Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

June 18 2013

17:28

“Does that worry you, about newspapers dying?”

The New Republic‘s Isaac Chotiner was hellbent on asking the the tough questions when he interviewed Politico founders John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei. There’s a feisty exchange about the work environment at Politico, especially for their female employees, but the Beltway gentlemen also get into the site’s role in the broader media landscape, as well as where they plan to head with their content.

IC: Is there a story that you are most proud of?

JH: I think of us more in terms of reporters and our young staff, and I think about that in terms of the broader business. It’s crumbling! Carrie Budoff Brown came to us from the Philly Inquirer. It was a shell. The Washington Post is still a strong newspaper, but no one there would say it is providing the number of opportunities for young journalists that it was able to do when I was there.

IC: Does that worry you, about newspapers dying?

JH: Sure, and there are lots of implications there about the future: Who fills in the foreign coverage and local news as they retreat? I’m proud of the role we play in answering questions about the future of our own field. But let’s face it, most stories on any given day are perishable.

IC: This interview will last.

JH: I agree. This will be one for the ages.

May 10 2013

17:31

Politico Pro expands into new coverage areas

Fresh off the announcement of their paywall experiment, Politico says it plans to expand its current subscription-based service, Politico Pro, to include trade, agriculture, and education. The company plans to launch even more Pro verticals in 2014. Dylan Byers has the memo, which offers some details into how Politico thinks about making its money:

We believe any successful media company in this age must have multiple revenue streams. In our early years, we were 100 percent reliant on issue advocacy advertising, mainly in print. That worked very well for us, and still does. But a growing newsroom must be supported by a growing business, so we have introduced events and subscriptions over the past 36 months. We still get the vast majority of our revenue from advertising, with online ads growing the fastest. But we project subscriptions will account for 25 percent of our revenue this year and close to 50 percent by 2016, providing the company a nice, sustainable balance. The beauty of subscription revenue is that it’s predictable and not dependent on broader economic and market trends. Like clockwork, more than 95 percent of Pro subscribers renew each year and the few that drop are usually members of Congress who lost reelection or companies that went out of business or merged. In almost every case, Pro subscribers often add new verticals — or more users — to their package each year.

May 09 2013

16:45

Politico tests a metered paywall

Fittingly, Politico’s media reporter Dylan Byers has the memo. Apparently, Politico won’t miss a few Idahoans or Rhode Islanders or Czechs:

Here is how the experiment will work: Readers overseas and in six states will be required to pay for our content after consuming a set number of pages of it, much like they do when visiting The New York Times, The Boston Globe and scores of other news sources. We will experiment with a few different price points and page limits to find the sweet spot for our readership. We chose smaller states, spread across the country, so our experiment captures any regional trends and also limits any potential loss of traffic to the site. This will last at least six months, so we have a large enough sample to appraise the results.

The decision to test a broader subscription model represents a shift in our thinking. As recently as a few months ago, we thought it was premature for POLITICO to start asking readers to pay for content, outside of Pro. But, it is increasingly clear that readers are more willing than we once thought to pay for content they value and enjoy. With more than 300 media companies now charging for online content in the U.S., the notion of paying to read expensive-to-produce journalism is no longer that exotic for sophisticated consumers. This is a very promising, if uncertain, trend in our country. The collective decision by media companies to give away for free a product of high value and high cost will go down as one of the worst, self-defeating moves in the history of industry. Thankfully, there are some signs this is changing.

For the record, they haven’t said which six states will get the stiff-arm. (Update: The list is out: Iowa, North Dakota, Vermont, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Sorry, Cheyenners and Amesians, Albuquerquers and Biloxians.) As Sam Stein jokes:

who will move to another state for free politico? RT @mlcalderone: Politico testing metered paywall in six states: politi.co/11VCAen

— Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) May 9, 2013

Longtime paywall watchers will remember that The New York Times tested its paywall in Canada in 2011 before bringing it to the U.S. of A.

Also worth noting that the Politico memo falsely claims The Boston Globe has a metered paywall. It doesn’t.

14:54

The newsonomics of influentials, from D.C. to Singapore to Raleigh

singapore-skyline-cc

It’s a season of new product launches, but you have to roam around the country and the world to find them. You have to look for the niches they’re trying to serve. These launches tell us a lot about the emerging digital news economy and the new building blocks that form its foundation.

Our journey takes us from Washington, D.C. to Singapore to Raleigh and back again to D.C. Publishers — and broadcasters — are basing these new businesses on a set of surprisingly similar features.

In D.C., Atlantic Media — in the beehive of activity that is its headquarters in the Watergate Building, overlooking the Potomac — is putting the finishing touches on its latest launch: Defense One. The new digital-just-about-only product will debut this summer, Atlantic Media president Justin Smith told me last week.

Defense One aims to disrupt a set of incumbent defense-oriented publications: Jane’s, Gannett-owned Defense News, and Breaking Defense, among them. Atlantic Media believes it’s found an opening — a wide one — to exploit.

“We saw a gap,” says Tim Hartman, president of the Government Executive Media Group, the Atlantic Media brand under which Defense One will take flight. The company believes It may offer a market as much as three to seven times greater than Government Executive itself, a 40-year-old title that has largely made the transition to digital.

Hartman says the understanding of the opportunity popped out of strategic planning that began two and a half years ago. Quartz, the business site launched last fall (“The Newsonomics of Quartz’ business launch”) was the first new product to come out of the work. Defense One is the second. A third one will likely launch within the next two years, says Hartman.

If analytics derived from Government Executive’s audience and usage provided the notion, in-depth interviews with 40 defense sector players filled in a roadmap. The company conducted initial hours-long interviews with them, and then returned to a number of them for second or third talks as plans solidified.

Over time, Hartman says Defense One’s staff size will be similar to that of Quartz — about 18-20 in content creation and production. While the company is looking for a top editor, Hartman says its editorial mandate is clear: “an orientation for the future.” That’s what industry leaders want, a sense of what is more likely than not to happen tomorrow, and why.

Much of Atlantic Media’s sales, marketing, analytics and financial functions can be leveraged to support the new product, minimizing what would be similar expense for a one-off start-up. Also like Quartz, it is going free, looking to marketers to make it profitable. It isn’t just an ad play. Rather, it looks to an emerging model of higher-end sponsorship and content marketing — with the important adjunct of events marketing — to propel it forward.

Its offer to marketers will follow the playbook of what Atlantic Media’s half-dozen other publications (The Atlantic, The Atlantic Wire, The Atlantic Cities, Quartz, National Journal, Government Executive) now offers. It’s on-site sponsorship/share-of-voice placement, content marketing, and marketing services aid and placements and sponsorship of physical events.

That events business rides right alongside inclusion on its websites, providing marketers with a brand association that fluidly moves from online to off and back. It’s a strategy now well-employed in D.C. — also exploited by Politico and The Washington Post — and among events leaders like The Texas Tribune. Atlantic Media has turned events into a potent, higher-margin revenue source, now accounting for around 16 percent of revenues.

Even before Defense One’s product launch, it is well along in lining up speakers for its first event in November.

Atlantic Media targets influentials. It is a term you hear often in conversation with the company’s president, Justin Smith. Quartz targets business influentials. Government Executive and National Journal target government influentials. Now Defense One targets national security influentials. It’s a spin on the Meredith marketing positioning I noted a couple of weeks ago, as that company morphed from a women’s magazine company to a company expert at marketing to women.

“It’s really a B2B model,” says Smith, explaining in a few words much of Atlantic Media owner and chairman David Bradley’s plan to double company revenues and profits within five years. The best B2B companies deeply know their audiences and then plan numerous touchpoints to yield revenue. If they are number one in their field, they reap the benefits.

There are a lot of influentials in this world. The trick is in picking the right targets.

Seeking influentials across Asia

That’s who HT Media, publisher of a leading national Indian daily (the Hindustan Times) is targeting in Singapore. Mint is HT Media’s business newspaper, now six years old and published in eight Indian cities. The paper was cofounded by Raju Narisetti, who has since done stints at The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal and was recently named senior vice president and deputy head of strategy for the emerging, separate News Corp.

For Mint and its digital Livemint, a highly readable, authoritative business news source, finding growth included finding influentials abroad and expanding upon its mission to be “a fair and clear-minded chronicler of the Indian dream.”

One month ago, it launched MintAsia in Singapore. Its targets: the large Indian expat business community. There are 4,500 Indian-owned companies in Singapore, which is fast becoming the multinational business center for its region. MintAsia is also aimed at those multinationals, for whom better knowledge of India, its economy, and its policies are central to their own growth plans.

The new MintAsia is both a weekly newspaper published on Fridays and a website. About a quarter of the weekly content is originated for the Singapore market — largely produced by Mint’s India-based staff of 140, with stories like “Top 10 Indian Health Startups” targeted for the strong health care business sector of Singapore. The rest of MintAsia’s content is chosen from Mint’s stream of web-first and daily print content. HT is sending a former head of ad sales to head up the MintAsia operation, and has employed a handful of Singapore locals to deal with circulation and logistics.

“The whole idea is to leverage our strength,” Sukumar Ranganathan, Mint’s editor, told me in Delhi. “For Singapore, it’s marginal costing.”

So, its costs are small, and its potential gain — in revenue, in branding, and in influence — is large.

Its business model is au courant. MintAsia is an all-access, print + digital product. It’s printing 3,000 copies to start, with a goal of reaching 10,000 within a few years. By branching out of its home market, it is not only testing a pay strategy; it’s a pay strategy that greatly exceeds what it can charge in its home market. India is just about the only major nation not suffering from the worldwide newspaper turndown. Advertising is growing robustly, and circulation is holding as well. That’s what adding millions of literate, better educated, striving-into-the-middle-class citizens a year will do for you.

But Indian dailies are among the cheapest in the world. Mint daily costs four rupees per copy — seven cents American! An annual subscription will set you back 500 rupees, or about $9.26.

In Singapore, Mint Asia costs six Singapore dollars, or US$4.87. Buy a year of print with access to the LiveMintAsia, and the price is 180 Singapore dollars or US$146. (Its paywall is now a hard one, but will go metered, powered by Press+, next month).

So we see minimal costs, good ramping all-access circulation money, and two other familiar streams of revenue: advertising targeting the financial and other needs of Singapore-based Indian influentials and events. MintAsia’s formal launch comes on May 28, when it hosts a conference in Singapore that includes the head of the Indian equivalent of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. That event already has two paying sponsors; more sponsored events are in the works.

As with Atlantic Media, the niche strategy is more than a one-off. Hong Kong may be the next logical market, with other Asian markets farther down the list. If Mint moves into those markets, it will likely proceed much as it has in Singapore — checking its data for critical masses of likely readers and then following up with in-person visits to new cities, talking to to the influentials about influential publication potential.

Seeking influentials in North Carolina

Back in Raleigh, North Carolina, the WRAL’s TechWire product isn’t new, but its paywall is. It is certainly one of the first paywalls put up by a broadcaster, though in this case, Research Triangle (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill) digital market leader WRAL isn’t putting one up on its main site — it erected its paywall on its technology vertical about a month ago. It follows the paywall paradigm, with a couple of twists.

TechWire charges $24.99 for an Insider annual membership, which includes numerous industry events and other discounts. Until May 16, the annual price is discounted by half. It also offers monthly passes for $2.49 and day passes for 99 cents.

So far, WRAL general manager John Conway says he happy with the early results. Most subscribers are opting for the annual plan; unique visitor and pageview loss has been minimal for the site that’s recently averaged 125,000 unique visitors a month, the majority of whom are local. His goal: get 5-10 percent of those uniques paying for something.

The paywall is powered by Amsterdam-based Cleeng, a paywall provider whose clients include Epicurious, DailyMotion, and now, TEDMED, and which offers an architecture that works well with video content access control.

TechWire offers a hard paywall, with first paragraph offering for free on staff-written stories. (AP, Bloomberg and other non-local content makes up 50-60 percent of the site, and that remains accessible.)

Seeking influentials in D.C. politics

Up the road and back in D.C., Politico continues to build on its impressive Pro line of products (“Politico Pro grows into 1,000 organizations, moves into print”) — following the influential methodology. Roy Schwartz, the company’s chief revenue officer, now counts seven Pro products. Three of these — finance, tax and, interestingly, defense — debuted last September. They followed energy, health care, and technology, all launched in February, 2011, and transportation, which followed a year later.

These Pro products, too, borrow from the same marketplace understandings that drive Atlantic Media and Mint. In Politico’s case, it’s working richer veins of revenue. Politico Pro now claims more than 7,000 users, across more than 1,000 organizations.

Politico sells institutional subscriptions, on a largely per-seat basis, to groups within each niche that want an insider’s time and knowledgable view. Politico takes in mid-four digits a year for each subscriber, with pricing variable by niche and what the market will bear. It also sells sponsorships into the Pro products, the same kinds of marketing that funds its free Politico site. Then those sponsors’ reach is further extended — at an additional price, of course — into events. Last year, Politico hosted 90 events. On its roadmap, it makes sure that each of the Pro verticals will host an event a quarter. It’s sponsorship-fueled, value-added-to-membership relationship marketing.

Schwartz says the events are free to attendees and strive to match the allure of the Pro coverage. “It’s about convening thought leadership. What we find interesting, our audience finds interesting.”

So what do you do when you’ve bound together targetable groups of influentials? You put together an Influencer Upfront. On Wednesday, Politico hosted its first Influencer Upfront.

The upfront was a day of presentations, editorial and advertising, to significant advertisers. Politico is borrowing a page from the long-standing TV network upfronts, events held to showcase shows and sell fall ad campaigns in the spring. Digital upfronts are becoming all the rage, as this spring saw several in New York City’s, including one sponsored by Digiday.

Lessons learned

It’s no accident that each of these four newer products all touch business audiences and markets. The truism hold: It’s easiest to make money where money is changing hands. Make yourself an effective intermediary, and you can grab a little of it as it moves. It’s easiest to see these opportunities, clearly, in and around business. It’s an in-the-know kind of market, and it’s one — because of scale — that national publishers are now tending to exploit first.

Can it work regionally? Can regional newspapers find big enough niches to replicate this model? If I were a regional publisher, I’d be doing a whiteboard exercise bouncing off these emerging influentials models.

Among these four newer products, we can see the emerging new rules of publishing creation. Among them:

  • Critical mass enables growth. Niche product creation that builds on existing company infrastructure, knowledge and marketplace learnings is the cost-effective way to go. Each of these companies adapted what they learned to these new launches. Politico’s seven Pro products illustrate this most clearly; Atlantic Media’s cousin-by-cousin launches put a parallel spin on the notion. (Intriguing side note: Politico owner Robert Allbritton put his once-core TV station holdings on the market last week, saying he wanted to further invest in and around Politico. The “around” could include replicating the Politico business model in a new coverage niche.) This is a new power of incumbency. It’s not the ownership of a printing press, as it was for newspaper publishers in the old days.
  • Analytics leads the way; in-person follow-up seal the deal. You may have an intuition about a new market, but checking it out — doubly — is essential.
  • Help your audience deal with future and present shock. Covering a sector is one thing; covering in a way that embraces — and tries bring a bit of order to — the multiple change issues of any audience is another. That’s an aspirational and competitive editorial positioning, but we can see ongoing examples of it in the work that Mint, Quartz, and Politico already produce.
  • Events are emerging as both a vital new revenue source and an almost counterintuitive high-touch part of the mostly digital business mix. HuffPost Live, Google Hangouts, and assorted other ways to assemble online community are great experiments and promising tools, but old-fashioned in-person events are gaining strength as we all go more digital. That’s an important learning about the value of relationship, and how to reinforce it, even in the age of MOOCs.
  • It’s not print or digital. It’s digital and print, suited to audience reading habits — which of course are a moving target. Influentials, like all of us, toggle between the two.

Photo of Singapore skyline by Thibault Houspic used under a Creative Commons license.

August 22 2012

20:13

Coming in the side door: The value of homepages is shifting from traffic-driver to brand

Moving on from newspapers, journalism industry soothsayers are now predicting the decline of something much younger: the homepage.

As with newspapers — which haven’t so much disappeared as been pushed off center stage — few are saying that homepages will disappear completely. But as more people enter news sites sideways — via search engines, links they see in emails, or via Facebook and Twitter — newsrooms are finding their homepages aren’t the starting points they once were. And the propulsive growth of mobile devices has accustomed news sites to presenting more than one face to the digital audience, through some mix of mobile-optimized sites, native apps, and responsive design. (You now have news outlets talking about their desktop sites almost as an afterthought to mobile-first development.)

(I’m willing to bet that you got to this very article through some non-homepage channel; less than 7 percent of visits to Nieman Lab start on our homepage.)

At the same time, traffic patterns seem quite divided between those who dive deep into social media and those who still head for news orgs’ front doors. Just 9 percent of Americans reported getting news through Facebook or Twitter “very often,” according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism’s 2012 State of the News Media Report.

Earlier this summer, we reached out to a number of news organizations to see what they’ve been seeing in recent months. Take The New York Times, for instance. In early 2011, the Times was typically seeing 50 to 60 percent of its visits come from people starting at the homepage of nytimes.com. More recently, that number had dropped a bit, with 48.6 percent of site visits starting there in March. Search engines drove 17.1 percent of traffic to the newspaper, and social is still just a blip: 3.1 percent of New York Times traffic came from Facebook, and 1 percent from Twitter.

But for brands that don’t have the history of the Times, the side door can be more important. At Buzzfeed, a whopping 37 percent of traffic comes from social networks and 17 percent from search, a spokeswoman told me. Of course, Buzzfeed makes virality a key tenet of news production — even if it means hooking readers with tacky celebrity photos and tags like “interspecies cuddling” — so it makes sense that social would be a significant part of how Buzzfeed distributes content. On the more muted side of the news, ProPublica tells me it gets “a lot more” traffic through search, social, and email than from direct-to-homepage visits.

Google’s Richard Gingras has argued that shifts in audience flow mean that we ought to be reconsidering “the very definition of a website,” and the possibility that it’s time to put “dramatically more focus on the story page” rather than the homepage. In a piece for Folio, Atlantic Digital editor Bob Cohn wrote that the homepage serves an important purpose as the “ultimate brand statement,” but isn’t nearly as important as a place to drive traffic.

In fact, a remarkable 88 percent of traffic to The Atlantic comes in sideways, meaning just 12 percent of site visits begin on the homepage. When I spoke with Cohn, he echoed Gingras on the importance of story pages, and said the homepage is a place to glean “the sensibility and the content areas of the site.”

“The trick is not to worry about where they’re coming from — the trick is what are they doing after they come.”

“The article page is now the principal way that people arrive at The Atlantic,” Cohn said. “The old mantra that every page needs to be a homepage has never been more true. People come for the article, and the goal is to give them a clean and interesting reading experience for the article — elegant, not too crowded, some art, a pull quote if the piece is long enough — and beyond that to make sure that we are giving the reader a sense of what else is on our site.”

Revisiting a series of questions Josh posed back in March 2011, I asked about a dozen news organizations for data detailing the following over the course of a recent 30-day period:

1. What percentage of your traffic comes from search engines?
2. What percentage of your traffic comes from facebook.com?
3. What percentage of your traffic comes from twitter.com?
4. What percentage of your site’s visits begin on your front page?

Only a handful gave me exact figures. But others were willing to speak generally about how traffic habits are changing, and what their organizations are (and should be) doing about it.

Raju Narisetti, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Digital Network, says the shift away from the homepage is clear but that subscribers and non-subscribers frequent the homepage at different rates. (Narisetti broadly discussed traffic numbers in an interview, but The Wall Street Journal declined to provide specific percentages.)

“Sixty percent of our audience is not coming through the homepage, so already the majority is not experiencing the homepage,” Narisetti told me. “I’m more focused on the behavior of our subs versus our non-subs. Our subs come to the homepage in big numbers because they pay for it — they bookmark it. The non-subs tend to find out about our stories through other ways, so they come in sideways.”

He says social media traffic to the site accounts for anywhere from 6 to 10 percent. On the day after President Barack Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, for example, social traffic was on the high end. (Narisetti attributes that spike in part to a Wall Street Journal Storify detailing Twitter reaction to the news.) But even as social grows, and people find their way to Journal stories without ever laying eyes on the homepage, Narisetti says it remains a critical area for editors to convey their news judgement.

“Ultimately, the curated aspect of the homepage brings people to big brands, right?” he said. “The trick is not to worry about where they’re coming from — the trick is what are they doing after they come. If they come sideways, can I get them to actually go to the homepage? That won’t happen if I diminish the value of homepage internally. I still need to make sure the homepage is engaging — just not get too hung up on people coming there first…It’s more of an engagement play than a front-door-audience play these days.”

“Anything we can do besides just words is something I’m thinking a lot about, and I think matters. We’re probably not doing it as fast as we should.”

Narisetti says the Wall Street Journal’s numbers are comparable with other big papers like The New York Times. His previous employer, The Washington Post, declined to share their traffic percentages. Its Beltway rival Politico would only provide wide ranges of traffic percentages. It said between 35 percent and 50 percent of its traffic begins at the homepage, for example. The Los Angeles Times was similarly cagey.

At a smaller outfit, ProPublica news apps editor Scott Klein, says publishing frequency affects readers’ traffic habits.

“ProPublica’s kind of the Galápagos Islands of news organizations,” he said. “We have very different species here. For most news websites, the homepage — because it changes so often throughout the news day and because so much of what they do is about what’s happening at this very moment — their homepages are where users tend to start. At ProPublica, we get a lot more traffic from social, search, links, and our email than we do through the homepage. But the homepage provides a crucial function, which is that it expresses the editor’s vision of the organization. And for somebody who doesn’t know who we are, it explains who we are, what we do, and how we do it.”

Klein said he wasn’t able to determine how many ProPublica readers start at the homepage, but that about 24 percent of traffic comes through search engines, 9 percent through Facebook and Twitter, and 8 percent via links in ProPublica’s email newsletters.

Everyone I interviewed agreed: The homepage can and should stay. But what needs to be done about story pages now that more and more readers are starting there? The Atlantic’s Cohn says one key is to bring in more photos and images.

“Less text and more visuals are going to help on most of our pages,” he said. “We’re not the text-heaviest site out there, but larger photos, better photos, more energetic ways of teasing other content. Headline fonts that convey the sensibility and the energy of the site. Anything we can do besides just words is something I’m thinking a lot about and I think matters. We’re probably not doing it as fast as we should.”

So when’s the redesign? “Calling it a redesign is too formal, too print-like,” Cohn said. “We’re constantly tweaking.”

Note: Data is from a variety of periods, varying by news site, in the first half of 2012. ProPublica couldn’t provide traffic data related to visits that begin on the homepage.

We’d love to know about traffic patterns to your site. If you’re willing to share, please leave answers to our four questions in the comments section. For some more guidance, check out this earlier post.

May 03 2012

15:39

Consumers Union blasts Facebook in full-page ad

AdAge :: Consumers Union took out a full-page ad in Politico today bashing Facebook's privacy policies--or lack thereof. While the ad copy seems written to an average consumer, its placement in Politico is obviously an attempt to catch the eye of politicians.

Watch the ad here - Continue to read Ken Wheaton, adage.com

April 17 2012

14:30

Politico Pro, one year in: A premium pricetag, a tight focus, and a business success

Most nights on Capitol Hill, the Senate and House press galleries begin to thin out around dinner time. The deadline rush subsides, and all but a scatter of reporters remain.

It was approaching 11 p.m. on March 7 when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a deal that cleared the way for voting to begin the next day on 30 amendments tied to a $109 billion transportation bill.

Inside baseball, sure, but it’s news that matters inside the Beltway, and matters to a lot of people. It’s the kind of deal you might want to know about right away if you were a member of Congress or a lobbyist or someone else who has to keep track of policy for a living. But it’s unlikely you would have found out about the deal on TV, or on Twitter or via any major newspaper’s website that night. Even traditional policy publications didn’t have it.

Enter Politico Pro, the pricey premium news service, launched last year with the goal of doing for policy coverage what Politico set out to do for political coverage five years ago.

“I don’t think the policy areas had been covered in a very interesting way before — policy publications can be pretty dry,” Politico Pro editor-in-chief Tim Grieve said. “There are ways to cover this stuff that are pretty damn interesting, which may be the secret to our success.”

On the night of March 7, paid subscribers to Politico Pro got the news about the Senate transportation deal almost immediately. Anyone signed up for the service’s energy coverage would have received this email at 10:41 p.m.:

Sixteen minutes later, Politico Pro published a story about the deal, including a full list of the amendments. Here’s a partial screenshot:

Less than an hour after that, a reporter for Politico’s core site broke the news that President Barack Obama had been personally lobbying Democrats in the Senate, urging them to reject one of the amendments that turned out to be on the list.

In the span of an hour, Politico and Politico Pro — we’ll get to the distinction later — had significantly advanced a major story in a way that would inform the next day’s business on Capitol Hill. For people involved in that business, knowing about these developments before getting to work the next morning would have been key.

“The next morning at 7:18, our competitor has this story: ‘Amendments for the Senate transportation bill are still up in the air,’” Grieve said. “They didn’t even have the story. That happens quite a lot…Do you want to find out something that’s really important in your universe now, or do you want to wait?”

“Now” is increasingly the answer among smartphone toting news consumers. But like many premium niche news services, the nowness that Pro delivers comes with a steep price tag. A year into its life — and as more publishers consider whether a premium-content strategy might make sense for them — Politico Pro’s success is a model worth watching.

You pay for what you get

Politico Pro covers four major policy areas: technology, energy, health care, and transportation. Newest in the mix is the transportation section, which launched on Tuesday. The site plans to add at least one more vertical before the end of 2012. Of Politico’s 217 total employees, more than 150 are on the editorial side, with 45 of them dedicated to Pro. The rest work in sales, technology, and events.

For an individual subscribing to one of Pro’s verticals, pricing starts at $3,295 per year. But most Pro subscribers are part of a group membership, and those start at around $8,000 per year for licensing content from a single vertical to five people. Pro bans subscribers from sharing or forwarding content. Add more employees to an organizational membership and the “price becomes more fluid,” says Miki King, Pro’s executive director of business development.

The subscription strategy has been somewhat fluid, too. Pro didn’t offer group memberships at first, but quickly found that it was a better business strategy. “The vast majority, well over 95 percent, are organizational subscriptions versus individual subscribers,” King says. “The whole idea behind the Pro subscription is we are going so deep in these policy areas that you would only care about it to this degree if this is your job.”

So it’s not surprising that about one-third of Pro subscribers are government workers.

“That ranges from Capitol Hill offices — members of Congress and senators’ offices — to government agencies to state and local municipalities,” King said. “Roughly another third are in the general public policy space — trade associations and those organizations that cover general policy, the think-tank types of organizations, or those who specifically cover energy policy.”

The other third is “everybody else,” King says.

Pro executives won’t publicly share subscription numbers, but just past the one-year mark, King says the figures “very quickly exceeded the expectations of where we thought we would be.” She says the number of subscribers has tripled since February 2011, and renewals “overwhelmingly” surpassed market-based predictions of 85 to 90 percent. As Politico’s Jim VandeHei and John Harris wrote in a staff memo earlier this month:

We set high editorial standards, and we achieved them. We set big goals for Pro’s first-year sales, and we beat them. We set big goals for Pro’s first-year renewal numbers, and we’re beating those, too. Readers want the kind of journalism Pro produces — fast-moving, decisive POLITICO-style journalism applied to the specific policy areas that interest them most. Because of this success, POLITICO has the most reporters working the most important policy areas in Washington — and all our readers benefit from this when we turn to the PRO team to write for our broader audience on energy, health care and technology matters.

While the Politico brand has been built on breaking targeted news, the sense of urgency that guides Pro’s team is mostly about getting meaningful information to people right away — sometimes even before reporters have a full understanding of what a news development means. King says Pro has “no problem whatsoever sending out to our subscribers a two-line email that’s going to give you a piece of breaking news that could impact your day because we’re not waiting for three hours for a reporter to file a story on it.”

“It’s very liberating for reporters, but it’s pretty damn liberating for readers too.”

That also means changing the way Pro’s stories are constructed.

“One of the things I tell reporters every day is: When you get to that point of the story, four or five paragraphs in, and [you write] ‘the move comes amid…’ — stop,” Grieve said. “Anybody who is reading Politico Pro knows what ‘the move comes amid.’ That 300 words of new essential information can be a 300-word story. The traditional approach would be a 1,000-word story, but the second part of that story would be the blah blah blah that everybody already knows…It’s very liberating for reporters, but it’s pretty damn liberating for readers too. No one has time to read stuff they already know. Take your time with the stuff that’s going to grab them by the jacket lapels and say, ‘Whoa, this is new.’”

Pro by phone

For Politico Pro, grabbing readers by the lapels means getting into their inboxes. Because the overwhelming majority of Pro subscribers are in Washington, that means catering to their reliance on BlackBerrys, which are — believe it or not — still ubiquitous on the Hill.

“It’s such a BlackBerry-centric and email-centric world,” VandeHei, Politico’s executive editor and co-founder, told me. “Anything that moves [on Pro] you’re getting pinged to you instantly on your BlackBerry. That option is only available right now to Pro subscribers. We just hear something interesting, and it might be just enough text to fill a BlackBerry screen. That part of the experience is very different than what you’re getting from Politico.” (Although Politico’s main product puts a lot of emphasis on mobile, too.)

Pro’s phone-centric approach means that its subscribers spend “very little time” on the site itself, Grieve says. There’s also no plan to move into text-messaging territory. Instead, subscribers get Pro updates on their BlackBerrys while rushing between hearings, while they’re waiting for a meeting with a Senator, or while they’re otherwise on the go.

“If you have a few hours on the weekend to read a 10,000-word New Yorker story, that’s a really rewarding experience,” Grieve said. “It’s also not what we’re trying to do. If you’re racing around the Hill trying to make progress on the policy area you care about, that’s a really lousy way of getting information.”

Content customized and on-demand

The other way that Pro tries to help readers cut to the chase is by letting them customize their newsfeeds. So in addition to subscribing to basic alerts, briefings, coverage from specific reporters, and other updates in policy areas of interest, readers can tag up to 25 terms that matter to them. That could be the name of a senator, a particular piece of legislation, or just about anything at all, really. Check it out:

“Any time that we write about your member of Congress, your agency, your company, your client, that’s instantly sent in full email text to your BlackBerry,” VandeHei said.

It may sound simple, but VandeHei calls what Politico Pro is doing “arguably the most important business innovation and arguably journalistic innovation” since Politico’s core site launched five years ago.

“The reason I say that is it now gives us two different solid revenue streams, which gives us two different ways to fund really aggressive journalism,” VandeHei said. (Politico won its first Pulitzer Prize yesterday.) While the Pro reporters are grouped in a different area of the building than the other Politico reporters, VandeHei says Pro is ultimately a “descriptive term” and, “at the end of the day, it’s one newsroom.”

Pro’s top editor Grieve also says that he’s hoping to foster more cross-pollination among reporters going forward. Already, there’s overlap. Pro reporters’ bylines are often on the core Politico site, and one Pro reporter recently hit the campaign trail with Mitt Romney when the core Politico team needed a break, Grieve says.

“As we grow Pro, I think you’re going to see much more of that — much more crossing over and blending and people moving around the newsroom in creative and maybe surprising ways,” Grieve says. The other surprise will be what verticals Pro rolls out next. Executives won’t say which areas they’re exploring, but King says there are clues on the core site.

“If you think about the way we have launched Pro products in the past, we’ve always launched around where we have done coverage,” King says. “For a hint on policy areas where we may be able to, over time, lend some insight from a Pro perspective, take a look at policy pages where we’ve covered everything from transportation to finance to defense. Those and more would be potential areas for future verticals.”

The good news for those who can’t afford the pricey premium service — and for those who care about quality journalism in general — is that Pro’s growth directly affects what the core Politico team is able to cover.

“If Pro didn’t exist, if there weren’t a base of readers who were interested in paying for the kind of highly detailed coverage Pro provides, it would be a limitaiton on the way Politico as a whole could cover this stuff — we might have one energy reporter, one technology reporter, one healthcare reporter,” Grieve said. “So when SOPA comes to the fore, when the contraception fight comes to the fore, when gas prices are the thing everyone’s talking about in Washington, there’s kind of an overwhelming force of manpower, expertise, knowledge, and insight that we can bring to bear for Pro readers and regular Politico readers that we just wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. It works from an editorial standpoint and works from a business standpoint. And if it doesn’t do both of those things, then it’s not going to happen.”

Photo of the U.S. Capitol Rotunda by ctj71081 used under a Creative Commons license.

January 18 2012

22:12

Politico-Facebook sentiment analysis will generate "bogus" results

Techpresident :: Thursday morning last week, Politico announced that it was joining with Facebook to "measure GOP candidate buzz" and give its readers an "exclusive look at the conversation taking place on the social networking site" ahead of the January 21 South Carolina primary. It's called "sentiment analysis". "Mitt, Paul winning Facebook primary" was the headline on their first story on the project. "'Social media has forever changed the way candidates campaign for the presidency," said John F. Harris, editor-in-chief of Politico, in a press release about the new partnership.

But researchers question the value of the sentiment analysis.

[Micah L. Sifry:] Marc A. Smith, director of the Social Media Research Foundation, told me, "I share your skepticism re: 'sentiment' analysis. Irony is a tough nut to crack."

Continue to read Micah L. Sifry, techpresident.com

07:20

05:30 a.m. - Politico's Mike Allen, the man the White House wakes up to

New York Times :: Before he goes to sleep, between 11 and midnight, Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, typically checks in by e-mail with the same reporter: Mike Allen of Politico, who is also the first reporter Pfeiffer corresponds with after he wakes up at 4:20. A hyperactive former Eagle Scout, Allen will have been up for hours, if he ever went to bed. Whether or not he did is one of the many little mysteries that surround him.

[Mark Leibovich:] The abiding certainty about Allen is that sometime between 5:30 and 8:30 a.m., seven days a week, he hits “send” on a mass e-mail newsletter that some of America’s most influential people will read before they say a word to their spouses.

Continue to read Mark Leibovich, www.nytimes.com

07:15

Joe Pompeo: What Politico's beltway cash cow (print edition) wants from New York, and what it doesn't

Capital New York :: Mike Allen's influential daily Playbook email blast this morning had news of special interest to Politico's New York readers: The politics brand was now exporting its print edition to Manhattan. 2,400 copies were available as of today in 24 street boxes located mostly in Midtown, the Upper East and West sides, and the Financial District. 900 additional copies will also be "individually addressed and delivered to financial executives, media personnel, both broadcast and print, as well as select personnel in Madison Avenue advertising agencies," Politico C.O.O. Kim Kingsley told us.

Joe Pompeo: The move at first might have seemed unsurprising: Why hadn't it happened sooner?

Continue to read Joe Pompeo, www.capitalnewyork.com

Tags: Politico
07:08

Politico comes to New York

FishbowlNY :: Politico is coming to the streets of New York. Well, most of the streets. The company will distribute about 4,000 copies of the paper to “business leaders,” and it will target “financial institutions, leading companies and national media organizations.”

Continue to read Chris O'Shea, www.mediabistro.com

January 15 2012

19:10

Facebook - Politico collaboration: Violation of privacy or most dynamic census of human opinion?

ReadWriteWeb :: Facebook has cut a deal with political website Politico that allows the independent site machine-access to Facebook users' messages, both public and private, when a Republican Presidential candidate is mentioned by name. The data is being collected and analyzed for sentiment by Facebook's data team, then delivered to Politico to serve as the basis of data-driven political analysis and journalism.

The move is being widely condemned in the press as a violation of privacy but if Facebook would do this right, it could be a huge win for everyone. Facebook could be the biggest, most dynamic census of human opinion and interaction in history.

Continue to read Marshall Kirkpatrick, www.readwriteweb.com

January 09 2012

14:12

BuzzFeed raises $15.5m series C and reunites HuffPo dream team

BetaBeat :: Just a few weeks after poaching star political reporter Ben Smith from Politico and scooping CNN at the Repulican Primaries, Buzzfeed announced a big new round of funding to build out their operation. The company is raising a $15.5 million series C.

Continue to read www.betabeat.com

January 07 2012

08:24

Why 400-500 words? What BuzzFeed’s new politics team is doing right

Mediaite :: Several months ago, Politico reporter Ben Smith lamented that his blog at the site was being trumped by his Twitter feed. Where once people would refresh his blog for updates, now they could simply follow him on Twitter and know what he was going to post before he posted it. The blog became secondary, slower – a formalized storehouse for organized pieces of information.

[Philip Bump:] The long news story is an artificial construct, one largely predicated on filling a certain amount of printed space. Articles often don’t need to be 400-500 words with compelling intros and robust context – they certainly don’t always need to be. 

Why short and fast can matter.

Continue to read Philip Bump, www.mediaite.com

December 21 2011

09:16

Marcus Brauchli and Post loyalists discuss the current state of the Washington Post

Huffington Post :: The Washington Post newsroom has changed dramatically in recent years, with hundreds of staffers leaving in a series of buyouts and numerous star reporters and editors decamping to established competitors, such as the New York Times, or starting their own, like Politico. Just this past week, four Post staffers left the paper's National desk for other news organizations, including Reuters, NPR and NBC News.

But there are still a few drops of institutional memory in the Post reservoir, into which executive editor Marcus Brauchli recently tried to tap, in order to squeeze out ideas for using the paper's past to improve its future. On Dec. 4, Brauchli, who arrived at the Post only three years ago, invited a half-dozen Post loyalists for lunch at his home to discuss the current state of the paper and how they might contribute more in 2012, according to sources with knowledge of the meeting.

Continue to read Michael Calderone, www.huffingtonpost.com

December 07 2011

19:20

Your 2011 holiday gift guide, brought to you by the news

Santa running down the street in Algers, France

If you want to save journalism, you might turn to journalism this year for all your Christmas shopping.

This weekend at NewsFoo, an O’Reilly “un-conference” for about 170 journalists and tech disrupters, the tech writer Mónica Guzmán posed a question: “Can’t we [news organizations] sell anything besides articles?” Yes, it turns out, and there are numerous examples of them trying it.

A couple of months ago Guzmán was talking to an entrepreneur in Seattle who had just sold his latest startup to Google. “We got to talking about journalism, and I’m always fascinated to listen to people who come from an innovative mindset, but not a news mindset, look at news. What he said, basically, is I don’t see how news is really going to innovate and move forward unless they can get past this idea that what they sell is just content.”

News organizations have one big advantage in business: They know their audience.

“We have a huge leg up when it comes to organizing information communities,” she said. “[News outlets] build those communities that can be really specific and really well defined.” (NewsFoo is generally off the record, but Guzmán talked with me after her session.)

Here are a few examples of all the ways news companies are selling non-news products to consumers. Some might look better wrapped up under the tree than others, but if you feel like supporting the news, maybe there’s room on your credit card for one or two of them.

Merchandise!

For the oenophile in your life, buy a gift subscription to the New York Times Wine Club. Six rare wines (four red, two white) for $90 per shipment, or $180 for the most exquisite Reserve Club varietals. Each bottle is paired with tasting notes and an NYT recipe. Europeans can sample Telegraph Wines, “one of the UK’s most respected wine merchants.” A case of six bottles of Prosecco goes for £54 and includes two complimentary Champagne flutes.

Spaceballs: The Flamethrower

The Telegraph doesn’t stop at wine. There’s a Telegraph Garden Shop, Motoring Shop, a travel shop for holiday cottages. You can buy earrings, duvet covers, snow boots, and clothes hangers. “They are the leading retailer of clothes hangers in the U.K.,” said Jeff Jarvis in an April 2010 Editor & Publisher story. The newspaper raked in a quarter of its profit in 2009 from selling things, he said.

The Onion cheaply repurposes tons of its own content into coffee-table books and framed prints. NPR, almost true to stereotype, sells “green gifts,” “gifts for gardeners,” and “gift for tea lovers.” None of those items have NPR branding, just the kind of things a typical NPR listener might like to buy. (And shoppers know their purchase helps support the news.)

The überaggregator Boing Boing sells stuff as weird as that which it aggregates, e.g., rubber finger tentacles, a remote-controlled flying shark, a bacon-scented air freshener. That site outsources the e-commerce software and payment processing.

Specialty iPhone apps

Santa's Hideout screen shot

There are plenty of smartphone and iPad apps that try to generate revenue for news organizations, but it’s less common for there to be an app that doesn’t have anything to do with the outlet’s journalism. Just today we wrote about Condé Nast’s new Santa app, which helps parents assemble and share lists of what their kids want for Christmas.

This summer Hearst Corp. launched its App Lab, a sort of digital R&D unit for the ad agencies who work with Hearst. It was Hearst that developed Manilla, a financial management product for consumers, earlier this year.

Events

In September, the web-only Texas Tribune launched the Texas Tribune Festival, a first annual symposium that brought together politicians, wonks, lobbyists, and others from the universe of Texas politics. (I interviewed editor Evan Smith about it this summer.) Tickets cost $125, but the real money comes from corporate sponsorships. In 2010, before the festival existed, the Tribune raised about $600,000 in event sponsorship, Smith told me. The Tribune festival was modeled on the New Yorker Festival, which also sells tickets and big-name sponsorships. Forbes follows a similar model for its CEO conferences around the world, but those tickets are a lot pricier.

Digital marketing services

Rubber finger tentacles

435 Digital is a Chicago consulting firm that does web design, SEO, and social media — actually, it’s a division of Tribune Co., but you would never know that from looking at its home page. The group is made up of the people who gave us Colonel Tribune and the ChicagoNow blog network.

GannettLocal, too, offers marketing services for local businesses that advertise in Gannett-owned papers. Condé Nast sells its in-house creative talent to advertisers, competing with the very agencies whose work fills the pages of its magazines.

Using reporters’ smarts

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, as I wrote this summer, packages its reporters’ in-house expertise about particular topics as paid webinars that cost as much as $96 apiece.

The premium content, the merch, the events, the consulting, the apps — they are all specialty products for niche audiences. Whether all of the offerings are making money is for another story.

“Last-minute shopping?” by Louise LeGresley used under a Creative Commons license.

June 27 2011

14:00

Politico teams up with Random House to publish 4 e-books about the 2012 presidential campaign

Media Decoder :: Politico, an accelerant to the news cycle like wind is to brushfire, is taking on the one realm of political news that it has not yet sped up: book publishing. The all-things-politics Web site is teaming up with Random House to publish four e-books about the 2012 presidential campaign, the first of which is scheduled to go on sale sometime before Christmas.

Continue to read mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com

November 11 2010

16:00

The Newsonomics of journalist headcounts

[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.]

We try to make sense of how much we’ve lost and how much we’ve gained through journalism’s massive upheaval. It’s a dizzying picture; our almost universal access to news and the ability of any writer to be her own publisher gives the appearance of lots more journalism being available. Simultaneously, the numbers of paid professional people practicing the craft has certainly lowered the output through traditional media.

It’s a paradox that we’re in the midst of wrestling with. We’re in the experimental phase of figuring out how much journalists, inside and out of branded media, are producing — and where the biggest gaps are. We know that numbers matter, but we don’t yet know how they play with that odd measure that no metrics can yet definitively tell us: quality.

I’ve used the number of 1,000,000 as a rough approximation of how many newspaper stories would go unwritten in 2010, as compared to 2005, based on staffing reduction. When I brought that up on panel in New York City in January, fellow panelist Jeff Jarvis asked: “But how many of those million stories do we need? How many are duplicated?” Good questions, and ones that of course there are no definitive answers for. We know that local communities are getting less branded news; unevenly, more blog-based news; and much more commentary, some of it produced by experienced journalists. There’s no equivalency between old and new, but we can get some comparative numbers to give us some guidelines.

For now, let’s look mainly at text-based media, though we’ll include public radio here, as it makes profound moves to digital-first and text. (Broadcast and cable news, of course, are a significant part of the news diet. U.S. Labor Department numbers show more than 30,000 people employed in the production of broadcast news, but it’s tough to divine how much of that effort so far has had an impact on text-based news. National broadcast numbers aren’t easily found, though we know there are more than 3,500 people (only a percentage of them in editorial) working in news divisions of the Big Four, NBC, ABC, Fox, and CBS — a total that’s dropped more than 25 percent in recent years.)

Let’s start our look at text-based media with the big dog: daily newspapers. ASNE’s annual count put the national daily newsroom number at 41,500 in 2010, down from 56,400 in 2001 (and 56,900 in 1990). Those numbers are approximations, bases on partial survey, and they are the best we have for the daily industry. So, let’s use 14,000 as the number of daily newsroom jobs gone in a decade. We don’t have numbers for community weekly newspapers, with no census done by either the National Newspaper Association or most state press associations. A good estimate looks to be in the 8,000-10,000 range for the 2,000 or so weeklies in the NNA membership, plus lots of stringers.

Importantly, wire services aren’t included in the ASNE numbers. Put together the Associated Press, Reuters, and Bloomberg (though some of those workforces are worldwide, not U.S.-based) and you’ve got about 7,500 editorial staffers.

Let’s look at some areas that are growing, starting with public radio. Public radio, on the road to becoming public media, has produced a steady drumbeat of news about its expansion lately (“The Newsonomics of public radio argonauts,” “Public Radio $100 Million Plan: 100 Journalist Per City,”), as Impact of Government, Project Argo, Local Journalism Centers add more several hundred journalists across the country. But how many journalists work in public broadcasting? Try 3,224, a number recently counted in a census conducted for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. That’s “professional journalists”, about 80% of them full-time. About 2,500 of them are in public radio, the rest in public TV. Should all the announced funding programs come to fruition, the number could rise to more than 4,000 by the end of 2011.

Let’s look at another kind of emerging, non-profit-based journalism numbers, categorized as the most interesting and credible nonprofit online publishers by Investigative Reporting Workshop’s iLab site. That recent census includes 60 sites, with the largest including Mother Jones magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, ProPublica, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and and the Center for Public Integrity. Also included are such newsworthy sites as Texas Tribune, Bay Citizen, Voice of San Diego, the New Haven Independent and the St. Louis Beacon. Their total full-time employment: 658. Additionally, there are high dozens, if not hundreds, of journalists operating their own hyperlocal blog sites around the country. Add in other for-profit start-ups, from Politico to Huffington Post to GlobalPost to TBD to Patch to a revived National Journal, and the journalists hired by Yahoo, MSN and AOL (beyond Patch), and you’ve got a number around another thousand.

How about the alternative press — though not often cited in online news, they’re improving their digital game, though unevenly. Though AAN — the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies — hasn’t done a formal census, we can get an educated guess from Mark Zusman, former president of AAN and long-time editor of Portland’s Willamette Week, winner of 2005 Pulitzer for investigative reporting. “The 132 papers together employ something in the range of 800 edit employees, and that’s probably down 20 or 25 percent from five years ago”.

Add in the business press, outside of daily newspapers. American City Business Journals itself employs about 600 journalists, spread over the USA. Figure that from the now-veteran Marketwatch to the upstart Business Insider and numerous other business news websites, we again approach 1,000 journalists here.

What about sports journalists working outside of dailies? ESPN alone probably can count somewhere between 500 and 1000, of its total 5,000-plus workforce. Comcast is hiring by the dozens and publications like Sporting News are ramping up as well (“The Newsonomics of sports avidity“). So, we’re on the way to a thousand.

How about newsmagazine journalists? Figure about 500, though that number seems to slip by the day, as U.S. News finally puts its print to bed.

So let’s look broadly at those numbers. Count them all up — and undoubtedly, numerous ones are missing — and you’ve got something more than 65,000 journalists, working for brands of one kind or another. What interim conclusions can we draw?

  • Daily newspaper employment is still the big dog, responsible for a little less than two-thirds of the journalistic output, though down from levels of 80 percent or more. When someone tells you that the loss of newspaper reporting isn’t a big deal, don’t believe it. While lots of new jobs are being created — that 14,000 loss in a decade is still a big number. We’re still not close to replacing that number of jobs, even if some of the journalism being created outside of dailies is better than what some of what used to be created within them.
  • If we look at areas growing fastest (public radio’s push, online-only growth, niche growth in business and sports), we see a number approaching 7,500. That’s a little less than 20 percent of daily newspaper totals, but a number far higher than most people would believe.
  • When we define journalism, we have to define it — and count it — far more widely than we have. The ASNE number has long been the annual, depressing marker of what’s lost — a necrology for the business as we knew it — not suggesting what’s being gained. An index of journalism employment overall gives us a truer and more nuanced picture.
  • Full-time equivalent counts only go so far in a pro-am world, where the machines of Demand, Seed, Associated Content, Helium and the like harness all kinds of content, some of it from well-pedigreed reporters. While all these operations raise lots of questions on pay, value and quality, they are part of the mix going forward.

In a sense, technologies and growing audiences have built out a huge capacity for news, and that new capacity is only now being filled in. It’s a Sim City of journalism, with population trends in upheaval and the urban map sure to look much different by 2015.

Photo by Steve Crane used under a Creative Commons license.

October 29 2010

15:30

This Week in Review: WikiLeaks’ latest doc drop, the NPR backlash, and disappointing iPad magazines

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

WikiLeaks coverage gets personal: There were two big stories everyone spent the whole week talking about, and both actually happened late last week. We’ll start with what’s easily the bigger one in the long term: WikiLeaks’ release last Friday of 400,000 documents regarding the Iraq War. The Iraq War Logs were released in partnership with several news organizations around the world, including Al-Jazeera, The New York Times, Der Spiegel and Le Monde. (The Columbia Journalism Review wrote a good roundup of the initial coverage.)

The Guardian and The Times in particular used the documents to put together some fascinating pieces of data journalism, and The Columbia Journalism Review’s Lauren Kirchner looked at how they did it. The folks at Journalism.co.uk wrote a couple of posts detailing WikiLeaks’ collaborative efforts on the release, particularly their work with the new British nonprofit Bureau of Investigative Journalism. A French nonprofit that also worked with WikiLeaks, OWNI, told its own story of the project.

Despite all that collaborative work, the news coverage of the documents fizzled over the weekend and into this week, leading two reporting vets to write to the media blog Romenesko to posit reasons why the traditional media helped throw cold water on the story. John Parker pointed to the military press — “Too many military reporters in the online/broadcast field have simply given up their watchdog role for the illusion of being a part of power” — and David Cay Johnston urged journalists to check out the documents, rather than trusting official sources.

There was another WikiLeaks-related story that got almost as much press as the documents themselves: The internal tension at the organization and the ongoing mystery surrounding its frontman, Julian Assange. The Times and the British paper The Independent both dug into those issues, and Assange walked out of a CNN interview after repeated questions about sexual abuse allegations he’s faced in Sweden. That coverage was met with plenty of criticism — Assange and The Columbia Journalism Review ripped CNN, and Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald joined Assange in tearing into The Times.

After being chastised by the U.S. Defense Department this summer for not redacting names of informants in its Afghanistan leak this summer, WikiLeaks faced some criticism this time around from Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici and Gawker’s John Cook for going too far with the redaction. A few other WikiLeaks-related strains of thought: Mark Feldstein at the American Journalism Review compared WikiLeaks with old-school investigative journalism, Barry Schuler wondered whether the governmental animosity toward WikiLeaks will lead to regulations of the Internet, and CUNY j-prof Jeff Jarvis wrote about the way WikiLeaks is bringing us toward the dawn of the age of transparency. “Only when and if government realizes that its best defense is openness will we see transparency as a good in itself and not just a weapon to expose the bad,” he said.

NPR, Fox News and objectivity: The other story that dominated the future-of-news discussion (and the news discussion in general) was NPR’s firing last week of news analyst Juan Williams for comments about Muslims he made on Fox News. Conversation about the firing took off late last week and didn’t slow down until about Wednesday this week. NPR kept finding it tougher to defend the firing as the criticism piled up, and by the weekend, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller had apologized for how she handled the firing (but not for the firing itself). NPR got a bomb threat over the incident, and even PBS, which has had nothing whatsoever to do with Williams, was deluged with angry emailers.

Conversation centered on two issues: First, and more immediately, why Williams was fired and whether he should have been. Longtime reporter James Naughton and The Awl’s Abe Sauer thought Williams should have been fired years ago because he appeared on Fox, where he’s only used as a prop in Fox’s efforts to incite faux-news propaganda. NYU professor Jay Rosen put it more carefully, saying that given NPR’s ironclad commitment to the objective view from nowhere, “there was no way he could abide by NPR’s rules — which insist on viewlessness as a guarantor of trust — and appear on Fox, where the clash of views is basic to what the network does to generate audience” — not to mention that that viewlessness renders the entire position of “news analyst” problematic.

Along with Rosen, Time media critic James Poniewozik and Lehigh j-prof Jeremy Littau advocated for greater transparency as a way to prevent needless scandals like these. Former NPR host Farai Chideya emphasized a different angle, asserting that Williams was kept on for years as his relationship with NPR eroded because he’s a black man. Said Chideya, who’s African-American herself: “Williams’ presence on air was a fig-leaf for much broader and deeper diversity problems at the network.”

The other issue was both broader and more politically driven: Should NPR lose its public funding? Republican Sen. Jim DeMint said he would introduce a bill to that effect, and conservatives echoed his call for defunding (though NPR gets only 1 to 2 percent of its budget from direct public funding — and even that’s from competitive federal grants). Politico noted how difficult it would be to actually take NPR’s public funding, and a poll indicated that Americans are split on the issue straight down party lines.

Those calling for the cut got some support, however indirect, from a couple of people in the media world: Slate’s Jack Shafer said NPR and public radio stations should wean themselves from public funding so they can stop being tossed around as a political pawn, and New York Sun founding editor Seth Lipsky argued that NPR’s subsidies make it harder for private entrepreneurs to raise money for highbrow journalism. There were counter-arguments, too: The Atlantic’s James Fallows gave a passionate defense of NPR’s value as a news organization, and LSU grad student Matt Schafer made the case for public media in general.

Magazines disappoint on the iPad: Advertising Age collected circulation figures for the first six months of magazines’ availability on the iPad and compared it to print circulation, getting decided mixed results. (Science/tech mags did really well; general interest titles, not so much.) The site’s Nat Ives concluded that iPad ad rates might drop as result, and that “Magazines’ iPad editions won’t really get in gear until big publishers and Apple agree on some kind of system for subscription offers.”

Former New York Times design director Khoi Vinh gave a stinging critique of those magazines’ iPad apps, saying they’re at odds with how people actually use the device. “They’re bloated, user-unfriendly and map to a tired pattern of mass media brands trying vainly to establish beachheads on new platforms without really understanding the platforms at all,” he said. In a follow-up, he talked a bit about why their current designs are a “stand-in for true experimentation.”

Meanwhile, news organizations continue to rush to the iPad: The New York Post came out with an iPad app that The Village Voice’s Foster Kamer really, really liked, The Oklahoman became another one of the first few newspapers to offer its own iPad subscription outside of Apple’s iTunes payment system, PBS launched its own iPad app, and News Corp. is moving forward with plans for a new tabloid created just for tablets.

Two opposite paid-content moves: It was somewhat lost in the WikiLeaks-Williams hoopla, but we got news of three new online paid-content plans for news this week. The biggest change is at the National Journal, a political magazine that’s long charged very high prices and catered to Washington policy wonks but relaunched this week as a newsstand-friendly print product and a largely free website that will shoot for 80 updates a day. The Lab’s Laura McGann looked at the National Journal’s new free-pay hybrid web plan, in contrast to its largely paid, niche website previously.

Meanwhile, Politico said it plans to move into exactly the same web territory the Journal has been in, launching a high-price subscription news service on health care, energy and technology for Washington insiders in addition to its free site and print edition. And the Associated Press gave more details on its proposed rights clearinghouse for publishers, which will allow them to tag online content and monitor and regulate how it’s being used and how they’re being paid for it. We also have some more data on an ongoing paid-content experiment — Rupert Murdoch’s paywall at The Times of London. Yup, the audience is way down, just like everyone suspected.

Reading roundup: Outside of those two huge stories, it was a relatively quiet week. Here are a few interesting bits and pieces that emerged:

— The awful last few weeks for the Tribune Co. came to a head last Friday when CEO Randy Michaels resigned, leaving a four-member council to guide the company through bankruptcy. The same day, the company filed a reorganization plan that turns it over to its leading creditors. The Chicago Reader’s Michael Miner gave a good postmortem for the Michaels era, pointing a finger primarily at the man who hired him, Sam Zell.

— Wired’s Fred Vogelstein declared Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon our new (media) overlords. (No indication of whether he, for one, welcomes them.) MediaPost’s Joe Marchese mused a bit about where each of those four companies fits in the new media landscape.

— The Atlantic’s Michael Hirschorn wrote a thought-provoking expression of a popular recent argument: If the Internet gives all of us our own facts, how are we supposed to find any common ground for discussion?

— And since I know you’re in the mood for scientific-looking formulas, check out Lois Beckett’s examination here at the Lab of Philly.com’s calculation of online engagement, then take a look at her follow-up post on where revenue fits in.

October 28 2010

14:00

The Newsonomics of the third leg

[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.]

Most publishing stood proudly and stably on two feet, for decades.

You got readers to help pay for the product. And you got advertisers to pay as well. While American newspapers dependably got 20 percent of their revenue from readers, European ones have gotten more than 30 percent and Japanese ones more than 50 percent. In the consumer magazine, trade, and B2B worlds, the splits vary considerably, but the same two legs makes the businesses work.

Even public radio, seemingly a different animal, has followed a similar model. Substitute “members” for subscribers and “underwriters” for advertisers, and the same two-legged model is apparent.

In our digital news world, though, the news business has been riding, clumsily, a unicycle for more than a decade. Revenue — other than the Wall Street Journal’s and the Financial Times’ — has been almost wholly based on advertising. So, that’s why we’re seeing the big paid content push. “Reader digital revenue in 2011!” is the cry and the quest, as the News Corp. pay walls have gone up, Journalism Online hatches its Press+ eggs, The New York Times prepares to turn on its meter, and Politico launches its paid e-newsletters. They all have the same goal in mind: digital reader revenue.

The simple goal: a back-to-the-future return to a two-legged business model. (See Boston.com’s New Strategies: Switch and Retention). We’ll see how strong that second leg is as 2011 unfolds.

While two legs are good, and better than one, consider that three would be better still. Three provide a stronger stool, and a more diversified business. We’re beginning to see a number of third legs emerging. So it’s look at the emerging newsonomics of the third leg.

The clearest to see is foundation funding. Foundations, led by Knight, have been pouring money into online startups. The startups, of course, are selling advertising and/or sponsorship, and some are selling memberships, as well. In addition to those same two legs, foundation funding provides a third leg — at least for awhile. Our 2010 notion is that foundation funding isn’t a lasting revenue source, but a jumpstart; that may change as we move toward 2015. We may well see foundation funding turn into endowments for local journalism, so it may become a dependable third leg.

Make no mistake: It’s not just the new guys who benefit from foundation “third leg” funding. Take California Watch, the Center for Investigative Reporting’s statewide investigative operation. Barely a year old, its dozen-plus staffers have written stories that have appeared throughout the traditional press, from major dailies to commercial broadcasters to the ethnic press. California Watch work — at this point wholly funded by foundations, though CIR, too, is looking back to the traditional legs for future funding — then is used by the old press both to improve quality and cut their own costs. So, indirectly, the old press derives benefit from this third leg of foundation funding.

Take a couple of examples from the cable industry. We’ve seen the Cablevision model, as the New York-based company bought Newsday, took the website “paid” and bundled it with its cable subscriptions. The notion, here: Cablevision is driving “exclusive” value for its cable (and Triple Play) offers by offering Newsday online content, content not otherwise available without paying separately (or subscribing to print Newsday). Newsday.com sells advertising, and online access, but the real value being tested is what its content does to spur retention and new sales in Cablevision’s big business: cable.

Similarly, Comcast — a pipes company fitfully becoming a content company as well as it tries to complete its NBCU deal — is making a big investment in digital sports. Headed by former digital newspaper exec Eric Grilly, ex of Philly.com and Media News, it’s a big play. Well-deployed in five cities — Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, the Bay Area and Washington D.C. — and headed for nine more, all in which it runs regional sports cable networks. Comcast Digital Sports now employs more than 80 people and is producing more than 50 hours of programming a week in each market.

While Comcast is ramping up advertising sales and may test paid reader products as well, it’s that same third leg — the cable revenue — that is the biggest reason behind the push. “We want to provide value to the core business,” Grilly told me last week.

In the cable cases, news production can be justified because it feeds a bigger revenue beast. Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg’s large news staffs do the same, feeding bigger financial services businesses.

Lastly, let’s consider the new Associated Press-lead push for an industry-wide “rights consortium.” While its daily newspapers try to stand taller on the two legs of digital ad and reader revenue, the business that could emerge from this new company is about syndication. In that sense, it could be a business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C) push, aimed at a third growing revenue source for all, as news content un-tethered from publishers’ own branded sites is used — and monetized — across mobile platforms, mixed and matched in all kinds of ways.

Maybe, overall, it’s a regeneration process for the news business, as the old legs have grown weaker, the environment is forcing evolutionary experimentation. Over the next several years, we’ll see which third legs survive and prosper, and which others become dead ends.

Photo by This Particular Greg used under a Creative Commons license.

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl