With BuzzFeed and Upworthy reporting eye-popping traffic growth and planning to hire teams of reporters, many people are wondering whether sharing is the new currency of media success.

The idea is that if you give readers enough top-ten lists and animated GIFs they’ll do all your marketing for you. You don’t even have to worry about search engine optimization because nothing ever went viral on search. This philosophy has even given birth to a new style of headline writing that’s intended to stimulate sharing (“Why’s This Kid Throwing Coins? The Reason May Or May Not Blow Your Mind, But Something Does Blow Up,” reads one recent Upworthy example).

Henry Blodget

But maybe sharing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In a recent case study on USA Today, Michael Wolff looks at Business Insider, the hyper-caffeinated new-media brainchild of exiled Wall Street bad boy Henry Blodget. Business Insider is notorious for its fixation on being first and for driving its reporters to exhaustion. It’s a content mill – albeit with higher quality than many of its peers – that churns out large volumes of information in the quest to earn shares on Facebook and Twitter.

And it’s generating traffic: 25.4 million unique visitors in January, says Wolff. The problem is that Business Insider has low reader loyalty:

Only a small percentage of Business Insider’s traffic actually seeks it out and regards it as a worthy destination and a source with particular brand authority. Most other readers land on a Business Insider article because of search-engine results, or because of an engaging — tabloid-style — headline in a Facebook feed and other social-media promotions, which generate 30% of Business Insider’s traffic.

Wolff asserts that this drive-by traffic has little value because readers don’t identify with the brand. Worse is that the drive for big numbers becomes a race to the bottom.  As advertising rates continue to drift lower, publishers must seek ever-higher traffic volumes to stay in the same place. This means resorting to gimmicks like contests, cheesecake photos and celebrity gossip. That attracts poor-quality traffic which has low brand affinity and little value to advertisers. It’s a vicious cycle.

Digital Dimes

Blodget disagrees. In a response on Business Insider he says that the very problems Wolff cites are actually opportunities. New media companies don’t have legacy businesses to protect and so are free to disrupt mainstream competitors and steal revenue, he says. “We are better at serving digital readers than many traditional news organizations, so we can thrive on these ‘digital dimes,’” writes Blodget. His post displays a photo of what are presumably a group of happy young reporters in the company’s New York offices (Wolff says Business insider has hired 70 full-time journalists at a cost of more than $15 million a year. Do the math).

We think Wolff is on to something. Take a look at the chart below from the Pew Research Journalism Project. It depicts traffic to the 26 most popular U.S. news sites over a three-month period. It shows conclusively that visitors who reach a site directly (via a bookmark or typing the address into a browser) stay much longer, read much more and visit more often.

This isn’t surprising when you think about it. Typing “nyt.com” into a browser is an act of brand affinity, whereas headline-clickers on Facebook don’t really care where the headline comes from. The BuzzFeeds and Upworthys of the world must compete headline by headline. Is that a problem?

Attracting readers with gimmicks is nothing new. One of the myths of the news business is that people read newspapers primarily for the news. The reality is that they read for all kinds of reasons. Any veteran of the pre-digital publishing days will tell you that an embarrassingly large number of traditional newspaper readers bought copies for the coupons, Ann Landers, comics, the Jumble and the daily horoscope.

But at least in those days readers knew what brand to buy. Today’s audience has more affinity to the content than to the publisher, and aggregators like Flipboard are constantly looking for ways to supersede publishers’ brands with their own. Brand still matters. A click is not the same as a reader.

 

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Brian Stelter“There is no longer a defined final destination for talented journalists,” writes Emily Bell in The Guardian. “The New York Times is surprised to find itself a stepping stone.”

Bell is writing about the sudden and surprise defections of a number of top Times journalists to other media outlets, often for substantial amounts of money. The Times lost three prominent editorial staffers in one day last week: Brian Stelter (right) quit to go to CNN, Sunday editor Hugo Lindgren is off to places unknown and chief political correspondent Matt Bai will join Yahoo News. Last month, gadget specialist David Pogue left to go to an unnamed Yahoo startup. In an unrelated move, Jay Rosen has also joined an unnamed startup founded by Pierre Omidyar of eBay fame.

All of a sudden media is cool again, or at least some media. While traditional publishers continue to struggle with declining revenue, money is flowing into new media companies. Buzzfeed has raised $46 million. AOL is investing in a big overhaul and expansion of Engadget. Snapchat just turned down a $3 billion offer from Facebook, indicating how frothy the social networking market has become. B2B community Spiceworks has raised more than $50 million for its novel media model that uses software and a community as delivery vehicles. Even the Washington Post is expected to get an infusion of cash from its new owner, Jeff Bezos.

This is translating into career opportunities for some accomplished journalists whose brands now arguably transcend the publications they work for. Bell suggests that the star-making apparatus of the media world is shifting in their favor. Not long ago a job at The New York Times was considered the ultimate career plum for news journalists, but belt-tightening has hit the Old Gray Lady just as it has everywhere else (although not as hard). With all-digital operations suddenly flush with cash, the appeal of working for publishers whose survival strategy is to wall off content from non-paying visitors is diminishing.

In many ways, traditional media companies dug themselves into this hole. In their rush to produce more content and add more advertising inventory, they turned some of their best reporters into rock stars. Thanks to blogs, video podcasts and branded talk shows, journalists now get unprecedented visibility. That makes them prime targets for new media firms who want to trade on their personal brands.

Turnover may also be an unplanned consequence of paywalls, which will soon be in place at 41% of US newspapers. The problem with paywalls is that they shut readers out, and readership is what journalists live for. The Times‘ famous Times Select paywall was abandoned six years ago in large part because the paper’s signature columnists complained that their readership had evaporated. The models have improved since then, but no paid-access plan comes without some loss of audience.

So while newspapers  erect barriers to readership, new media entities like Buzzfeed figure out novel ways to get people to share their sponsored content. Is it any wonder that ambitious journalists with growing personal brands are seeking opportunities to spread their work to wider audiences instead of hiding it behind credit card forms?


Even reporters who don’t have million-eyeball reach may have new ways to monetize their audiences. A startup called Beacon has launched a service that enables journalists to derive revenue from their most loyal fans and share a little bit of the spoils with fellow contributors. Mathew Ingram sums up the model succinctly:

Each of the site’s journalists (there are currently about 50) has a page where their content lives, and a discussion forum. When someone subscribes to them for $5 a month, Beacon takes a cut — the amount is in flux, but writers keep around 60 percent on average — and then the reader gets access to all of the site’s other writers. Some of the proceeds from each subscription also go into a pool that is shared by all of the journalists on the platform.

It doesn’t sound like anyone will get rich from this business, but at least there is a direct correlation between work and reward. And we suppose Beacon could be a launchpad for a few new superstar journalists who build their audiences there. Like the crowd funding site Kickstarter, Beacon builds and manages the community. It’s then up to the participants to give the audience something of value. May the best journos win.

 

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By Paul Gillin | June 6, 2013 - 7:43 am - Posted in Advertising, Business News, NewMedia

ZenithOptimedia just released a list of the world’s largest media companies ranked by media revenue, which it describes as “all revenues deriving from businesses that support advertising, not just the advertising revenue itself.” Number one on the list is Google at nearly $38 billion in 2011 revenues. It’s followed by DirectTV and then News Corp. which owns The Wall Street Journal, Fox TV and many U.K. newspapers.

How dominant is Google? It accounted for 49% of the world’s internet ad expenditure in 2011, according to the ZenithOptimedia press release. Three other Internet media owners (Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo!) generated another $11.3 billion. Much of this revenue came out of the hides of traditional media companies.

That isn’t to say that mainstream media is standing still. “Of the top 30 global media owners, 22 are companies whose main business is to attract audiences with strong content,” says the press release. “Between them, these 22 generated $169 billion in media revenue in 2011, or 61% of the total generated by the Top 30.”

So content rules, but search rules more. The world’s biggest media company produces almost no content, and it’s in a market that’s growing 13% per year.

ZenithOptimedia Top 10 Global Media Owners in 2011

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Paywalls continue to spring up across the news landscape while new-media enthusiasts warn that gated news is a throwback to a bygone age.

Britain’s Telegraph and Sun announced plans to erect paywalls almost simultaneously after successful tests. The Telegraph, which claims to have the largest circulation of any U.K. daily, will give away 20 articles free every month and charge £1.99/mo. thereafter for unlimited access to the website and smartphone apps. The Sun‘s move is timed to make the most of parent company News International’s £20M deal to show near-live clips of Premiership football highlights on its websites beginning in August.

In Canada, Postmedia Network will roll out paywalls across all 10 of its properties, including the National Post. The move completes an experiment that began two years ago and has been deployed in stages. Digital-only subscribers will have to ante up $9.99/mo. for reading more than 10 articles in any title within a month.

Perhaps most indicative of the surging popularity of paywalls, though, is Politico’s decision to experiment with the idea. The Washington, D.C.-focused news service, which was once personified the new breed of digital-only publishers, has given in to the reality that advertising rates continue to fall and subscriber revenues must become part of the business. “We believe that every successful media company will ultimately charge for its content” said a memo signed by several of the Politico’s top executives.

Circling the Wagons

We continue to be more interested in experiments that break new ground in publishing economics than efforts to resurrect old models. There’s plenty to report there, as well.

Ken Doctor kicks us  off with a fine analysis of where NewsRight went wrong. NewsRight was a consortium of 20 publishers that sprung out of the Associated Press in early 2012 with the mission of tracking down copyright violators while also creating a subscription model that would permit digital publishers to license quality content for redistribution.

“Publishers have seethed with rage as they’ve seen their substantial investment in newsrooms harvested — for nothing — by many aggregators…” writes Doctor on the Nieman Journalism Lab, “…but rage — whether seething or public — isn’t a business model.”

Bingo. Consortia are good for only two things: setting standards and raising awareness. They’re a terrible way to create new products. The idea of pursuing copyright violators individually is ludicrous, anyway. It’s like trying to stamp out ants. There are always more where the first batch came from.

The only anti-piracy tactic that works is a public awareness campaign, and the newspaper industry has shown little interest in that. NewsRight died because the members inevitably had conflicting priorities, and it was impossible for everyone to find common ground when everyone had something to lose.

Does BuzzFeed Have it Right?

Sponsored Post on BuzzFeedDoctor points to the work being done at NewsCred, BuzzFeed and Forbes, among others, as examples of new ideas worth developing. “In 2013, we’re seeing more innovative use of news content than we have in a long time,” he writes. We’re particularly interested in BuzzFeed, the viral content engine started by Jonah Peretti and others in 2006. At first glance it looks like any other new-age news site, with a bottomless home page stuffed with a jumble of seemingly unrelated content ranging from the profound to the ridiculous.

As New York magazine points out in a lengthy profile, though, there’s a lot more going on there than cat photos. BuzzFeed is tuned to create content that people want to share, and it could care less who the authors are. The home page blithely mixes contributions from staffers and advertisers with minimal labeling. Every element within every story can be shared on every social network you can imagine. Every page is designed to maximize audience interaction with the content.

BuzzFeed makes little effort to segregate advertiser contributions from the work of its own staff. A photo essay on “12 Tips to Have An Amazing Barbecue” from Grill Mates sits next to “Just The London Skyline, Made Out Of Sugar Cubes” by staffer Luke Lewis. Some of the branded stuff is actually pretty good, like, JetBlue’s “The 50 Most Beautiful Shots Taken Out Of Airplane Windows.”

Is this serious journalism? Well, no. We don’t think corporate brands will ever produce that. But if they want to run their grilling tips next to similarly lightweight content from professional editors, why not let them? The genie that goes by such names as “brand journalism” and “content marketing” isn’t going back in the bottle. A recent survey concluded that corporate marketers and agencies consider branded content to be among their most effective branding tactics, and that 69% plan to spend more money on it in the coming year.

The bigger issue is whether sustainable publishing business models can be found that don’t rely entirely upon display advertising or subscription revenue. BuzzFeed and NewsCred are making some progress there. We don’t believe they produce serious journalism, if sex, gossip and voyeurism can attract a large enough audience to support real journalism, then we’re in favor of it. The idea isn’t new. It’s worked in the U.K. for decades.

Content Marketing Effectiveness

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Police Roam MA Suburb In Search Of Boston Bombers

Police Roam MA Suburb In Search Of Boston Bombers (Photo: Talk Radio News Service)

Those who fear that crowdsourcing may soon make professional journalists obsolete should take a look at some of the links below related to an amateur sleuthing experiment on the popular Reddit social news site that went horribly awry last week.

The goal was commendable enough. A “subreddit” was set up to enlist the members of this massive community (14 million monthly visitors by one report) in the hunt for suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing. Participants were told not to name names and to focus their effort on combing through thousands of photos posted on the Internet in hopes of finding the origins of the backpacks that exploded, killing three people and injuring 282 others.

The rules quickly went by the wayside, though. Names began being tossed out more or less at random, photos of anyone carrying a backpack were flagged as suspicious and chatter from the Boston Police Scanner were posted as fact. Most damaging was a rumor that Sunil Tripathi, a Brown University student who has been missing for a month, was one of the bombers.

Twitter did its part both to spread misinformation and to serve professional journalists who sought to calm the hysteria.  Some mainstream media organizations picked up on the Tripathi rumors and amplified them, while other journalists tried to settle the crowd by pointing out, among other things, that police scanner reports are unconfirmed and often wrong.

The accusation that Tripathi was involved in the bombings was particularly damaging. When the popular @NewsBreaker Twitter account reported that the missing student had been confirmed as a suspect based upon police scanner chatter, “social media went crazy,” said Reddit General Manager Erik Martin in an interview on Atlantic Wire. “It was posted so many times in [Reddit subgroup] /r/FindBostonBombers that I had to stay up the entire night deleting them.”

Martin called the experiment “a disaster,” and issued an apology to the Tripathi family on behalf of Reddit, which is owned by Conde Nast. Media critics have been swarming in the wake of the incident, with Reddit getting nearly universal condemnation. About the only contribution the crowd made to the investigation was to identify one photo of the suspected bombers that the FBI hadn’t seen. However, the distraction the experiment caused as professional reporters tried to untangle the web of amateur accusations more than offset the small benefits. A chastened Reddit has since launched a new crowdsourced campaign to help locate Tripathi.

Questioning Crowdsourcing’s Value

Does this mean crowdsourcing is a bad idea? In certain situations, yes. Criminal investigations require specialized expertise that no group of amateurs can match. FBI and police investigators had access to intelligence that enabled them to evaluate and discard spurious information that the Reddit crowd didn’t. In a highly charged atmosphere like this, investigation is best done behind closed doors, with information revealed selectively when it can move the process along. The crowd is enlisted to help authorities but not to solve the case.

We can’t help but wonder what the public response would be if police officials conducted their investigation the way Reddit did. If every rumor and bit of speculation was held up to public comment, then our opinion of law enforcement might be quite different. Sometimes there’s good reason to withhold information from the public, as the irresponsible actions of the Reddit crowd made very clear.

However, we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath. Crowdsourcing can have great value when applied to analysis of very amounts of data or eyewitness accounts. Witness the comprehensive Wikipedia report on the Marathon bombings for an example of how many eyes can tell a story better than a few.

The incident also offered some shining examples of traditional media at its best. On Friday the Boston Globe, which has been a poster child of newspaper industry tumult, posted this marvelous account of the factors that set two likable young men on the road to terrorism. It was mainstream media at its best.

Update

Mathew Ingram has a different view. He believes Reddit, Twitter and other popular tools are capable of producing quality journalism, but not in the way we’ve traditionally defined it. Ingram believes that journalism is “atomizing” into component parts, and that the fact-checking and validation functions can be better handled by a crowd.

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Top areas of ad spending declines, 2013

Traditional media took it on the chin in marketing plans researched by Aquent and the American Marketing Association (AMA). One in three marketers plans to decrease spending on newspaper advertising, making newspapers the big loser in the study. They were joined in the cellar by consumer magazines, radio, trade magazines and television, all of which were cited by more than 20% of respondents as targets of budget cuts. The winners? Mobile media, social media and marketing automation. More than three in four marketers plan to increase spending in those areas.


Perhaps marketers are simply reflecting the interests of the audiences they want to reach. Alan Mutter gathers some statistics that point to ominous demographic trends:

  • Only 6% of people in their 20s and 16% of 40-year-olds regularly read newspapers, compared to 48% of people over 65.
  • Only 29% of the U.S. population regularly read a newspaper in 2012, down from 56% in 1991.
  • Three-quarters of the audience at the typical newspaper is 45 years of age or older. In comparison, over-45s comprise only 40% of the population.
  • Print advertising still generates between 80% and 90% of revenues at the typical major metro daily.

Mutter asserts that newspaper publishers will never pull out of their tailspin unless they can create products that appeal to the new generation of digital natives who can’t be bothered to drag around paper, CDs or books. For them, the phone and the tablet are their windows on the world, and that will change industries ranging from news to travel to banking.


Plans to increase or decrease Facebook time in 2013There are always ways to make statistics say what you want them to say, of course. More people read a newspaper than visited a social network in the past month, according to KPMG International. Traditional electronic channels fared even better: 88% of respondents to the survey said they’d watched TV in the previous month and 74% said they’d listened to the radio. That compares to just 57% who had tweeted or Facebooked. The survey measured habits of more than 9,000 people in nine countries. It did not ask how much time respondents spent with each media.

There’s some evidence that the novelty of Facebook is wearing off. A new Pew Research study finds that 28% of Facebook users say the site has become less important to them, and a third have cut back on the amount of time they spend on Facebook. Asked about their plans for allocating time to Facebook in the coming year, 38% of 18-to-29-year-olds said they’ll cut back, compared to only 1% who plan to spend more time.


And speaking of Pew, another recent study finds strong support for a bastion of the print world: libraries. More than half of Americans 16 or older visited a library during the past year, and of those who did, 26% plan to increase library usage during the next year while 22% plan to cut back. Asked if libraries should clear out some of their book stacks to make way for more technical resources, 36% said definitely not, compared to 20% who supported such a change. It would appear that while print may be on the decline, the role of the library as a community gathering place is still secure for now.

Miscellany

Writing in Scientific American blogs, Frank Swain tells of  a new initiative by the Royal Statistical Society’s BenchPress project to teach young journalists how to interpret statistics. The program sends volunteer working scientists into schools and newsrooms across Britain to help ensure that “journalists produce science news stories that are as robust and accurate as possible.” This seems like a great idea to us. Any yahoo with a SurveyMonkey account and a mailing list can field a survey these days, and publishing tools make the results look like they came from Gallup. Scientists complain of having to squeeze the conclusions of complex research studies into tweetable sound bites in order to get attention – and more funding. There’s so much bad research out there, and statistics isn’t a core part of the curriculum at many journalism schools. Maybe it should be.


The Washington Post has come up with a “Truth Teller” app that compares statements made by public officials and corporate spokespeople to databases of facts in near real time. The project, which was funded with a $50,000 grant from the Knight Foundation’s Prototype Fund, is said to be able to extract audio, convert it to text and then conduct searches based upon the content. We’re somewhat skeptical, given that our Google Voice app still converts all our voice-mail messages to Martian, but maybe the Post found better technology.

The video below tells more, and stresses that this is a prototype. The technology is ultimately intended to be used behind the scenes to help reporters more quickly scope out falsehoods. We see huge potential for politics and mischief with this technology. Imagine a CNN vs. Fox “Leaderboard of Lies” or a plug-in that tweets falsehoods in real time. That we would follow.

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Media critics have been buzzing for more than a week about “Snow Fall,” John Branch’s feature in The New York Times about a tragic avalanche that claimed three skiers’ lives in the Tunnel Creek area of Washington state early last year. Some people say it‘s the future of journalism, and they’re right – in a way. A loud chorus of naysayers who point out that “Snow Fall” is just the Times showing off. They’re right, too.

What’s important isn’t whether this package – which doesn’t fit neatly into the category of article, video documentary or e-book – is a turning point, but rather its importance as an evolution in story-telling. There’s nothing revolutionary about the technology the Times used. It’s the way the elements were combined that makes “Snow Fall” a great experience.Snow Fall Intro screen

For example, some of the graphics unfold as the reader scrolls down the screen, illustrating elements of the narrative in a way that feels seamless and natural. Embedded slide shows appear next to the names of key people in the tragedy, showing them in happier times. It’s a moving tribute to dead and their families that doesn’t seem heavy-handed or maudlin. It’s just part of the story.

Romenesko says the package racked up 3.5 million page views in its first week and that one-quarter of them were new visitors to nytimes.com. Ad Age complains that the ads the Times ran next to the copy nearly ruin the reading experience. Mathew Ingram superbly balances comments from both fans and critics. He concludes that, for all its elegance and beauty, “Snow Fall” still doesn’t address mainstream media’s frustrating fiscal woes. Laura Hazard Owen suggests that the “e-single” version of the feature – which sells for $2.99 – is an important endorsement of the growing mini-book concept.

We dropped by to see what all the fuss was about and ended spending an hour reading every last word and viewing every last video. “Snow Fall” is a visually stunning example of what a well-resourced news organization can produce when it spares practically no expense to break the mold. Few media companies can attempt something so ambitious (although there are some corporate marketing departments that could foot the bill). What’s important about “Snow Fall” is the ideas it introduces – ideas that will be adopted and iterated by other publishers on a smaller scale. We don’t think that’s showing off. It’s just being creative.

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By Paul Gillin | December 24, 2012 - 10:54 am - Posted in BusinessModel, NewMedia, R.I.P.

We’ve posted quite a few final covers and front pages over the last five years but this is one our favorite.

With Newsweek set to shut down its print operations today after a 79-year run, the magazine is going out with another of its famously provocative covers. This one shows a 1940s-era photo of the magazine’s logo towering over the Manhattan skyline juxtaposed with a hash tag that represents the 21st century forces that undermined it. It brilliantly contrasts the old- and new-media worlds, and it does it without passing judgement on either (Not everyone agrees with our opinion).

Newsweek isn’t going away. It will continue online and on tablets, with a new global edition planned for February. But the passing of the print edition marks the end of an era when millions of people got their perspective on the week’s news from the the troika of Newsweek, Time and U.S. News & World Report. Only Time is still in print today, and who knows how long that will last?

Tina Brown writes about the final issue, heaping gratitude on the staff.

Newsweek's Final Cover

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James Macpherson, Pasadena NowEver heard of James Macpherson? If you’re a veteran journalist, you probably have, although you might know him better as “that asshole who fired his entire reporting staff and outsourced local coverage of Pasadena, Calif. to India.”

We got a note from Macpherson the other day pointing out that recent trends would indicate that he was a trailblazer, not a nut.

In spite of the clobbering in the media I took for the idea then — and in spite of the Journatic debacle now –  the truth remains that some form of editorial outsourcing IS coming to newsrooms near you, and probably soon…Newsroom outsourcing is inevitable. The idea is so powerful it should be explored and discussed, not simply rebuked.

Macpherson also pointed us to a couple of his own blog entries on the subject: “The Outsourcing of Hyperlocal Journalism Is Inevitable” and “And Now, A Penny for My Thoughts.” They’re both worth reading. As we pointed out recently, the price of journalism is being readjusted to a new equilibrium point, and ideas like outsourcing local city council coverage to writers in Manila aren’t nearly as far-fetched as they once seemed.

It’s a Business

A lot of debate about the future of journalism has been tinged with emotion, which is understandable given how many jobs have been lost. The harsh reality, though, is that the vast majority of journalism is practiced by profit-making organizations. These companies are struggling with seismic shifts that have changed their business model forever. Advertising costs are in long-term decline, reader switching costs are zero, barriers to competitive entry have vanished and mass media are being displaced by specialized media. Any organization that hopes to survive in such a market needs to do things differently.

The approach to outsourcing that Macpherson outlines in this post is rational and workable in many scenarios: Offshore whatever can be offshored and have the people on the scene focus on capturing the action. Keep expertise local and farm out the rest.

If you’ve ever worked in a newsroom, you know there’s a lot of work that doesn’t require people to leave the office. Copy editing is a desk job. So is obituary writing. Editors fill holes on print pages by rewriting wire copy. Sports editors rarely go into a locker room and city editors don’t cover school board meetings. They’ve done all that stuff and graduated to jobs where they supervise others.

Some of this stuff is easy to outsource, and a lot of it already has been dispatched to interns or specialty shops like Legacy.com. The tough part is deconstructing jobs where experience is an asset, like the sports editor. Those jobs should stay intact on these shores, although some of the routine work may be able to be done elsewhere.

Get Me Rewrite

Journalism has traditionally been a vertically integrated craft. The reporter who covers the city council meeting is also expected to write the story, even if that person can’t compose a coherent paragraph. We’ve all known people who were great fact-finders or interviewers but who couldn’t write. Rewrite editors were an early tool to compensate for that. Now technology is taking deconstruction to a new level.

Anyone with a smart phone and an Internet connection can now be a live streaming news source. People on the scene can embellish or correct a published account, even if they don’t work for the news organization. Aggregating, summarizing and commenting upon published reports is the essence of what most bloggers do. In many cases, being on the scene isn’t nearly as important as it used to be.

Outsourcing is not an all-or-nothing proposition, but a process of optimizing for value. Move routine work to the lowest-cost source and invest in stuff that makes a difference. Businesses have done this with manufacturing, payroll, facilities maintenance, information technology and the many other tasks for years.

But what about quality? That’s the most common objection to outsourcing in general, but we think markets are pretty good at figuring that out. Journalists aren’t the ultimate arbiters of quality; their readers are. If you believe that the public no longer has an interest in quality journalism, then outsourcing is a pretty depressing prospect. However, we don’t think the public is that stupid.

Macpherson is right: These ideas should be developed and not dismissed as lunacy simply because they break with tradition. If someone can put out a journal at lower cost that its audience values and that someone will pay to support, then the market will make it own decisions.

By Paul Gillin | June 8, 2012 - 11:57 am - Posted in BusinessModel, Future of Journalism, Journalism, NewMedia

Business Insider Homepage ClipTom Foremski could be excused for trashing the business model Henry Blodget has used to get Business Insider over the profitability hump, but he chooses to trash journalism traditionalists who criticize Blodget instead.

The trigger was this profile of Business Insider deputy editor Joe Wiesenthal in The New York Times. Wiesenthal has an obsessive personality. He rises at 4 a.m. and routinely works till 9 p.m. He files 15 news items in an average day and sends 150 tweets. His first tweet each morning is “What did I miss?” He is the ultimate new media journalist.

Have a look at Business Insider. It’s nothing like a traditional financial newspaper. It’s got headlines like “14 Common Ways People Cheat At Golf” and “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Russian Mail Order Brides.” The home page is about 20 screens long and adorned with cheesecake photos of models in bikinis next to headlines about the Greek financial crisis. It’s Huffington Post meets Weekly World News. It’s offensive to everything traditional journalists believe a news outlet should stand for. And it’s turning a profit.

Broken Rules

A lot of journalists hate operations like Business Insider because it violates so many rules. It reports information that hasn’t been verified, mixes reportage with editorializing and blatantly caters to its readers’ prurient interests. Dan Reimold, a journalism professor at the University of Tampa, posted a critique of Wiesenthal on the Associated Collegiate Press blog, arguing that Wiesenthal’s approach to journalism – and his lifestyle – are something no aspiring reporting should emulate. “It doesn’t seem like Weisenthal has conquered the news cycle.  He is a pathetic slave to it,” Reimold wrote.

Reimold’s post drew a pointed response from Henry Blodget, the disgraced former equities analyst who was banned from the securities industry after the dot come bubble burst and who has reinvented himself as a publisher. Blodget argues that Reimold is addicted to an old model of long-form journalism that isn’t relevant in the manic, always-on Web 2.0 world. “The skills required to do what a great real-time digital journalist does are different than those required to do what a great magazine writer does,” Bodget writes. “Doing what Joe Weisenthal does is extraordinarily difficult. That’s why there are so few Joe Weisenthals.”

Tom ForemskiTom Foremski is a traditional reporter who understands and respects the new  journalism, and he’s got the street cred to command respect. A veteran of the newspaper industry, Foremski most recently worked at the Financial Times, but in 2004 he quit to become a full-time blogger. His story at Silicon Valley Watcher is good reading.

Foremski backs Henry Blodget on this debate. “Criticism of Business Insider’s largely lightweight journalism by journalism professors is valid only when it’s debated within the context of the economic reality of the news business,” he writes. For good measure, he adds “My chief complaint about journalism professors is how distant they are from a real newsroom.”

As we’ve noted before the pay structure of today’s online news industry is dramatically lower than that of the dying print industry. Demand Media pays freelancers as little as a nickel a word, and Huffington Post gets most of its content for free. Staffers at The Politico typically start their work day before dawn and may file thousands of words per day.

This sucks, but it’s part of the evolution of a more sustainable model. Foremski doesn’t endorse the way Business Insider treats its employees, but he clearly thinks that cursing the onrushing tide is a waste of breath. “Journalism professors should be railing against the failure of the industry to establish a business model that works, and rallying students to learn new techniques in producing quality journalism in quantity,” he writes.

We agree. Remember that the newspaper world of the 1930s and 1940s was no model of integrity. Publishers routinely invented news to support political agendas and the concept of seeking both sides of the story was a novelty. Reporters also didn’t make much money.

That business evolved through trial, error and consolidation, and we expect much the same process to occur in the new online world. Whether that results in a 40-hour work week and six-figure salaries is still to be determined (although we doubt it), but the challenge for people who are committed to journalism today is to find a way to preserve it within a new business climate. Tom Foremski is an important voice in that crusade.

Incidentally, Business Insider claims that Reimold has accepted an offer to come to New York for a day and do Joe Weisenthal’s job. It apparently hasn’t talked to him directly or confirmed anything but is basing its report on an offer that Reimold posted on his blog. How very new media of it.

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