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The Tentacle


May 28, 2008

Ham Nation

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Newspaper junkies learned last week that Mary Katherine Ham is joining The Washington Examiner as the online editor of “the publication’s forthcoming new web site.”

 

The announcement came by way of an email alert from The Washington Examiner’s editorial page editor, Mark Tapscott.

 

The news comes as excitement grows among those in the central Maryland area, who are Washington-oriented and get much of our national news from online publications, especially The Washington Examiner. Many are looking forward to the paper’s launch of its new web site – “dcexaminer.com.”

 

It is also welcome news for those who have followed the career of Ms. Ham on Fox News and Townhall.com and understand that she is just what is needed to bring online publications into the new millennium.

 

Many will recall that 2005 was arguably a watershed year in which the narcissistic newspaper industry began to understand that it was not nearly as powerful as once believed; and it really could not change reality with the force of its own reason and will.

 

The Editors Web Log, a publication of the World Editors Forum, carried an article on September 2005, entitled “US: the present state and possible future of the newspaper industry put in perspective.”

 

As circulation rates drastically declined, in 2005 major publications still clung arrogantly to the notion that the “quality of their product may be suffering, but they're sure that people will continue to buy their product because it has a trusted brand name,” according to that article.

 

To which, media expert Steve Yelvington bluntly assessed: “You can't continue to put out yesterday's newspaper in today's world. You can't continue to go through the motions of journalism without the heart. You can't pretend that the Internet is somebody else's problem. Change, or die... Create a product that demands to be read.”

 

As an aside, it may be important to emphasize the reason for the decline of many of the dinosaur newspapers is their liberal bias.

 

Upgrading newspaper web sites with stylish and flashy graphics is just re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic if they are going to continue to put liberal drivel on an Internet version of their discredited print media.

 

Interestingly media outlets that report the news with depth and integrity – news as it happened, straight down the middle in a straightforward manner – are being derisively referred to as “conservative.”

 

Those who – willingly or unwillingly – allow themselves to be labeled “conservative” are only more than happy to be associated with honest news reporting.

 

However, it is nevertheless a simplistic smokescreen for the fact that in today’s Internet media world. Whether you are a venerable old newspaper or a young politician, if you are not straightforward about events, you are going to be held accountable.

 

Furthermore, online publications need a fresh look and feel from the bottom-up and to do that requires a “technology native” – someone who grew up in the Internet age – and not a “technology immigrant,” no matter how well we have kept up with the fast changing world of technology.

 

Additionally, just as presidential candidates are learning, the 18 to 34 demographic is going to respond better to someone in their age group.

 

Moreover, the fresh new approach to an online publication is more likely to be achieved with an editor with a background in Internet media. Moving an aging dinosaur print media editor over to the online world and re-labeling their job description, and the sign on the door, isn’t going to work.

 

This is where someone like Mary Katherine Ham, a 2002 graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in journalism, has a running start and advantage over any print media refugee assigned to an online publication. For starters, she is 28 years old and is a second-generation journalist.

 

As The Examiner press release notes, she “grew up in a newspaper family, as her father was managing editor of The Durham Herald-Sun (NC) for 13 years and four as director of digital publishing.”

 

Furthermore, Ms. Ham is currently a blogger, columnist, and managing editor for the web site Townhall.com. Many have enjoyed her regular appearances on “The O'Reilly Factor” on Fox News, where Bill O’Reilly introduces her as an “Internet Cop.” Others have enjoyed her work in an award-winning video blog series titled “HamNation.”

 

Meanwhile, as the world of newspapers continues to come to grips with the brave new world of journalism, the lead story in The Editors Web Log on May 21 was “Göteborg: AP study of young media consumers: ‘they want the back story’” by Jean Yves Chainon.

 

It reports that the “Associated Press will present the full results of its qualitative, anthropological study of young media consumers around the world at the 2008 World Editors Forum in Gothenburg, Sweden, to be held June 1-4.”

 

The “study aimed to better understand the behaviors of young readers aged between 18 and 34 – and how news organizations can fight this decline… Anthropologists quickly found that the digital news diet of this age group was … based mostly on 'facts' and 'updates' – two characteristics of email news… However… the young consumers wanted more than that. They wanted to find a path to the back story, and they wanted to find a path to what's going to happen next.”

 

It was actually no surprise that The Washington Examiner hired Ms. Ham. Mr. Tapscott has stayed on the cutting-edge of the integration of news reporting into the technological age.

 

Apparently he did not need a lesson in computational complexity theory, or a “qualitative, anthropological study of young media consumers,” to understand that the future of newspapers is found in the increased integration of video, interactive ability, depth – with “path to the back story,” and honest news reporting.

 

Mary Katherine Ham is scheduled to begin working at The Examiner’s downtown Washington newsroom on June 10.

 

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at: kdayhoff@carr.org

 



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