I laughed til it hurt; some of it was so true

I had meant to continue yesterday’s blog about a report from Harvard suggesting that online newspaper growth is slowing. But then I  read a comment by Mark Hamilton that pointed me to a perfectly good analysis of that very same report written by Alan (Newsosaur) Mutter. 

I’ll excerpt from that posting later, but first the laughter.

In rooting around Mutter’s site I came on a prior entry in which he reveals how a mention from “Catherine McMillan, an airbrush artist and schnauzer breeder“who maintains a blog called Small Dead Animals gave him a much bigger traffic boost than mentions on name-brand, mainstream media. He suggested that mass media, aka Large Dead Animals or Large Ones, for short — are too conventional for the wild and wacky web:

“With the formidable creative talent, market reach, commercial relationships and financial capability they possess, the Large Ones ought to have an enormous edge over Canadian schnauzer breeders in creating editorially compelling and commercially successful online content. But they are failing, because they try to confine their new media ventures to the tightly edited and carefully modulated conventions of their existing brands.”

As an ill-tempered reporter for a middling metropolitan daily all I can say thus far is: What he said!

I reached Mutter’s Dead Animals rant after reading his “Flat-lining online” post on the Harvard study. It’s a good analysis that drew a comment from media executive and blogger Howard Owens who was dismissive of the study:

“I have direct access to audience metrics for several small newspaper sites, and I talk enough with other site managers and small- and mid-sized to know that the Harvard report is bunk.”

I have no way to assess the overall health of online news traffic or settle the argument, but I have previously cited the work of Thomas Patterson, the Harvard prof who wrote this report. Patterson is working on the issue of civic engagement which should make his work interesting to everyone in this age of interactivity,

Speaking of which, I visited the blog of Mutter’s new friend,  Our Lady of Dead Animals, who he says creates “editorially compelling” content and has a “commercially successful” site.

Really? Small Dead Animals is full of vitality and reader interaction and won best Canadian blog in 2006 (and I think in 2004). But the author is not so much creating content as she is linking to it and provoking discussions. Her audience sends in stuff to discuss. This sounds familiar. Wait, wait, it’s talk radio with your fingers! I’m not demeaning this blog, its author or the engagement of its community. There were better than 30 comments on the postings I scanned. What I wouldn’t give for that kind of engagement from readers, either here or at my day job!

But I saw no sign whatsover of commercial success. She solicits donations and sells her airbrush paintings on the site. For all we know she takes in-kind donations of road kill in partial payment.

I definitely feel my bargaining power as a professional writer is declining and I suspect that in the sales offices where my salary is ultimately paid they’re discounting off the rate sheet to keep advertisers in the paper.

But I really think that as a professional content creator I should draw the line at accepting any compensation package that includes dead animals that been neither skinned nor shrink-wrapped.