Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘aggregation’


I will take issue with the poynter.org headline The one chart that should scare the hell out of print media, for two reasons. First, it’s actually two charts, the second of which is above, from a presentation by KPCB’s Mary Meeker. The two illustrate what appears not to be a blip but a trend in the money end of the news business. The one above extrapolates the advertising revenue.

You may question whether it is reasonable to extrapolate a trend from the greatest economic collapse since the Depression. I would argue yes both because it started before the economic collapse and because of the second chart, comparing where advertising revenue is spent and where consumers spend their time:

Note on the far left: People spend 7 percent of their time with print media, but print gets 25 percent of the advertising revenue. Note on the far right: People spend a combined 36 percent of their time with Internet and mobile media, but those get just 23 percent of the ad revenue. Even if print will be perceived as a better buy (not a bet I would make), at some point those numbers seem likely to come closer to equalizing.

First conclusion: The ad revenue decline of recent years seems likely to continue.

This leads to a point made by Ken Doctor at the Nieman Journalism Lab: Money coming to news organizations from readers (paid circulation/online access) is growing as a percentage of revenue. Partly this is because of declining ad revenue — if you’re total revenue is $100, then $20 is a small percentage, but if your revenue drops to $50 then $20 is pretty big – but it’s also from the growth of various kinds of paywalls. I remain convinced that an all-or-nothing paywall closes a newspaper off from the possibility of luring new customers, but the trend toward metered paywalls seems able to draw in both avid readers and those who wouldn’t pay even for the bigger headlines of the day.

What the combination seems to lead us toward, as Doctor indicates, is a model where many news organizations will be asking for subscriptions more on the basis that NPR stations ask for memberships — not because they have something every day that you want know, but because you want free access because they regularly do. Advertising, in this scenario, becomes an increasingly less important revenue source; readers drive the revenue.

One fear I have read often in the past is that a news model driven by what is popular would gravitate toward the lurid and celebrity gossip, but I don’t think the above situation would do that. The kind of readers drawn by that kind of news would not be the ones who pay for regular access. Those readers would want at least the occasional substantial bit of civic journalism or in-depth news. You might make a living (a la TMZ) if you are at the top level of celebrity gossip, but at the local level that won’t cut it.

But what also seems likely is that the new level of revenue may not support seven-days-a-week newspapers in many markets, as Clay Shirky argued will eventually be the case even with the Washington Post. If that becomes the common model, then would mere daily scarcity of news drive enough people to buy online subscriptions to get news from “newspapers”? After all, in many markets there are TV and radio stations, which already send out news for free, and in many cases there may be small sites such as Homicide Watch (cited by Shirky) that focus on certain high-interest news areas more thoroughly. What then would spur people to pay for access to the mainstream non-TV news site?

Aggregation is part of the equation — if a news organization shows that no matter the source, it will round up all the news in the community, it could gain a loyal local following. But that seems not enough, to me. If less frequency is key, I wonder whether a higher quality of writing in the reduced number of publication days will be a major factor. If that’s the case, then the frequent publishers’ first instinct of holding down news salaries when budgets constrict could be counterproductive.

The keystone of my evidence, besides any manager’s common sense, is from a story by NPR’s “Morning Edition” in early May about new research measuring human performance in groups, which found that a minority of any group typically will account for a majority of the group’s performance. In other words, a few stars get more done at better quality than a larger group of more typical people. That runs counter to my experience of what managers at all levels do in the face of budget pressures, which is to replace departing staffers with someone who costs a lot less and is deemed “good enough.” “Good enough” hires, if you extend the logic of this study, actually cost more in the long run because they are not just a little but a great deal less capable.

There’s a tantalizing hint of this thinking in the memo from Jim Amoss to the Times-Picayune newsroom about changes in New Orleans from the paper’s reduction in days of print:

“Concerning pay in the new companies, I want to dispel some rumors: There could be some salary adjustments, depending on changes in job descriptions. But most people will make what they make today, if not more.”

I will repeat the relevant part: “most people will make what they make today, if not more.” In a world where the competition for eyeballs is not just local, the need for writers who can catch a reader’s attention is heightened, and it would make sense that if you find you have someone who can both produce the daily bits of news needed to keep a news site relevant while also producing stories worthwhile to the remaining partial-week readership, you would pay that person better than someone who could do only one of the two functions.

For that reason, I would reach back all the way to the early 2000s for a piece of advice I heard an executive repeatedly give (mostly in vain) to publishers: You get what you pay for. If you cut the size of your staff but increase the pay of the remaining people, so that your payroll overall is the same, you might be able to attract and retain the people you need. It is guaranteed that if you cut the staff size and hold the line on the pay – or, worse, cut it – you will never have the people you need, and who would want to pay to read your sorry rag at that point?

6/12/12 UPDATE: I’m gaining some hope about the above from an INMA article about the Star-Tribune boosting reader revenue closer to 50 percent:

“We’re asking users to pay more of the freight. But for that strategy to work, we knew we needed to focus on high-quality customers who see value in our products and have low churn. And to get those high-quality customers, we’ve focused on three areas: our core print audience, pricing/retention, and accessibility.”

If you’re going to focus on high-quality customers, you have to have high-quality staff to provide the value needed to hold onto those customers:

“The content we provide isn’t available anywhere else. This is local reporting — business, local sports, city council meetings. You are doing that, and you are relevant. Differentiate yourself from your competitors. Once you do that, you’re going to get people and you’re going to get them to pay.”

But it’s beyond content to a smart strategy on pricing and marketing. Those are not my areas of expertise, but the article’s points sound good to this journalist.

Read Full Post »

Niagara Falls
This morning brought me a good composite illustration of the evolving media landscape, at least a snapshot of it, that is so challenging for traditional news organizations to adapt to.

On Facebook, a journalist friend vented about local sites’ aggregation practices, which several times a day summarize and link to news her staff has reported: “It’s my reporters doing all the hard work! Am I looking at this wrong?” It’s a type of heartburn, but keep it in perspective: It has been going on since the first time a radio talker read the news on the air.

Nieman Journalism Lab reports on how NPR is trying a new strategy for rolling out new shows, aiming to simplify the process and lower the cost while also making use of social media. My first thought was it just shows that NPR, perhaps because it relies on grants and donations rather than advertising, has been somewhat insulated from the economic issues confronting print and commercial broadcast news organizations because it has been several years since I became used to hearing the idea of “fail fast, fail cheap.” But my second thought was that it illustrates one problem for traditional media: We don’t like to do anything just one time. I don’t mean stories, I mean columns, features, shows, sections, segments. We’re used to the idea of stand-alone news and features, but anything that we would do more than once, but not at least weekly and not for the foreseeable future, is a giant barrier. Any traditional news source is tremendously structured and formatted. The idea of predictability is roundly accepted as a plus, that people want to know what they are getting before they even try. Try telling a newspaper editor (not to pick on newspapers; this is just an example) that certain stories should run in larger type. At best, he’ll convene a committee to discuss it for a few weeks, and if they tend to agree they’ll run off test copies on the press and discuss it some more. So in that sense, even though many organizations have been preaching “fail fast, fail cheap,” almost no one really practices it. “Fail fast, fail cheap” means you go ahead and do it, and if it clear quickly that it isn’t working, you stop.

Finally, John Robinson explains what I would call the cognitive dissonance in a Pew study of news habits, which reported that “31 percent of people ages 18-24 get no news on an average day, and 22 percent of 30-34-year-olds get none either.” The nut of John’s argument:

“The 18-24 year-old age group is the ‘if-the-news-is-that-important-it-will-find-me’ generation. Those folks are on Facebook. They get news every time they log on. Their friends tell them the news in their worlds. (And for you not on Facebook, don’t think that they talk about what they had for breakfast.) This generation doesn’t immediately call it news the way we old-timers do, but when they watch, say, the president slow jammin’ the news, it is news. When they see the ‘Trending Articles’ foisted upon them by Facebook, that’s news. (Well, some of them are.)

“But if you ask them where they get news, the answer is Google and Yahoo and Jon Stewart and Huffington Post. It’s rarely actual, traditional, mainstream news organizations. The news may originate there, but they don’t identify those as the sources. And that’s one of the problems with using the generic term ‘news’ in a survey.”

And that right there is the larger issue: Not just young people but almost everyone now picks up news everywhere throughout the day. It used to be far more structured; the morning paper (or, before that, the afternoon paper), the evening TV news and whatever people talked about during the day that was passed on by word of mouth or that was big enough to warrant a news break on TV or radio in the middle of the day. It’s all atomized now, or it’s increasingly so.

A further illustration: Although I started my day with the morning paper, all of the above was stimulated by things I found online — starting with Facebook.

Read Full Post »


This is what it has come to: I can’t see an Oscar-winning movie without finding parallels in journalism’s changing landscape. In this case, while watching “The Artist” I was struck by the remark by the lead character, a star of silent film as talkies begin to sweep the movie industry, quoted in a newspaper that he would not do talkies because he was an artist. He dismissed the emerging technology of film as crass and lowbrow, less worthy of notice. The sentiment was very familiar; I’ve heard or read it a thousand times from traditional journalists about the idea of (pick any): blogging the news, aggregation, raw video, frequent (or sometimes any) web updates, Facebook, Twitter, engaging with reader comments, and probably a few that I can’t recall right now.

The at the end of “The Artist” you get, in the only spoken lines of the whole movie, why he really dismissed talkies. In case you haven’t seen it, without giving the whole thing away I will just say it came down to an ability. But the way he coped with that and adapted to the new medium was a different skill that had not been utilized by the silent films. He could act, but in the new world acting was not enough. But he had something else to add, and the combination worked.

Read Full Post »


I wasn’t going to post anything on Michael Kinsley’s post about a Felix Salmon article on the New York Observer, which (the Kinsley piece) focuses on the issue of whether the quality of writing on the Web matters. But I keep talking to people about it. At least five people in the past 24 hours. So it seems worth pausing and posing this question: Whether or not Kinsley is serious (I’m pretty sure he’s joking, but don’t ask me to put money on it), might the point of the following sentence be true?

“Never did it occur to me, until I read Felix’s blog post, that it might be possible, without seeming insane, to argue that all aspects of good writing — accuracy, logic, spelling, graceful turns of phrase, wisdom and insight, puns (only good ones), punctuation, proper grammar and syntax (and what’s the difference between those two again?) — are all overrated.” (And yes, it says “all aspects … are all overrated.” Move on.)

You can read Salmon’s piece here, which may help in the details if you don’t get exactly what is meant by this from Salmon:

“When you’re working online, more is more. If you have the cojones to throw up everything, more or less regardless of quality, you’ll be rewarded for it — even the bad posts get some traffic, and it’s impossible ex ante to know which posts are going to end up getting massive pageviews. The less you worry about quality control at the low end, the more opportunities you get to print stories which will be shared or searched for or just hit some kind of nerve.”

So the question raised here — again, whether or not Kinsley is serious — is how close is this to being correct? Undoubtedly, quality control in the media universe as described in the Salmon piece is lacking, but that quality is transitory anyway, as is the audience. If you as a publication are largely reliable, does it matter if you carry writers who really stink? In the online world, the Washington Post’s columnists and Cagle’s can appear side by side under the same set of links, and how many online reader really notice — or care — that the Post’s are better edited and cleaner? I don’t have answers to that yet.

Read Full Post »

John Robinson fooled me. He started a post about the need for innovation with questions that seemed geared to curmudgeonly, 20th-century answers. For instance:

What would you do if:
* Half of your employees — including those in circulation — don’t subscribe?
* Half of your employees — including those in the newsroom — don’t read the paper (except for their own stories)?
* Half of your employees don’t subscribe to your e-newsletters?

I worked up a good, frothy dudgeon and was thinking to myself, “What has happened to John since he left newspapers that he is taking such a troglodyte approach?” — and then I got to the end of his post. So, spoiler alert, he was not writing in inverted-pyramid-style. It was more like pyramid-style. The end held the answers to my questions.

The “troglodyte” approach would be to require employees to subscribe and read (maybe quiz them, to test whether they really read), but, as John writes, a better idea is to ask your employees why: Why don’t they subscribe? Why don’t they read? If the only thing they read is the stories that carry their byline, then the only thing they care about is what was changed between writing and publishing, which means they don’t care about the content. If the reporters don’t care, why should anyone else? Ask them that. Ask what they SHOULD be writing about to make people read.

Related to this, Peter Osnos had an article in The Atlantic resurrecting the idea that aggregators should pay for the news they aggregate, which ignores the fact that no one pays the aggregators, except advertisers, which are not at current ad rates a source of revenue that would sustain news organizations. Paying for aggregation is an idea that traditional journalists love, but if most news organizations started charging with a hard paywall, almost all aggregators would stop looking and aggregating — just as most people do not subscribe.

Get to the basics: Whether or not your site has a paywall or a metered paywall, it’s important to ask what people will pay for and what will make them keep coming back. The same things that make your site worth aggregating are the things that make someone consider subscribing, so in the end whether you go the free model or the paywall model you hit the same capitalist question: Is it worth it?

And you can’t change what people want to read. Among the gathering evidence: a Washington Post story.

Read Full Post »


The folks at insidenova.com, the website of the News & Messenger in Manassas and Prince William County, Va., stumbled into an excellent example of how to respond to what you see happening locally in social media. After severe flooding in the region last week, people found themselves without a clearinghouse for information and discussion — but they gravitated to the insidenova Facebook page and were filling it with just such information. So, seeing that, interim managing editor Kari Pugh created a flood information clearinghouse page on Facebook. In just a few hours it had garnered about 250 “likes,” and the community discussion on it was mostly self-sustaining. The community is doing the organizing and exchange of information, but the news organization has facilitated that and put itself at the hub of the conversation.

Read Full Post »

Joplin before and after
Jot this idea down in case a disaster ever levels your city: Use Google Streetview to get a “before” scene of anyplace in town. The above from Joplin, Mo. (pros take note: the “after” photo by a citizen-journalist).

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »