Friday, October 28, 2011

Newspapers and MISO

Military Information Support Operations (MISO) professionals have to keep up on media trends since the media is one of the tools of our trade. On the evening of 27 October 2011 I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by an old newspaper pro. Leigh Weimers (see

He retired from the San Jose Mercury News in 2005 after a 47 year career there, the last 40 years of which were spent writing a very popular column on San Jose happenings. When Weimers joined the paper there were about 125 people on the news end, at the high point of the paper’s circulation, just before the Dot Com Bust, the staff had mushroomed to 625. San Jose’s population was about 100,000 when Weimers started and it’s over 1 million today and ranked as America’s tenth largest city. Interestingly enough the paper’s news staff is less today than it was almost 50 years ago.

Photo Source: Leigh Weimers Blog

While it wouldn’t be prudent to extrapolate US newspapers in general or the San Jose Mercury News in particular to any other geographic area, especially areas of operation outside the US, it is always useful to learn about history and trends.

First of all Weimers believes that ‘young’ people (meaning 20 – 45 I suppose) are not reading actual newspapers but are getting their news on line. I would have to say that my personal experience is that this assumption is mostly true and holds true for most countries where I have traveled in Asia and Europe as well as the U.S.

Large metropolitan newspapers have suffered badly because their classified ad revenue has declined in favor of free Internet advertising such as Craig’s List,, Linkedin, etc. Weimers said that 70% of the paper’s revenue came from classified ads. Free is a pretty good price and according to Weimers no one is willing to pay for quality journalism. Since it would be hard to have the same level of resources with such a reduced revenue level.

In our world, we come across nations where the media is run by the government – that’s who paying for it. At issue on the ground is how much credibility and influence that media has on its readers when everyone knows the state is not an impartial reporter nor concerned with winning many Pulitzers.

Some publishes like Rupert Murdoch are seeking to exploit electronic media. The Daily ( is specifically designed for the iPad. Subscribers pay about $40 a year. Reports about the venture launched in February 2011 indicate that the project isn’t even close to breaking even. Of course iPad owners are an elite group and even a small population of them may be desirable to certain advertisers and in some cases may be targets of focused MISO efforts.

Selected publications that have established news niches like the Wall Street Journal may be able to make the leap to pay for content because they have developed a following. Weimers cited that only 14% of iPad owners pay for their news.

For others, local focus is the key. By covering news that is not covered elsewhere: city council meetings, county political news, local sports, obituaries, etc. small papers, especially rural ones are able to survive as business ventures.

For MISO the implications are clear:

1. CyberInfluence (CyIn) must be as much a core part of our tool box as leaflets and loud speakers.

2. There is no substitute for the team on the ground learning the nature of the environment.

3. Local media will likely be the most effective at the tactical level, but must be carefully studied through the appropriate cultural and linguistic filters to determine where and how it fits in the mix.

4. Age demographics are key.

As always, reader input invited.

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