By paulgillin | August 14, 2012 - 8:00 am - Posted in Fake News

Sweatshop in Ludlow Street Tenement, New York via Wikimedia CommonsWe got a come-on from one of those content-farming services the other day, but instead of throwing it away in disgust, we decided to run the numbers instead.

The e-mail promised us the possibility of earning $80 per 400-600-word article! That’s right, that statement ended with an exclamation point. We’d normally be insulted at the prospect of being offered less than 20 cents a word, but when we took at look at the site we’d be writing for, we thought heck, one could actually make a living at this.

We can’t identify the site because our revenue from Adwords doesn’t permit the luxury of retained legal counsel, but there are plenty of services out there that provide low-cost, keyword-optimized articles for businesses that want to attract search engines. They all work pretty much the same.

The particular site we looked at is focused on a vertical B2B market. It publishes 12-15 articles a day from an impressive assortment of freelance writers. We’ve never heard of any of them, but most of the contributors write one or two articles per day for this site, and presumably also write for other sites supported by the content farm.

The stuff they write follows a predictable format: The writer reads three or four stories in an industry trade or business publications and summarizes what they say in a kind of a news roundup format. The more experienced writers may add a dose of their own opinion, but for the most part no one strays too far from quoting the industry pundits.

There is no original reporting to speak of. We scanned about a dozen articles and didn’t see any evidence of primary research beyond repackaged analysis from industry trades. In the new journalism, first-person sourcing is less important than linking to source material online.

Doing the Math

We figured a fast writer with a working knowledge of a vertical industry could pound out five or six such stories a day without breaking a sweat. Heck, we’ve sometimes posted 1,200 words to this site before 9 in the morning. So do the math: Five stories per day at $80 per story equals $400 a day. That’s $2,000 a week. That’s $100,000 a year. That’s a decent living.

What makes this possible is the near total lack of quality control. It doesn’t appear that anyone is reading the stuff these writers post. There were typos and formatting problems that would have been caught with even a minimum of editorial oversight, but the publisher doesn’t care. As long as the keywords are in the right place and the search engines are delivering, everything is fine.

What matters is speed. Frequently updated sites get more attention from search engines, and this particular site focuses on breaking news. The idea is to get something into the news stream while interest is high so you can get in on the page-view bubble. After a couple of days, most of the interest has waned, but the search engines are still paying attention to you because you post so frequently. Long-tail search typically delivers about one-third of the traffic to news sites.

We don’t mean to imply that the content on this site was junk. Quite the opposite: Some of the writers clearly follow the industry closely and chose their topics well. Considering that no one is editing them, the copy was impressively clean. For a business audience that is challenged to keep up with the news, you might even say the site is valuable.

These are the new economics of the working journalist: Pump out a large volume of keyword-laden stuff with minimal guidance or oversight. None of this work is ever going to win a Pulitzer, but it is enabling a few writers to actually sustain themselves by writing. And who knows, maybe they can do some serious reporting in their spare time, or perhaps someone at a name-brand publication will notice their work and offer them a job.

Either way, it’s a living.

By paulgillin | July 18, 2012 - 12:46 pm - Posted in Fake News

Maybe it’s the summer slowdown kicking in, but the news has been mostly bad this month.

New York Times Building

Why must all media coverage of newspapers have a photo like this?

David Carr writes about a little-discussed liability that’s nearly as damaging to the newspaper industry as its mountain of debt: Pension obligations. Gannett pension fund is under-capitalized by $942 million, McClatchy’s by $383 million and The New York Times Co.’s by $522 million. Carr says the hedge funds that bought up newspapers at bargain prices over the last few years are running for the exits, but they can’t find anyone to take the properties off their hands. Pensions are one reason why. The only investor who’s shown confidence in the industry lately is Warren Buffett, but Carr notes that even he stuck Media General with the retirees when he bought a bunch of its titles.

Pension funds became an albatross around the necks of the steel and auto industries back in the 1980s. Faced with retiree obligations that were, in some cases, significantly larger than annual revenues, companies like U.S. Steel had not choice but to shaft the recipients. A lot of newspapers set up generous pension funds when times were good in the 70s and 80s, and now those workers are retiring. It’s a frightening replay of history, particularly if you’re nearing retirement age.

Carr’s piece is kind of a mid-year health check on the state of the industry, and there’s very little cheer about. He opens with accounts of some recent printed blunders that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. The situation in the print world is so bad that when the New Orleans Times-Picayune offered jobs to some of its editorial staff on the new three-day-a-week print edition, many said no, thanks. They included a Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the editors who anchored the paper’s Hurricane Katrina coverage.

The Thin Line Between Journalism and Typing

Carr reserves some of his most acerbic comments for Journatic, an editorial outsourcing firm part-owned by Tribune Co. that is suddenly getting a lot of scrutiny for practices that would make a professional journalist’s stomach turn.

Read Ryan Smith’s insider account on The Guardian for a look at how far the newspaper industry has fallen. Journatic lives under the radar (its sparse website is actually designed not to attract search engines), providing copy to client publishers that is mostly produced by a loose network of freelancers who work for pocket change. Many of its writers are in the Philippines, which means they speak decent English and work for less and a dollar an hour.

Most of them can’t write very well, though, and Smith recounts stories of barely rewritten press releases that crossed his editor’s desk ready to go into some of America’s finest newspapers. Press releases are Journatic’s bread and butter, along with obituaries from Legacy.com and real estate transaction listings. These are rewritten by its far-flung editorial staff and turned in to U.S. copy editors who make $10/hour. The practice that’s drawn the most criticism is Journatic’s practice of putting fake bylines on articles. The company says it adopted the tactic to protect employees, but that doesn’t sit well with its clients, who are now abandoning ship in the wake of negative media coverage. Hundreds of bogus bylines have already shown up in the Houston Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and San Francisco Chronicle, writes Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman.

Oops.

Journatic produces original content, too. It farms out local stories to U.S. freelancers who report by phone from 1,000 miles away while pretending to be at a desk in the newsroom across town. Reporters need to work quickly. Smith says he was offered $24 for an 800-1,000-word story, $12 for 500 words and $10 for a Q&A. Most of the work went unedited into major newspapers as if reported by a staff journalist.

I’ve copyedited or written news stories for a handful of major US newspapers over the past 18 months – the Houston Chronicle in Texas, San Francisco Chronicle in California and Newsday in Long Island, New York and others – yet it’s doubtful that any of the editors or senior executives for those news organizations could pick me out of a police line-up. In fact, it’s unlikely they could tell you a single personal detail about me or the other journalists behind the bylines of countless stories that appear in their print editions or on their websites, as provided by my employer.

A number of big dailies have quit using Journatic in the wake of recent unflattering coverage, but you can bet this model is far from dead. “Journatic’s approach — and the change it represents — is not going away,” writes Craig Silverman on Poynter.org. That’s because the economics of the news industry are in such dire straits. Whatever work can go offshore will go offshore as newspapers struggle to keep their print properties viable. With revenues spiraling down at 8% to 10% per year, quality will only get worse.

But it’s not just print. As the Times’ Carr points out, no one has yet cracked the code of making online local news profitable. In fact, Journatic’s stronghold is local media, which simply can’t afford to hire full-time reporters any more. So they lay off staff and farm out coverage of the local football team to a stringer. In Manila. (Hat tip to David Strom)

Tablet Salvation

The good news is that tablets will save the day, right? Possibly, but don’t count your winnings just yet. A new study by the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the University of Missouri finds that lots of people use their tablets to keep up with the news. In fact, news-reading is the fourth most popular activity by tablet users, behind communication, entertainment and Web search.  Users’ preferred source of information is news organization websites by a nearly 8:1 margin over social media. Interestingly, 53% of the 1,015 survey respondents said news-on-tablet was a better reading experience than ink-on-dead-trees, compared to just 18% who favor printed media.

The Public Relations Society of America suggests that tablets could revitalize the evening paper, since so much iPadding takes place after 5. But they’ll have to convince Rupert Murdoch of that. The media mogul has reportedly put The Daily on watch. The iPad-only zine is losing $30 million a year, The Politico reports, and its viability will be reassessed after the Nov. 6 election. This despite the fact that The Daily broke the story of Pink Slime, the ground beef additive that triggered a hysterical reaction in the U.S. earlier this year before the USDA stepped in and said that not only is the ingredient safe, but we’ve been eating it for a decade without knowing.

BTW, the most interesting item in the Politico story may be the comment by Martha Jo Peters, whose Facebook profile simply says, “Intend to live alone the rest of my life.” Evidently Murdoch is at least partly responsible. Sad.

Twitter’s News Ambitions

Mathew Ingram thinks Twitter wants to be a media company, and that means its role in the media ecosystem will get more complex. Twitter faces the same challenges that Google has been struggling with for several years: Its basic value is as a filter and organizer that quickly sends people elsewhere on the Web, but it’s hard to make money when your visitors are always leaving so quickly. In essence, the  publishing model that is failing so badly in the traditional media is the model that the biggest new-media startups are seeking.

Twitter appears to see its future as being some kind of newswire. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, CEO Dick Costelo said, “Twitter is heading in a direction where its 140-character messages are not so much the main attraction but rather the caption to other forms of content.” Remember that quote, because it’s really important. It means that in the future Twitter wants to host more content instead of sending people away. But where’s the content going to come from? A lot of it will be from media companies, which have come to value Twitter as a traffic-driver but who may now have to re-evaluate that relationship. Like Google, Twitter is both their best friend and their worst enemy.

If you’ve noticed there are a lot more dead third-party Twitter sites lately, there’s a reason: Twitter is locking down its famously open set of application interfaces and trying to control more of the user experience. Ingram notes that Twitter has had great success with its mobile ads and promoted tweets, and it would like users to stay a little longer on its site. The acquisition of Tweetdeck, as well as several recent improvements to the Twitter.com user experience, are part of that campaign to capture more of the visitor’s time.

Miscellany

Another daily newspaper has joined the ranks of newspapers that are not-so-daily. The Anniston (Ala.) Star will cut its Monday edition beginning in the fourth quarter. Poynter’s Julie Moos has more than you probably want to know here.

Has your local newspaper trimmed frequency from seven days to something else? We’ve had a few inquiries recently from people looking for a list of such journals, but we’ve  never seen one. If you have, please provide a link in the comments, or simply tell us if your local paper has been affected. This will start a list of some kind.


A little good news: The New York Times is more than making up for declining advertising with growth in paid subscriptions. Ad revenue was down 8.1% in the most recent quarter, but circulation revenue was up 9.7%, thanks largely to the success of a new paywall program. Forbes reports that the International Herald Tribune and Boston Globe are also seeing promising results from their early paid digital subscription initiatives.

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By paulgillin | March 23, 2012 - 10:07 am - Posted in Fake News

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

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

Transformational Time

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

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

Power of One

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

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

Power of Free

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

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

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

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

–Paul Gillin

Framingham, MA

By paulgillin | March 21, 2012 - 9:46 am - Posted in Fake News

10 Newspapers That Do It Right 2012Editor & Publisher asked readers to nominate news organizations that are doing innovative things to diversify their businesses and find new revenue streams, and the list of 10 Newspapers That Do It Right 2012 shows that creative thinking is alive and well at mainstream publishers, although mostly at smaller ones.

The mini-case studies are a grab bag of ideas, ranging from novel circulation promotions to radical new lines of business, but they all have one thing in common: They leverage the newspaper’s unique position as a trusted companion within a geographic area.

Some papers have found ways to innovate within their traditional business, like the Carrollton, GA Times-Georgian, which scrapped its advertising rate card in favor of a time-based package that gives advertisers a variety of positions and sizes. It’s a smart idea that recognizes that advertisers are the least-qualified people to dictate where and when an ad should run.

Others are diversifying outside of the advertising dependence that has been the crack cocaine of the newspaper industry. The Altoona Mirror in Pennsylvania launched an events business that hosts thematic gatherings around things like cooking and outdoor recreation. The new line of business is a natural extension of the newspaper’s traditional role as community gathering spot, but also requires a change of philosophy. “We’re not selling a product called ‘a newspaper’ but manufacturing a product called ‘audience,’” said General manager Ray Eckenrode. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Several organizations have completely merged their print and online operations, which surprised us because we assumed most newsrooms had done that a long time ago. Still, the reorganizations have cut production times and improved staff morale as journalists have bought into the idea of platform independence. It’s hard to believe that at some newspapers copy is still thrown over the wall between Web and print instead of created from scratch for an online audience.

A couple of entries even highlighted efforts by newspapers to push into the broadcast market. Manitoba’s Winnipeg Free Press, which is one of the largest papers to be recognized, took advantage of cutbacks in election coverage by local TV stations to set up a live webcast at a coffee house and analyze election results throughout the evening. Considering the dismal quality of most local TV news operations after years of cutbacks, this seems like low-hanging fruit.

E&P also lists 11 honorable mentions for a total of 21 stories of innovation. The package is nicely edited and there’s an accompanying photo gallery. It would be nice if there were hyperlinks to some of the featured examples, but we supposed E&P has still got some learning to do.

Money from Content

We recently reported on a little-noticed milestone in the New York Times Co.’s fourth-quarter earnings: Revenue from digital sources surpassed editorial operating costs, making it theoretically possible for the Gray Lady to get out of print entirely without affecting its editorial quality.

Now the Financial Times may be about to turn another corner. Content sales are about to eclipse advertising revenue. CEO John Ridding sprang this news on an FT conference in London earlier this month. The secret is mobility. By reaching paying audiences on phones and tablets around the globe, the FT is able to greatly increase its reach at almost no marginal cost. More important is that it now knows something about those people.

“The real power is in data,” Ridding said. “We’re moving from the dark ages where people would walk into a newsagents and we wouldn’t know them but now we know pretty much everything about them.” Contrast that thinking to a recent Pew report that found that few newspapers are using targeted advertising to reach online readers based upon their interests. But the FT is a business paper, after all.

Of course, the crossover is also influenced by the ongoing precipitous declines in print advertising. US newspaper ad revenues fell 7.3% year-over-year in 2011 to $23.94 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America. We doubt the FT’s UK and European markets fared much better. Like the success stories spotlighted in Editor & Publisher, the FT is finding ways to escape the burning house before it’s too late. Incidentally, 60% of publishing leaders polled in one informal survey said they expect print publishers to be digital-only by 2020.

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By paulgillin | March 7, 2012 - 11:23 am - Posted in Fake News

Near the end of the overview section of the Pew Research Center’s exhaustive study of the business issues facing American newspapers, one unnamed executive sums up the industry’s dilemma:  “There might be a 90% chance you’ll accelerate the decline if you gamble and a 10% chance you might find the new model. No one is willing to take that chance.”

That’s it in a nutshell. The newspaper industry is standing on a railroad ­trestle 100 feet above a rushing river while a locomotive bears down on it. The only thing worse than getting hit by the train is jumping out of the way. The study outlines in depressing detail how paralyzed the industry is in its search for new business models, although there are glimmers of hope in the successes of a few innovators.

Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism surveyed 38 US newspapers and conducted extensive on-site follow-up interviews to examine the industry’s search for new business models. The sample was representative of the composition of US newspapers as a whole, with a mix of geographies and a preponderance of smaller titles.

In general, small papers are faring better than the large ones, but all are facing the same specter off print advertising declines that far exceed growth of digital alternatives. In fact, researchers concluded that for every $1 gained in new digital revenue, newspapers are losing $7 of print revenue.

“There’s no doubt we’re going out of business right now,” said one executive.

No Names, Please

How Quickly Newspapers are Growing Digital RevenueOne of the project’s most frustrating characteristics is its anonymity. Researchers had to promise not to name names in order to get executives to let down their guard. The result is some memorable quotes but few actionable examples. We learn of one small paper that posted 63% growth in digital revenue in the last full year while also growing print sales 8%. Another major metro daily was said to have grown its digital business 50% in the last year. It would great if these outliers would come forth and tell everyone else how they did it, but we may never know their identities.

The Pew study is emphatic in identifying the industry’s core problems as more cultural than operational. “There’s a big difference between understanding the new media environment and comprehending what it takes to adapt,” says one executive.

Fifteen years after the arrival of the commercial Internet, the industry continues to rely on print advertising to an alarming degree and has made only halting progress in developing new revenue streams. That isn’t for lack of trying. Everyone is trying to find digitally savvy salespeople, most are paying premiums for online ad sales and all publishers are aware of the need to experiment with alternative revenue sources like daily deals and business services.

However, they’re mostly having meager results. Few papers studied in the report are taking advantage of the growth in targeted digital advertising. Most are still reliant upon low-margin display ads. Nearly half of the publications have experimented with alternative revenue streams like consulting services and digital shopping malls, but only one reported any significant revenue.

Culture Clash

Unfortunately, rapid sales declines in the profitable print business are creating a hair’s-on-fire hysteria that sabotages change. The kind of salespeople publishers need to hire don’t want to work in an industry that’s in crisis. The number of print-focused sales representatives outnumber digitally focused reps by about 3-1 at the newspapers surveyed and there continues to be debate at some companies about whether digital is event the future. That sounds incredible, but the study identifies entrenched resistance among many publishers to diverging from the business model that served them so well in the days of monopoly market share and 20% profit margins.

Officials at 10 of the 13 companies said their biggest challenge was the continuing tension between people in their organizations who are advocating a more aggressive digital approach and those more aligned with the legacy tradition. In essence, they described a conflict between going faster and going slower…”We haven’t needed innovative people,” explained one executive. “So you get what you need. The kind of people that came into this industry were more operationally focused, executors instead of innovator risk takers.”

The good news is that there is broad awareness at the highest levels of the companies surveyed that the industry’s problems aren’t going to heal themselves. In fact, no one quoted in the report suggests that the current downturn is temporary or cyclical. Where they differ is on what to do about it. “The data and interviews suggest companies are almost evenly divided between optimists and pessimists-evidence of a lack of consensus on how to proceed in developing the new business model,” the report says. Unfortunately, at a time like this the only certainty is that inaction is death.

By paulgillin | February 7, 2012 - 4:50 pm - Posted in Fake News

Tablet computers have been hailed as the salvation of the newspaper industry, but most publishers are squandering the opportunity, writes Newsosaur Alan Mutter in a searing sendup of newspaper tablet apps on Editor & Publisher.

“In contrast to the crisp, graphically engaging and highly interactive apps flooding the Apple store, the typical newspaper site is filled with gray, meandering columns of text requiring multiple swipes to get to the bottom of the page. That is to say: Newspapers don’t come close to leveraging the power of this new medium,” Mutter writes, pointing to products from the San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia Inquirer and even The New York Times as examples.

Many publishers are opting to use the native tablet browser to deliver content rather than customizing the experience for the device, and some are simply delivering PDF versions of their print products, Mutter says. This laziness is particularly alarming in light of the fact that people who consume information on tablets are among the most desirable prospects for paid circulation and advertising. The Newsosaur believes once they get a load of the visually rich and interactive offerings from magazine and broadcast competitors they’ll never come back to the digital broadsheets being offered by the dailies.

Although we own a tablet, we’ll admit we haven’t spent much time surveying the landscape of news apps. RSS feeds do the job just fine for us. However, if Mutter’s critique is on the mark, this is a head-slappingly stupid mistake on the part of publishers, who finally have a platform that at least some people are willing to pay for. Anyone who has worked in both print and digital media will tell you that the design and presentation skills that work in one format fail badly in the other. The worst mistake a print publisher can make is to put print designers in charge of online look and feel. It’s even worse on tablets, where apps offer a whole new level of interactivity. This is software, not ink on dead trees.

NYT Co. Takes Earnings Hit

New York Times Media Group revenue

Now the sobering news about The New York Times. Coming off a promising third quarter in which the company reported strong growth in subscriptions to its digital editions, parent New York Times Co. reported a $40 million loss in the fourth quarter on an 8% decline in print advertising. The paper’s paywall continues to thrive, and digital advertising revenue was up 5% in the quarter. However, the success online can’t make up for the continued free-fall in the much more profitable print advertising business.

The collapse of that revenue stream was dramatized by blogger Paul McMorrow, who came up with the chart at right. We can’t vouch for the accuracy of the numbers, but the choice of scale demonstrates clearly the industry’s dilemma. Digital revenue is nowhere close to making up for the decline in print.

The Times Co. was also hurt by a dramatic drop in the performance of About.com, the online encyclopedia/how-to engine it acquired for $410 million 2005. About.com was victimized by recent changes to Google’s search algorithms that penalized so-called “content farms” like Demand Media, which pay freelancers pennies to produce crap in the name of driving search traffic. About.com used to top Google search results for a lot of popular consumer queries, but no more. Profits at the site dropped 67% in the quarter on a 25% revenue decline.

 Miscellany

Social media is beginning to cover itself. Social blogging site Tumblr, which hosts more than 42 million blogs, will hire two professional editors to write about what’s going on on Tumblr. The thinking is that a community with that many members must generate a lot of content all by itself. Twitter and Facebook have both recently hired journalists to write about what’s hot in those communities.


Speaking of Facebook, if you’re trying to improve your presence there, take a few tips from Entrepreneur magazine. Starr Hall’s advice includes naming your page appropriately and greeting visitors with a “welcome” page rather than the Facebook wall. And have you heard about the new subscribe feature that lets people follow your public updates without friending you? Read more about that. We also recommend these tips for small businesses and these tips for slightly larger businesses, perhaps because we wrote them. The key to success on the world’s largest social network is engagement, not publishing. Ask questions, prompt response, provoke and amuse. Our vote for the most awesome Facebook page: Skittles. Unique voice and dripping with personality. “Skittles now has 20 million fans? If I had that many guinea pigs, I’d be unstoppable.”

By paulgillin | January 19, 2012 - 2:59 pm - Posted in Fake News

this release is republished verbatim from eMarketer. More here.

U.S. Print Versus Online Ad Spending ForecastUS online advertising spending, which grew 23% to $32.03 billion in 2011, is expected to grow an additional 23.3% to $39.5 billion this year-pushing it ahead of total spending on print newspapers and magazines, according to eMarketer. Print advertising spending is expected to fall to $33.8 billion in 2012 from $36 billion in 2011.

Online Growing Even Faster Than Expected: eMarketer’s previous US online advertising forecast from July 2011 was among the more bullish estimates issued during the year-forecasting 20.2% growth to $31.1 billion in 2011-yet consistently stronger-than-expected results from major industry players and the IAB/PwC benchmark through the first three quarters of 2011 contributed to the upward revision.

Total Ad Spending is Growing Too: Despite concerns about the troubled economy among agencies and marketers, total ad spending in the US is expected to rebound in 2012 after rising 3.4% to $158.9 billion in 2011, according to eMarketer. US total media ad spending will grow an estimated 6.7% to $169.48 in 2012, boosted by the national elections and summer Olympics in London, eMarketer estimates.

TV is Steadily Up: Spending on TV advertising grew 2.8% in 2011 to $60.7 billion, eMarketer estimates. This year, TV ad spending will grow an estimated 6.8% to $64.8 billion-driven the Olympics and election-while remaining resilient from worries about the soft economy.

Digital remains the sole bright spot for newspapers and magazines: eMarketer estimates US digital newspaper ad revenues grew 8.3% to $3.3 billion in 2011. Print advertising revenues at newspapers fell 9.3% to $20.7 billion in 2011. At magazines, US print ad revenues are expected to rise 0.5% to $15.34 billion in 2012, up from $15.3 billion last year. US digital advertising spending at magazines grew 18.8% to $2.7 billion in 2011.

By paulgillin | January 5, 2012 - 12:25 pm - Posted in Fake News

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.

 

By paulgillin | December 20, 2011 - 2:11 pm - Posted in Fake News

Building ImplosionThe Annenberg School at the University of Southern California created a stir last week with its prediction that only four US daily newspapers will still be in print in five years. “We believe that the only print newspapers that will survive will be at the extremes of the medium – the largest and the smallest,” said Jeffery I. Cole, the school’s director of the Center for the Digital Future. “It’s likely that only four major daily newspapers will continue in print form: The New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.  At the other extreme, local weekly newspapers may still survive.”

How could this be? There are still more than 1,400 metro daily newspapers publishing in print in the US. As one tweeter pointed out, dailies would have to perish at the rate of five per week in order to meet USC Annenberg’s forecast.

We think the five-year timeframe is pessimistic, but we certainly believe USC Annenberg’s prediction will come true within a decade. We made precisely the same prediction five years ago – including identifying the same four titles Annenberg did – only we gave the print industry until 2025 to implode. It now appears that we were optimistic.

Here’s why the Annenberg prediction isn’t so far-fetched. American newspapers had a near-death experience three years ago when two venerable dailies – the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News – closed their doors, each after more than a century of continuous publication. Two other major titles – the San Francisco Chronicle and the Boston Globe – had their own brush with the reaper at the same time. Both were pulled back from the brink only after their unions made massive concessions and hundreds of highly-paid journalists lost their jobs.

Busting the Union

Early 2009 was when publishers broke the back of the Newspaper Guild. At the Globe, the union bargaining position was so weak that the contract that members finally accepted was actually worse than management’s original offer three months earlier. The showdown at the Globe was a turning point for the US newspaper industry. The management victory in the labor negotiations was so complete that publishers across the country were effectively given carte blanche to fire people by the thousands. Which they did. The amazing Erica Smith counted nearly 15,000 newspaper layoffs in 2009 and another 6,700 in the two years since. And her count doesn’t include the many jobs that were eliminated or scaled back without public announcement.

Newspaper publishers basically bought themselves time, and they used it to bring costs in line with revenues. Most newspapers have drastically scaled back the size of their print editions and many have cut back regional distribution. Publishers have raised subscription prices to milk more dollars out of the dwindling cadre of loyalists who are willing to pay for print. Unfortunately, they don’t have much time. The average ago of a daily newspaper reader in the US today is between 56 and 60, depending on whose estimates you believe. That population will shrink more rapidly than any other demographic group over the next 10 or 15 years. Seniors are also the least attractive audience to the advertisers who support print advertising. It’s a bad combination.

For the time being, printed newspapers can survive simply by cutting costs and raising subscription fees, but that strategy invariably turns into a death spiral. At some point publishers will no longer be able to afford to deliver a product that people want to pay to read in print.

Tipping Point

Circulation declines, which have been running about 8% to 10% annually, will accelerate. A tipping point will be reached and the whole print model will fall apart. We don’t know when that threshold will be reached, but demographic trends that indicate it will certainly happen within the next 10 years and will probably hit a lot of titles simultaneously.

The death of the printed daily doesn’t mean the death of print. Many publishers have cut back out unprofitable Saturday and Monday editions as a way to save costs, and more will certainly follow suit. Sunday editions may be around 20 years from now because of the revenue from flyers and coupons. But many newspapers will no longer be able to support a daily publishing schedule within a few years.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that many publishers are beginning to figure out the economics of digital revenues. A milestone was reached just a couple of months ago when the New York Times Co. released its first earnings report since it instituted a paywall early this year. As we reported at the time, Ryan Chitturn of the Columbia Journalism Review estimated that the Times’ digital revenue in the quarter actually exceeded its editorial costs, meaning that the paper could conceivably publish profitably without a print edition. We don’t expect the Times will shut down its presses anytime soon, but publishers across the country should cheer its success at crossing that threshold.

The Times is making the move to digital faster and more effectively than any other daily newspaper. Assuming other publishers follow its lead, we can expect that many major metro dailies will figure out a sustainable digital formula over the next five years. At that point they can begin to wind down their print operations without fear of giving up the farm. This won’t be pretty. Lots of jobs will go away when the presses shut down. However, the brands may survive and even begin to grow again.


Speaking of The New York Times, the parent Times Company is in “advanced talks” to sell off 16 regional newspapers, including titles in Florida, California, North Carolina, and Alabama. The Times Co. will continue to own the Globe and International Herald Tribune. Analysts are saying the move simply removes a headache for the Times, since the regional media were collectively losing money, and the company can now focus on its core business, which is a good thing these days.

Miscellany

We know the U.S. Postal Service is hemorrhaging money and facing criticism that it’s slow, antiquated and inflexible. So in a bold move to remedy its situation, the USPS is responding by becoming slower and less flexible. Read what the recently announced changes in service mean to publishers. We actually don’t want to be too hard on the Post Office, since many of its problems stem from a congressional requirement that it fund retiree health benefits 75 years into the future. That’s not a typo: 75 years.

And Finally…

Craig SilvermanThe holidays bring family, friends, eggnog, and, best of all, the Crunks. Only they’re not called the Crunks any more since our friend Craig Silverman (left) gained the legitimacy of a Poynter affiliation and began publishing his collection of the year’s best media gaffes as “The year in media errors and corrections” on Poynter Online. Thankfully, the content is still the same.

This year’s roundup of the funniest and most outrageous mistakes and corrections is headlined by several major news organizations that confused the President of the United States with the world’s most notorious terrorist and announced the death of “Obama Bin Laden.” One anchorwoman on Canadian television made the mistake three times in just 17 seconds and apparently didn’t even notice.

We like the newspaper headline that reminded readers to “turn your cocks back one hour at 2 a.m. Sunday,” but our favorite is a lengthy correction from The Guardian about this year’s Royal wedding. It includes the passage:

“The piece referred to “damaging stories of royal profligacy past: Charles with his staff of 150, and an aide to squeeze his toothpaste for him”. [The couple’s press secretary] writes, “The Prince of Wales does not employ and has never employed an aide to squeeze his toothpaste for him. This is a myth without any basis in factual accuracy.”

This stuff is too good to be made up. Thank you, Craig.

By paulgillin | November 10, 2011 - 10:32 am - Posted in Fake News

The news just keeps getting better at The New York Times and the Financial Times, as new numbers indicate that paywalls really work if you’re among the most respected news organizations in the world.

The FT reported that it has breached the 250,000 subscriber mark, having grown digital subscriptions 30% during the last year. The FT charges about $390 for an annual subscription to its website, which would indicate total digital subscription revenues of nearly $100 million if everyone was paying the full annual price. However, the actual total is almost certainly lower than that, since print subscribers pay discounted fee and not all subscriptions are annual. However, the performance is still impressive. The FT said 100,000 of those subscriptions are from corporations.

NetProspex Social Business ChartThe Times is confident enough in its paywall experiment to declare victory and begin branding itself as a social media poster child. Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger took the stage at the London School of Economics last week to crow about a report by lead mining firm NetProspex that declares that the Times is the number one most social company in the U.S., based upon the total number of employees using social media and their fan/follower reach. Sulzberger said the designation recognizes the success of individual employees, such as Nicholas Kristof and C.J. Chivers, at building their own social followings.

“In 2000, we were #3 in terms of uniques behind the Washington Post and USA Today,” Sulzberger said.  “Today we’re proudly the #1 newspaper website, with a worldwide audience of over 45 million uniques…and that’s after we started asking readers to pay for unlimited access to our content.” The Times’ aggressive adoption of Twitter, in particular, has paid off in word-of-mouth awareness. Sulzberger said a Times story is now tweeted every four seconds.

Read a transcript of his comments for more examples. Note, in particular, the emphasis on “digital first,” and the speed with which the Times is creating hash tags and real-time Twitter feeds to lead the conversation on breaking news. Sulzberger also has some interesting points about the reading habits of mobile users and how they differ from those of traditional print subscribers. The ability to “literally get into bed” with readers is an opportunity to expand the Times’ franchise, not simply an adjunct to the print product.

The good news continues overseas, where News International reported a 10% increase in digital subscriptions to the Times and Sunday Times over the past three months to a total of more than 111,000. The company said it would start reporting monthly digital subscription updates, indicating confidence that the number will grow.

Does this mean paywalls are the answer to the industry’s woes? We’ll believe that when we start hearing similar success reports coming from major metro dailies that aren’t The New York Times or that don’t deliver high-value financial news. For now, publishers can take some comfort in the fact that the hemorrhaging appears to be under control. Print circulation is actually growing in emerging markets like Latin America and Southeast Asia, and North American advertising revenues actually were up slightly last year.

Nonprofits Gain Traction

Into the Wild - Knight FoundationNonprofit news organizations are some of the most promising candidates to replace the investigative journalism that’s been lost to cost-cutting in mainstream media, but one of the keys to success is to go beyond simply filling that gap. That’s according to an impressive new report from Knight Foundation, co-authored by our good friend Michelle McLellan, that looks at critical success factors for nonprofit success.

Poynter’s Rick Edmonds has an excellent summary of the study, which looked at the business models of seven promising local ventures, ranging from the ambitious Texas Tribune to the much smaller, hyperlocal St. Louis Beacon. While none has reached self-sustainability just yet, these startups are learning tactics that can serve as a model to others.

The report cites three “next-stage” opportunities, but they can really be boiled down to one truth: Go beyond replacing the newspaper model. Successful ventures are leveraging the unique advantages of online media to deliver information that can’t be expressed in print, such as databases and first-person video. That means hiring technology and data analysis specialists, not just reporters. The featured nonprofits are also diversifying their income streams beyond a few big foundations to include paid memberships, syndication fees, events and sponsorships.

Knight’s study is an encouraging sign that investigative journalism will not perish from the earth, and may even be reborn in a smaller, focused and more-efficient form.

Go Google+

Has your news organization registered its Google+ page yet? Better hurry. Google opened up its rapidly growing social network to company pages on Monday, and news operations like The New York Times have already staked a claim (tagline: “All the News That’s Fit to +”). Even if you have no immediate plans to build a Google+ outpost yet, you want to be sure to grab your brand before somebody else does. As many businesses learned with Twitter, failing to register accounts on new social networks can create an embarrassing situation when others begin speaking on your behalf.