Fonkoze in Haiti in a larger map

What happens when newspaper readers die

I’m afraid it’s something newspaper executives aren’t thinking enough about.

Young people have grown up in an era where all sorts of information and news are available to them online. Why read your parents’ A section when you can access the New York Times for free online? Why would we pay to clutter our houses with newsprint when all that information is available, better organized, even better stored, online?

The answer is that we won’t. The Readership Institute at Northwestern, which just released its latest research, notes that readership among the youngest readers, those ages 18 to 24, has continued to decline (on a scale of 1 to 7).

Readership among the youngest respondents (18-24) dropped to 2.40 from 2.84 in 2006. With the exception of the 2006 study, this continues a trend of decreasing RBS for young people since 2002. RBS for people age 65 or older has actually increased to an all-time high of 4.52.

It started in 2002, just about when the Web we know was really getting going.

Reading a print product is still a pleasurable experience, but paying to have it delivered to your house is more of a disincentive than the print product can overcome. Future newspapers will shrink into tabs, reduce the frequency of print publication and become magazines. It’s already happening.

I hope that newspapers are undergoing the fundamental shift in thinking that has to happen for us to be ready when this happens, maybe a generation from now. Mindy McAdams wrote a great blog post about the paradigm shift that, let’s face it, should already have happened for us to move forward.

One of the difficult things for newspapers trying to shift the focus to the Web is that for most the vast majority of their readers are still reading the print product. It’s what people are paying for. So it can be hard to argue the importance of the Web now when the people we’re serving aren’t all there yet.

But they will be. One of McAdams’ key points, I thought, is that future generations won’t read newspapers. It’s true, and carries tremendous gravity. I hope it doesn’t catch us by surprise like this whole Internet thing has.

A hyperlocal flop?

Last week, the Wall Street Journal had a story about, a hyperlocal enterprise of the Washington Post that covers an affluent suburban county. A project of the hyperlocal guru behind Naples Daily News and Lawrence Journal-World, Rob Curley, the site started about a year ago in hopes of harnessing the power of citizen-publishing and relevant content that would draw readers. It included all the latest great ways to organize and present information: an organized calendar of events, databases, maps, links to community blogs.

But as the WSJ pointed out, the audience never developed.

Sure, there were things they could have done better with the site as it is. Better promotion on, better grassroots promotion by attending community meetings would have helped, the creator acknowledged in his blog post about the story. But it seems that the site overlooks a key question in the success of hyperlocal initiatives. Is local news boring?

It sure can be.

The more local the news is, the odds are it’s less newsworthy to everyone else. On our list of things that make a story newsworthy, proximity is just one. So if we weigh that one far more than the others, it will become less interesting to the general public. I think the best way to understand the way that hyperlocal does and doesn’t work is through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. You might not think of them as news Web sites, but they are in the broadened sense that the Internet allows. A couple years ago, Facebook introduced the “news feed,” a listing on Facebook users’ home page that updates them with “stories” about what’s going on with their friends. Candy changed her profile picture. John posted a link. Courtney changed her location. Perhaps the word to describe this news isn’t local, but personal. Still, it can be the same thing for newspapers. The idea is that the more specific the news is, the more it will interest people. But this only works if people know one another. There’s nothing that would bore me more than a stranger’s baby pictures. But a friend’s baby pictures will give me pause.

I don’t see a lot of potential in the hyperlocal push without networking. We should harness the public’s desire to self-publish to get users that interact with our web sites. Eventually, I’d like to see people have profiles on newspaper web sites, where they can advertise things they’re selling through newspaper classifieds, invite people to events on the newspaper’s calendar and follow their friends’ comments on stories. The Internet has been a great forum for narcissism. And it’s broken down the sometimes false authority of traditional media. If we’re willing to dip our toe into that water, with comments on stories, for example, we should jump right in.

Soundslides – dipping a toe into the Web

I started out at the Times by showing off my clumsy ability to record and edit audio and produce an online slideshow. I debuted this with a profile on the locally famous man who sells produce at the St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market. Audio with a profile works well because hearing a person’s voice gives you a great feel for their character. You can view the slideshow here. Here are some quick suggestions for getting started with the software to make such a show.


First of all, both SoundSlides (the flash slideshow program) and Audacity (a very simple audio editing program) are available for FREE DOWNLOAD. It’s really cool. SoundSlides you can only get for free as a demo, but Audacity is designed as freeware. This is great because you can download on your personal computer or work computer and play on your own time.

Download audacity here.

There’s also a great wiki where you can search for tips and instructions.

Also, my professor at UF – Mindy McAdams – did a VERY helpful walk-through for basic audio editing.

Next, SoundSlides. You can download the program, which starts in a demo, and then you can buy if you choose. As far as I know, all the features are the same, so this is perfect for practicing.

Now, some tips.


Web folks like to keep slideshows very short – two to three minutes, in general. Keep this in mind when you’re collecting audio. The NPR affiliate at the Miami Herald gave me a great suggestion for this. If you’re interviewing a subject, do the print interview first. Then tell the subject you’re going to interview them again for the web. Instruct them to touch on the subjects you want included and to keep it about five minutes long. Asking questions is fine as long as you make sure they know to use nouns rather than pronouns. Otherwise you’ll get back to the office and have them saying things like “it was amazing,” when the viewer doesn’t know what “it” is. We also don’t want boring audio of some person talking. Be sure to record “nat sound,” ambient noise that puts your viewer at the scene. You hear this on NPR with the sound of an engine running, music, etc.


The best thing to start with is cutting your audio into pieces and assigning them slugs. Listen to the whole track, select pieces based on subject and quality, and save them as a different name to remind you what’s in them. Later, this will help you arrange them into a piece that flows well and goes with the pictures. Do the same thing with the nat sound, but remember that nat sound can be cut up into longer pieces. It makes the piece more interesting to have the nat sound run alongside the interview at a low volume. Doing a close edit of the audio, such as taking out blips and ums and pauses, can be a little trickier. You have to learn to edit waveforms (the visualization of the audio), which will come with practice. I have learned not to over-edit. Not only because it takes a lot of time to try to get it sounding perfect, but also because it makes the piece sound artificial. People can hear the over-editing, and it usually sounds worse than the original.


The best program for putting your audio together into the final piece is Mac’s Garageband. It allows you to edit many tracks at once. With that feature, you can put your interview clips on one track, your nat sound on another, and shift them around to make sense. You can drop in an audio clip that you’ve edited and crop it right in the program without destroying the original. That is, I can have a file of 20 seconds of nat sound in the program, decide I only want 10 seconds of it, and crop it down to the 10 seconds I want. But later if I decide I want the whole thing, I can just drag the clip out to have the remaining audio. Garageband also allows you to adjust the volume on particular tracks. That way, you can blend the person talking in with the nat sound by increasing the volume of the nat sound and decreasing the volume of the voice. When you’re done, you export the file as an .mp3, the only file type that SoundSlides accepts.


When you’re working with a photographer on a story you’re doing with SoundSlides, make sure the photog knows that you’re making a slideshow. You’ll need a different picture for every 5 or 6 seconds of audio. For a minute-and-a-half piece, you’ll need about 15 pictures. That’s a lot, and it’s way more than photographers are used to submitting for the paper. Sometimes it takes some doing to get this idea across to photogs and editors.


This is the simplest, most easy-to-use program. I know superlatives are dangerous, but it really is. First thing to know is that you need all your photos in one folder. It doesn’t matter where this folder is, just that it’s exclusive to the pictures you want in your slideshow. You can add or subtract photos to this collection later in the process. When you start a project in SoundSlides, it will prompt you for an .mp3 file and a picture folder. It will load all these things into a lovely interface that’s very easy to use. All you do now is arrange the pictures in the order that you want and the length you want. You can time the pictures up perfectly to the subject of the audio. If you need to tweak your audio, you can re-import the audio file. On the right side, you can fill in caption information and credits.

The web folks can help you upload this to the site. And that’s it.