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Students reflect on a tale of two news sources

The MBA students clearly were emerging from a long day. Many were coming from work. Others filed in to the classroom appearing a bit frazzled from the challenges of reorganizing lives rocked by the recession. Yet when the conversation turned to the media and social media in particular, they were animated and engaged.

Facebook ruled the day, with nearly all the Cleveland State University students posting daily. Others were into Twitter or LinkedIn. Some used news aggregators to keep up with the latest events around the globe. A few read the daily paper on newsprint, others online.

This was the basis from which our discussion launched into an evaluation of new versus traditional media.

We began with two posts. One talked about the growth of a start-up, with innovative approaches to covering the news. The other detailed the fate of a failed content model. One was based on a new approach to communicating information to the public. The other, a style that is attracting fewer fans willing to pay for it.

We were discussing The Daily Beast, which just marked its first year, and the failed Denver Independent, launched by journalists from the now-closed Rocky Mountain News.

The Daily Beast posted a Q&A with its editor, Tina Brown, that brimmed with optimism and energy. In response to a question about traffic to the Web site, Brown responded: “We closed September at 3.9 million monthly unique readers and 35 million page views, which is up 70 percent and 220 percent respectively, since our first month. It took me eight years to build Vanity Fair to less than half that number.”

On his blog, Reflections of a Newsosaur,  Alan Mutter, a former journalist and entrepreneur, analyzed the failure in Denver. “Ironically, the Independent failed for exactly the same reason the Rocky did: A suicidally stubborn determination on the part of the organizers to be in the business they wanted to be in, instead of attending to the business they needed to attend to.”

The Daily Beast’s Brown allowed that the Web site has not generated a sustainable level of advertising. Much work remains to be done to prove the Web site’s viability.

In Denver, the journalists asked readers to pay $60 a year to support their efforts. They sold only 300 subscriptions, Mutter said.

Brown was asked about opening bureaus. “The whole notion of bureaus is so 20th century. Get me a smart blogger with a laptop and an iPhone in Tehran or Caracas and The Daily Beast is in business.”

The Independent was just trying to report out of Denver.

Asked about print’s obit, Brown said, “It’s such a phony war, print versus the Internet. So much of print has one foot in on the Web these days—New Yorker writers blog, Times reporters shoot digital video.”

In Denver, Mutter took the online journalists to task. They “luxuriated in writing the kinds of articles on their Web sites that they luxuriated in writing for the newspaper.”

The contrasting approach couldn’t be sharper. The CSU students spoke with passion about news, Facebook and Twitter. They got it. The world’s passion for news is not dead. But its passion for news communicated in more traditional ways is certainly in question.

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