Bad news for Poynter and API but good news for…?

News of a $3.8-million annual loss at the Poynter Foundation — which runs the venerable journalism-training outfit the Poynter Institute — was bad news indeed for those vested in providing continuing education for journalists.

And coming as it did on the heels of the demise of the once-storied American Press Institute — which fired its staff and closed its offices last March while touting an alleged “merger” with the National Newspaper Association — it felt like more of the chronic vertigo brought on by the death spiral of old media.

And maybe it is. API — which when I was coming up in the ’70s and ’80s was regarded as the gold standard of mid-career training for journalists — was largely dependent on the hefty course fees paid by news organizations on behalf of reporters and editors whose work was deemed worthy of investing in or rewarding. At the Poynter Foundation, the old-media dependency is even more direct: It relies not only on tuition fees, grants and fund-raisers, but on regular support from the newspaper it owns, the Tampa Bay Times.

Apparently, 2011 was no better for the Tampa Bay Times than it was for most mid-market papers. According to, the newspaper provided no funding to the foundation during that year, the last for which records are available. Thus, at least in part, the loss.

And bear in mind that all of this has occurred at a time when the impact of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) — which bids to disrupt education as dramatically as digital has disrupted old media — has only barely begun to be felt.

But, as the emergence of thousands of small news startups shows, one sector’s crisis is another’s opportunity. Could the crisis that killed API and wounded Poynter prove a boon for a lean startup, unencumbered by legacy costs or institutional infrastructure, providing mid-career training for journalists?

Or could the same circumstances afford an opportunity for a graduate school of journalism — independent of legacy-media funding and able to leverage an existing educational infrastructure — to move into the void?

Mutantur omnia nos et mutamur in illis (All things change, and we change with them)

The readings thus far for EJ13 constantly remind me how much — and how quickly — things have changed in our industry. I was working in it both when newspapers reached their peak historical circulation (1993) and their revenue peak (2005). As we now stand knee-deep in the wreckage of what remains, it’s mind-bending to consider that both of these peaks occurred within the last 20 years — and the revenue peak a mere eight years ago.

Of course, even in 1993 the popping of corks had a hollow sound in our Potemkin village. We all knew newspapers had been losing younger readers for decades — barely thumbed industry reports on that problem lined the walls of every editor’s office — and the more clear-eyed among us knew that our gains merely served to hide the fact that newspaper circulation had failed to keep pace with population growth since the introduction of television.

Still, by the time the peak revenue year of 2005 arrived, concerns about falling circulation, an aging readership and competition from the Web (It’s hard to believe now, I know, but conversations were continuing at that point about how vigorously papers needed to adapt to the rise of the Internet) were obscured both by the blizzard of greenbacks and a kind of group myopia about the hangover that follows every party.

It’s also important to note that by this time, church-and-state mentality that always characterized relations between editorial and the business side had hardened into a kind of a blind and willful arrogance about newspaper finances. (The arrogance wasn’t limited to finances, but that’s another story.) It wasn’t just someone else’s job to worry about funding the news operation — it was beneath us to even think about it. Let the bean counters worry about the books — we were busy serving the public interest!

Well, as the great songwriter (and proud New York City resident) Steve Earle once wrote: You know the rest.

So, the EJ13 readings remind us that in the entrepreneurial news universe it’s everybody’s job to worry about funding. In fact, if funding the business isn’t Job 1, to paraphrase the old Ford commercial, it’s Job 1.5. Financing the news business can’t be viewed as a necessary evil, as in the old days, or even as the price we pay to create journalism in the new news ecosystem. It is a task we must embrace as quickly and as heartily as we do the tasks of reporting, writing and editing.

Medicare Growth: What’s the story behind the story?

Another data visualization assignment:

By Kevin R. Convey, Catherine Featherston and Corrie Lacey

The subject of Medicare and how it should be funded going forward was a major point of contention in the just-ended presidential campaign – and is a significant part of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations now underway.

Indeed, Medicare is one of three major federal entitlements now amounting to 10 percent of GDP and threatening to double to 20 percent by 2050 if no changes are made – creating what some have called an “untenable debt burden”.

But to understand where we’re going, it may help to understand where we’ve been.

First, take a look at the number of Medicare recipients by state:

Next, look at the surprisingly steep increase in the number of disabled persons receiving Medicare. The program was revised in 1973 to include them as well as the elderly:

But when you compare the number of disabled receiving Medicare to the number of elderly in the program since 1973, it becomes clear that the increase in elderly recipients is driving the growth of the program — not the disabled:

The data make it clear that tinkering with the categories of people who receive Medicare isn’t going help solve the current funding crisis — only a change in the level of benefits provided or the way in which they are provided will have any impact.

Medicare trends

Final version of The Happiness Project

In this last revision, we abandoned the Powerpoint-like, linear-storytelling mode of earlier tries and embraced the interactive potential of Hype/Tumult by making the map, buttons, images and links all live.

By Albert Brea and Kevin R. Convey

What is happiness?

And, more importantly, what are the elements of happiness – the things that make us happy?

These are hardly idle questions. Since the beginning of civilization, they have occupied philosophers, formed the basis of religions and bedeviled leaders of every stripe. More recently, they’ve animated the hit parade, crowded best-seller lists and kept the waiting rooms of mental health professionals overflowing.

Indeed the most common answer to one of life’s most elemental questions – “Why are we here?” – is “to be happy.” Still, that answer begs the question: What goes into making us happy?

As we enter what for some is the happiest time of the year – featuring, in rapid succession, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day – and what for others is the gloomiest period of the year, the subject of happiness and its components takes on renewed interest.

Every year, the Gallup Organization conducts a detailed poll on the subject of happiness in the United States, measuring dozens of variables and producing a portrait of happiness by state. We wanted to know how the age-old metrics of health, wealth, and wisdom –-Ben Franklin’s “healthy, wealthy and wise” nostrum correlated with happiness by state. And though Franklin didn’t mention it, we were also curious about the role religion plays in happiness.

Here’s how we visualized those questions — and our answers:

What Makes People Happiest in the Happiest States?

So, clearly, Ben Franklin was right about some of the components of happiness: Our measures of health, wealth and wisdom correlated strongly with states’ happiness as ranked by Gallup.

And it’s fortuitous that a tacked-on question we almost didn’t ask because Franklin didn’t ask it – the impact of religion on happiness – tied our findings up nicely.

Our discovery that states with the highest numbers of religious residents tended to score low on the happiness index seemed counter-intuitive until we examined it in the context of our earlier findings. Presto: The most religious states ox iframe link:were also largely states that ranked low on measures of health, wealth and wisdom.

The exact relationship of religion to this package of negative variables remains as unclear as the chicken-and-egg conundrum. Do people living in states afflicted by low health, employment and education indicators seek out religion for solace or do more deeply religious tend to be less healthy, less employed and less educated?

That’s one that even Franklin might have a tough time with.