Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

One thing in particular to note from the news earlier today that Warren Buffett’s World Media Enterprises is closing one of its newspapers:

“Terry Kroeger, chairman of World Media, said the newspaper is in direct competition with many other publications and, being part of a large metropolitan area, had a tough time finding the sense of community that a community newspaper needs to prosper. He said the paper had been losing money for years.”

That’s not entirely true. If you check on Facebook for the page of insidenova.com, the website of the News & Messenger, which is the Virginia paper Buffett’s company is closing, you’ll see it has more than 24,000 likes, and if you dig down you’ll find that the Facebook community that had formed around insidenova.com is an active one. There is a community there. The problem is that WME, like other print publishers, doesn’t know how to make a profit from that. That’s the entire crux of the crisis in print publications. There is not necessarily the lack of an audience for news about any particular community, there is just (so far) a lack of ways to make enough money from those folks to keep the lights on.

UPDATE: Don’t take my word for it. From the Washington Post:

“This is horrendous news for everyone in Prince William County and those who care about Prince William news. The News & Messenger and InsideNoVA are the definitive source of news in Prince William.”

And note this quote: “They put a lot of emphasis on their digital products,” Kroeger said, “so their print circulation fell even further.”

So [Edited to clarify] If that view is correct throughout the industry, then the question is whether the closing of the News & Messenger is an aberration or a sign of things to come.

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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.

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The category of “don’t do this on Facebook (or Twitter)” is a large one. While many examples stem from what I guess you might call youthful exuberance or failure to consider the nature of the first two Ws in World Wide Web, not all of them do, which is a good reminder for everyone who laughs off those mistakes as things they would never do. One such tale comes in Jay Rosen’s Anatomy of a Facebook Fail: Mine, in which he explains how he came to post a brief comment on Facebook that he wishes he hadn’t. Skipping to the caveat that any of us could tape to the bottom of the computer screen:

“… that’s exactly why I should have waited to post my comment: so I could examine it with a cooler eye. And that’s what it was: a comment (38 words) not an attempt to report on the episode.

“Still, I have 8,000+ subscribers on Facebook. I knew I was commenting publicly. I teach journalism and I study the Internet. I know a lot about how to avoid these things. That of course makes it worse.”

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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.

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Google logo
Writing for Poynter.org, Jeff Sonderman explains the longer-term implications of Google starting to incorporate your social connections in search results, so that whatever results Google might feed you for a search will be influenced by whatever your friends have looked at:

“The point for news organizations and journalists is that it’s more important than ever to build strong social followings and to optimize content for sharing. Social media is becoming an engine that drives more than just Facebook and Twitter’s own referrals.”

In other words, it’s another argument for engaging the audience, whether you like it or not.

However, I have a feeling the search model is going to change yet again. The whole “what your friends are reading will influence what you see” thing is wearing on me in my Washington Post Social Reader. Apparently a heck of a lot of my friends read not only celebrity gossip, which I don’t care to see at all, and Apple fanboy love but also a lot more fluff than I ever expected to come to me via anything with “Washington Post” in its name — of the top six headlines at the time of this writing, two are Apple stories, one is about a Korean pop group and one is about paparazzi photos of Kate Middleton’s sister. Social search, in other words, is making my social reader less and less useful to me, to the point I expect I’ll stop using it at all — until they fix it, at which point the model will shift again.

1/12/12 UPDATE: Good additional details from Justin Ellis at Nieman Journalism Lab. … Still haven’t seen anyone share my “Hell is other people” take on it.

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I have serious doubts that Google+ is going to escape the non-Facebook “I don’t need it” vortex, but I think Google’s plans to link journalists’ Google+ social profile to news search results may be something that, in some form, becomes routine in coming years. My initial reaction to seeing this was, “Yikes, that’s creepy.” But it’s not actually; if you already have a social profile out there — Facebook, Twitter, what have you — then why is it there? If not to connect with readers and (to use a term from Megan Garber’s Nieman post) provide transparency, then what? Marketing? Because your boss told you to? Any reason I can think of for having a social profile is served by linking it to the stories in news search results. But the “Yikes, that’s creepy” will be the understandable first reaction that, like even having a social profile in the first place, journalists will have to work through. Begin.

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Initially, the Nieman Journalism Lab’s look at how several highly touted innovation projects from 2006 fared, as part of the Newspaper Next project (more on that can be found here, but it’s a 2008 post), depressed me a little bit. As the Nieman post notes, of the seven projects, only three saw the light of day (including one by MG’s own Richmond Times-Dispatch — conducting market research to find out what local businesses wanted) and all three were not really started as a result of Newspaper Next. Others either never launched or petered out — a common factor seems to be aiming higher than your resources allow you to get. Also, some of the people involved at the outset moved on, so it wouldn’t be surprising if whatever urgency an innovation project had moved on with them.

So I was stewing a bit in mild despair about the industry’s ability to change. After all, these seven projects got national attention; these organizations raised their hands and volunteered to climb that stage, so you might have expected a serious push to have been made on all seven. The best that came out of any of them was an internal change in thinking and culture. That’s no small accomplishment for a newspaper company, but it’s pretty far short of what anyone hoped for five years ago.

But after thinking about it a while, I had to change my mind. Looking at my computer screen, with the TweetDeck symbol in the status bar and the word “Facebook” on one of the browser tabs, reminded me of a few of the changes that have crept through newsrooms since 2006. What the still-growing acceptance of Facebook and Twitter in newsrooms have in common with the Newspaper Next projects is an internal change in thinking and culture. Like experiments a few newsrooms have tried in opening their daily news budgeting process to varying degrees of public scrutiny (most recently rolled out in several Journal Register newsrooms), the idea of using social media to open the news process to public view initially strikes news people like it probably would strike a sausage maker if you suggested setting up webcams so people could watch the hog in live video all the way from the farm to the deli counter. A few years ago, it was not a popular concept at all. In some quarters, it remains highly unpopular.

But things changed. Those weren’t the only changes. Video, mobile, chat, website analytics – you could make a list of things that in many newsrooms now are part of the daily flow of conversation and (we hope) planning. The sum total of change from 2001 to 2011 in newsrooms is significant, but most of the individual changes were small and somewhat unheralded.

So I end up in a better place psychologically on this Friday afternoon than I had been a couple of hours ago. Incremental, internal change, as the Nieman Lab post notes, may be harder to notice and measure at the time. From Nieman’s interview with Tom Silvestri, publisher of the Times-Dispatch: “What happens is there’s no parade or Outlook invitation,” he said. “You don’t even get a cake with candles. But something happens.”

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After my junior year of college, I had a summer internship at what was, unbeknownst to me at the time, one of the last PM daily papers in the United States, the Phoenix Gazette. The Gazette was down to about 1/10 of the circulation of its morning rival, The Arizona Republic – both were owned by the same company but maintained separate staff – but was hanging on. Given the trends underscored by the latest report from comScore, Digital Omnivores, we may be in a window where people one day will say they were at one of the last newspaper organizations NOT to have an online PM strategy.

For those of you too young to remember, a brief summary of the relevant history: A little more than a generation ago, more newspapers were sold in the afternoon than the morning, and many cities had both a morning-delivered paper and an afternoon-delivered paper, the latter of which originally was dominant. As lifestyles changed, the afternoon paper faded and the morning paper became dominant, and by the ‘80s few PM papers were left. Whatever news had happened in the wee hours overnight, people heard on the radio or TV in the morning, and whatever happened during the day, people heard on the radio on the drive home or on TV shortly after arriving home. In recent years (as many have observed) the Internet is accelerating the adaptation of news-consumption habits to peoples’ lifestyles and schedules – so much so, it seems, that there now is renewed and growing demand for a late update on the news, but later than the old PM paper and later than the evening TV news.

One of the highlighted elements of the comScore report is the rapid growth in mobile and especially tablet use. This is important because, as the chart shown above illustrates, when people use their computers to check online news, the pattern rises and falls according to the day’s work schedule – peaking in the mid- to late morning and declining late in the day. But mobile use hangs on later – especially tablets, which actually peak later in the night.

A danger of drawing too many conclusions about where the trend goes from here is that the current batch of tablet users are mostly young, male and affluent – not the typical computer user, let alone mobile user, let alone the average person. But they are typical of early adopters, and to that extent, you can look at their usage with an eye to what past early adoptive behaviors indicated was the shape of things to come.

For news producers, the news is hopeful:

News is relatively high on the list of what people do on mobile devices. True, it’s below e-mail … Facebook … games … Google and Yelp and other search … maps … . But still, it’s a solid third or more of the market.

Not only that, but it’s among the higher percentage of uses in a month, especially among tablet owners (and the report emphasizes the growth and potential of the tablet audience):

“Nearly 3 out of 5 tablet owners consume news on their tablets. 58 percent of tablet owners consumed world, national or local news on their devices, with 1 in 4 consuming this content on a near-daily basis on their tablets.”

(Note: Among tablet owners, “TV remained the most prominent source for news content, with 52 percent of respondents typically consuming news in this fashion. Computer use followed closely with 48 percent of tablet owners consuming news content via desktop or laptop computers, while 28 percent reported receiving their news from print publications. Mobile and tablet consumption of news were nearly equal in audience penetration, with 22 and 21 percent of respondents accessing news via their mobile or tablet devices.”)

And finally, a word of hope for the news organizations formally known as newspapers (yeah, I’m a few years ahead of myself, but that’s where we’re going): Newspapers, blogs and technology sites stand out as examples of categories in the U.S. exhibiting high relative mobile (phone and tablet) traffic.

“In August 2011, 7.7 percent of total traffic going to Newspaper sites came from mobile devices – 3.3-percentage points higher than the amount of mobile traffic going to the total Internet. As consumers continue to seek out breaking news and updated information on the go, it is likely that this share of traffic could grow further.”

In summary: It’s early, but this is another data point backing up indications that the trend is that at least a significant portion of the people using mobile devices (notably including the portion most likely to appeal to advertisers, or with the income to pay for access) have an appetite for news that extends late into the evening, and they go online to find it. When do you do your final online updates for the day?

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This one feels a little different: the Wall Street Journal has launched a new Facebook app, but it keeps the user on Facebook the entire time while also delivering the Journal’s subscription-protected content (though sponsorships may allow that content to be delivered free within the app). That seems like a huge advance in the current, Facebook-dominated landscape.

But the bigger news, as Megan Garber reports at Niemen Journalism Lab, is the app advances the concept of personalized news, making “every user an editor” and “elevating the role of people as curators of content.” People already have been curating content — that’s the essence of sharing links — but this app seeks to make it a more seemless process, and the fewer clicks needed to do what the person wants to do online, the more pleasing the Web experience. It raises the question, will people be more willing to pay for the news if it’s this easy to interact with it?

9/26/11 UPDATE: The Washington Post also has an app to feed news directly to Facebook, but it’s even broader, including news from partners The Associated Press, Reuters, Mashable and SB Nation. At Poynter.org, Jeff Sonderman sounds a note of caution about such apps — asking, among other things, whether news organizations can trust Facebook as a partner — but I still think the movement of the audience in a fragmented, digital world makes it imperative to find ways to make it easy to stay in front of people’s eyes, and that means only having your own website and linking to it may not be quite enough. We’ll see if people adopt the apps.

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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.

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