefore becomes a sort of rubber stamp for credibility. Online blogs can say what they want, but it doesn’t really “happen” until it appears in the papers or television.”

      Easy response: Bunk.

      My site’s credibility is every bit as high as the local newspaper. When we report it, it “does really happen.”

      There’s no magic to items appearing in print or legacy media.

      • reasonablyforeseeable

        Easier riposte:


        I’m not sure why you have such a huge chip on your shoulder. I never suggested that your site in particular was not credible. If perhaps you stopped being so sensitive about promoting your site, you would realize that as a matter of fact the internet is full of far more untruths than truths. While the press is far from the whole truth, it at least does a whole lot better than Joe the political commenter on his online soap box.

      • I have no chip on my shoulder, nor am I promoting my site. I’m merely punching holes in the argument that only “traditional” media can do legitimate news.

        It’s a silly argument, completely without merit. It reminds me of the six-penny publishers telling James Gordon Bennett that he wasn’t doing real journalism by, my god, covering murder trials.

        There is just absolutely no merit to the argument that online mediat isn’t or can’t be as legitimate and do as much or more than print.

      • reasonablyforeseeable

        It certainly does seem like you have a chip on your shoulder. Otherwise you would not have a problem understand the very simple distinction I am making.

        At present, online media does not have the same kind of legitimacy as print does. Are there some sites that bend this general theme? Certainly – and I am sure that you site which we have all heard so much about qualifies.

        The vast majority of sites though suffer from a lack of professional writers and a lack of resources. The vast majority of sites don’t even pretend to be objective in their news reporting, and are biased to absurd extents. If anyone truly considers Twitter as a source of information that they don’t need to verify with an external source, then this person should have no business in being a journalist.

        It’s the nature of the online beast. You find as much valid information as you do rumors and half-truths. Compare this to print, and you might realize what I am trying to say.

        If I might dare to be slightly more pointed, your distressingly rabid defense of online media and use of colorful language like “punching holes” in arguments that you clearly haven’t taken the time to read makes me very reluctant to use your website as an objective and unbiased new source.

      • “At present, online media does not have the same kind of legitimacy as print does. Are there some sites that bend this general theme? Certainly – and I am sure that you site which we have all heard so much about qualifies.”

        Really? In what world do you live? Legitimacy is earned through reputation and quality of work. There are plenty of poorly produced print newspapers in this country and many excellenty produced news websites.

        “The vast majority of sites though suffer from a lack of professional writers and a lack of resources. The vast majority of sites don’t even pretend to be objective in their news reporting, and are biased to absurd extents. If anyone truly considers Twitter as a source of information that they don’t need to verify with an external source, then this person should have no business in being a journalist.”

        And the vast majority of sites don’t claim or even attempt news coverage. What does that have to do with anything? The discussion is about whether quality journalism can originate online, not whether everyone who publishes online is trying to be a journalist. And Twitter is not a source, Twitter is a platform. Individuals who publish on Twitter are sources and there are many whom I would trust before any print publication. That’s because I know their reputationa and trust the quality of their work.

    • My message isn’t about professionalism – it is about resources. My point is that the printed product allows the financial resources to cover events like these well. I don’t believe in the online model and I don’t believe that there is one out there that can provide the same quality resources to cover an event like this.

      Howard – I think you have 2 full time writers (including yourself)? Your site is doing extremely well from what I can see but my point is if the world was waiting for your people to mobilize to cover a major event do you have the resources to do it? Think about it. What would you have to do to make it so? How many more online blinking ads would you have to sell to staff up? How would the advertisers respond to being seen less and less and having a lower ROI? If you actually figured this out then you stand to make a lot of money.

      • First, maybe you haven’t looked at the site. We have no blinking ads. I don’t allow them.

        Further, there is no basis for your repeated, meritless supposition that ROI will be diminished at any point.

        I’m not sure we can count as two full-time writers. My wife has other duties besides writing and reporting, as do I.

        Yet, when we have had big breaking news in our area, we’ve beaten the socks off the better staffed daily newspaper. A prime example is “Manhunt in progress near Townline and 63.”

        Coverage which we get praise for from readers to this day, typos and all.

        My only position is that based on real world experience, all of your claims, and those of others, that only traditional media can do this or that, or that online can’t pay for journalism is completely without merit, and I only use The Batavian as an example, because it’s what I know and what I do, and this experience is what thoroughly convinces me that print is neither necessary nor required for good journalism.

        Finally, it’s also necessary to consider that what online journalism is today isn’t what it will be tomorrow.

        The business model will evolve, as will the journalism model, just as it did for newspapers over a 200-year period.

        The only reason there is an Emporia Gazette today is because William Allen White didn’t rely only on local advertising to make money in the early days. James Gordon Bennett and Horace Greeley, likewise, were constantly evolving their business models. And those early newspapers had a fraction of the staff of mid-20th Century newspapers.

  11. reasonablyforeseeable wrote:

    It’s the nature of the online beast. You find as much valid information as you do rumors and half-truths. Compare this to print, and you might realize what I am trying to say.

    Um, according to this Harris Poll, only thirty percent of Americans trust the press. And 41 percent trust online news outlets.

    The fact is, trust in traditional media has been falling for decades. That whole “professional reporter thing,” how’s it working out for ya?

    And I don’t think I need to take lessons in journalism ethics from somebody who hides behind a pseudonym.

  12. Sorry I didn’t find this sooner!

    Likely no one will see my contribution save perhaps the site owner, but first, thanks to Howard for mentioning us.

    The “online lame/print good” contention is exceptionally off-base in our city. In numerous Seattle neighborhoods, including ours, the online-only upstart is the news leader.

    Not just because we have more readers – but because we cover more news. MUCH more news. Not repurposed news from someplace else. Original news – breaking news, government news, court news, development news, business news, school news, sports news … all kinds of news that hasn’t appeared anywhere else till we report it. 24/7.

    In our case, since we have 30+ years of traditional journalism on our resume’ before quitting the corporate news world to go entrepreneurial, it’s easy for folks to say “oh, well, that’s just because you were a ‘real journalist’ before” – but some of the most tenacious, accurate reporters I know are people who do not have a traditional background. The best education reporting and analysis in Seattle, for example, is done by a volunteer-staffed, blog-format site.

    So it would be awesome to see everybody get off their high horse and just get busy covering the news. Oh by the way, the reason we turned what we began as a more typical “blog” into a news site is because there was a major story that I would posit affected MORE people than your plane crash – a windstorm that put tens of thousands of people out of power, on our peninsula alone, for days – and the local “professionals” didn’t bother providing real-time, neighborhood-specific information. So could they have learned from their mistakes/omissions then? Apparently not … two years after the windstorm, two weeks of snow all but shut down the city, hitting our peninsula especially hard. Hello, conventional media? Crickets. Meantime, we and an army of collaborative readers – not writing the coverage, but sharing photos, road conditions, and MUCH more, that we incorporated into the information stream – filled the void.

    If you have a rockin’ conventional-media source in your area, I am happy for you. Many neighborhoods don’t, so somebody’s gotta do it, and those somebodies are stepping to the plate, coast to coast. They’re not taking your jobs; if you are doing what your community needs you to do, they won’t get a pixel in edgewise. But where there is a void they’re filling, give them some respect, not this you-people-are-just-“bloggers” garbage. Thanks.

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