If there’s any good news for print media in the face of the growing online challenge, it could be that the print paper has become less error-prone.

A colleague and I were discussing how there seems to be fewer corrections being printed on our newspaper recently, and we both agreed that that could very well be the result of online media.

Think about it…in the 24/7 world online, we are constantly adding to and updating news. A breaking story that hits the web is quickly written and edited before posting. Updates are continually filed and errors that are found are corrected immediately. By the time that story is in the newspaper, it has been not only been re-written and added to many times, but it has also been viewed by readers who may have questions of their own, which are fed back to the reporter/editor for scrutiny.

In a sense, we are “wiki-ing” our news before it winds up in print.

Is that a bad thing? Not really. Giving our readers credit to spot errors and alert us not only gives transparency, but provides a great sense of interactive “community.” Will they go away if they find an error? I believe they will stay with us if we acknowledge what they find and correct it. By doing so, we’ve made our readers “stakeholders” in our news operation. And as we build community online, we are creating a more factually-correct print product.

We can even take that one step further by making our readers “reporters” as well. We recently had a case at my paper where a local man was arrested for taking “upskirt” pictures at a community fair. The story was posted with a mug shot, and within hours some readers noticed the suspect looked like a board member for a major nonprofit foundation. The story comments even provided a link to the foundation’s staff page. After picking up on that, our reporters were able to verify that he was the same person and eventually led to a scoop that appeared in the print edition the next day.

As a result, what started as a routine cop blotter story online turned into a pretty big news story by the time the papers hit the newsstand.

So if there’s one thing online has done to help print, it’s cutting down on those nasty corrections so that valuable news space can be used for other things…and wiki-ing news is not really a bad thing in times of fewer resources.

Michael Kinsley had the right idea many years ago when he tried to wiki editorials for the L.A. Times …he just started with the wrong section.

I continually wonder why newspaper companies put their future behind one or two people and call them “innovation directors” who are expected to be the ones to find the golden egg that will make the business profitable again.

When you look at a business like Apple or Microsoft. the real innovators aren’t the high-salaried company face (although they are the ones who supply the vision), the real innovation come from the folks in the field and in the labs who are paid to do one thing…figure out what will keep them successful in the years to come.

Successful businesses have a team of people who do nothing but research trends and develop products that will meet the needs of people … or develop needs the people don’t know they have.

But newspapers? They’ve been too complacent for years, and many are too reliant on watching and copying the success of others to be innovative. And because of this, the industry is suffering like never before.

It’s time for newspapers to starting looking at the future in order to dig itself out of the morass it’s currently in. Instead of coming up with trendy names for old positions and, in essence, rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, newspaper companies should be dedicating a number of people in its organization to do nothing but figure out the future. They should be working overtime to look at what readers needs are … or what readers think they’re needs should be … and developing information products that will satisfy those needs. Then when they’re finished, they should start over again to assure continued success.

Apple dwindled to a slight blip on the tech radar screen until Steve Jobs’ people developed the iPod. If newspaper companies stopped panicking in the present and put more of its resources in a dynamic, consistent R&D function, the future for the industry could be brighter … and sooner!

Another much ado about nothing …

I’m surprised by the outcry over the recent revelation that McDonald’s is paying for product placement on morning news programs. In all of the uproar over this, have we forgotten that TV has a rich history of tie-in to advertising?

Growing up in Chicago, I fondly remember the great anchorman Fahey Flynn reading the evening news with a Santa Fe Railroad logo placed on his desk. Of course, back then they were a “sponsor” and, frankly, I still think highly of Flynn’s journalistic legacy.

So why does an iced coffee placed on a morning news desk cheapen the quality of the newscast? Now, some may argue that a Fox newscast can’t be any more cheaper. But as long as we don’t get comments like “Boy, Mark, the economic news today is awful, but this iced coffee from McDonald’s is already making me feel better” viewers should be able to discern legitimate news from the barrage of ads.

Again, I think we don’t give our audience enough credit for being smart enough to separate news from ads. Maybe that’s why we’re losing them in droves.

Actally, I question if McDonald’s expects a return on their investment. How many people are going to run to McD’s and say “I want the same iced coffee I saw on ‘Fox News in the Morning!'”

Do they really expect that?

A touch off topic:

I spent my weekend watching some old ‘Lou Grant’ reruns on Fancast and immediately began to pine for the good ‘ol days of newspapering, when you had an eccentric publisher who didn’t worry about the bottom line affecting good journalism. Ironically, the LA Tribune newsroom was not too far away from reality because,even though the paper employed hundreds, there were four or five people that actually did any work.

But I began to wonder about another great newspaper film…Deadline U.S.A. For those unenlightened with it, it’s a 1952 film about a New York newspaper that is closing, but doesn’t go away quietly. Humphrey Bogart plays the paper’s editor, a hard-working, hard-drinking sonofabitch who continues to uphold the the institution of journalism as the paper fold around him. Bogart utters some great lines, such as telling a new hire that newspapering “isn’t the oldest profession, but it’s the best!” and that great answer to the mob boss … who threatens Bogart and the paper over the phone … when he asks what’s that sound behind him; “It’s the press, baby. The press. And there’s nothing you can do about it!” It’s undoubtedly the best newspaper movie ever, and should be required viewing for all j-school students.

Now, my problem is that my bootlegged copy (taped from an airing many, many years ago on AMC) disappeared with a colleague who was laid off recently. So I’m going through withdrawals because the movie, unfortunately, is not available anywhere, in any format.

Ideally, I think it would be great if some institution devoted to preserving great journalism … like API, Poynter or the Newseum … got the rights to the film and produced DVDs for sale, a portion of which would benefit the organization. I know there are many more inkies out there besides me that would pay good money for a copy.

But in the meantime, here’s how you can help. Go to the Turner Classic Movies web sitefor Deadline U.S.A. and click on “suggest this move” tab at the right. I figure if we can get enough folks lobbying for the film, they’ll run it and we all can set our DVRs (or, in my case, VCR … OK, I’m not as techie as I’d like folks to think) and satisfy our cravings.

Together, we can bring back this great, great movie for another chance to capture it. Remember, “A profession is a performance for public good. That’s why newspaper work is a profession.” Can it get ANY better than that?

Today’s flotsam:

* The Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal’s interview with his new boss, Gerry Kern, is good reading. Of course, Rosenthal is ALWAYS good reading. The interview seemed a bit softball … which could be expected when you’re writing about the guy who could fire you … but I give him credit for asking some hard reality questions.

And although I’ve previously written I think Gerry has the “ganas” to steer the Trib through the tumult, I’m worried that his comments did nothing to show his view on the importance bringing the Tribune newsroom out of the print mindset and into developing news for multiple delivery platforms.

But we’ll see what happens in the weeks ahead.

UPDATE: Kern explains the “byline count” brouhaha in this interview with Reuters. Byline counts are not a new idea, but as Kern points out, they can be one of many metrics that, taken as a whole, can help define productivity. I’m still surprised the byline count idea is such a surprise among journalists today.

Every newsroom has at least one reporter or editor who’s not pulling his or her load, and the hard-working staffers know who those people are. Those are the ones who should worry … maybe they are the ones who are complaining the most.

* Here’s a real enlightening … and a bit disappointing … interview with Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor Julie Wallace. A lot of hope was placed in the AJR’s newsroom revolution. But … if you read between the lines of this interview … it sounds as if the reality of staff cuts have led to less-than-desired results.

Yesterday’s bombshell (sort of) of the resignation of Tribune editor Ann Marie Lapinski … if you really, really, look at it … is not much of a surprise. Lipinski represents the old Tribune Company. While her journalist values and ethics were undoubtedly outstanding, her management style was too wed to the old way of doing things. That meant having people and resources wherever and whenever it was needed, and that the only people who could tell the story were Chicago Tribune people. Being able to justify a 500+ person newsroom has become harder under the leadership of Sam Zell. That’s where the job lost its fit.

Her replacement, Gerry Kern, was a surprise to many, but then again, not so. Those many thought were in line for the job … folks such as AME James Warren … were Lipinski’s people who would bring the same newsroom conflict to Zell’s vision for the paper. Kern, who has spent the past several years in the corporate world, has a better handle on the Zell vision. Just like in baseball, if the owner and manager don’t see eye-to-eye, the owner goes out and finds one who does.

And although Kern represents the old-world Tribune Company, he has a track record of leading change in the company.

I worked for Kern when he was executive editor at the Daily Herald, and he struck me as good idea person, who could build consensus in a group and lead with a soft touch. His style was low-key and affable, which may be a shock in the Tribune newsroom culture. But, he was always friendly and loyal to his staff.

I ran into him at a party several years ago. At that time he was given the charge to create “synergies” between Tribune papers and the newly-acquired Times-Mirror papers. They way he described it, it sounded as if he was assigned to tear down the Great Wall of China using a dull icepick, but he was very upbeat and eager to take on his new role. And, several hard, bitter years later, he has made significant headway, although parts of the wall are still standing.

Can Gerry lead the Tribune into the new era? It’ll be tough, considering one of his first roles will be to let 80 or so staffers go and introduce a smaller, less news-heavy product. I also expect he’ll deal with an exodus of FOAMs (friends of Ann Marie) who have held significant positions in the newsroom under her leadership.

But I have faith that Gerry will show everyone he wasn’t named editor to be Sam Zell’s hatchet man. The Kern era will likely start in tumult, but … as a good friend would say … he’s got ganas to make it work.