Steve Outing

Steve Outing

The leaked “innovation” report from The New York Times that made the rounds in May recommends that the company take more risks, move more quickly and consider radical steps to reinvent itself. Steve Outing wonders what would happen if the Times abandoned daily print editions, and he’s built an elaborate “what-if?” model to test the idea.

Outing’s model doesn’t answer the question, but it does provide a new tool with which to evaluate options. “Most news companies aren’t very good at grokking what’s coming at them or what likely futures could be ahead for them,” wrote Outing in an e-mail to us. “What I did was demonstrate one tool of strategic foresight that news companies should consider using.”

Outing would like to get more consulting gigs working for news organizations that need reinvention, and we hope he gets some. A self-described media futurist, he’s been challenging assumptions about the slow-moving newspaper industry for the past two decades. Read more here. We were fans of a blog called Reinventing Classifieds that he launched back in 2008 that recommended radical new ways to revive the highly profitable newspaper classified advertising business. To our knowledge, no on took him up on his ideas.

For this exercise, Outing applies a “Futures Wheel” to envision a Times that only publishes on Sunday. The exercise is meant to envision every impact on the paper’s business, including staffing costs, production savings, new sources  of revenue and circulation revenue. Outing has modeled his scenario out to two levels of detail. To fully understand the implications you need to go to  third level, and that involves surveys and pilots. Outing will do you that for any newspaper that wants to hire him.

Asked what value news organizations can gain from this exercise, he wrote, “Technological change is accelerating at a faster rate; indeed, exponentially, when it comes to computing power. This means that anyone’s business model can be disrupted, if not obliterated, faster than ever before. So now is a critical time to start seriously using strategic-foresight tools and techniques (futures wheels being just one) to better prepare for likely and plausible challenges and opportunities.”

He’s right. How many media executives have the vision to take him on the offer? Click here to see an enlarged view of the image.


 

By Paul Gillin | January 6, 2013 - 10:59 am - Posted in blogging, Blogroll, BusinessModel, Newspapers

We were just added to the 100 Best Sites for Journalists in 2012 list put together by JournalismDegree.org. Yay. Seriously, thanks for the recognition, and thanks for pointing us to some useful sites we weren’t aware of. We’ll add them to our blogroll at the lower left, which you can add to your own RSS reader by clicking “subscribe.”

List of good journalism sitesThe point of this post isn’t to toot our own horn, though, but rather to point out why JournalismDegree.org undertakes this occasional exercise (they did it before in 2009). Lists like these are all about search engine optimization (SEO), and they’re a smart way to raise visibility quickly.

JournalismDegree.org is basically a lead generation site. It lists colleges and professional development providers that offer communications-related courses. When you click through to a listed institution, you’re taken to a page on eLearners.com, where you can fill out a form requesting more information. Sponsors pay eLearners.com for each inquiry that comes in this way, and eLearners.com pays affiliates like JournalismDegree.org a commission for referring the lead.

It’s a perfectly legitimate business. Those Amazon banners you see all over the Web (including on this site) are the same basic idea. Anyone who contributes to the sale gets a small cut of the revenue.

JournalismDegree.org – and many sites like it – are very dependent on search engine visibility. It wants to be the number one or two search result for “journalism degrees” on Google, and it’s been successful in that respect. A big reason is lists like the this one. A representative sent the owner of each site on the list a congratulatory e-mail with a snippet of HTML code that easily adds a badge to the site. The code includes the alt tag “Best Site for Journalists – 2012,” which basically tells Google that JournalismDegree.org is a great place for journalists to visit.

The strategy works. JournalismDegree.org is number seven in our search results on “best site for journalists” and will no doubt move higher as more sites display its badge. Which we just did (although we changed the alt tag to something more descriptive). The more reputable the sites displaying the badge, the better it is for JournalismDegree.org.

This is smart search marketing, and any blogger or news site can benefit from its example.  Half of the equation for search engine success is in factors that you control, such as domain name, page titles, headlines and keywords. JournalismDegree.org does all of these things well. The tough part is the other half, which is getting reputable sites to link to you. One quickly way to do that is to hand out awards like this one. At least a half dozen of the sites we visited are already displaying the logo above, and more will probably follow. Which all adds up to high-quality links that fuel search success.

There are flaws in JournalismDegree.org’s list. The numbering scheme implies a hierarchy, which we hope isn’t the case because there’s no way we deserve to rank higher than Neiman or Poynter. Several of the sites on the list haven’t been updated in months and one – EatSleepPublish - has been dormant for nearly two years. Still, there’s value in the list and a lot of time and thought was put into it. We’re flattered, even though we know what the publisher’s true agenda is.

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By Paul Gillin | March 23, 2012 - 10:07 am - Posted in blogging, BusinessModel, Education, Future of Journalism, Journalism, NewMedia, Newspapers

Five years ago today I posted a 29-word squib on the question of whether bloggers are journalists. With that inauspicious beginning, Newspaper Death Watch was launched. Nearly 600 posts and about a half million words later, it’s still here, though its charter has changed over that time. In many ways this blog is a microcosm of the forces that have all but swept away the once-mighty US newspaper industry and replaced it with the seeds of something that I believe will ultimately be much richer and and more valuable.

This blog was launched out of our frustration at my failure to find a publisher for an op-ed piece I wrote in 2006 forecasting the collapse of daily newspapers. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times were polite in their rejections. The Boston Globe‘s Joan Vennochi, displaying the arrogance that was typical of that newspaper in those days, didn’t respond to multiple phone calls and faxes. Op-ed editors’ lack of interest in my point of view was understandable; 2006 was the best revenue year the newspaper industry ever had and forecasts of catastrophe seemed ridiculous. I knew from many years following the technology industry, however, that businesses often enjoy their best years just before their collapse. I self-published a longer version of that essay and started this site to document the death spiral that I knew was about to begin.

Transformational Time

The five years since then have been pivotal years in the history of media. The turning point came in 2009 when two venerable dailies – the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer - shut down with little notice, and several big papers, including my beloved Globe, were threatened with the same fate. More background here. The industry came out of that experience with a sense of urgency about its own survival and made changes that will prolong its decline but not change its fate. As Pew recently reported, most publishers are moving toward a digital future slowly and reluctantly. This still doesn’t look good.

The death watch began to bore me after 2009, and I’ve spent the last two years focusing more on the experiments that are sprouting up to preserve and evolve the craft of journalism. The good news is that there is a lot of innovation out there. I’m impressed by Pro Publica, Politico, Minn Post, Voice of San Diego, AllVoices, Global Post, California Watch and Sacramento Press, to name just a few. These startups all proceed from the assumption that good journalism can be practiced without the overhead of presses, paper, delivery trucks and newsstands. In fact, when you remove the expense of printing and delivering a newspaper, the actual cost of the journalism is pretty low. Then you can do some innovative things on the business side to pay the bills and maybe even make a profit in the long run. I applaud their work and the work of many others like them.

Power of One

It’s been amazing to see how much attention one person can attract with a little perseverance and the right tools. I’ve been interviewed on Al-Jazeera and CNN, featured on Australia’s leading network news program and spotlighted in a documentary. Spain’s largest daily newspaper featured me in a center spread. I’ve been cited in the Journal, USA Today, The Economist, The New Yorker and many other well-known publications. You can find a complete list of media mentions here. I get e-mail inquiries from media outlets every couple of weeks and always help out as best I can.

More rewarding have been the opportunities I’ve had to work with journalists and students through fine organizations like Poynter Institute, USC Annenberg, the American Press Institute, Boston University, Emerson College, SUNY Stony Brook and Emmanuel College. My point of view hasn’t always been popular with the editors and teachers I’ve met, but I’ve found most of them to be open-minded. I try to emphasize what I’ve said many times: The problem with newspapers isn’t the quality of their journalism but the weakness of their business model. It’s ironic that readership of newspaper content in print and online is at an all-time high while the revenues of the US industry are at a 60-year low. We should be focused not on preserving newspapers but on preserving journalism.

Power of Free

I earlier called Newspaper Death Watch a microcosm of the changing media industry and here’s what I meant: This blog has annual expenses of $57 for website hosting. It is a labor of love and an outlet for passion.It has long been a top Google result for queries about the decline of newspapers, and a couple of years ago Google decided to make it one of the top search results for “newspaper industry.”

As a result, the site gets between 400 and 600 visitors on an average day and has more than 1,200 RSS subscribers. One day in February, 2009 it was visited more than 3,000 times. I get a steady stream of e-mails from students asking about journalism careers or seeking help with term papers. Fifteen years ago that kind of visibility would have cost tens of thousands of dollars to create and thousands annually to sustain. International reach was almost unthinkable. Today it’s basically free.

This is just one small example of many thousands of blogs that are making a difference because the bloggers have something to say.  The ability of one person to create conversation today is stunning. Last month a man in North Carolina pumped eight rounds from a .45 into his daughter’s laptop to protest her selfish behavior. He posted the video below on YouTube and within three days started a global conversation about parenting, generational conflict and the impact of social media on young people. These kinds of events are commonplace today. They represent a fundamental shift in power and influence from the media to the individual.

It used to be said that power resided in the hands of those who bought ink by the barrel. Today it resides in the hands of those who have something to say and the passion to find a way to say it. What could be wrong with that?

–Paul Gillin

Framingham, MA

By Paul Gillin | November 23, 2011 - 12:26 pm - Posted in Best/Worst, blogging, Journalism, Newspapers

Jim RomeneskoJim Romenesko tells his side of the story behind his messy and public breakup with Poynter Institute, and he couldn’t be more gracious. Actually, there’d be no point in scolding the rank-amateur behavior that prompted him to resign suddenly earlier this month over allegations of improper sourcing by his Poynter editor, Julie Moos. Visitors to Moos’ Nov. 10 commentary have done the talking for him.

Romenesko is the prolific blogger who has attracted a large following with his almost obsessively updated newsfeed about the latest goings-on in media. His style for years has been to post short summaries or excerpts and one or two links to the source. Most media outlets consider it an honor to get a link from Romenesko, who has more than 40,000 Twitter followers and a huge mind share among media professionals.

Poynter's Julie MoosHowever, Moos saw peril in the practice, and on Nov. 10 raised questions about Romenesko’s sourcing of third-party content, essentially accusing him of plagiarism. Using examples provided by a Columbia Journalism Review reporter, Moos demonstrated that Romenesko has republished rather lengthy passages without using quotation marks to cite  the source.

What Moos failed to do was consult others for their opinions or give Romenesko himself much more than a cursory heads-up that the post was going to appear. The reaction from readers – including several of the sources allegedly wronged by the sourcing practices – came down like a ton of bricks. As of this morning, Moos’ post had collected nearly 300 comments, most ranging from critical to hostile. Rather than taking umbrage at the Romenesko, most people said they were grateful for the service he provided and had no confusion whatsoever about where his information was coming from. And even if the sourcing wasn’t always rigorous, the outcome was: gushers of traffic to their websites. Which is a good thing.

Romenesko’s account on his new blog, JimRomenesko.com, fills in some of the background details. According to Romenesko, Moos’ blog post was preceded by months of negotiation over renewal of Romenesko’s contract, which expires on December 31. Two days before the post appeared, Moos expressed concern to Romenesko about his plans to sell ads on his new website, potentially cannibalizing Poynter’s business. Without explicitly accusing Moos of anything, Romenesko’s timeline portrays an increasingly panicked editor who is about to see her star columnist become a competitor. The sourcing accusations appear to be timed to cut off competition at the knees.

It’s unfortunate that this issue degraded into personal attacks, because the issues that Moos raised are legitimate. The old rules of attribution seem out of touch with the new age of copy-and-paste publishing. A decade ago, publishers sued each other over “deep links.” Today they beg for them. Erika Fry, the CJR  reporter who first raised the sourcing issue to Moos, published a calm and level-headed account of her concerns shortly after Romenesko quit. She was never out to get Romenesko, she says, but rather to understand how his own rules of sourcing work. Poynter could play a valuable role in facilitating a discussion over the new ethics of plagiarism. It’s unfortunate that one editor chose to use the issue for character assassination instead.

Comments Off

Poynter’s always-insightful Rick Edmonds asks if he’s missing something: In Hyperlocal News, Where’s the Urgency?, He examines an assortment of hyperlocal news startups and comes away wanting more. “Sampling a host of aspiring online hyperlocal franchises — Examiner.com, Outside.in, OurTown.com and others — I’m consistently underwhelmed. One roundup of ‘news within a mile of me’ had crime stories a month old and many reports on the business travails of Outback Steakhouse’s parent company.”

Edmonds makes an important point about the distinction between “content” and quality. Basically, having a blog does no one any good if it’s used to publish crap. However, a lot of blogs (many hyperlocal publications are essentially blogs) put publishing ahead of reporting. Throw it up there and see if anyone reads it because – you know – you can. This is a natural result of the current fascination with social media as a shiny new object. People are publishing because it’s cool to publish. Five years from now, that novelty will have worn off and we’ll be figuring out what these new tools are really good for.

We expect that hyperlocal journalism ventures will consolidate into a small number of professional publishers who have the operational and sales skills to run profitably a lean organization of semi-professional journalists who contribute news about their immediate area. There will always be neighborhood bloggers – and some of them will be good enough to build significant followings – but readers won’t adopt the current cacophony of amateur local reporters as a replacement for major metro newspapers. Professional oversight will be needed.

There’s a land grab going on in this area right now, with aggregators like Patch, Everyblock (above) and the three organizations mentioned earlier each jockeying for position. They’re mostly using whatever low-cost sources of content they can find, and people like Rick Edmonds are astutely calling them on the shortcomings of that approach. We expect that as more ad dollars funnel down from dying dailies into hyperlocal ventures – and as the owners of these ventures become savvier about finding new sources of revenue – the quality will improve and jobs for professional journalists will emerge. They won’t be the cushy union gigs that the previous generation of scribes enjoyed, but they will be enough to bring some pros back into the business.

How to Manage a Blogger Network

Eric Berger, Houston Chronicle SciGuy Megan Garber speaks with Eric Berger about what it takes to build a good blogger network. Berger is the Houston Chronicle science reporter and blogger who created a network of science blogs at the newspaper back in 2008. The experiment was somewhat groundbreaking for a newspaper at the time, although ScienceBlogs and LexBlog were doing the same thing years earlier. Garber wants to know what makes a blog network successful and Berger shares advice that anyone can use to head down the same path:

Blogging requires passion – “If you’re writing about stuff that you’re interested in and enjoying what you’re doing, it’s going to come through in your writing.” Forcing people to blog never works. If they don’t catch the bug, they’ll simply mail in their entries until they can gracefully escape.

Blogging is a conversation – That includes responding to comments. A lot of folks think once they post an entry, they can walk away, but that isn’t so. The best bloggers want a dialog with their readers. Berger notes that it’s particularly difficult to find scientists who want to follow up on their original posts.

Don’t ignore the news hook – Key advice here: “People want stuff either that’s related to the news of what’s happening or that has some kind of popular hook.” Blogs are best at communicating timely information.

Good source = good blogger – This is a great point. “Experts who make good sources might also make good bloggers,” Berger notes. That’s because they have a natural inclination to explain.

Miscellany

Lauren Kirchner does what reporters do too rarely: Updates us on last year’s hot news. In this case, the subject is Kachingle, a tip-jar-style service that lets readers contribute micropayments to the Internet publishers they like without having to make a conscious effort to do so. The service was all the rage when announced in early 2009 (we gave it several paragraphs in February), but its star seems to have faded since.

Kachingle has signed up about 300 publishers, but none whose title begins with the word “The.” Kachingle founder Cynthia Typaldos said she’s been getting a great reception from news organizations, but the sales process seems to die at the executive level. Kirchner speculates that Kachingle’s transparency – visitors can see which sites inspire the most contributions – may be one barrier. But more likely it’s just bureaucratic intransigence: “Fitting a little Kachingle widget seamlessly onto a homepage isn’t actually as easy as it sounds, if the homepage you’re talking about is nytimes.com.”


Huffington Post has scored another big hire: Howard Fineman . The 61-year-old veteran Newsweek reporter and MSNBC news analyst will become HuffPo’s senior political editor. In an interview with MediaMatters, Fineman contributes some insight on why his new employer is having so much luck attracting senior journalists. Arianna Huffington is trying to bootstrap a professional news organization that stresses quality journalism and independent politics at a time when news is splintering into partisanship and theatrics. She apparently has the money to do it. “Bringing in the best of the old involved more money than we had when we launched. But now that our Web site is growing, we’re able to bring in the best of the old,” she told The New York Times. Journalists like Fineman don’t work 16-hour days and file stories every four hours. Huffington is doing something right to attract prominent people like him and veteran technology editor Jai Singh. We’d suggest that HuffPo is emerging as one of the first big winners in the race to supplant conventional news organizations.

And Finally…

“The English language, which arose from humble Anglo-Saxon roots to become the lingua franca of 600 million people worldwide and the dominant lexicon of international discourse, is dead, ” begins a wonderful essay by the Washington Post‘s Gene Weingarten. He proceed with a litany of recent butcherings of the language by some of the US’s most notable publications, including The New York Times, which has used the term “reach out to ” as a synonym for “attempt to contact ” at least 20 times this year. Other offenders: The Winston-Salem Journal‘s use of was “Alot ” to describe the number of locals Salemites who would be vacationing that month, the Miami Herald‘s report on someone who “eeks out a living ” and his own employer’s publication of a letter referring to the first couple the “Obama’s. ” We hope you’re socialize this article to others and reach out to Weingarten to complement him.

TBDKeep an eye on the launch of TBD.com this week, because it could presage a new format for hyperlocal journalism. Launching initially in the Washington, D.C. market, the venture combines a staff of professional reporters with a network of 127 local bloggers. All in all, parent Allbritton Communications has put about 100 people on the project. The DCist provides the details:

TBD.com will feature 12 full-time reporters, including one editor focusing solely on the neighborhood beats of population centers in the District, Virginia and Maryland…The website will also feature original reporting on sports…entertainment, transportation and a big focus on weather. But the real highlight of TBD’s Web presence is its inclusionary ethos: TBD’s blog affiliate network, which currently boasts an impressive 127 well-thought-of blogs covering everything from small businesses to allergies in Montgomery County, will drive content. The affiliate network is designed to plug in the gaps that the reporters…cannot reach.”

TBD has been blogging about its prelaunch activities, underlining its commitment to inclusive journalism. For example, staffers will hold office hours in public locations and invite locals to stop by to brainstorm, critique and just chat. Editors are also asking readers to be an active part of the reporting process by correcting errors, adding facts and suggesting new dimensions for a story. They say that linking to original source material will be standard operating procedure and that they won’t even try to compete with local bloggers when the bloggers provide superior coverage. In fact, the blogger network appears to be essential to TBD’s value proposition.
Laura McGann thinks this venture will be worth watching, and she lists six reasons why on Nieman Journalism Lab. Among them is TBD’s almost obsessive attitude toward making the entire news reporting process transparent, social and interactive. She also likes the site’s commenting policy, which assigns the highest visibility to those commenters who have contributed the most value in the past. That approach should reduce comment spam and create an informal hierarchy of community contributors.

Patch logoAlso on the hyperlocal front, AOL’s Patch network has grown to 99 locations in nine states, and now employs 48 people in Massachusetts. Each Patch site focuses on a local community of between 15,000 and 50,000 people. Each region is covered by one full-time editor who writes and shoots video. Massachusetts has emerged as a kind of Petri dish for hyperlocal reporting, with new ventures from the Boston Globe and Gatehouse Media. AOL has reportedly poured $50 million into Patch.

Miscellany

Jeff Jarvis sums up a new reality of the media world that has big implications: “Once-abundant privacy is now scarce. Once-scarce publicness is now abundant.” Jarvis goes on to riff about what this means to media organizations. Having control of public awareness used to be the source of significant value, but now that it’s easy for anyone to go public with anything, the essential value of traditional media is lost, he says. “They are being beat by those who break up their control and hand it out for free,” he writes.

The flip side of this dynamic is that new value is now being created from “publicness.” Sites like Yelp.com and TripAdvisor.com deliver value by harvesting public comments and selling advertising against them. A couple of HP scientists claim they can now predict the success of a movie based upon anticipatory chatter on Twitter. Looks like that could be the basis of another profit-making venture. Of course, there are still nasty unresolved issues, like who owns public information and how should the creators of that information be compensated? Jarvis doesn’t suggest solutions, but his fundamental point – that ownership of information is no longer a valuable asset – is well-argued. It’s also anathema to how media have traditionally operated. “Being public is about giving up control, which is the exact opposite of how media used to make their businesses,” he comments.


Cablevision Systems Corp. reported a sharp drop in second-quarter profit as debt service offset growth in its core video, Internet and phone services. The news was pretty positive overall, except for Newsday, which saw revenue fall 9.7% to $80.1 million on a 12.6% drop in ad revenue. Reports from the Washington Post Co. were more encouraging, however. Newspaper publishing revenue increased 2% in the second quarter of the year to $172.7 million, even though print advertising revenue at the Washington Post newspaper fell 6%. The big winner was display online advertising revenue, which grew 20%, and online classified revenue, which increased 5%.


Public Policy Matters, an information resource for journalists who cover public policy issues, is eliminating its subscription fee for journalists. The service, which delivers a daily summary of news, press releases and reports culled from more than 2,300 government and public policy-related websites, is converting from a for-profit enterprise to a tax-exempt organization. “It could take four months or more for the IRS to act,” wrote Editor Edward Zuckerman. “We are providing free subscriptions without waiting for the IRS to act, and we hope 1,000 or more journalists will have signed up by the time our tax-exempt status is confirmed. We believe that a foundation is more likely to give us favorable attention if we can claim,” a larger audience. Here’s the subscription link.
And Finally…

From the Associated Press:

KEY WEST, Fla. — A white-bearded 64-year-old Florida man won this year’s Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest, an event in Key West’s annual Hemingway Days festival that ended Sunday.

Charles Bicht, of Vero Beach, triumphed over 123 other entrants in the late Saturday night competition, a highlight of the annual celebration that honors the literary giant who lived and wrote in Key West throughout the 1930s.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for 12 years,” said Bicht, who credited his win to perseverance after 11 unsuccessful attempts. “Nothing can compare to it.”

In case you missed it, the perpetually poverty-stricken Journal Register Co. is doing some pretty gutsy stuff. The company, which was delisted from the NASDAQ New York Stock Exchange two years ago, has a new CEO who’s interested in reinventing publishing. John Paton (right) has a blog and a Twitter Account. He also has the admiration of Jeff Jarvis, who doesn’t confer praise lightly.

What got Jarvis so excited was a July 4 experiment in which the company’s 18 dailies published using nothing but free, web-based tools. They called this the Ben Franklin Project in recognition of both the country’s birthday and Journal Register’s liberation from ancient proprietary production systems.

More importantly, the company changed the way it reported the news for that day. Readers were actively involved at the front of the process in directing the reporting staff and looking virtually over reporter’s shoulders as stories were prepared. “The Ben Franklin Project is the beginning of a new era of an open and transparent newsgathering process,” wrote Paton on his blog. This is a company worth watching again.


MediaShift has an excerpt from journalism educator Alfred Hermida about rethinking the role of the journalist in the participatory age. While Hermida doesn’t break a lot of new ground, he crystallizes some concepts we’ve been talking about here for some time, namely that the evolving role of the journalist is as aggregator and authenticator rather than original reporter. Quoting Tom Rosenstiel, Hermida describes the still-important role of the journalist as “a sense-maker to derive meaning, a navigator to help orient audiences and a community leader to engage audiences.”

He also quotes from an article by BBC World Service director Peter Horrocks that calls for an end to “Fortress journalism.” Horrocks writes, “In the fortress world, the consumption of journalism was through clearly defined products and platforms… but in the blended world of Internet journalism all those products are available within a single platform and mental space… the reader may never be aware from which fortress the information has come.”

In the world Horrocks describes, the audience pulls together its own newspaper, woven from bits and pieces assembled from various online sources. The consequence of this is that media organizations can’t afford to reinvent the wheel anymore. Each needs to focus on what it does best and pool efforts rather than duplicate them. So maybe 90 of those 100 journalists who currently attend a Presidential press conference can spend their time out in the field assessing reaction and gathering analysis rather than listening to the same thing. What a concept.

Miscellany

Advertiser optimism continues to grow. Advertiser Perceptions Inc. (API) reports that 32% of ad executives now expect to increase their ad spending over the next 12-months. That’s the largest percentage increase since API began asking ad execs about their intentions in 2007. A year ago, the figure was -5%. The 1,412 ad executives who were surveyed continue to be pessimistic about magazine and national newspaper advertising, with intentions to increase spending down 10% and 32% respectively. But even those sentiments are greatly improved over the -26%/-46% plans of a year ago. The biggest winners are digital and mobile media, with more than 60% of ad executives planning to increase spending there.


Give Tribune Co. credit for trying to diversify its revenue stream. The bankrupt company is dedicating 10 people to a new consulting business that will sell knowledge of social media and Internet advertising to small and mid-sized businesses. The new venture is called 435 Digital Services, a nod to Tribune Co.’s headquarter address at 435 N. Michigan Ave.


The Denver Post is going after a local political site, saying that Colorado Pols is stealing its copyrighted material. The political site, which generates marginal revenue, allegedly lifted between three and eight paragraphs of news articles from the Post and other publications. Colorado Pols says it doesn’t need the Post. “There’s thousands of other outlets out there,” says founder Jason Bane. Post owner Media News is one of those media companies that wants to raise the perceived value of its content. The company has confirmed that it will begin testing online pay models this summer at its newspapers in Chico, Calif., and York, Pa.

Speaking of pay walls, Time magazine now has one. Secure in its role as the only newsweekly left standing, the venerable but mostly irrelevant magazine is requiring readers who want to read online versions of its print article to subscribe to either the print or the iPad edition. They can then see the same stuff that’s in the magazine on a screen. Online-only content will continue to be free.


Circ Labs, the University of Missouri-backed startup that is developing a tool that learns from a user’s online behavior and delivers recommendations for content, has launched a prototype service prior to general release. The prototype installs a Firefox add-in that enables the browser to recommend an article and to read similar articles suggested by the algorithm. Users can share content with each other and be notified of new content as it becomes available.

To test, go to gocirculate.com and create an account. The confirmation page contains a link to the toolbar software. You can then browse and add pages to the knowledge base. We were able to install the menu bar, but couldn’t log onto the site for some reason, and Circ Labs provides no means to recover a password. We guess that’s why they’re calling this a test.


Buried in a lightweight study of the Internet habits of young women is this nugget: “Nearly half — 48% — of all respondents now claim to get more news through Facebook than from traditional news outlets.”  This number comes from Lightspeed Research and Oxygen Media, which surveyed the habits of 1,504 U.S. adults who use social media. The researchers also claim that 39% of women between the ages of 18 and 34 now describe themselves as Facebook addicts, and that a third of young women check Facebook before going to the bathroom in the morning. We supposed one needs one’s priorities.


Variety’s website has adopted DailyMe’s behavioral tracking and recommendation technology called Newstogram.  Newstogram generates data on user’s interests to deliver visitors content, advertisements and e-commerce opportunities tailored specifically to them, based on their specific interests and behavior. DailyMe started life as a customized news service for consumers but has morphed into a customization engine that publishers can serve up to their visitors. Readers get filtered news and publishers get better insight into what motivates readers.

And Finally…

Roy Rivenburg is still at it. The jokester who dreamed up Not the LA Times two years ago continues to tweak the nose of the West Coast’s most self-important newspaper. A recent story has Times editors arguing over whether it’s better to start articles with the time or the weather. The inspiration is this page of formulaic opening sentences extracted from the real newspaper. “If I don’t find out the time of day in the first sentence, I stop reading,” says one subscriber.

It’s Thanksgiving Day in the US, so we present some thoughtful reading for consumption on a day of rest.

Study Examines Citizen Journalists’ Motivations

There isn’t a lot of good news for traditional media organizations in a new study prepared by two college communication professors and funded by the McCormick Foundation. In preparing New Entrepreneurs: New Perspectives on News, Researchers interviewed approximately 50 female consumers and citizen journalists to learn how they see their role in the evolving news ecosystem and what motivations prompt them to participate. While most of the participants expressed respect for traditional media outlets, they also identified some serious shortcomings, including lack of connection with the local community, failure to innovate and hostility toward the grassroots work the citizens are doing. The 18-page report is quick reading.

One of the more striking conclusions is on the subject of objectivity. The citizen journalists expressed frustration at media reporting that equates objectivity with lack of involvement.

New media creators believe that they can be objective, but still be connected to their community and to the stories they report. They saw a very strong distinction between news and opinion and took great strides to ensure that they, their contributors and their readers understood the difference, but they did not see their “participatory perspective,” a more informed, connected perspective, as encroaching on objectivity.

Citizen journalists also believe that their connections and involvement in the local community gives them an advantage over the frequently shifting ranks of beat reporters.

Being a part of the community rather than detached from it also led to more thorough reporting in the opinion of some of the new media creators. They believed they had better access to sources and were better versed in the issues.

“Our local government was hilarious. A lot of times the paper can’t point that out because the paper is an authority figure, and an authority figure who points a finger and laughs is a bully. Whereas, I was just some person on the back porch.”

There are also indications that both consumers and content creators believe that traditional media overplay conflict in the quest to make stories more compelling. This polarizes participants and frustrates efforts to find common ground. Since citizen journalists have a vested stake in their communities, they believe that sensationalism works against the progress they are trying to achieve.

Several of the citizen journalists also said that local media organizations had reacted to their work with attitudes ranging from neglect to outright hostility.

The new media creators in particular felt that traditional media’s reaction to the changes was to attack the new media rather than embrace it. The passion and respect for journalism that was seen among all creators (and even consumers) may make some feel threatened by any change to the industry. But the new media creators are more likely to see the change as an evolution that can be accepted without threatening the basic standards of the profession.

This last point is the most troubling finding of the research. Read Clayton Christensen’s book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, to learn how market disruption almost always comes from below. The new entrants, which are frequently of inferior quality, are treated with disdain by the market leaders. However, as Christiansen points out, new kids on the block open access to much larger audiences and invariably improve with time. Meanwhile, market leaders tend to stake out the high-end and gradually become niched out of existence. The only way to avoid this fate is to embrace new competition, even if it causes considerable discomfort. Reinvention doesn’t come without pain.

Journalism is Changing, Not Disappearing

Doc Searles present a well-reasoned argument why journalism isn’t disappearing from the earth but simply following the path already blazed by business. Searles, who co-authored the seminal Web 2.O essay, “The Cluetrain Manifesto,” looks at the industry from a technologist’s perspective. Much as personal computers and open source software moved computing innovation from the center to the ends of the network, journalism is undergoing a similar metamorphosis. Journalism isn’t going away so much as being democratized.

This transition is nothing new, Searles points out. Peter Drucker foresaw the end of the modern corporation in the late 1950s because “companies existed at the suffrance of the individuals who comprised them, even as it organized their work and put it to use.”

The current transition will move the nerve centers of journalism from monolithic organizations to networks of individuals. Specialists will be able to profit from their work, but they will compete on a truly open playing field. To use an analogy, in the preindustrial age anyone could set up shop and become a cooper, but only a small number of people were good enough or fast enough to make their living building barrels.

This is small consolation to the out-of-work journalists who have lost the enveloping arms of the corporate parent. Journalism’s traditionally high barrier to entry has kept out the vast majority of wannabes, but those barriers have now fallen away. Journalism in the future will be more competitive, but it will also be more innovative and rewarding because the rewards will accrue to the individual journalists rather than to their companies.

Common Sense on Creative Commons

If the concept of the Creative Commons license mystifies you, check out this essay by Joi Ito, CEO of the nonprofit Creative Commons organization. He draws an analogy to the open source license, which has revolutionized the quality and availability of software. If someone has tried to create a Google in the pre-Internet standards page, the effort would have cost billions of dollars and not worked very well. Google happened because standards were already in place and the founders didn’t have to navigate layers of approval and legal challenge. They built the basic technology for small money and evolved from there. The result is a service that has benefited the world rather than the handful of rich businesses. Had Google been created in the pre-open standards era, the fees the creators would have had to charge to make back their investment would have precluded its widespread adoption

The economics of Creative Commons and open source stands traditional business models on their head. In the past, copyright holders jealously guarded their franchise in the hopes of realizing a (usually small) license fee from its use. Under Creative Commons, the assumption is that good work will be passed around freely, usually with attribution to the author, thereby benefiting the Creator in other ways, such as through paid writing assignments, speaking engagements and publicity.

Ito’s case builds upon Doc Searles’ point that in a democratized economy, intelligence radiates outward the endpoints. The more people who adopt the work for their own use, the greater the benefit to everyone. In most cases, the creator also makes out.

There are exceptions, of course. A small number of large organizations stand to benefit when intellectual property is tightly controlled. However, openness creates opportunity for many others. Witness what has happened in the recording industry as the star-making machinery has ground to a halt and hundreds of thousands of bands have taken their case to MySpace. There may be fewer stars, but there are also more bands making a living by having control over their own destiny.

This idea even works for large entities. The success of Google Maps is largely due to the work of independent developers who have created remarkable mashups, while Unilever’s award-winning Dove Evolution TV ad has benefited from dozens of adaptations and parodies, each of which reinforces the value of the original work.

P.S. We just added a creative Commons license insignia to our right sidebar.

Paid-content advocate Steven Brill (right) has been busy defending his position lately. He squares off over the pay wall issue with visionary Clay Shirky on McKinsey & Co.’s website.  Shirky says forget about charging readers for content. They’ll pay only if the information is “necessary, irreplaceable and unshareable.”  The Financial Times can get away with charging for online access because people make money from the information they find there, but few outlets have the kind of audience demographics to do the same. On the sharability point, Shirky notes that preventing paying subscribers from sending interesting information to their friends goes against the grain of the Internet, thereby subverting the pay wall by its very nature.

Brill begs to differ. The point is not to charge everyone for access, he says, but rather to charge those people who are most committed to the product and are willing to pay. So a college newspaper could ask alumni to pay for a subscription in order to subsidize free copies for the students. Brill says he basically agrees with Shirky but thinks publishers should go after subscription revenue where they can get it. He resorts to that most annoying of branding tactics by inserting that little ™ symbol whenever he mentions his own products. We at the Death Watch™ just hate that.

Brill was also at an event sponsored by the Paley Center for Media that put him up against National Public Radio CEO Vivian Schiller, iconoclast Jeff Jarvis and media consultant Shelly Palmer. The most damning quote came from Vivian Schiller, who was previously general manager of NYTimes.com during the newspaper’s ill-fated TimesSelect experiment. The pay-walled venture “made $10 million, but I don’t think it was worth it,” she said. “Trying to force a change in audiences’ behavior is the fundamental problem I have with some of these pay wall models.” PaidContent.org’s David Kaplan notes that despite the debate format, the panelists really weren’t that far apart on the fundamental issues. All of them believe publishers need to find new ways to monetize their audiences. It’s just that most believe that charging for content that readers can find elsewhere for free is not the way to do it.

Bloggers Need Shield Laws

Writing on Media Shift, Clothilde Le Coz says a double standard applies when it comes to shield laws for citizen journalists. She notes that 37 states have passed laws that protect journalists from prosecution for failing to reveal their sources. Now there is a bill awaiting Senate approval that proposes to implement a shield law on a national level. The problem is that the bill defines journalists as people who work for professional media organizations. Bloggers are not specifically addressed in its language, which seems a rather blatant oversight these days.

Josh_WolfLe Coz cites the 2005 case of journalist and blogger Josh Wolf, who was jailed for failing to hand over video of a clash between protesters and police during the G8 summit. Wolf spent a month in jail but was eventually released under the terms of California’s shield law. “Imagine what would have happened if Wolf wasn’t a journalist and couldn’t argue his right to protect his sources?” Le Coz writes. “He would have been forced to give up his footage and thus become an accomplice in the arrest of protesters.”

Blogger anonymity is a thorn in the side of many professional journalists, but the writer argues that it’s an essential tool for bloggers in some countries if they are to speak freely at all. Even in the US, the rise of citizen journalism as a legitimate complement to mainstream media would seem to argue for an extension of legal protection to those who happen to be on the scene when something happens and who report the details.

Miscellany

If you have a couple of hours to kill and want to trace the history of the Boston Globes near-death experience at the hands of owner New York Times Co., PaidContent.org has a link list of its coverage in reverse chronological order.


USA Todays loss is The Wall Street Journal‘s gain. As the Gannett-owned week daily announced a plunge in daily circulation figures earlier this week, the Journal reported a year-over-year increase of .8%, making it the top-circulating US daily. The shift in industry leadership has more to do with accounting practices than actual leadership habits. USA Today attributed much of its circulation plunged to Marriott’s decision to stop distributing the paper free to all guests in its hotels. Meanwhile, changes in Audit Bureau of Control rules now permit the Journal to count more of its deeply discounted copies as legitimate circulation.


“We bought BusinessWeek to invest in it,” says Bloomberg Chief Content Officer Norm Pearlstine in an interview with PaidContent.org. The former Wall Street Journal and Time, Inc. executive says Bloomberg did have some reservations prior to its blockbuster acquisition of the struggling newsweekly, which was announced earlier this week, but that the financial publisher sees BusinessWeek as a tool to expand its reach into the executive suite. Bloomberg intends to invest in the magazine’s editorial staff and become a “true newsweekly,” meaning 52 issues a year and no games during slow times. Paid content.org has a history of the BusinessWeek sale in links.


Huffington Post is doing some pretty creative stuff with customization, reports Zach Seward on the Nieman Journalism Lab. It’s writing two different headlines for some stories and showing them randomly to viewers for five minutes. After that time, the headline that generates the most clicks becomes the default. Huffington Post is also toying with the idea of regional versions of its homepage that would serve up, for example, a different menu of stories to the lunchtime crowd in New York than to people just arriving at their workplace in Los Angeles.


After years of cutbacks and sales declines, the Dallas Morning News is fighting back by raising subscription prices and investing in better journalism. The seven-day home delivery rate just jumped 43%, making the Morning News one of the US’s most expensive metro dailies. The paper has also added pages, increased local news and sports coverage, expanded its recipe section and introduced a new feature in the business section. And it’s looking to hire five reporters. “We need it to continue to be profitable so that we have the funds to invest to make the transition…to digital,” says publisher Jim Moroney.


If you’re using WordPress for your blog (and who isn’t these days?) then be sure to check out this list of 85 WordPress plug-ins for blogging journalists. They include gems like BackType Connect, which pulls comments posted about you on other social media sites into your own pages, and Global Translator, which translates entries into 34 different languages. We’ll include a plug here for Apture, a utility that makes it drop-dead simple to insert links and media into posts without going through the tedious download and upload process. See our ham-handed application of Apture in the Wikipedia clip above. We’re still learning.

And Finally…

Ninety-three percent of all newspaper sales “can now be attributed to kidnappers seeking to prove the day’s date in filmed ransom demands,” reports The Onion in a hilarious spoof on the industry downturn. It seems that evildoers just can’t get enough of “the smell of ink coupled with the mildew odor of a windowless basement.” Publishers are seizing the opportunity to cater to this influential audience by targeting advertorials and special sections devoted to ski masks, abandoned warehouses and industrial meat freezers.

Gannett gave the industry some welcome good news by posting quarterly results that actually exceeded expectations. In the wake of three layoffs of steadily increasing scope over the past year, conventional wisdom was that Gannett would lay a stinker on investors when it reported earnings this week. Instead, its stated results of 46 cents per share beat Wall Street expectations by nearly a dime. “Demand seems to be firming up a bit in some categories and in some geographic locations,” the CFO said.

Maybe those results are a harbinger of better times, because it looks like advertising spending is going to drop 2% next year. That would ordinarily be terrible news, but in 2009 it’s cause for celebration. That’s because ad spending is off 14.5% this year and 18% in the second quarter alone, the worst showing since the Marx Brothers were movie marquis headliners. The new estimates come from Magna, a unit of the Interpublic Group and a closely-watched monitor of advertising activity. The forecaster expects growth to resume in the second half of 2011 but to expand at an anemic 1% annually through 2014. Online advertising – particularly search – will lead the way, although local TV, national cable and outdoor venues will also grow. Not surprisingly, the big losers are newspapers (3.7% annual decline through 2014) and magazines (3.3% over the same period). Magna’s Brian Wieser says the newspaper industry is in “terminal decline.”

Buy BusinessWeek For Less Than a Copy of BusinessWeek

bwHave you always wanted to own a newsweekly? Well, you can buy BusinessWeek for $1. If that sounds like a bargain, keep in mind that the magazine is reportedly set to lose $75 million this year. That’s down from profits of up to $100 million during the dot-com boom. Times certainly have changed.

Alan Mutter’s prescription is for BW to niche itself at the high end, doing deals with peddlers of pricey Wall Street reports that funnel subscribers their way. He also suggests that the magazine could become the ultimate destination for crowd-sourced financial information, since there are so many smart people out there who want to give advice. His ideas would be plausible if they didn’t involve completely reinventing the culture and the brand at a business that’s hemorrhaging money right now. Perhaps a buyer could effect that transformation by firing 90% of the staff and starting over. There’s also the small problem of the complete irrelevance of a weekly in a world that can barely even support dailies any more.

However, Alan M. Webber thinks BW is a steal at $1. The Fast Company co-founding editor thinks the title is perfectly positioned to become the American foil to The Economist, which seems to be doing just fine these days. “BW could bring fresh energy, opinion, and perspective to all of the change in business that is so hard to make sense of,” he enthuses on Huffington Post. So what are you waiting for, Alan? Just a buck.

Shirky on Journalism’s Future: Put Down the Phone!

Clay Shirky may not always come up with breakthrough ideas, but he has an uncanny ability to derive sensible trends from apparent chaos. Read Shirky’s views on the future of journalism from the Cato Institute. His basic insight: journalism as we’ve know it has long been supported by advertising inefficiencies that made it possible for coupon clippers and automobile buyers to fund journalism that they didn’t personally care about.

The Internet has removed so much inefficiency from the market that these subsidies are no longer viable, so journalism must find sustainable new models. Shirky sees three: crowdsourcing or “participatory” journalism, database mining and patronage.

Working journalists might be most interested in his description of Off the Bus, a Huffington Post venture that monitored polling places using a crowdsourced model last year and achieved remarkable success. Off the Bus couldn’t have worked without a dedicated team of behind-the-scenes editors who made sense of reports filtering in from across the country. That’s journalism, but it’s not what Shirky terms “the ‘phone call’ model of reporting — one paid journalist talking to one source at a time.” Instead, the journalist is an organizer and interpreter.

Shirky  also likes the database-driven style of journalism practiced at The Smoking Gun, which mines public documents and databases for insights. Again, the idea that journalism requires phone calls and reportorial shoe leather is losing relevance in an age when shoe leather is becoming free.

Miscellany

San Diego Weekly Reader and the new owners of the San Diego Union-Tribune are engaged in a vicious battle over allegations by former employees of U-T owner Platinum Equity Partners that the investment firm engaged in ritual acts of sexual harassment, including sex-for-favors and hush-money payments.

The dispute originated from lawsuits filed anonymously by three former employees in 2007, which were ultimately dismissed. Reader describes the allegations in detail and also republishes a lengthy warning shot letter by a Los Angeles lawyer called “Mad Dog” Singer that threats all kinds of terrible consequences if Reader goes ahead with its story (which it did) or publishes Singer’s letter (which it also did). The dispute tarnishes some of the shine on Platinum, whose rescue of the U-T staved off possible closure of the paper. The Reader also tells of Platinum’s latest venture: to take over bankrupt auto-parts maker Delphi Corporation with help from General Motors and Federal bailout money.


Mark S. Luckie has been running 10,000 Words for nearly two years now and he celebrates the liberation of unemployment in an uplifting essay entitled “Why being an unemployed journalist is the best thing to ever happen [sic] to me.” Luckie celebrates his layoff last December as a chance to redouble his efforts to become a multimedia journalist and do the blog right. He also praises other grass-roots efforts by former employees of the East Valley Tribune and the Newark Star-Ledger as evidence that “all the talk of journalism dying is hooey.” Several unemployed journos contribute supportive comments about their own reinvention, but one notes that Luckie fails to address a basic question that also occurred to us: how is he making a living?


branded_keyboardLast week’s demise of The Printed Blog evidently didn’t put the final nail in the blogs-in-print coffin. A UK startup called The Blog Paper is taking a run at the same idea. It’s inviting bloggers to submit their stuff to a community ratings machine that will determine which entries are most print-worthy. Co-founder Anton von Waldburg thinks this Digg-like functionality is distinctive as he repeatedly tells Online Journalism Blog. One of the most highly-rated entries on the site today is an idea to put advertising on keyboards (right). Good luck with all that.


Two upstate New York newspapers have dropped a day from their publishing schedules. The Tonawanda News cut its Monday edition and will now publish Tuesday through Saturday. The Medina Journal-Register eliminated its Tuesday edition and now publishes four days a week.


Did you know that 4,000 bloggers contribute to Huffington Post, all of them for free? Michelle Haimoff cites this statistic in a HuffPo column proposing a rewards system for bloggers. Haimoff says her proposal is a way to “create a sustainable business model in the long term,” but we think getting people like John Kerry and Larry David to write for free is a pretty good model to begin with.