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August 10 2012

14:56

Viewfinder: Video journalism that works

Whenever I go out on an assignment I get a few of the same questions from onlookers who see me with my tripod and my reasonably large video camera: “What channel are you from?” or “When will this air?” But my favorite, and the one I get most often after I explain that the video won’t be on TV and that I work not for a channel but for a newspaper website is, “How are they going to get a video into my newspaper?” It’s an old joke by now. Video has graced the websites and mobile offerings of traditionally text-based outlets for nearly a decade.

Video or film storytelling is more than a century old, and print storytelling has a couple of millennia under its belt, but the last few years have brought the two together in exciting and evolving ways, particularly for journalism. Outlets like The Atavist and The Daily, and many newspaper and magazines’ mobile applications, make it possible to seamlessly pogo between a print narrative and snippets of video or a short documentary production. The form is in its infancy but loaded with possibility.

As any writer who has had to wait for a video journalist to get some b-roll knows – and as any video journalist who has wished she could avoid wading through a traditional print reporter’s interviewing knows – collaboration is a dance. For this, the first installment of Viewfinder, an occasional column on video journalism, I talked to a few friends and colleagues about the pleasures and pains of building video and print packages. It’s a common conversation, one I’ve had over lunch at work and on long car rides with fellow print reporters. It’s fair to say that most agree the product is a richer audience experience, but how we get there is still being worked out. I hope this column will be a place to parse this and other aspects of the burgeoning craft of web and mobile-based nonfiction video reporting.

Let’s start with what works. I’ve seen terrific packages, many of them big blowouts like the L.A. Times’ series about the effects of the recession, or the Detroit Free Press’ Motown retrospective. The Seattle Times did a laudable job with its in-depth look at the removal of two dams on the Elwha River.

How you make all the parts work together is no small challenge. I talked with my New York Times colleague Shayla Harris, who spent a good four months laboring, along with the photographer Marcus Yam and the reporter John Branch, to weave text, video and photos together to tell the story of the life and death of professional hockey enforcer Derek Boogaard. Ten or 15 years ago, the story would have been a terrific package at a paper – exhaustive reporting, stellar photography, maybe some good graphics. A few weeks or months later, a TV station or an independent documentary filmmaker might start in on a video/film project. Harris, who started at NBC News as an assistant/associate producer, confirmed as much: “A lot of our stories would basically be ripped from the pages of the New York Times. So, right now, we’re basically the in-house version of that. Unfortunately, when you’re working alongside a reporter you don’t get the benefit of having a finished story in front of you to work from.”

Harris also didn’t have much footage to work with, but when the team approached the Boogaard family about telling Derek’s story, the “floodgates” as she put it, opened up. The family had handwritten diaries, some from Derek’s earliest bouts, plus scrapbooks of newspaper clippings about Derek, family photo albums and perhaps most valuable, eight DVDs of every fight Derek had been in from his time in the Canadian Junior League until he landed in the NHL.

Though Branch relied on the same fight material to flesh out scenes in his print story (and were included in a pop-up version called a “quick-link” for mobile and web audiences) the videos felt distinct and complementary rather than duplicative. Harris explained that she felt like Branch’s story could handle the contextual aspects of the story and that her job would be to create a visceral experience for the viewer. “The thing that video can do, that words sometimes can’t, is … evoke a mood or feeling on a multisensory level,” she said. “Just hearing the inflection in someone’s voice and the way they say things can convey a lot of information.”

Video can convey emotion with much greater power than a text quote can. You can see this in Harris’s videos, especially in the interviews with Boogaard’s fellow enforcers. They’re big, imposing men whose job is to intimidate and often to bare-knuckle box on the ice, and their recollections of Boogaard are powerful.

That acknowledgment of video’s strengths has also worked well for my friend Erik German and his wife, Solana Pyne. German works for The Daily as a text reporter, but he’s always thinking about ways to make video work. “In our shop, video is just part of the production process, but there are three major areas that are suddenly very different,” he said.

The three areas: planning, execution and assembly.

“Each of those is a lot more complicated if video is involved,” he said. German argues if you’re really going to have video be a part of the story, reporters need to know from the beginning, for the best possible outcome. This entails thinking about everything from the pitch to the questions you ask a source before you leave the office – quite different than if you’re headed out with just a pen and pad. He says, “I find myself now asking TV producer questions like, ‘What does it look like when you do your job? If I followed you around all day, what would I see?’”

Print reporters rarely ask a source they’re going to visit what the inside of someone’s office is like or if it gets good light in the afternoon or if there’s anything noisy going on that might make doing a recorded interview difficult, but those are all concerns for a video journalist. Yet thinking about those challenges as a text-based reporter can help set up a good video collaboration.

One of my favorite pieces by German, with great videos produced by Pyne, is about a new law in Texas that made it legal to hunt feral hogs from helicopters.  They interviewed game officials, farmers upset by the damage the hogs cause to land, and representatives from the two camps of hog eradication. The hunters and the trappers were all convinced their differing methods were superior.

One aspect of the story they hadn’t counted on was a heat wave that sent the hogs deep into the brush, nowhere to be seen. “You could do a print story about a hog infestation even if you don’t see any hogs,” German said, “but for a video you’ve got to see the pigs.” Yet you’d never know about the missing pigs to read German’s story or to watch Pyne’s videos, in part because they artfully used what footage they could shoot, including material from small-action sports cameras mounted on the stocks of rifles. They bought a bit of stock material from a local shooter and had some great material of very clever hogs working their ways out of traps.

The Daily, which is designed from the ground up every day, elegantly meshes video and text and, like the Boogaard series, uses shorter embedded elements to good effect – “like visual and aural snapshots,” as Pyne puts it. “They conveyed things that would have been hard to get across any other way.”

The effect is, I think, one of the best ways to meld video into a print story. Texan twang and drawl about the difficulty of hog hunting came across in little snippets of video that might not have had a home in the bigger video story, and when transcribed for print might have lost their punch.

Pyne also does a lot of thinking about what makes for good video and print. She’s a senior video producer at GlobalPost, which produces a good deal of video, sometimes as a standalone report. She assigns many of the video journalists; most are freelancers who work on GlobalPost packages, often in tandem with a staff reporter. She often tells video journalists to follow their instincts. “I think it’s important to ensure that the print reporter doesn’t take over the story, because then you get a video that’s just like the print piece,” she said. “It’s useful to have them work together, but I want the videographer to feel comfortable leaving (or staying) to get good video.”

I recommend a deep read and watch on the touching series she helped put together from Japan shortly after the earthquake and the nuclear disaster. Like many of the best collaborations, the text stories anchors the bigger-picture thoughts and the video focuses on characters: everyday Japanese people whose lives were upended.

Sean Patrick Farrell (@spatrickfarrell) is a staff video journalist at the New York Times. He has made videos about tracking wolverines in Montana, dangerous medical radiation and aspiring young opera singers, among many others. He is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied documentary film. Before becoming a journalist, he spent a decade working as a  bicycle mechanic. You can find more of his work at www.seanpatrickfarrell.com. This is his inaugural Viewfinder column for Storyboard.

 

July 30 2012

14:00

One year since she was hired, Vivian Schiller’s “wild ride” at NBC is just beginning

If you ever find yourself awake past the witching hour, sleeplessly scrolling Twitter, take comfort in knowing that NBC News chief digital strategist Vivian Schiller is right there with you.

“I’m up for two or three hours in the middle of the night,” Schiller told me. “But my saving grace is Twitter.”

Schiller has been with the network for just over a year now. If it’s her job that keeps her up at night, she says it’s not for lack of satisfaction with it. After a difficult resignation as CEO of NPR, she’s happy at NBC — “incredibly happy,” actually — and excited about the changes that are taking place there.

The big one happened earlier this month when NBC bought back control of the MSNBC.com website and rebranded it NBCNews.com. (MSNBC — the cable television channel — will launch its own site in 2013.) Of course on a larger scale, it’s the industry itself that’s changing.

In Schiller’s words: “If you don’t disrupt yourself, someone’s going to disrupt you.”

And disruption is built into her job, which focuses on change, experimentation, and recalibration. That means embracing a try-anything-but-fail-fast mentality, taking the best of what works and hopefully turning it into something even better.

With #NBCFail trending in recent days, the Internet has been busy complaining about the network’s coverage of the Olympics thus far. Schiller said that she has nothing to do with the Olympics, but she’s also taken to Twitter to defend the coverage.

+1 @jonathanwald the medal for most Olympic whining goes to everyone complaining about what happens every 4 yrs, tape delay @brianstelter

— Vivian Schiller (@VivianSchiller) July 29, 2012

I spoke with Schiller last week before the games got under way. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited and compressed.

Adrienne LaFrance: A little over one year in, how’s it going? What’s your prevailing mood? Update me.
Vivian Schiller: My prevailing mood is incredibly happy — I feel like I’m suddenly talking to a psychiatrist — but I’m generally a very happy person anyway. I went through some unhappy times, as you know. But I just love it here. I know that makes me sound like I’m being sort of a corporate goody two-shoes but I seriously love it here. I’ve now worked at five big media companies, and I can tell you that this has been spectacularly great.
LaFrance: What’s something you expected — or didn’t expect — coming in that you’ve since learned about NBC?
Schiller: Well it’s funny because — and I certainly didn’t plan it this way — but as it’s turned out in my career, I’ve worked for a company that is in every platform, and the one hole was broadcast television. I was in cable television, I was in newspapers, digital, radio. So coming into a broadcast news organization, I knew that the culture would be different than cable television, no question. And I knew that NBC News has this very storied legacy.

I maybe had just the slightest concern — before I actually started to meet with people — because NBC News is so successful, and because of the unusual relationship we had with our website, how would digital be embraced? How would I be embraced? But I will tell you that vanished instantly, as soon as I started working here. I’ve seen just about every corporate culture there is. One of the things I love about it here is it’s very collaborative. People are rewarded for sharing and being nice to each other, as opposed to in some places that’s not the case.

LaFrance: I always like to ask people about their news consumption habits, when you wake up, where you look first, that kind of thing.
Schiller: It’s a sore subject. The last few months, I’m up for two or three hours in the middle of the night. But my saving grace is Twitter. It’s quite sick. I wake up in the middle of the night. I don’t know why. You could say, ‘Oh, there’s a lot of stress at work,’ but there’s always stress at work. Maybe it’s age. I don’t know what it is. So what’s the first thing I look at in the morning? Really what I look at in the middle of the night and first thing in the morning is Twitter. It is my news feed. It’s a quick take on whatever’s going, including frankly NBC’s own news. So, Twitter. And I have a Breaking News app on my iPhone, and I look at that.

“The answer to everything is not always technology. It’s about technology married with trusted journalism…”

In my apartment in New York, I must admit I do not have like seven monitors set up in my apartment. I toggle back and forth between The Today Show and Morning Joe. I know this sounds rather old-fashioned but I get a bunch of email newsletters still. You know, paidContent, Mediabistro. Mind you, I was general manager of NYTimes.com, but I am still incredibly stuck to my habit of reading The New York Times in print. It doesn’t mean that I don’t also follow NYTimes.com on Twitter and look at the website, but I do read it in print. I just really like to read it in print.

LaFrance: If someone were trying to get a sense of the scope of NBC’s digital efforts, where would you first direct them?
Schiller: I mean I guess the one place would be NBCNews.com but I don’t want to create a false hierarchy by saying that. This is the way the digital world works, and it would be foolish of us not to serve various audiences. All of them adhere to the same journalistic standards. That’s the one immutable constant across everything we do: our journalistic standards. Whatever we do — hard news, soft news, breaking news — anything that we do, it all meets those same standards, regardless of what the coverage is. That’s the one constant.

From there, I want each property to have their own voice. The Grio has a voice. NBC Latino has a voice. Today has a voice. What was MSNBC.com and is now NBCNews.com, we’re going to evolve that site to have more of NBC News’s voice. NBC News on television has a voice. We’re looking to evolve the site — and when I say ‘the site’ I mean everything that we do: mobile, our social extensions — to have a little bit more of that voice. Of course when the new site for cable launches, certainly MSNBC cable has a voice, and you will see that reflected in the site.

LaFrance: In a conference call last week, you and [NBC News President] Steve Capus talked about how amid this transition to NBCNews.com, the thing that will continue will be a commitment to journalism. What recent hard news stories — or reporting packages, series, whatever it may be — come to mind for you as really exceptional demonstrations or that commitment?
Schiller: One of the more recent ones, we did a digital-only series called What the World Thinks of Us. It’s a series of videos from around the world, what people there think about the U.S., which is an incredibly timely issue, especially with a presidential campaign going on.

The web staff, the web journalists, do a tremendous amount. I think frankly we don’t do a good enough job, or haven’t done a good enough job, promoting or surfacing a lot of the extraordinary journalism that’s done that doesn’t appear on television. It’s certainly not just a companion to TV, and it’s not a commodity news site. It’s a place for exclusive, original, personal, in-depth content that — because time is a limited resource — can’t necessarily go on television.

We have reporters who are digital reporters — I mean, they are reporters, period, full stop — who are covering beats that heretofore NBC News hasn’t had desks for. Travel, for example. Consumer business. NBC News has not until now had dedicated reporters on some of these issues. We have now [through acquiring what was previously MSNBC.com] just gained desks and beats who are doing original reporting. There not just doing aggregating, not that there’s anything wrong with aggregating. We just expanded overnight our reporting ranks.

LaFrance: You said the digital side of things isn’t just a companion to television. But as we’ve been tracking tablet use and smartphone use, and as I’m sure you’re aware, people are watching TV while they engage with these devices. How do you factor that in?
Schiller: I’m really glad you asked that. ‘Second screen’ is the new buzzword. The whole concept of a more formalized approach to second screen is going to really explode over the next two years. You’ve seen the same statistics I have. While people are watching television, they’re engaging with a second and even a third screen. It’s astounding how many people have two screens. They might have their desktop or laptop and their mobile device or whatever it might be.

Audiences have created their own ad-hoc experiences, and created their own second-screen experiences through Twitter and Facebook while they’re watching television. We’ve seen that happen.

Nobody ever went broke following audience behavior and audience desire. So that hasn’t been lost on us either. What is the opportunity? If we know that people are watching our programs and engaging with them on Twitter, well, that says to me, couldn’t we create a better experience for them that’s customized to simultaneously watching television and, say, engaging with a tablet? We’ve launched a couple of efforts, one of them an experiment with Dateline — that’s sort of a quasi second-screen experience. We do a lot on Twitter of course.

We are not ready to talk about the details, but we are actively looking at the opportunities to tie more closely what you see on television to what you’re experiencing on your second screen so that we can close the circle of being able to tap into your community, to your social network. Frankly, look — we’re in an advertising-supported business. What are the opportunities for advertisers in terms of going back and forth between the second screen or the third screen? That’s a huge area of focus. Watch that space.

LaFrance: The Dateline experiment — was that the Chatline feature?
Schiller: Yes. I’m a big believer in test-and-learn model of innovation. We’re trying stuff. We’re trying lots and lots of stuff and you know going in some of it’s going to work, some of it isn’t going to work. Hey, if things don’t work, as long as you figure out quickly and stop doing them. The whole fail-fast philosophy. We want to try a lot of things.
LaFrance: So with Chatline, are you trying to appeal to people who maybe aren’t active on Twitter, so they want a narrower, pre-set experience? Or is it people who are so comfortable with Twitter that they’re willing to go all over the place? I’m not quite sure who would be the target audience.
Schiller: The ideal is you want to satisfy both. Anything that we do will involve people’s social networks: Twitter and Facebook. Nobody will tolerate being forced to choose between a dedicated experience that doesn’t include Twitter, and then having to go back and forth to Twitter. That’s not serving the audience very well. Everything we do will have an integrated experience.

People already have communities. I do not believe there is room for another player to come and say, ‘Create a new proprietary network of your friends on our site.’ I think that would be a complete waste of time, and a dead end, and a losing proposition. So we need to engage the social networks that people already have into our experiences.

LaFrance: You said something to the effect of ‘nobody goes broke following what the audience wants’ but people are still trying to figure out how to balance audience wants and advertising needs. Another way to ask this: Will I ever be able to livestream Meet the Press?
Schiller: It is challenging. We want to make sure that we don’t inadvertently hurt our affiliate partners but you raise a good question, and we’re all feeling our way through that. We’re experimenting a lot. I think the key to everything is to experiment.

A lot of times, I think sort of the history of digital media over the last decade and a half or two decades is unwarranted fear of cannibalization. People who think, ‘Oh, if we put something online, people will stop consuming X, whatever it is.” In some cases, yes, that’s true. But you can’t stop the tide. If you don’t disrupt yourself, someone’s going to disrupt you.

It’s not a zero-sum game in the sense that just because you put something online, I don’t think people look at it as a binary decision between ‘Do I consume it online or do I consume it on pick-your-legacy-business?’ What we’ve seen is more content is being consumed and both of those experiences can be equally valid to people.

LaFrance: I’m curious to hear how all of this will carry over to election coverage, and what you’re most excited about NBC trying in that spirit of experimentation that will distinguish 2012 coverage from 2008.
Schiller: We’re trying a lot of stuff. We had relationships with Facebook on the debates. We had relationships with foursquare, with Twitter. We still have some more things we’ll be rolling out. We launched our NBC Politics site and our NBC politics iPad app. We’ve created interactive experiences around delegate maps.

Look, I don’t want to say that other news organizations are not doing a lot of those same things. But we have so many trusted voices within NBC News on politics. What we’re doing is we’re saying, these are your guides that you’ve always trusted on television, so we’re going to make them available on every platform. That is really what is going to differentiate us. The answer to everything is not always technology. It’s about technology married with trusted journalism and the trusted voices who have been leading us through umpteen political races over many decades.

LaFrance: With some distance from NPR now, how are you looking some of the challenges that public radio faces as distinct from the challenges TV faces?
Schiller: Well, the obvious one is government funding, and I was chagrined to see recently that the calls to cut funding for public broadcasting are back in full force. I see my former colleagues going up to the Hill again to testify again. I feel for them. That’s a really tough position to be in. Frankly, I’m glad not to have to ask the government for money. It’s challenging on many fronts. It becomes very politically fraught. It is politically fraught. Nobody knows that better than I do, personally. It’s challenging — I want to phrase this carefully — I think it is complicated when an independent news organization takes money from federal, state, and local government. I think that’s challenging for an independent news organization which covers those entities.
LaFrance: From the TV side, what’s a challenge that’s more pronounced now?
Schiller: Well actually, the same challenge we had at NPR and cable TV, which was writing for the web — it’s not the same as writing for television and radio. We didn’t have that problem at The New York Times. But in all seriousness, that’s a surmountable challenge.
LaFrance: And since you mentioned The New York Times, I have to ask about your sense of how things are working there, specifically with the paywall.
Schiller: I will tell you as now an outsider but still a loyal reader of The New York Times. The newspaper has never been better. I don’t work there. They don’t pay me to say that. Even if they did pay me to say it, I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it was true. I think the news report has never been better. I find it really indispensable. I think the latest paywall — the porous, metered model — is really working well. I worry for them though. I’m not saying anything they don’t know, but all of the key indicators are going in a different direction. It’s a national treasure, so I’m sure they will find away.
LaFrance: Last question for you: What’s the most recent example of something you saw another news organization do that made you think, ‘Oh, I wish we did that,’ or that otherwise wowed you?
Schiller: Gosh, do I have to pick one?
LaFrance: Pick as many as you’d like.
Schiller: I love some of the news parodies that Slate is doing. I think those are really cool. The New York Times does spectacularly well with their interactive data-driven graphics. Some of the incredibly in-depth data-driven investigative reporting coming out of ProPublica is amazing. There’s a lot that I admire. I wish that we could do all of it, and I hope that we get to a point where we can. You’ll see a lot of change as well roll out some changes, as we launch the cable site. It will be a wild ride. It will be great.

April 25 2012

16:27

January 13 2012

16:30

January 09 2012

19:45

Why media outlets team up in an election year

We’ve reached the point in journalism where we barely bat an eye when two news organizations say they’re joining forces. Anything less than a merger is just not an earth mover these days, when egos, brands, unique audiences — all of the guarded, proprietary stuff that kept news companies at opposite ends of the sword — seem to matter less in the face of an uncertain journalism marketplace.

In that way the new partnership between NBC News and Newsweek/The Daily Beast to cover the 2012 election shouldn’t be too surprising. It’s a classic partnership of two organizations looking for a Doublemint effect: Double the resources, double the coverage, double the audience. The plan calls for campaign trail reporting from NBC (and a healthy dose of video) to appear in the pages of Newsweek and online at The Daily Beast. [UPDATE: See correction below.] Call it NBCWeekBeast. (NBeastCWeek?)

But there’s something about politics in particular that seems to bring out the hugging and sharing in news organizations. A presidential election brings out the heavy news artillery, and that means a flurry of scooplets coming from all directions — from the networks, from newspapers national and local, from blogs, from campaigns, and everywhere else. All that firepower pointed in the same direction makes the urge to team up more tempting than ever. (Take for example The New York Times’ Election 2012 iPhone app, which is built more on linking and aggregation than any Times product before it — this, despite the fact that the Times devotes enormous resources to its own coverage.)

History backs this instinct. After all, for years outlets — like the Times and CBS News or ABC News and The Washington Post — have linked up for the purposes of polling. At the same time debates, from the local legislative races up to the president level, have long been collaborations across media, whether it’s the local newspaper and public media, or CNN, Politico, and The Los Angeles Times.

What’s interesting is how many of these partnerships derive from cross-media competitors. Pre-web, The New York Times and CBS News had reporters chasing the same stories — but a broadcast nightly news show and a morning newspaper could comfortably share an audience without excluding either. With everyone competing on the same platforms these days — the web, your smartphone — the calculus is different. And it’s unclear how far these partnerships will extend beyond election season — a beat that is both extended (the presidential election will last a lot longer than mega-events like the Oscars or the Super Bowl) and predictable (that once-every-four-years scheduling means there’s time to align up multiple outlets’ interests).

As indicated by the number of media outlets launching (or relaunching) their politics offerings, we also know it’s an area that can spike pageviews and draw a reliable audience. (The New Yorker’s the latest, just today.) Readers are on the hunt for their election coverage earlier than ever, be it tracking polls, candidate gaffes, new endorsements, or daily overviews, and news organizations are jockeying for position. And it doesn’t hurt that once you have a politics vertical it’s that much easier to take advantage of the spending on political ads. But that underlying tension between the journalist’s desire for exclusivity and the brand’s desire to aggregate content will be something to keep watching from here to election day.

Correction: This piece originally said the sharing would go both ways, from Newsbeast to NBC and from NBC to Newsbeast. In fact, it’s only the latter — NBC content flowing to Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Sorry.

Image by Jiheffe used under a Creative Commons license.

July 31 2011

18:31

On Twitter - NBC News taps @InsideCongress for special Sunday, July 31

Lost Remote :: Several months ago, NBC News scheduled a massive, one-day shoot inside the U.S. House and Senate. Little did they know that last week’s shoot — and tonight, Sunday’s, airing of “Inside Congress” (@InsideCongress ) — would be perfectly timed with intense negotiations surrounding the debt crisis.

NBC launched the @InsideCongress Twitter account, asking users to suggest questions for Brian Williams’ interviews with Congressional leaders. @InsideCongress Washington D.C. includes tweets from @NBCNews producers and crew working on "Taking the Hill: Inside Congress" with @bwilliams. The special airs Sunday, July 31, 2011, at 7 p.m. ET.

Continue to read Cory Bergman, www.lostremote.com

August 26 2010

16:00

The Newsonomics of news orgs surrounded by non-news

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

The Washington Post Company has been much in the news recently, but not because of its flagship paper. It’s making news around its other holdings. It has shed Newsweek, staunching a $30 million annual bleed. More importantly to the company’s finances, its Kaplan “subsidiary” has been much in the spotlight, under investigation by the feds, along with other for-profit educators, for fraud around student loans.  Those inquiries have rocked The Washington Post Co.’s share price, sending it to a year-to-date low.

The Post’s case has also refocused public attention on how much the company is dependent on Kaplan revenues. Those revenues now amount to 62 percent of revenues, and 67 percent of profits. It became clear to even those who hadn’t been watching closely that the Post was more an education company than a newspaper one, though the family ownership of the Grahams clearly intend to use that positioning to protect and sustain the flagship paper.

The Post case is not an isolated one. Fewer news companies are, well, “news” companies in the way we used to think of them. More news operations find themselves within larger enterprises these days, and I believe that will be a continuing trend. It could be good for journalism — buffering news operations in times of changing business models — or it could be bad for journalism, as companies whose values don’t include the “without fear or favor” gene increasingly house journalists. That push and pull will play out dramatically over the next five years.

Let’s look, though, at the changing newsonomics of the companies that own large news enterprises.

Here’s a chart of selected companies, showing what approximate (revenue definitions vary significantly company to company) percentage of their overall annual revenues are derived from news:

News Corp.: 19 percent (newspapers and information services); 31 percent (newspapers and broadcast)
Gannett: 94.3 percent (newspapers and broadcast)
New York Times: 93 percent (newspapers and broadcast)
Washington Post: 21 percent (newspapers and broadcast)
Thomson Reuters: 2.3 percent (Media segment)
Bloomberg: <15 percent (non-terminal media businesses)
AP: 100 percent (newspapers and broadcast)
McClatchy: 100 percent (newspapers and broadcast)
Disney (ABC News): <14 percent (broadcast)
Guardian Media Group: 46 percent (newspapers)

The non-news revenues may be a surprise, but here’s one further fact to ponder: News, over the past several years, has continued to decline in its percentage contribution to most diversified companies. Given all the trends we know, it will continue to do so. Movies, cable, satellite, and even broadcasting all have challenges, structural and cyclical, but overall are all doing better than print and text revenues.

News Corp., the largest company by news revenue in the world with publications on three continents, is a great example. After all, although it is eponymously named, it is not really a “news company.” With only one in five of its overall dollars coming directly from traditional news, it’s much more dependent on the success of the latest Ben Stiller comedy or the fortunes of a blockbuster than on the digital advertising growth of The Wall Street Journal or the paid-content successes — or failures — of The Times of London. These matter, of course, but let’s consider the context.

In February, I wrote about the “Avatar Advantage” that News Corp.’s Wall Street Journal held in its increasingly head-to-head battle with The New York Times. At that point, Avatar had brought in $2 billion in gross receipts for News Corp., whose 20th Century Fox produced and distributed the movie. Now that number has grown by $750 million, to $2.75 billion in total. News Corp. shares that revenue with lots of hands, but what it keeps will make an impressive difference to its bottom line — and to what it can pour into The Wall Street Journal, as CEO Rupert Murdoch desires.

Compare that financial flexibility with the Times, and it’s night and day. The Times Co.’s total 2009 revenues: $2.4 billion, less than Avatar itself has produced. The Times is all but a newspaper pure play, deriving about 5.5 percent of its revenue from non-news Internet businesses, like About.com, after shedding TV and radio stations and its share of the Boston Red Sox.

It may be a one-of-a-kind pure play, in that it is the leading standalone news site and reaches vast audiences globally. Yet its pure-play nature can feel like a noose, which was tightening in the depth of the recession and only feels a lot looser now. The Times’ planned paid-content metering system, for instance, is a nervous-making strategy for a company with relatively little margin of error. Compare that to the revenue trajectories that News Corp.’s London papers may see after their paywalls have been in place for a year. Whatever the results, they’ll have de minimis impact to News Corp. fortunes.

Likewise, McClatchy — another newspaper pure play, like MediaNews, A.H. Belo, Lee, and a few others — is now betting wholly on newspapers and their torturous transition to digital.

While Gannett is heavily dependent on print newspapers, in the U.S. and UK, it has been benefited by the 13 percent of its revenues that come from broadcast. Broadcast revenues — buoyed by Olympics and election-year advertising — were up 18.6 percent for the first half of 2010, while newspapers were down 6.5 percent for Gannett. Broadcast may be a largely mature medium, too, but for the print news companies that haven’t jettisoned properties gained in an earlier foray into broadcast diversification, it has provided some balm. In addition to Gannett, MediaGeneral and Scripps are among those holding on to broadcast properties.

For the bigger companies, the consequences are more nuanced. I call these large, now globally oriented (in news coverage, in audience reach and, coming, in advertising sales) The Digital Dozen, twelve-plus companies that are trying to harness the real scale value of digital distribution.

The Digital Dozen’s Thomson Reuters is a great example. Until 2007, Reuters was a standalone, a 160-year-old news service struggling with its own business models in this changing world. Then, with its merger with financial services giant Thomson, it now contributes less than a tenth of TR’s annual revenue. That kind of insulation can be a good thing, both as it figures out how to synergize the Reuters and Thomson business lines (a complex work-in-progress) and to allow investment in Reuters products and staffing, even as news revenues find tough sledding. Meanwhile, its main competitor, AP, may have a strong commercial business (broadcast and print) worldwide — but it’s a news business, with no other revenue lines to provide breathing room.

National broadcast news, too, has seen rapid change, and much staff reduction in the past few years. GE, one behemoth of a diversified company, is turning over the NBC News operation to another giant, Comcast. ABC News is found within the major entertainment conglomerate Disney.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg — getting more than eight out of 10 of its dollars via the terminal rental business — is moving aggressively to build a greater news brand; witness the Business Week acquisition, and its push into government news coverage, formally announcing the hiring of 100 journalists for its Bloomberg Government new business unit. Non-news revenue — largely meaning non-advertising dependence — is what may increasingly separate “news” companies going forward. So we see the Guardian Media Group selling off its regional newspapers to focus, as its annual report proudly announces, on “a strong portfolio [of non-news companies and investments] to support our journalism.]

Journalism must be fed — but inky hands will be doing less and less of the feeding.

Image by John Cooper used under a Creative Commons license.

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