It's a tossup, I suppose. As demonstrated by his story (or that of a possibly bigger YouTubed boob, Ted "Series of Tubes" Stevens) and its rapid dissemination across the internet, the definitive media story of 2006 was the rise of citizen media, and the vehicles like YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, blogs, and scores of others that can be used, for free, to spread memes worldwide in less time than it takes to say "santorum."
The flip side of that story, of course, is old media's fumbling attempts to stay relevant in this new environment. Indeed, it's a curious state of affairs when TIME, one of the grand-daddies of old media, declares "You"--meaning me and you and all the other personal media producers out there--"Person of the Year." My friend Siva Vaidhyanathan, writing at MSNBC, chortles at TIME's backslapping for those of use who spent 2006 "seizing the reins of the global media... and beating the pros at their own game":
Well, thank you, Time, for hyping me, overvaluing me, using me to sell my image back to me, profiling me, flattering me, and failing to pay me. As soon as I saw myself on my local newsstand, I had to buy a copy of Time.But 2006 was the year that saw print pale and online endeavors soar, from Google's wallet-lightening purchase of YouTube to the boom in expenditures for online employment ads, which now show online job listings outpacing those in print by a half billion dollars. Given the trend, who can blame dead-tree media for trying extraordinary tactics to make ends meet? Locally, that's meant plenty of media consolidation, cost-cutting measures, and new ventures. A less than comprehensive run-down of local media goings-on:
• This week's sudden news of a Star Tribune "fire sale" is surprising, not because, like the Pioneer Press, it's happening at all, but because the Minneapolis daily is being sold for a monstrous loss not to a well-known media company but to a private equity firm. The paper's own coverage blamed the internet for the unprecedented low valuation, and staffers are reportedly freaking out about the bombshell: " Everything we've heard from [Star Tribune owner] McClatchy recently is 'Hey, we're all in this together. We don't do layoffs.' Blah blah blah BS," columnist Doug Grow told the AP. (More to come on this.)
• Citing a drop in ad revenues (and the internet ad spectre), the St. Paul Pioneer Press announced it'd be offering buyouts to staffers this fall. By the time all was said and done, ten percent of newsroom employees were without jobs, representing a combined 502 years of experience, and another 37 part-timers were let go. The paper was acquired by McClatchy and eventually sold off to MediaNews Group; nationally MediaNews is slashing staff as well, most notably at papers in San Jose, Denver and Los Angeles.
• The Star Tribune's efforts in 2006 seemed a shotgun approach: last month it launched Vita.MN, a bars-and-bands event listing that covers that same turf as Free Time, a standalone free tabloid the paper tested out a few years back. It seems to be geared toward competing with City Pages and Pulse, but its less than dazzling content suggests it exists to drive traffic to its website. The paper's Buzz.MN seems derivative of the social networking site Gather.com, a Minnesota Public Radio joynt, and MNSpeak. (The dot-MN URL was a hot one this year, as someone figured out that Mongolia was selling domains with that locally flavored e-ppendage.)
• Speaking of which, MNSpeak got a financial boost this year when it was purchased from creator Rex Sorgatz (who has since moved to Seattle to work at Microsoft) by the "Bartel Cartel"--former CP publisher Tom Bartel and his wife Kris Henning, who founded The Rake. They installed their son Matt as editor of the site. (In other Rake news, the monthly cut loose editor Hans Eisenbeis this year, allegedly over conflicting opinions on the editorial direction of the magazine.) Grassroots online projects like the local issues forums at e-Democracy and Twin Cities Daily Planet appeared to continue with relative (grassroots-sized) gusto this year.
• Forum Communications, the Fargo, North Dakota–based media company, added to its empire this year, picking up key regional papers including the Grand Forks Herald, the Duluth News Tribune, The Daily Telegram in Superior, Wisconsin, and weekly newspapers in Cloquet and Two Harbors, Minnesota. As the elections came around, Forum came under scrutiny for its unusual policy—dictating which candidates a local paper was to endorse from Fargo, based on the preferences of unabashed Republican donor William Marcil, the chain’s owner.
[Cross-posted at Minnesota Monitor.]