Bloomberg News is one of the few news operations that’s flourishing, and Knowledge@Wharton provides a glimpse of the editorial strategy that fuels its remarkable engine. Founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 1982, the financially oriented global information network today produces more than 5,000 stories per day from 146 news bureaus in 72 countries. Its TV network reaches 310 million people and it is in the middle of turning around BusinessWeek, which it bought from McGraw-Hill for $1 in 2009.Bloomberg's Matthew Winkler

Underlying the unique Bloomberg style is a 376-page style manual written by editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler (right). The most recent edition is the first that Bloomberg has made public (buy it on Amazon), and Wharton writes that it is a marvel of clarity and consistency. Some people might cringe at the manual’s many hard-and-fast guidelines, but consistency is a virtue when serving a time-pressed audience like equity traders. An excerpt:

Bloomberg stories should fulfill “The Five Fs” — that is, they must be First, Factual, Fastest, Final and take Future events into account. No story is complete if it doesn’t include “Five Easy Pieces” — information about the markets, the economy, government, politics and companies. The ideal lead is four paragraphs long and should always include a theme, a quotation, details and a nut paragraph that explains what is at stake. “Bloomberg News stories have a structure as immutable as the rules that govern sonnets and symphonies,” Winkler writes.

Whether you agree or not with Bloomberg’s style, there are tips in this article that could benefit any writer:

  • Prefer short words to long ones
  • Prefer specific terms to abstract one;
  • Write the headline first;
  • Avoid adverbs that are loaded with assertions, such as “lavishly” compensated or “stunningly” successful.

In many ways Bloomberg is the antithesis of The Wall Street Journal, which has long taken pride in the flourish it brings to its writing, and in particular its clever choice of adverbs. But we suppose both models can co-exist. The point is to have a distinctive style and stick to it.

The Knowledge@Wharton piece also explains Bloomberg’s controversial policy against the use of the word “but.” You’ll have to read to the end of the piece to understand that one, though.

Investors Pledge to Revive Philly Newspapers

There’s good news in Philadelphia, where a group of six investors has agreed to buy the Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com from a investment firm that has owned the news operations for the past two years. The investors, led by South Jersey businessmen Lewis Katz and George E. Norcross III, say they’re excited about growing the franchise, are committed to retaining current management and will not interfere in editorial affairs.

The bad news is that the group paid only $55 million for the media properties. That’s a little more than one-tenth the price that Brian P. Tierney paid when he acquired the properties from McClatchy for $515 million in 2006. Outsell analyst Ken Doctor is quoted in the story saying that the 90% valuation decline isn’t unusual. Most newspapers have lost that much value over the past decade.

The investors are talking a good game, at least. Katz, who was an investigative journalist at one point, said they’re investing in the community as well as in the business. “Cynicism or no, we put a lot of our money in this,” he said. “There was [sic] a lot safer places at my age to put money than in a news organization. You know what? This is my way of coming home.”

Rethinking the Paywall

Although fewer than a quarter of the U.S.’s 1,350 newspapers have built paywalls, the number of publishers who are experimenting with metered access is rising. Bulldog Reporter says more than 300 papers have adopted paywalls so far and the industry is hoping that their early success could be the harbinger of a turnaround. Nearly 20,000 people have signed up to pay $1.99 a week for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the report says, and Gannett plans to expand paywalls from six test markets to all 80 of its small-market newspapers by the end of the year. That move, combined with circulation pricing increases, could add $100 million in annual profit, says the report, citing a company statement.

Writing on GigaOm, Mathew Ingram suggests another approach: Instead of putting up barriers to keep people from reading your content, how about building incentives to attract them instead? Ingram calls it the “velvet rope” strategy: Find creative ways to reward readers for getting involved with your product and they will respond by giving you money for special features and events. “Would you rather have a relationship with an outlet that is always asking you for money, or with one that sees you as a partner and gives you membership benefits that sometimes involve having you pay for things?” Ingram asks. It’s a good point, but Ingram’s post is a bit short on ideas about how to monetize this kumbaya. His argument seems to take it on faith that loyal readers will support a publisher they believe in. Unfortunately, there aren’t many examples of that approach working. Even NPR has to take government money to stay afloat.

Miscellany

News Media Heat MapForbes has posted a heat map showing the most influential news outlets in the country and where they’re influential. The map uses data provided by URL-shortening service bit.ly to overlay geographic data on information about content that is shared most often. Darker states signify places where content is shared more actively and presumably read more often. You can also drill down and see which stories generate the most activity. Not surprisingly, newspaper influence  tends to be localized while broadcast networks have national reach. The map at right shows where Fox News is most popular. Incidentally, if you’ve ever wondered how bit.ly makes money, it’s by selling data just like this.


Last week we reported on the sudden shutdown of the Laurel (Miss.) Leader-Call. Thanks to comments from some alert readers, we’ve learned that Laurel won’t be newspaperless for long. Emmerich Newspapers says it will start a thrice-weekly newspaper to replace the Leader-Call and that the first edition will publish this Sunday. What’s more, Emmerich says it has hired the defunct newspaper’s entire staff and will probably throw in free donuts on Fridays. Emmerich publishes 25 community newspapers, primarily in Mississippi, and is very well-liked in Laurel these days.


We got an e-mail from a startup called Zypages that has an interesting twist on classified advertising. The service creates websites from flyers and product sheets uploaded by advertisers, using a cell phone number as the URL. “Most small contractors and service providers do not have web sites – but they all have mobile phones,” explained CEO Raymond Kasbarian in an e-mail. “Over 50% of the printed classified ads in our weekly newspapers out here list a phone but not a web site. By using the number listed in the classified add, a customer can get valuable information before calling.” Go to the website and click the “Examples” button to see how it works.

By paulgillin | January 5, 2012 - 12:25 pm - Posted in Advertising, Business News, BusinessModel, Classifieds, Local news, OnlineMedia

We’ve posted several positive items about the local Patch operation in our community, a one-person news bureau that has become our favorite – and most timely – source of information about local events. So we feel it’s also important to share the news that AOL’s Patch operation, a constellation of more than 800 hyperlocal news sites, looks like a train wreck.

Tim Armstrong, AOLBusiness Inside says Patch has generated only about $8 million in revenue in 2011 on an investment of more than $160 million. InvestorPlace says revenues were closer to $20 million, but that Patch still lost $150 million on the year. Some investors are calling for the head of Tim Armstrong (right) the former Google executive who took the helm at AOL nearly three years ago. Armstrong conceived of Patch in 2007 and funded the first two years of its operations before assuming the top job at AOL in 2009 and buying Patch outright. Since then he’s embarked upon an aggressive expansion program to place hyperlocal news bureaus in as many US locations as possible. He’s also spent lavishly on the acquisitions of Huffington Post and TechCrunch. At this point, critics are calling the strategy a bust.

The problem with Patch is that the hyperlocal revenue model doesn’t work nearly as well as the hyperlocal news model. According to Business Inside, Patch sells advertising through a network of mostly outsourced telesales representatives. It’s clear that these sales people don’t have their tentacles into the local communities that are the core of Patch’s model. The advertising on our own local outlet is mostly a mix of display ads from big national brands (presumably sold at remainder prices), Google AdSense and a smattering of classifieds. With that kind of revenue base, it’s not surprising Patch is losing a fortune.

As we’ve argued before, the hyperlocal model needs to work from both the content and revenue perspectives. Patch has clearly succeeded in hiring editors who are closely tied in to their communities, but it isn’t doing that on the sales side. This is a tough problem to solve. Small businesses aren’t big advertisers to begin with, and the cost of deploying dedicated sales reps to 800 local communities would be far higher than the centralized telesales model. On the other hand, the centralized model isn’t exactly killing it.

We hope Patch figures it out, because it’s inventing some creative new ways to report the news. We continue to like the business model of Sacramento Press, which positions itself as an integrated marketing partner rather than an advertising outlet. Addiction to advertising revenue is one of the reasons newspapers are in so much trouble in the first place. In its current iteration, Patch appears to be making the same mistakes.

Miscellany

As if reporters don’t like to gripe enough, there’s a new website where they can do it anonymously in public. It’s called Dash30Dash.org, and it was started by a former newspaper reporter who wants “to give reporters, editors and others a chance to post comments about their jobs and their ever-changing profession.” So far, it looks like the commentaries are mostly limited to contributions from the site’s creator, but it’s still early. The writing is lively and pointed, so check it out.


An Australian philanthropist and Internet entrepreneur has pledged more than $15 million to fund a new, nonprofit media venture called The Global Mail. Graeme Wood says he has only one goal in mind: “produce public-interest journalism.”

Wood, whose personal fortune is estimated at $337 million, was apparently taken with the example of ProPublica in the U.S. That nonprofit investigative venture was also started with a large grant from a single donor but has been successfully diversifying its support base and now employs 34 editorial staff members. Wood’s commitment to support The Global Mail for at least five years resulted from a dinner party conversation with former Australian Broadcast Corp. journalist Monica Attard, who is now the site’s editor-in-chief. That’s pretty good sales efficiency in our book.

 

Respected journalist James Fallows (right) could be excused for scolding new media entities like Gawker for trivializing the news and playing to its audience’s most base instincts. He could also be forgiven for mourning the emergence of “truthiness” as a substitute for fact in an Internet-driven culture that has become more concerned with immediacy that accuracy. Yet Fallows does neither of these things in a thoughtful and well-sourced 8,000-word piece in this month’s Atlantic entitled Learning to Love the (Shallow, Divisive, Unreliable) New Media.

In fact, Fallows drops in on Gawker founder Nick Denton and spends time learning to appreciate a scene in which reporters compete to repost the most salacious and bizarre stories about celebrities and the weirdness around us. Their progress is tracked by big-screen TVs that display real-time traffic to the company’s properties, which include Gizmodo, Jezebel, Lifehacker, Deadspin, Gawker and others. Writers do almost no primary sourcing, but mainly dig around the Web for nuggets posted by others. They’re rewarded based upon the number of first-time visitors they attract.

Denton is unapologetic about his model, which has turned the art of story selection and headline writing into an analytical science. He’s giving people what they want, and if you have a problem with that, go elsewhere.

Which kind of sums up Fallows’ conclusions about the state of new media. Upon considering input from experts ranging from Tom Brokaw to Jeff Jarvis, his conclusions are basically that the world is what it is and we will have to figure this stuff out. On the one hand, we’re giving up the luxury of knowing that the news reaches us has been vetted  by professional journalists. On the other, we are getting a whole lot more information than we used to get. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We have to figure out how to do less of the bad stuff and more of the good stuff.

The piece bristles with great quotes. “Everything is documented, and little of it is edited. Editing is one of the great inventions of civilization,” says Jill Lepore, a professor of American history at Harvard and the author of the recent The Whites of Their Eyes.

Artificial intelligence pioneer Jaron Lanier, author of Digital Maoism, adds, “We have created a technology that has wonderful potential, but that enormously increases our ability to lie to ourselves and forget it is a lie. We are going to need to develop new conventions and formalities to cut through the lies.”

Fallows resists the urge to pass judgment on what is right and wrong about new media. He sees some merit to Gawker’s lowbrow model, praises Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for inventing a new approach to journalism and even gives Fox News a pass for at least being honest about what it is.

He also dips into historical analogy to make a case that the media world has never been very stable. For example, Time and Newsweek were Depression-era experiments that were given little hope of success in their early days. National Public Radio didn’t exist during the Johnson administration. Television trivialized news, but it also gives us great shared experiences like the Apollo moon landing. All of these institutions were ridiculed in their early days because they broke with the way information had traditionally been delivered.

We are breaking the mold again, Fallows sums up, and very little can be done about it. So let’s look for virtue in new models and try to minimize our losses.

“I am biased in favor of almost any new project, since it might prove to be the next New York Review of Books, Rolling Stone, NPR, or Wired that helps us understand our world,” he concludes. “Perhaps we have finally exhausted the viable possibilities for a journalism that offers a useful and accurate perspective.”

Miscellany

Alan Mutter asks “Will classified advertising come back?” The short answer: No. The people who used to buy real estate, automotive and recruitment advertising have found new and more-efficient channels and simply moved on, Mutter says. He has some interesting stats about newspaper classifieds:

  • Recruitment advertising is down 85% since 2005
  • Real estate advertising is off 76% in the same period
  • Automotive is down 73%

Not only has that business permanently migrated elsewhere, the Newsosaur writes, but the one bright spot in the newspaper classified picture – legal advertising – is likely to shrivel as the economy improves and foreclosure and bankruptcy notices disappear. You can’t win for losing.


Matt WaiteMatt Waite (left), who was the primary developer behind the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact fact-checking application at the St. Petersburg Times, comments on the reluctance of news organizations to embrace meaningful change with extraordinary clarity.

The daily newspaper is the result of a finely tuned process in which each component must perform exactly as expected or else there’s hell to pay, Waite says. This process has been developed over the course of the last 150 years and is embedded into every aspect of the newspaper culture. Whatever you do, don’t mess with the production system.

This is why newspaper websites continue to be little more than digital versions of their print products. Process is so important that publishers can’t imagine doing things any other way. Waite notes that while innovative applications have emerged at many newspapers, they all exist on separate servers outside of the production system. These ideas won’t go mainstream – and news organizations won’t change what they do – until technologies like map mashups, real-time updates and crowdsourced fact-checking are integrated into the content management system. That will happen slowly, if it happens at all, he writes on Nieman Journalism Lab. A culture that is so hidebound by process is not one that sparks innovation.


Perhaps Mozilla can provide an answer. The organization that created the Firefox browser, among other things, has partnered with Knight Foundation on a fellowship program that will deliver 15 technologists to major newspapers to develop “new, adaptive tools for the future.” The idea is that these fellows won’t be simply hired hands, but will bring innovative ideas based upon open source concepts like sharing and assimilation of other applications. They will spend the next three years working with some major newspapers on projects that will be available to anyone.

 

Comments Off on Fallows on Media Disruption: ‘Meh’

Bobbie Carlton of Mass Innovation NightsMeet Bobbie Carlton. She’s come up with an idea that every newspaper publisher in New England should have had but didn’t. Her success demonstrates how news publishers can reinvent themselves and survive – maybe even thrive – but only if they have completely rethink what they do.

Carlton isn’t a publisher. She’s a career public relations professional who set out a little more than a year ago to figure out a way to drum up new business in a dismal economy. She knew that there were still plenty of innovative companies in the area that were starved for visibility. Finding investors and customers in a crummy economy was a time-consuming, trial-and-error process. The few conferences that were available for such purposes were either expensive or subjected applicants to long and seemingly arbitrary approvals processes.

Carlton hit on the idea of a cheap, frictionless approach she called Mass Innovation Nights. The events would be free to everyone. Entrepreneurs could show their stuff and hope to catch a big break.

Carlton borrowed meeting space from a local museum.  She partnered with Dan Englander of High Rock Media to build a website and a Twitter account and started promoting Mass Innovation Nights entirely through online word of mouth.  There was no hype and no inflated expectations. If the event bombed, then attendees got what they paid for.

Only the event didn’t bomb. MassInno, as the affair is now known, is a raging success, with exhibitors now competing for limited space. The most recent meetup was tweeted more than 600 times and drew more than 400 attendees. Carlton is toying with the idea of syndicating the idea across the country.

Today, Carlton has so much business coming in from startups that were boosted by Mass Innovation Nights that she’s having to refer work elsewhere. That makes her a popular person in the depressed local PR economy. Partner High Rock is booming, too.

Why was one woman able to exploit a simple idea at almost no cost while media institutions with hundreds of employees stood by and watched? Because newspapers didn’t think it was their job. They believed they were in the advertising delivery business, not the business of growing the local economy. Newspapers that continue to think this way will shrivel and die over the next few years. But there is a path to salvation. It’s in doing what Bobbie Carlton is doing on a grand scale. But how many publishers are willing to make the sacrifices to seize that opportunity?

The Folly of Paywalls

Newspaper publishers are confronting their current business challenges in the wrong way. They’re trying to battle online competition by becoming more like their competitors, building massive online presences to serve global audiences when their advantage is inherently local. They’re also hyper-focused on a source of revenue – advertising – that will only become more competitive and less profitable in the future. They need to change the rules.

The eyes of the industry are currently trained on The New York Times, which is trying to re-bottle the evil genie it released 15 years ago when it elected to give away its content for free. The Times’ paywall experiment will be modestly successful because it is The New York Times. Publishers in Baltimore, Dallas, St. Louis and hundreds of other cities will be unable to exploit the idea, however, because they lack the Times’ brand and international reach. Paywalls are a waste of time.

Instead, publishers should concentrate on diversifying their revenue streams away from advertising and into local business services that promise stability, growth and a future. This is a market in which they have a natural advantage. Small business is the one great untapped revenue opportunity left in America, which is why giants like American Express and Bank of America are practically throwing money at the market. But these global companies lack the local connections and the feet on the street to truly become partners in small business success. Local newspapers have that advantage.

Most major metro dailies have long regarded local business advertising as the cherry on top of the sundae of display contracts from national advertisers and department stores.  Local businesses fueled the classified section, but counted for only a small part of the total revenue picture. Now national advertisers are marketing directly to customers, classified advertising has collapsed and local businesses are publishers’ only hope for a future.

The Local Opportunity

Look at the merchants in your local community. Most don’t know the first thing about marketing. Few are even very good at managing their businesses. Marketing is tough for little guys. They spend their dollars on a mishmash of coupons, flyers, Yellow Pages listings, classified ads and occasional radio and television.  Few of them track ROI or have any means to assess the performance of these investments. Online, they’re practically invisible. They know nothing about search marketing or customer relationship management (CRM). In short, the kinds of sophisticated analytics and tools that big companies use are out of reach to mom-and-pops. Lots of businesses want to market better, but they don’t have anyone to teach them how or give them a cost-effective platform to do so.

News organizations can be that platform. They can start by delivering a basic package of marketing and business services on a subscription basis and expand as local conditions dictate. They can potentially manage many of the overhead and backroom activities that sap small business owners’ time. Here are five ways news organizations can monetize this opportunity. There are plenty more where these come from:

Website Development – Few small businesses know anything about the Web.  Outside of restaurants and entertainment providers, most have websites that are little more than online brochures, if they have websites at all. Their sites aren’t optimized for search, don’t deliver calls to action and have no means to retain visitors as subscribers. Forget about analytics. If small business owners want to adopt new platforms like blogs or Twitter, they either pay outside consultants or figure out the tools through extensive trial and error.

This is a huge opportunity for news organizations. These companies have long-term relationships with business customers, local credibility and expertise in publishing. They can deliver advanced online features like e-commerce, e-mail marketing, search optimization and analytics at low cost by leveraging economies of scale. There is no reason why the local newspaper publisher can’t also be the dominant provider of online services to local businesses.

Affinity Programs – Every hotel, airline, national retailer and supermarket chain has a loyalty program these days.  The reason is simple: they work. Customers who carry affinity cards typically buy between 10% and 30% more product from the merchants who offer the programs than from those who don’t. Unfortunately, few small-business owners have the option of participating.  The administrative overhead is high and customers won’t carry cards for every merchant in their community. News organizations could set up these plans as cooperatives, allowing groups of noncompetitive businesses to participate at a modest cost.  Commercial grade analytics could be bought and scaled to provide reporting that demonstrates the return to business owners.  Revenue would come from the fees paid by the participants and potentially even subscribers to premium buyers clubs.

Events – Lots of small businesses would like to use event marketing to share their expertise and meet new prospects, but if you’ve ever tried to stage a promotional event, you know what an ordeal it is. The details and hidden costs can be overwhelming and few small businesses have the means to manage the leads that result.  Again, publishers can come to the rescue.  By building expertise at event management and applying it to different businesses within the community, publishers can provide targeted thematic events (for example, outdoor recreation or pet care) at a scale and cost that makes them affordable to local businesses. They can gather and manage leads that result and create marketing programs that optimize them for their customers. The news organization becomes a business partner and consultant, not just an outlet for advertising. There’s even the possibility of generating fees from event attendees in some cases.

Value-Added Advertising – Craigslist has won the war for the low end of the recruitment advertising market.  Publishers need to stop mourning the loss of this commodity business and move the bar higher. Christopher Ryan and Steve Outing published a manifesto for competing with Craigslist more than a year ago. Unfortunately, few publishers seemed to have noticed.  We won’t try to reinvent their wheel; ReinventingClassifieds.com has some great ideas publishers can apply to take advantage of their local reach and marginalize Craigslist.

For example, they can offer real estate agents or car dealers video walk-throughs of the products they sell. Or they can provide peer recommendations like Angie’s List (more than one million members at $35/year). They can tweet ads and push them to mobile phones. They can even provide transaction and fulfillment services that Craigslist can’t. In short, they can do all the things that Craigslist doesn’t do and build these features into a monthly subscription service that makes them all but invisible to the customer.

Transaction Fees – If you’ve ever used Ticketmaster, you’ve experienced the sticker shock of discovering that those $40 Nine Inch Nails tickets carry an eight dollar “convenience fee.” But you pay it because it’s easier than standing in line for two hours. Publishers can tap into that revenue stream.

The local garden show probably isn’t interested in ticket brokering. It may outsource the task to TicketMaster for the sake of convenience but it would really be interested in using a local organization that could combine fees with demographic marketing, behavioral targeting and amenities like e-commerce. Who better to deliver that experience than a service provider that knows the local community? Do you think restaurant or hair salon owners would like to have automated scheduling? The newspaper could provide that, too, with fees from the buyer, the seller or both.

Bottom Line

The five scenarios outlined above are just a sample of the opportunities available to local publishers once they stop thinking of themselves as advertising vessels and become partners in the success of local businesses. At their core, newspapers are marketing tools. Instead of simply providing advertising space, publishers can become marketing consultants, value-added resellers and service bureaus. They can offer the kind of expertise and analytics at a price that mom-and-pops can finally afford.

There are many more possibilities: Publishers could offer accounting, tax preparation, creative services, executive recruitment, business telephony, technical support, facilities management, order fulfillment and so on. Where they lack in-house expertise, they could partner with local providers under an approved-vendor program. Does this mean publishers might compete with their prospective advertisers? Sure, but how many of those companies are advertising now, anyway? Members of the approved-vendor program could potentially buy bigger schedules from the publishers who feed them business.

Back to the Future

Few publishers will choose to pursue the business model outlined here. It’s too hard. Departments such as circulation will need to be downsized or eliminated. Sales people must be retrained or released. Experts must be hired in new areas and partnership networks will have to be formed. New services will have to be created and priced, software licenses acquired and technology infrastructure put in place. These changes are painful, but reinvention isn’t pretty. It’s easier to sit and hope that paywalls will succeed in letting you do what you’ve always done.  Good luck with that.

If this transformation sounds radical or risky, consider that it’s already been done. More than 20 years ago, many computer companies faced the same kind of near-death experience that confronts newspaper publishers today. Their core hardware products, which generated 80% margins, were suddenly assaulted by cheap, standardized components. Many of these companies died or were acquired, but a few, like IBM and Hewlett-Packard, took the strong medicine that was necessary to transform themselves. Today, IBM derives more than half its revenue from services, a revenue stream that barely even existed 20 years ago. Its 2008 revenue was a record $103 billion. HP made the shift even earlier. Twenty years ago, it was less than one-fifth IBM’s size. In 2009, it was bigger than IBM.

Thanks for sticking with us through this long essay. Now tell us what you think. Are we off the wall or could business services be the prescription that nurses this dying industry back to health?

Alan Mutter is stirring things up again with a spreadsheet that journalists can use to value their work. His thinking: Stop debasing yourself by working for peanuts. Figure out what your time is worth and charge accordingly.

With his characteristic eye for detail, Mutter figures such factors as the self-employment tax and capital expenses in his calculations. The sample shows a fictional reporter charging about 55 cents a word to cover his/her fully loaded costs figuring an average pay rate of about $30/hour, which is union scale in Pittsburgh. Your mileage may vary, of course.

If journalists “don’t put a value on what they do, then no one else will, either,” Mutter declares, noting that media organizations are using the explosion of blogs and citizen media operations to “pick off writers, photographers and videographers on the cheap.”

We have enormous respect for Alan Mutter, but we find ourselves in complete disagreement on this one. In our view, journalists who draw lines in the sand and start charging only what they think they’re worth will find themselves practicing a lot less journalism.

Are media organizations taking advantage of plummeting freelance rates? You betcha. Is what they’re doing wrong? We don’t think so. Supply and demand is the underpinning of a capitalist economy, and if the rules have changed in a way that devalues quality journalism, well, those are the cards we’re dealt. It sucks, but it’s how the system works.

Journalists can try to charge what they think they’re worth, but they’ll ultimately live or die by what the market is willing to pay. With the arrival of Web 2.0-style publishing, millions of people have started playing at journalism and it turns out some aren’t half bad at it. The trouble is that many of these casual journalists don’t make a living as reporters. Their journalism is a sidelight to their day jobs. They may be happy to work for a vague reward defined as “exposure” if it pays off in speaking jobs, consulting work or book contracts.

Mutter is outraged that people contact him asking “to commission an article or reprint a post in exchange for the ephemeral compensation known as ‘exposure,’” but the reality of the market is that a lot of people are willing to work for that (full disclosure: we recently approached Mutter about contributing to a for-profit website in exchange for a modest fee; he politely declined). For example, many book authors write extensively about their expertise for free in exchange for exposure in major publications.

We sympathize with journalists who have seen the market value of their work collapse over the last couple of years. We’ve experienced some of that pain personally and we have many friends and colleagues who are suffering because of it. However, the market has spoken, and the solution to collapsing fees isn’t to insist on getting a rate that employers will no longer pay.

Is there a solution? Well, journalists who specialize in everything from geography to gastroenterology can still command higher prices than general assignment reporters. Also, a lot of journalists work for commercial clients on the side so that they can afford to practice their craft. There’s money in speaking, consulting, writing books and corporate ghost-writing. Some of that work may be distasteful, but at least it pays the bills.

That doesn’t solve the problem of who is going to embed in Iraq for six months at 25 cents a word. That’s a much tougher issue and we wish we had better ideas how to solve it. But drawing lines in the sand is career suicide.


Indianapolis-based freelance journalist Christopher Lloyd sees things our way. He’s passionate about movies and has contributed free movie reviews to some area newspapers since being laid off by the Indianapolis Star. “I knew I wasn’t going to drop my passion for film criticism. If I was going to do it, I might as well have it published,” he writes. Plus, movie studios won’t pay attention to a journalist whose work isn’t being read by anyone. He’s still plugging away and some of his clients are now paying a modest fee. He’s also got a site for film buffs called The Film Yap, where contributors work for, you guessed it…


Speaking of careers, a university professor has analyzed six months worth of recent job postings and discovered that traditional and non-traditional news outlets differ in their criteria for hiring journalists. Dr. Serena Carpenter, an assistant professor in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, looked at 664 online media job postings and concluded that established media organizations such as newspapers tended to favor candidates with solid writing and reporting skills while new media operations looked favorably on what she calls “adaptive expertise.” That includes broad-based experience and creative thinking.


Seth Lewis, a former Miami Herald editor and Ph.D student at the University of Texas, has joined the Nieman Journalism Lab as a contributor (paid?) specializing in journalism education and he’d like to know your ideas for what J-schools should teach. Perhaps stealing a line from the research noted above, Lewis is inclined to recommend a focus on adaptability. He defines that as the skills “to work in unpredictable settings, to generate their own funding as needed, and otherwise learn as they go.” In the process of interviewing for a faculty position at various academic institutions, Lewis says he was often asked what journalism schools should teach, which indicates that the profs at those schools are perplexed as well. Maybe you can provide him with some guidance.

Miscellany

Opponents of government subsidies for media organizations overlook an important detail: US media has been subsidized for 200 years, reports The New York Times. Citing a report released last week by the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California, the Times notes that government support of newspapers has actually been declining in recent years as mailing discounts have diminished laws requiring businesses to buy newspaper ads for certain kinds of legal notices have been dropped. In fact, the study’s authors estimate that annual government support has declined from more than $4 billion in 1970 to less than $2 billion today.


News organizations are starting to figure out how to monetize social networks. The Austin American-Statesman is charging for tweets and actually booking revenue. Local businesses can buy two tweets per day of up to 124 characters (to allow for retweets). The messages are labeled as ads and must prompt the reader to take action. Huffington Post is experimenting with the same idea. The New York Times is also selling packages of ads against visitors to its Facebook site. Nobody’s making much money at this yet, though.


Gannett executives demonstrated a rarely-seen attitude during this week’s earnings call: Optimism. “”We are very excited by what we are seeing,” said CEO Craig Dubow. Circulation is beginning to recover and profitability is returning to the income statement, enabling Gannett to pay down some of its debt. Profitability was still driven more by cost-cutting than by revenue growth, however. Classified revenues were down nearly 22% in the quarter and digital revenues fell 7.2% due largely to the dismal picture state of employment advertising. More coverage.


Newspaper readership continues at record levels when you factor in online traffic, according to the latest results from Nielsen Online and the Newspaper Association of America (NAA). More than 72 million people — about one quarter of all Internet users, according to the NAA — visited a newspaper site in the fourth quarter, racking up 3.2 billion monthly page views. The NAA declined to provide year-to-year comparisons, citing a change in Nielsen’s measurement technique.

By paulgillin | October 6, 2009 - 9:12 am - Posted in Advertising, Business News, Circulation, Classifieds, NewMedia, Newspapers, R.I.P.

gourmet-magazineThere was a bloodbath at Condé Nast yesterday. The publisher, which has been rocked by the declines in lifestyle advertising, closed four magazines – Gourmet, Modern Bride, Elegant Bride and Cookie – and laid off at least 180 people. More turmoil seems likely as Conde Nast sorts through the problem of deciding which staff members to keep and which to boot in order to make way for them. The news comes as September ad page figures for the publisher showed a stunning fall of nearly 1,700 pages. Allure, Gourmet, Self and W were all off 50% or more. Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl is tweeting her feelings about the whole affair.


Reuters reports that Time, Inc. is spearheading an effort to assemble a consortium of U.S. magazine publishers who will cooperate on digital delivery of their products. The wire service says the effort could be announced as early as next month with a “digital newsstand” on the market sometime next year.

You can already buy many magazines on the Amazon Kindle, but publishers hate Amazon’s fee structure, which skives off 70% of the subscription revenue. The digital newsstand would be device-independent, meaning that readers could download magazines to devices from Apple, Sony, E Ink and others. Why Amazon doesn’t move more forcefully to consolidate its hold on the burgeoning market continues to be a mystery to us.


The Economist, which continues to defy the freefall in print circulation, is raising the barriers to free online distribution but still not charging for new content. The magazine will start charging for all content more than 90 days old (previously, the threshold was one year) and will make its digital print replica edition available only to paying subscribers. However, new stuff will still be free to the world online. It’s not like the Economist’s back is to the wall: its 1.39 million circulation was up nearly 7% in the most recent six-month reporting period and operating profits climbed 26% on a 17% revenue increase.


BTW, magazines are only a sidelight for us. If you want to follow the industry with a Death Watch twist, checkout Magazine Death Pool.


Poynter’s Rick Edmonds is expecting to see newspaper circulation results for the first six months of 2009 and he believes a Halloween release date could be appropriate. A variety of factors are contributing to accelerating circulation declines, including the recession, publishers’ efforts to exercise more discipline over their subscriber lists and a continued flight to online alternatives. Edmonds is estimating that the drop in newspaper circulation soon to be reported will exceed the record 7% year-over-year figure for the period ending in March. This will accelerate revenue losses, which will lead to more cost cuts and smaller issue sizes that fewer people will want to pay for. There’s also the problem of coupon and circular distribution. Unlike display advertising, those revenues drop in direct proportion to circulation.


The deadline has passed for new suitors to emerge for Chicago’s Sun-Times Media Group (STMG) and nobody stepped forward. That leaves local investor Jim Tyree as the sole hope of keeping the bankrupt company afloat. Tyree has said he won’t do the deal unless the unions agree to a 15% pay cut. Five of the 16 unions at STMG have said they won’t agree to the terms. The parties have until late December to agree to terms, but the company’s current management says it doesn’t have enough money to stay afloat until then.


Members of the Newspaper Guild at the Boston Globe must be seeing red now that their union chief has been formally charged with misappropriating funds. Daniel Totten spearheaded the union’s disastrous negotiations with The New York Times Company a few months ago. He’s been charged with, among other things, faking a countersignature on his own paycheck. The union’s governing board takes up the matter tomorrow night.


The executive director of the Nevada Press Association says newspapers won’t die; they’ll just shift shape sort of like the keyboard did. “When computers came along, with ‘word processing,’ there was no longer any need for a typewriter,” writes Barry Smith. “I used to have two typewriters — one at home, one at work. Now I look around and I have at least six keyboards, not counting the touch pad on my phone. You have to look at what they do, not what they are.” That’s a great analogy, except that you have to remember that IBM was able to sell a Personal Computer for a whole lot more than a Selectric.


If all goes well, we could be removing the Claremont (N.H.) Eagle Times from the R.I.P. list next week. An anonymous e-mail says that the paper, which closed in July, will reopen on October 12 as a weekdaily. It also says that the Weekly Flea, an advertiser also owned by the Eagle Times, restarted publication last week. We are unable to find any published verification of this information.

Jeff vonKaenel has spent more than 30 years in alternative weekly publishing and he has some interesting observations about the paradox of publishing success. The CEO of the News & Review newspapers in central California is a student of media history, and he notes that the trend toward consolidation and monopolization that began in the 1970s dumbed down newspapers’ editorial product and set them up for failure when the rules changed.

The real demon was blandness. Alternative weekly publishers know that advertisers don’t like to run next to controversial editorial content. This is one market dynamic that keeps the alternative press small. Monopoly newspaper publishers aren’t small, however. They thrive on big-ticket schedules built on co-op ad dollars from giant national brands. They can’t afford to piss off million-dollar clients, so they intentionally keep the product inoffensive.

“It’s safer to make an outrageous statement about Saddam Hussein than to make a mild criticism of a local car dealer,” vonKaenel writes. “It’s something newspapers don’t like to admit. It has always mattered who pays the bills.” This is true. How many times can you remember the automotive section of your daily newspaper offering advice on how to get a better deal on a used car?

This dilemma creates a scenario that we’ve seen play out again and again: big industries and big companies collapse hard on the heels of their most successful years. That’s because success creates risk-aversion which leads to mediocre products (see General Motors). That strategy works fine until the rules change, and it served newspaper publishers very well for more than 30 years. But, as Bill Wyman pointed out in a recent essay, it also led them to create mediocre, inoffensive and bland products. When a low-cost alternative medium emerged, newspapers were poorly equipped to retain readers because, well, they sucked.

VanKaenel’s essay has one interesting twist: It implies that the current fascination with hyperlocal media could be in for a hard reality check. Noting that alternative weeklies’ coverage of music and nightlife topics has been heavily influenced by the willingness of those kinds of advertisers to run in those papers, he suggests that hyperlocal publishing will by driven by market forces. In other words, don’t expect a lot of critical stories about local merchants if those merchants are paying the bills. This reality actually could drive new-media publishers to broaden their scope. After all, they can’t afford to piss off thousand-dollar clients.

Orange County Register Owner in Bankruptcy

The small print of the bankruptcy filing by Freedom Communications Holdings Inc. contains a startling figure: circulation at the Orange Country Register is off 23% in the past four years. How can any business survive when it’s on a run rate to lose more than half its customers in a decade? The problem is made worse by the fact that the newspaper business model scales down so badly. The Register can’t cut back by 23% on printing or delivery expenses because of the high fixed costs involved. That means that operational expenses must be chopped to a disproportionate degree in order to make up for the shortfall. That comes directly out of the quality of the product, which leads to reader dissatisfaction, which creates bigger circulation declines.

This is why the newspaper industry is in a death spiral. The only way to turn the situation around is to dramatically improve the quality of the product, but economics demand that quality must take the biggest hit in order to keep the operation afloat. And so another noble publishing franchise falls into the hands of its bankers. They are always the owners of last resort for businesses whom, in their misguided greed, they chose to support.

Divide by 2

Did we say spiral? Alan Mutter has some sobering statistics. He projects that US newspaper revenues will fall $10 billion this year, making the industry about half the size it was in 1986. The most devastating collapse has been in classified advertising. For example, recruitment advertising was a billion-dollar quarterly business as recently as 2006. In the most recent quarter, it generated $202 million in revenue. The story is similar in automotive and real-estate advertising. While the recession has hit these categories hard, it’s hard to believe that they will ever again resemble their former size now that the Web provides nearly limitless advertising inventory.

Sprengelmeyer“If you look very closely, the small-town newspaper’s business model does and always has resembled a miniature version of the direction the big-city papers will eventually reach.”

That’s one of several gems in this splendidly written essay by ME Sprengelmeyer (right), a former Washington correspondent for the Rocky Mountain News and now the proud publisher and editor of the Guadalupe County Communicator, “the sixth-smallest weekly in the 36th most populous state.”

Writing on the blog of John Temple, former editor and publisher of the Rocky, Sprengelmeyer explains how his 18-month track across the US chasing the presidential candidates had the secondary objective of helping him find a new home in small-town journalism.

What he found was a century-old model that looks much like the future of big market dailies. ” They have tiny staffs – only what the day-to-day cash flow can sustain. They aren’t afraid of reader-generated content. They outsource many functions, such as printing and distribution…they keep their communities addicted to the print product because they…do not give away a whole lot of material for free.”

Most don’t make much money — in fact, some lose money — but that’s usually because they aren’t particularly well run. Big media organizations don’t bother with small markets and even if they cared, the cost of opening bureaus in thousands of small towns would cripple them.

Sprengelmeyerwrites about the “caravan of great journalists” who showed up to help him relaunch his paper. They spent the weekend strategizing, mapping the local area and redesigning the product. Then they left. “I cried some more,” Sprengelmeyer writes, “because then I was alone again, facing my first week on the job with the scariest boss in the world: myself.”

The account is an inspiring story of personal discovery and reinvention. It may make you cry, too.

The Times Regrets All the Errors

The New York Times published a jaw-dropping correction from its July 17 “appraisal” of Walter Cronkite’s career. Among the eight errors in the story where Wikipediable factoids such as the date of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Ombudsman Clark Hoyt files an explanation with this blunt assessment: “A television critic with a history of errors wrote hastily and failed to double-check her work…editors who should have been vigilant were not.” The critic, Alessandra Stanley, is apparently much admired for her intellectual coverage of television, but is so careless with facts that in 2005, “she was assigned a single copy editor responsible for checking her facts.” Those were the days…

According to Columbia Journalism Review, Stanley’s latest miscues have vaulted her into the top five most corrected journalists on the Times staff again and guaranteed her more special attention. Hoyt’s play-by-play is a fascinating glimpse into the operations of a journalistic institution and the mishaps that can bedevil even the most rigorous quality process.

It’s also a commentary upon editors’ willingness to overlook screw-ups because of perceived countervailing virtues. Be sure to read Mark Potts’ remarks upon the Times incident, in which he relates a few war stories of careless reporters he’s known. “I edited a reporter who had little or no concept of how to use commas; another who would submit long stories with gaps labeled ‘insert transitions here;’ and a third who infamously spelled a type of citrus fruit as ‘greatfruit,’” he writes. His account will make you alternately laugh and groan.

Daylife Draws Big-Media Attention

The New York Observer profiles Daylife, a startup that is partnering with media companies — and increasingly with commercial clients — to build cells of thematic content. With a small staff of 26, the New York City-based venture has already signed up the Washington Post, NPR and USA Today as clients. It takes a different approach to reporting the news. Editors are skilled not only at identifying important stories but also assembling webpages on the fly that combine all sorts of widgetized information.

The big difference between the Daylife approach and that of conventional media, explains founder Upendra Shardanand, is that Daylife assumes that news is a living and evolving organism, not a shrink-wrapped package. Investors include the odd pairing of The New York Times and Craig Newmark, whose Craigslist is considered the great Satan by many in the newspaper industry. Headlined “The Aggregator That Newspapers Like,” the story merits at least a quick read from publishers seeking reinvention, because these guys are doing something right.

Miscellany

Newspaper websites attracted more than 70 million visitors in June, who collectively spent 2.7 billion minutes browsing 3.5 billion pages, according to the Newspaper Association of America (NAA).  The figures are part of a new measurement methodology developed by Nielsen that measures a larger sample size and reports more granular information, according to an NAA press release.

The trade group has been on a campaign recently to stress the value of newspaper advertising.  It released a report last month showing that six in 10 US adults use newspapers to help make purchase decisions and that newspaper ads are more valuable than ads in any other medium.


The NAA’s timing may not be so great. Online ad spending declined 5% in the second quarter and the situation isn’t expected to improve much until the middle of next year, according to two reports released today. In the US, the rate of decline was 7%, or slightly above the global average. Classified ads fell 17% and display ads were down 12%. A J.P. Morgan report issued this morning said that search advertising, which has been one of the few bright spots in the market over the last year, dropped 2% in the second quarter, mainly due to poor results at Yahoo and AOL. Results were also dragged down by a 31% decline in ad sales at Monster.com.


Google has quietly quadrupled the number of articles in its News Archive Search service. The oldest newspaper digitized to date is this June 2, 1753 edition of the Halifax Gazette. Google hopes to make money by selling targeted advertising against the archives, a market that has traditionally been the source of some revenue for publishers themselves.

halifax


Two groups of former Los Angeles Times journalists have organized themselves into contract editorial groups selling journalism and photography. They’re called the Journalism Shop and Pro Photography Network.


The Boston Globe is said to be considering an option to become a nonprofit organization as a way to bail itself out of its current financial woes. Columnist Howie Carr of the rival Herald pens this vicious satire of the idea, calling his crosstown rivals “the bowtied bumkissers.” If you’re a disciple of editorial savagery, there is no more skilled practitioner than Carr.


The Fresno Bee will begin charging 29 cents a week for its TV supplement.


If you like the Amazon Kindle, you’re going to want to keep an eye on a new product from Britain’s Plastic Logic, which is due to launch early next year. The razor-thin reader will reportedly sell for around $300 and will have a flexible screen that makes it easy to carry. It’s also larger than the Kindle, which should warm the hearts of newspaper executives who don’t want to give up their broadsheet format. Here’s a video:

By paulgillin | June 23, 2009 - 8:51 am - Posted in Advertising, BusinessModel, Classifieds, NewMedia, Newspapers, Solutions

We had the good fortune this year to get connected to the Knight Digital Media Center at the University of Southern California for a series of seminars that help publishers connect with the new world of social networking.  Last week we delivered a brand new presentation on how to diversify revenue sources and get away from the traditional over-reliance on advertising.  It turns out there are a lot of ways to monetize a publishing business.  See the presentation below.

US Newspaper Classified SalesThe Newspaper Association of America made no attempt to draw attention to its release of the first quarter financial results for America’s newspapers — and with good reason.  Sales skidded an unprecedented 29.4%, driven by disasterous results in classified advertising amid the weakest economy in 60 years.  Alan Mutter notes that if this trend continues, the US newspaper industry could close out 2009 with total sales of less than $30 billion — a 40% drop in just four years.

The wreckage is across the board — even online sales were off more than 13% — but the worst-hit sectors were cyclical ones: Employment classified advertising down 67.4%; Real estate classifieds off 45.6% and automotive classifieds down 43.4%.  All in all, classified ad sales were down 42.3% for the quarter. “In records published by the NAA that date to 1950, there is no precedent for the sort of decline suffered in the first three months of this year,” Mutter writes.

Slate’s Jack Shafer has a historical review of the factors that got the newspaper industry into this fix.  Publishers knew by the 1970s that they were toast, he says.  Demographic factors were to blame.  The flight of professionals out of the cities and into the suburbs challenge the economic model of the big dailies, and their halfhearted attempts to regain momentum mostly failed.  Some executives took consolation in the fact that their circulation was growing despite the reality that the gains badly lack lagged overall population growth.  The game was really over long before the story began to show up in the financial results.

More Fodder for Pay-Wall Debate

In the continuing debate over whether newspapers should charge for content, Martin Langeveld contributes perspective from Albert Sun, a University of Pennsylvania math and economics student with an interest in journalism.

Speaking at a recent conference put on by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute  at the Missouri School of Journalism, Sun suggested that newspapers shouldn’t be too monolithic in their approach to pricing.  Rather, they should take inspiration from the airline industry, which charges different prices for the same seats depending on traveler needs.

In the same manner, newspapers should look at their product as a collection of boutique services, each with different price tiers depending upon perceived value.  For example, a casual reader may pay nothing for a weather forecast, but a weather bug might part with $10 a month for detailed technical reports and historical records. Langeveld writes:

Establishing a single price point for online content…might work for a time but is not revenue-maximizing in the long run.  The right way entails the exploitation of a variety of niches all along the curve – and therein lies the problem, since the culture of newspapers is still mainly that of a monolithic, one-size-fits-all daily product, whether in print or online.

In another post, Langeveld flags a quote from Denver Post publisher and MediaNews Group CEO  Dean Singleton in an interview with the Colorado Statesman:

We will be moving away from giving away most of our content online. We will be redoing our online to appeal certainly to a younger audience than the print does, but we’ll have less and less newspaper-generated content and more and more information listings and user-generated content.

Devalued Journalists Fight Back

We've been outsourced Two stories caught our eye this week about journalists attempting to skewer the current trend toward devaluing their profession.

Three Connecticut alternative publications – the Hartford Advocate, New Haven Advocate and Fairfield County Weeklyoutsourced all of the editorial content for last week’s issue to freelance journalists in India. But instead of burying the move, the papers actively promoted debate with a provocative headline: “Sorry, we’ve Been Outsourced. This Issue Made In India.” And to drive home the absurdity of the whole affair, the editors assigned Indian journalists to principally cover local news, entertainment and culture.

The move had elements of a publicity stunt playing off of American capitalism’s current love affair with all things Indian. However, editors made a sincere effort to see the project through, producing nine stories about local affairs written by reporters half a world away. They wrote about their experience:

If our owners want to replace us with Indians, all we can say is good luck! If they find locating, hiring and keeping after these writers half the challenge we did, they might think twice about replacing us. Far from giving us a week off, it took practically the entire editorial staff to assign, edit, manage and assemble this project.

The myth that Indian reporters work for peanuts was belied by one Indian veteran who asked for $1 a word, which is less than what the publishers pay in the US. The experiment also had its lighthearted moments such as when one overseas journalist shared a vindaloo recipe with the publicist for a mind-reading act.


Michelle Rafter writes about the questionable editorial oversight practices at content aggregators. These Web-based organizations, which principally republish material from contributors in exchange for a share of the revenue, have been labeled in some quarters as the future of journalism.  If so, then the experience of Los Angeles freelancer L. J. Williamson indicates that they have a long way to go.

Williamson wrote a series of articles for Examiner.com, a string of localized aggregation sites targeting major cities.  She noticed that her stories were passing through to the site with little or no editing.  Editors seemed far more interested in traffic-driving strategies.  So Williamson began concocting increasingly outrageous topics full of  “exaggerations and half-truths. I also wrote a series of preposterous articles on topics like why peanuts should be banned, why panic was a totally appropriate response to the swine flu outbreak, and why schoolchildren were likely to die if they were allowed to play dangerous games such as tag,” she wrote in an e-mail to Mediabistro.com’s Daily FishbowlLA. “And no one at Examiner noticed or cared what I said or did for quite some time.”

Williamson was finally outed by lawyers for one party that was victimized by her reports.  She was “fired” from a job that had never paid her and had to settle for the satisfaction of telling her story to the world.

Miscellany

The Wall Street Journal says a private equity firm, HM Capital, is close to a deal to acquire Blethen Maine Newspapers, which owns the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, and two smaller newspapers. The small chain has been on the block for more than a year, during which time it has become an albatross around the neck of the Seattle Times, which owns Blethen.


The Nieman Foundation has suspended its annual conference on narrative journalism, dealing another blow to the already dwindling support for long-form storytelling.


The long-form clearly isn’t dead at Denver-based 5280 magazine.  It has an Investigation Of The Circumstances Leading Up To The Closure Of The Rocky Mountain News that runs to nearly 10,000 words.  We haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but feel free to knock yourself out and send us a summary.


Writing on True/Slant, Ethan Porter says Matt Drudge’s popularity is waning. A Drudge Report story last week about a potentially incendiary quote from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went nowhere, he says.  Could Drudge’s conservative politics be losing favor in a recession wracked world? Dare we be so hopeful?


McClatchy Watch catches the Miami Herald in the act of promoting circulation with an offer of a free subscription to a magazine that hasn’t been published in two years.