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January 17 2012

19:30

Surprise! The news shows up in the least expected places

You’re flicking through tweets, reading email, Googling recipes, or watching dogs sticking their heads out of car windows in slow motion when a headline catches your eye. Before you know it, you’re reading the news, even though you didn’t mean to. Maybe you didn’t even want to.

A lot of readers get their news just like this — incidentally — according to a growing body of research. That is, they don’t turn to the web seeking news. The news finds them. And that has implications for how that news gets produced and distributed.

Borchuluun Yadamsuren, a post-doctoral fellow at Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute, studies how people get information and how it makes them feel. In 2009, she surveyed 148 adults, mostly highly educated, in the college town of Columbia, Mo., then followed up with 20 one-on-one interviews. Some respondents said they don’t trust the news, some were ambivalent, but most said they get informed one way or another — often by accident.

Yadamsuren quotes a respondent who exemplifies the incidental news reader:

She finds news when she is searching for something else on the Internet or she finds links to news stories from her e-mail. She said ‘it feels more legitimate and less like wasting time’ if she has gone to news from her e-mail. She thinks her husband is wasting his time as he constantly looks at all of the regional newspapers as part of his daily routine.

Yadamsuren draws on a lot of previous research about information behavior, most notably the work of Denis McQuail, et al., on the “uses and gratifications” theory from the 1960s and ’70s. (She cites other work heavily, if you want to dive in.)

She identified four types of consumers: avid news readers, news avoiders, news encounterers, and crowd surfers.

Avid news readers are perhaps the most familiar to a typical Nieman Lab reader: They visit news sites multiple times a day. They include traditional news sources in their media diet. They have higher trust in media. “They continue monitoring for news to feel empowered, to be informed, to get over boredom, and to have a break from their work,” Yadamsuren wrote.

News avoiders deliberately choose not to visit news sites. They are more sensitive to negative stories. They tend to distrust the mainstream press. But that doesn’t mean they don’t get news. Yadamsuren quotes a respondent in her study:

Sometimes those who are sensitive to negative news may use incidental exposure to online news as their main way to get informed about news events. R14 said she does not search for news because she thinks the mainstream media cover too many depressing stories. She mostly runs across news at the Yahoo! portal.

News encounterers are more ambivalent about news. They neither search for nor avoid it. They don’t have established habits. They know that important news will find them one way or another.

Crowd surfers rely on friends and online communities for news. They tend not to trust the mainstream “filter.” They start at Reddit or Digg. “They like reading ‘newsworthy’ stories voted on by visitors to the site rather than relying on the stories selected by news media,” Yadamsuren said. “They trust the ‘wisdom of crowd’ rather than the viewpoints of journalists.”

Yadamsuren has also found the route to discovery — not just the content of the news itself — provokes emotional reaction in readers. For instance, unexpected positive news feels better and more awesome than expected positive news.

“It seemed that the incidental element of discovering the news story strengthened the respondents’ reaction to the news item,” she writes in recently published research. “The respondents described the encounters as finding a treasure, unexpectedly learning something new, or unexpectedly encountering something that evoked their curiosity. All these reactions may also occur during general news reading, but the chance element is likely to make these reactions stronger.”

Again, Yadamsuren quoting respondents in her report:

R1 explains: ‘I’m not looking for something in particular, but sometimes it’s there right in front of my eyes, and it makes me happy and like you know it’s perfect for me, let’s explore further’. R2 compared incidental exposure to online news to the feeling of discovery of treasure: ‘I guess it’s kind of the thrill of the chase, like you really discovered a treasure or something’…

One respondent (R19) says she feels lucky to find stories to read that she might have missed. ‘I usually feel pretty lucky when I find something that I would have otherwise missed…makes me want to search more’. Another respondent (R12) agrees: ‘many times it will be something that either I haven’t heard or it jogs my memory, oh yeah, I want to read more about that’. (R12)

Discoveries are not always joyous: Stumbling upon bad news can amplify the feelings associated with bad news. And some readers reacted negatively to incidental exposure regardless of the content, because it wound up being a distraction or a waste of time. That induced feelings of guilt.

Regardless of how they feel, surprised readers are more engaged readers. Yadamsuren did not study how people feel about the brands they encountered; we don’t know if the joy of surprise translates to more positive associations with The Washington Post, for example.

Yadamsuren suggests news organizations syndicate their content and advertise in unlikely places. Maybe that axiom, “go where your users are,” should be revised: “Go where your users least expect to find you.”

April 28 2011

17:57

Live-Blog at RJI: Fellows Share Lessons from Spot.Us, NoozYou

COLUMBIA, MO. -- I am live-blogging from the Reynolds Journalism Institute, which is holding a week-long RJInnovation Week. It's a chance for the Institute to look at an incredible number of projects and ideas that are flowing through the organization. Today is focused on the 2010-11 class of RJI fellows. Each fellow gets 45 minutes to present what they worked on for the last nine months. (Note: I am an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and was in the first class of RJI fellows in 2008-09.)

rjinnovationweek.jpg

David Cohn - Did That Really Happen?

Carnival of Journalism
Cohn brought this blog roundup back. It went on for about a year in 2007 and was a group of journalism bloggers who would write about the same topics together. This was back in the day before Twitter really took off and the best way to talk back in the day. Dave asked if he could have carnivalofjournalism.com URL and brought it back

Cohn established existing and new rules:

  1. Never apologize (new)
  2. A different host every month (this starts next month - Cohn ran the first three months on his own)
  3. Everyone publishes to their own blog around the same time about the host's topic (This month's topic is #fail: your failure and take responsibility for it)
  4. Host does a round-up of everyone's posts

It became a hashtag on Twitter: #jcarn
On average there were 40 participating bloggers in the first three months. Many of the participants took part in Hardly Strictly Young event at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

Hardly Strictly Young
This event was focused on alternative recommendations to implement the Knight Commission report. It came out after Cohn attended the Aspen Institute where many thought leaders tried to go from the idea phase to the implementation phase. Some of the recommendations weren't the first things that came to Cohn's mind, so he thought it would be a great idea to create an alternate group of people who are not considered at the centers of power but are creating their own centers of power.

Lots of love and a good time was had by all. Interviews were conducted with the participants along with a live broadcast which was archived. One of the overall hits was catsignal.org and a twitter account was started during this event.

Community Funded Reporting Handbook
This is looking at different players in the space - including broad fundraising platforms. Kickstarter, gojo, crowdtap, kachingle, youcapital, emphas.is

Chapters include:
Primer on Crowdfunding

Art of the pitch

Introduction to other players

Process of Screening

Licensing considerations

Glossary of terms

Audience perspective

Journalism concerns

It will be released as a "book" format and downloadable online.

Spot.us
What does this represent? It's an experiment, a new transparency and collaboration in journalism. In many respects he says where it was as a Knight News Challenge, it was an experiment to see if there is life out there. He says, yes, there are signs of life. The rover was sent out and it was worthwhile experiment back in the day. The big problem now is scale. It isn't a unique problem. It's a problem for many startups. Can you build up enough traffic to get larger and larger.

During his time at RJI, he did more professional redesigns by cleaning it up. He's seeing regular growth The number of registered users has jumped above 10,000 and continues to grow. It doubled from 6,000 to 10,000 since September. 54 percent of the members (5,436) are donors.

His passion: The difference between how it worked and how it is now working. Back in th day you could only help by giving credit card payments. That worked for almost two years. It worked but they had about one percent donating. He wanted to come up with alternatives. Now there's more.

You can click on "free credits" where you provide an act of engagement - provide anonymous feedback to the sponsor. Then you get to fund a story and decide where to fund it. It's kind of like advertising, the public gets to decide where the money goes.

Spot.us launched the first community sponsored credits. There was an immediate spike in participation and donations each month.

Need to verify:
IN the last 12 months, 4,797 unique donations (compared to 1,000 or so in the first year). 4,379 have participated by taking a survey. There is an overlap between those two numbers. 20-25 percent of donors are repeat donors. (That's jumped up thanks to the surveys)

Spot.us sponsorship kits. That's the hardest thing to do. Cohn has been able to raise about $5,000 a month. He worked with students to come up with a sponsorship kit and come up with unique materials to present to potential sponsors.

They're working on more market research on the readers to help with sponsorships. They're selling acts of engagements. Examples:
Jeans - if you take a survey you could also get a coupon. Acts of engagement that help connect with Facebook and Twitter where you share the experience you just had with the sponsorship experience on Spot.us. The results of the survey can become a topic of conversation if the sponsor is willing to let the survey go public.

Increased consumer feedback could play a role in this. (A good example is how people provide feedback on products on Amazon. Spot.us members could try it too.)

Pictures of the Year archive photos - community members could help tag the photos to help with the POY database and earn credits for each photo and help POY's archives.

Outsourcing surveys - His major bottleneck is he has to sell them himself. What if he incorporated already existing surveys. So far, he has found Research for Good. It's a startup as well and can't embed polling technology on Spot.us yet. That would dramatically decrease the challenge of sales for the site.

Increase pitches by expanding the API. They're going to be on PRX's website and even on a Louisville NPR affiliate site. Spot.us may not even be officially visually connected. If someone is signed up on their site, it is automatically linked to Spot.us, they may never know it was links to Spot.us. That would dramatically increase the number of pitches in the system.

Working with a business class. He benefitted by working with business students and created the "Spreadsheet of Amazing." He was able to create different scenarios. He decided to increase the take of Spot.us from donations from 5 to 10 percent. Huge benefit for the site. This looks at the benefit of hiring more people. For a long term plan, it looks like the best way to go. There are all kind of early numbers, but it looks smart to hire a sales person and it will grow.

Strategic options for Spot.us

Boldness Scale
1 - consider it a successful experiment. Extrapolate lessons until funds run dry

3 - Continue as open source lab experiment with incremental additional effort. Would require a sustaining grant in late 2011 early 2012 ton continue pace

7 - Scale aggressively remain not-for-profit

10 - spin off as a for-profit

He thinks the ingredients are all there and can make a meal out of it.

NYT subscription model. They're the whale. But they're asking people for money and it isn't for access. They're a step towards a membership program. It's convenience or ignorance. The two things Spot.us is doing can be operated by NYT. When you get a pay meter/wall what if you created acts of engagement to give the reader an opportunity to read five more articles. Or let the members engage with the paper to contribute content or thought to the product.

Most important - if it can be scaled and tangible. The concept is much bigger than any implementation he can do. The concept has potential to work with any product if money is exchanged for

Who are your donors? Why do they want to play?
Many of the surveys help gather demographics. It's almost 50/50 male/female. 67 percent defined as liberal and most are on the West coast. For a month an a half, Spot.us had more traffic in the midwest (during the Wisconsin protests). It's similar to NPR demographics but scales 10 years younger. It scales caucasian. Average income is $75,000. It's encouraging that he can answer these questions.

First time donors are often there because they have a direct connection to the reporter. Repeat donors say they want to feel connected to their community. Those who do come back have civic minded purpose.

Scalability - making it more transparent and more participatory. Spot.us is an implementation of that concept. We normally don't let the public understand the cost of what happens before a story. Opening a part of journalism could be implemented by any organization. Spot.us is one way to do it. Let people know what is most important to them, they the journalists will know how to serve them.

OpenFile.ca is the for profit version of Spot.us. It does require mental shifts of how we think about our role in journalism and as journalists.

If you really focused on the concept and not the site, could it advance journalism? The API is Cohn's way of saying Spot.us is not a destination site. He doesn't want that to be the case. The high growth view of the Spot.us requires other sites to implement the technology into their own site. He's always evangelized the concept of community funded journalism, not Spot.us. The handbook will be useful for independent journalists who are freelancing. But he agrees this is a cultural shift.

What stories get funded?
From the first year data: Civics and politics were not popular. Criminal justice was very popular. He isn't sure if there's enough data to really know. He'd like to look more into it.

Have you seen any attitude change while you were here?
Crowdfunding is becoming more of an accepted concept. There is still much more education to be done.

Mentioned in the group - look at the TED model. It has played the ends of exclusivity and openness.

Anne Derryberry - Games and Journalism: An Epic Win?

Everybody's Talking the Game
Seth Priebatsch of SCVNGR is quoted saying "This is the decade of the game layer." Business leaders and beyond are seeing the trends and opportunities for games and their applications.

Compelling Factoids:

  • Videogames are #1 category for consumer/end-using spending (PWC)
  • $10.5B in US in 2009 (was 11.7B in 2008) (ESA)
  • 10.6% CAGR for 2010-2014 (PWC)
  • Global market - $70.1B by 2015 (KPCB)

The reason this is true is because of the widespread appeal of games to all ages. The average age of a gamer is 34 (ESA). 45-60 year old women are the fastest growing demographic. 67 percent of Americans play games (ESA).

The rise of social games and Facebook-based games are a principal reason behind this rise. Most games are being played with social networking, tables, mobile, broadband access.

Games are fun, but what are the other compelling reasons to use them? Games play mechanics and rewards (usually embedded within a web- or mobile site). It helps: promote brand awareness, adoption and attachment
Induce participation

raise comprehension and retention

make tedious content/activities seem less odious

What does this have to do with journalism? Ian Bogost at Georgia Tech is quoted from Newsgames: Journalism at Play: "We shouldn't embrace games because they seem fun or trendy, no because they dumb down the news but because they can communicate complex ideas differently and beter than writing and pictures and film. Games are raising the bar on news, not lowering it."

It's been echoed in many spaces. Kotaku (a game review publication) writer, Brian Crescente wrote "wouldn't it be wonderful , for instance, if [there were] News Games for The Daily, allowing readers to not just passively absorb the news."

How Far Can We Take This?
Bring some clarity to the thinking behind this conversation.

So she put together a prototype: NoozYou - a game driving news outlet
It focuses on three types of News - current events, issues and editorial. You can create tools that are available for people who are going to develop these categories of games.

You need a platform for people to find these kinds of products. It should offer access, community engagement and management along with a workflow process.

How is this paid for? Are there revenue models that can come out of this? Advertising and licensing is needed. All of these questions weren't able to be tackled during a nine month proces.

They focused on the current events category for news telling. There are already a few games developed under this category, but current events was a bit more tricky. They adopted tools, built their own platform and the revenue model is still under construction.

It Takes a Village
She worked with an external development for the platform. Incoming fellow Peter Meng helped put this together. She brought in a tool from Impact Games "Play the News" for authoring story/games. Newsy agreed to be a media partner. Students helped become a news team (convergence capstone team), SEO team (interactive advertising team) and many different people attended game salons.

13 story games were produced in a short amount of time. You can look at it all on the NoozYou site. It is a prototype but is rich with content.

Players get to look at the last 10 stories published on Newsy.com and then vote about which topics they'd like to see made into a game. Not a lot of stats just yet, but it could be great background data for media suppliers. You can see the top three vote getters. You get to "noozify" them.

News quizes are published weekly based on news events. Questions and feedback come from Newsy content. When you answer one of the quiz questions, you get feedback that tells you if you answered properly. If you need help, you get to watch the video.

The site has user comments and they are already getting feedback. Most happens on the noozYou site and on individual games. Most people who wrote comments were positive about their experience. There were some recommendations and suggestions for changes. Anonymous survey turned up rich feedback for the site and helpful for what needs to happen next.

By the numbers: So far it's a two month experiment.The site went up at the end of February for the game developer conference, but no promotion at first. There's been a nice bump recently with a more stable platform. So far, there's an absolute unique of 1539 which Derryberry considers very encouraging. Only 50 percent were first time. That means most people are coming back to participate in the site. Users come from 30 countries/territories visited the site.

Big questions remain:
New template?

The Play the News template constrains the type of games you can create. They'd like to look at new templates might be appropriate for the site.

How do they handle original reporting?

She decided not to do that because it would require stories that would be hyper local with a limited audience outside of the geographic regions. She wanted content that would encourage mass use. Also, it would require a generation of a lot of media. But it's something she's like to tackle.

What kinds of advergames are most effective?

Advertising and Advergames is a hot topic, but noozYou hasn't deeply explored this so far.

What is the right rubric for journalytics to ensure good journalism experience design?

She believes in data driven design. Right now she has marketing data, but she wants more. How do you generate the right interactions for news consumers. That hasn't even gotten started.

Most Important Lessons
Use game techniques - but dump the moniker. There continues to be a knee-jerk negative response to the word "game." Many people feel as though it indicates the cheapening of the news experience. If there's another label to put on this, adoption will grow quickly. Let the contest begin.

News-telling in this way fores and increased awareness of users' journalism experience (JX) - The kind of rigor that is required to tell news stories forces an even greater awareness of what is happening on the recipient end of the communication equation. You really have to think about the news consumption experience. It makes the storyteller think deeper.

Ever more powerful news-telling and analysis potential by focusing on journalism experience. You can enhance the kind of news telling and analysis of the news. You can immerse people into the story (with the goal of not drowning). You give the consumer the control - a non-linear (even non-chronological) narrative. Take in the story in the way that makes most sense to the individual. You can make assumptions, but the consumer will make the call. By chunking content in manageable ways and organizing it in logical ways on a single screen and successive screens, we give them the ability to create the experience. As troubling as that may seem to some, that experience may be non-linear and non-chronological. It will happen through the interactive pathways offered by the information designer. This is a storytelling format that allows all of the multimedia opportunities and multi-channel opportunities. Many substories can be followed and tracked. The interactivity and choices given to the users, they can jump back and forth and follow their muse as they track through the stories. A cross media experience is a great benefit for users and the flexibility they have in the stories told. It's also the big challenge for the creators of the delivery.

Next steps for noozYou -
Revise and extend

Platform, tools, services

-- high school/HED journalism programs

-- commercial license - it could be white labeled for media outlets of all kinds

-- content aggregation and syndication of stories and games

The Power of One to the Many
-Massively Multi-participant Online Collaborations (MMOC) - she sees a great opportunity for us all to collaborate to make the noozYou concept happen. With the rise of social media and other tools. There are lots of skunkworks projects where people are coming together to solve problems together as a society. Some are organized (Wikipedia, Crisis Camp), some are not.

-massive group problem-solving

-using interactive design and game mechanics

-informed and facilitated by journalism

David Herzog - OpenMissouri
Herzog spent his fellowship focused on launching a website that will help bring more awareness and access to government data.

He launched the site OpenMissouri.org on March 17th during Sunshine Week and also held Open Missouri Day at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

So many sites are out there with a look at open records, but many have some data, but not a lot of context. Herzog says the Sunshine Foundation is doing great work helping open up federal government records. The advent of Web 2.0 has really helped make it more possible to share, search and learn from data.

Whatdotheyknow.com helps you see Freedom of Information requests, in England, MuckRock is a very open look at search and records.

The big question:
How do we use simple, freely available technology to connect citizens and journalists with public data?

Features
Catalog: Nearly 150 data sets listed

Search

Comprehensive MO department listing: 19

There is no comprehensive state contact list for Sunshine requests. You can do that on OpenMissouri.

It's five weeks old and currently has 35 registered users. The site's automated Sunshine letters will make it a lot easier to request data.

More features

Suggest a data set - users can suggest the collection of a data set. If you hear about a data set, click submit and the managers of OpenMissouri, it's reviewed and verified.

Commenting -

Potential enhancements -
Upload a dataset to share with other people. The primary goal is not for OpenMissouri to be a place to get data, it's a place for people to share data and make sure more people can get access to the information gathered.

APIs (application programming interfaces) to share catalog and agency information some day. It would help programmers interact with the data collected on the site - especially the agency list.

Develop a site and social media activity stream. You'd be able to see what new interactions have happened on the site about user activity.

How-to materials - Tips on how to file a Sunshine request, what to do when the agency ignores your request or says no.

Jennifer Reeves worked in television news for the majority of her career. In the last six years, she has moved from traditional journalist to non-traditional thinker about journalism and education. Jen is currently the New Media Director at KOMU-TV and komu.com. At the same time, she is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and was a part of the inaugural class of Reynolds Journalism Institute fellows (2008-09).

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December 16 2010

15:00

The Newsonomics of all-access — and Apple

[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.]

Don’t wait for the white smoke to waft over America’s tech consumer Vatican, the Cupertino headquarters of Apple. The electronic elves are too busy shipping Christmas iPads, and figuring stock-option payouts based on 2011-12 sales projections. Those projections, newly minted by eMarketer, call for another 50 million iPads to be sold in the U.S. alone over the next two years, atop the eight million they think will sell by year’s end. (Other manufacturers would only sell another 20 million tablets in the U.S. over the same period.)

The white smoke? That would be the signal to news and magazine publishers of how Apple is going to allow access to the tablet kingdom. We’ve seen lots of debate, quasi-information, and mixed signals out of Apple about how digital subscriptions will work, including who will keep which revenue and who will partake of user data, the new digital gold. Apple execs talk regularly to publishers, under threat of severe NDA. Those discussions and the back and forth of dealing with Apple on how apps must be configured to get approved are described as an exercise in Kremlinology — trying to divine how things are really working and will work, without actually being told.

After talking with numerous people in and around the tablet/apps industry, I think we can divine the 2011 policy and clear away the smoke and mirrors. Simply put, this is what the de facto Apple policy on digital news subscriptions appears to be:

  • Publishers can charge their digital readers for tablet — and smartphone — subscriptions, and keep the generated revenue stream.
  • Publishers can offer “free” apps in the Apple store — iTunes for now, iNewsstand maybe not too far away.
  • Publishers must — and here’s the rub — restrict browser access is some form. In other words, you can’t simply charge for digital content on the tablet and the smartphone and let it run freely wild through a browser. The pay models may not have to be the same, tablet to smartphone to browser (that’s unclear), but publishers can’t two use two opposite approaches and use the iTunes stores an initial access point to gain customers and keep all the resulting revenue.
  • Publishers must do their own authentication of users and their own e-commerce outside the Apple interface, to make the program work.

Importantly, numerous news players are acting on the belief that the above will be the policy, given their conversations with Apple. If that seemingly de facto policy becomes formal — with the announcement of the iPad 2? — it will have far-reaching implications. In fact, it gives a rocket boost to the “paid content” (meaning new streams of digital reader revenue) revolution now in front of us. Why? It marks the convergence — maybe the ratification — of three big things happening as we enter 2011. Put them together, and you have the Newsonomics of all-access.

Number one: The tablet. It’s a reader’s product, and therefore a news publishers’ dream. Longer session times. Longer reading forms embraced. A greater willingness among consumers to pay. Print-like advertising experiences — and rates. All of those results, reported privately by the big news companies that are first to market with tablet products and also in a user survey just released by the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute here, are preliminary. (More on the recent Roger Fidler-led Digital Publishing Alliance conference, at which I spoke, here.)

As the iPad moves from Apple lovers to mass market, those numbers should moderate. Yet the very nature of the tablet is telling us that digital news reading isn’t what we thought it was — only a Kibbles ‘n Bits, check-in-on-the-briefs-and-scoot reading experience. It looks like a lot of what we thought were huge changes in news reading behavior may have had as much to do with what the nature of a computer (desktop, laptop) reading experience, and not with a change in the nature of humans themselves. We’ll see, but meanwhile, it looks like a good fifth of the country will have a tablet by 2014.

Number two: That paid content push. 2010 has been prologue, as The New York Times took the year to lay extensive plans, connecting pivotal technology, and Journalism Online traversed the country (and lately other continents) preaching from the pulpit of the Holy Church of Freemium and the practice of metering. Don’t erect a paywall, like News Corp. did in London with the Times; start the meter, track it, and charge accordingly. That’s the Financial Times model, and the one The New York Times and Journalism Online cite as a bible, along with learnings from The Wall Street Journal’s freemium experience, a pivotal education for JO principal Gordon Crovitz, who served as WSJ publisher. The digital reader revenue payment was born out of abject frustration, as publishers concluded that digital advertising itself would never support the large news enterprises they wanted to maintain. They were tired of unicycling into the future; digital reader revenue restores the “circulation” leg of the business, providing (in the abstract) two strong legs to stand out going forward.

Number three: The arrival — finally, o Lord — of the news-anywhere, multi-platform, multi-device world that we’ve been envisioning for more than a decade. For more than a decade, it was a print/online world, in the minds of publishers. Now it’s a print/online (desktop, laptop), smartphone, tablet — and soon Apple TV for news — world. That changes everything in how product is thought out, created, presented and sold.

Put these three phenomena together — a multi-platform world in which the tablet becomes a prime part of daily news reading, reading that will be partly charged for — and you have the shiny new business model of 2011: all-access. I’ve written about all-access and exhorted those publishers with high-quality, differentiated news products to embrace it (see The Newsonomics of the fading 80/20 rule, on Time Warner moves). Now, the forces of the times seem to have conspired to bring it forward and make it dominant.

No, there has been no announcement of a warm all-access embrace, but consider:

  • It’s the model used by the paid-content champ FT (“The Newsonomics of FT as an Internet Retailer“) and The Economist.
  • It’s the model just embraced, without fanfare, by The Wall Street Journal, which had throughout the year priced each new digital platform separately. In its recent announcement of an Android tablet product, it said: “A full digital subscription is available for $3.99 per week, which provides access to WSJ Tablet Edition for Android and iPad, WSJ.com, and WSJ Mobile Reader for BlackBerry and iPhone. Current Journal subscribers receive full access to the WSJ Tablet Edition for free for a limited time.”
  • The New York Times model will follow the same across-platform approach when it launches metered pricing early next year.
  • And, it’s not just the big guys. Take Morris’ Augusta Chronicle, a new Journalism Online customer, which just went metered– and all-access, including its upcoming tablet product in the subscription bundle. Expect to see other Journalism Online customers — a few dozen to start — follow this model next year, along with a number of other dailies that tell me they are planning a similar approach.

The big idea? Cement the relationship with those readers who really want your news, delivered by your brand, global, national or local. Say simply: We’ll make it easy for you to read the news however, wherever, on whatever you want and offer it at a single bundled price. Expect three basic offers: Everything (Print + all digital forms), Print Only and the Digital Bundle (probably including the odd cousin of the digital group, the e-edition), plus some by-the-device (iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, etc.) pricing. It’s certainly not a news-only idea, as Netflix, HBO, and Comcast build out the same model.

It’s a tablet-fed, Apple-polished tablet do-over, and for many news publishers, really a do-or-die effort to reassert brand and product value, reassembling a new business model and building what will sooner-than-later be a digital-mainly business. Will they succeed? Some — those with substantial product offerings that are not commoditized — who move the meter dials smartly, picking off the top five percent or so of their mostly digital visitors for payment will. In a twist on the now-legendary Jarvisism: Charge the best. Market ads to the rest. (And don’t scare them off with a paywall.) Other legacy publishers have cut too much to make the new math work, and still other newer publishers will find all-access works for them as well.

There are many more twists, turns, issues — many of them requiring technology lacking among many publishers — and obstacles yet to work through, but we’ll get to those into the new year. Apple’s own role certainly won’t be to remove itself from the new equation, but to find numerous ways — iAds anyone? — to harvest value.

For now, consider all-access the model to be tested in 2011.

July 27 2010

15:28

Spot.Us Goes National, Gets Clay Shirky as Sponsor

Anyone that has followed Spot.Us from the beginning knows we've tried to remain iterative and agile. In the earlier stages of Spot.Us I thought this was one of the larger lessons for journalism-entrepreneurs. I went through the iterative and agile process and tried to document it so others could repeat. I hope to continue this tradition as I get ready for an academic fellowship at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Indeed, the heart of this post addresses two features of Spot.Us (expansion and community-focused sponsorships) which will be my focus while in Missouri.

Inherent to this mindset is the ability to acknowledge missteps and pivot. There are countless things I believe we've done right (pats self on back); but there are other things where we made the best guesses we could and upon failure had to pivot. Recently, Spot.Us made one big pivot and is openly thinking about how to dance around two remaining problems. Before we analyze those, let's get to the good news (pats self on back again, rewards reader with cute kitten photo).


Community-focused sponsorship continues.

We have another community-focused sponsorship, this one made possible by Clay Shirky (how cool is that!).

In this sponsorship we are asking the community questions about objectivity and journalism. Not only do we reward your time by giving you control over a part of our budget, but we will release answers to these questions so that we all may become smarter and learn about what the Spot.Us community thinks about this subject.

Community-focused sponsorships was also a notable entry at the Knight-Batten awards and we've created a sponsorship package to help spread the word. The next step is an affiliate program. If you help us sell a sponsorship, you'll get the commission. Interested? Contact me at david at spot.us.

Editorial Highlights

Just about every week we complete a reporting project and publish a handful of blog posts. Some of the recent victories are highlighted below:

  • The Los Angeles Times imitates Spot.Us reporting: They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. If that is true, then the L.A. Times gave Spot.Us a huge kudos recently. Our ongoing investigation into the UC Regents found that one regent has invested lots of money into private educational institutions. The L.A. Times followed up our reporting, giving a small nod to the original investigation without really giving full credit. In a separate email the L.A. Times reporter did admit that our reporting inspired his column. The Spot.Us community can collectively pat itself on the back for that one.
  • Our most dynamic collaboration ever -- covering the Johannes Mehserle trial: This week we published the 40th post in our coverage of the Johannes Mehserle trial. Mehserle, a former BART police officer, was found guilty of the second degree murder of Oscar Grant. What was unique and interesting for Spot.Us about this project was the number of partners that participated. Our pitch had seven different organizations taking part including Oakland Local, New American Media, California Beat, KALW and The Bay Citizen. In another era, each organization would have hired its own reporter and provided competitive (and perhaps overlapping) coverage. Through Spot.Us we were able to create a ethos of "co-opetition." We hope to see more pitches like this in the future, and our hat is off to these organizations who were able to pull it off.
  • The Treasure Island investigation: Our partners in crime, the SF Public Press, put out a print product recently with an exhaustive spread on Treasure Island. It's a fantastic look at development in SF from several angles and will be adapted and republished by Shareable.Net this week.

Lessons Learned and Missteps


1. Expansion isn't clean: A careful observer of Spot.Us would have seen this coming and may have even noticed the change last week. We have removed the networks on Spot.Us. We used to say we were based in SF, LA, Seattle, Minnesota and expanding; we are now open to anyone with a good local/regional pitch anywhere in the United States.

As I noted in a previous post in June:

From the start, I thought Spot.Us would expand a la Craigslist: Pick locations, create sub-domains and let people aggregate around them. Certainly San Francisco and Los Angeles have worked like this. We always have about five active pitches in both locations at any given time. Seattle however, might not be that way. I fear I'm viewed as an outsider ... But that shouldn't stop me from expanding. Especially not when I am getting very solid pitches from around the country.

It makes little sense for me to tell a good pitch from Illinois or  Texas that they can't put their pitch up until we find a handful of other pitches in their region. So, as of last week, the sub-domains at Spot.Us have been removed. Trying to convince people in a specific region to use the site -- while stopping others from using it because they aren't in the right region -- is not the best use of our time or energy.

So the lesson here is really one about internal expectations and external realities. While in my mind's eye it still makes sense for Spot.Us to expand region-by-region, I don't see this happening anytime soon. This is not the end of the world. In some respects I find it freeing. In the end Spot.Us is a platform, not a news organization. Opening up the platform is a positive endeavor, especially considering the vast majority of pitches so far have been successful.

The major misstep then is not making this change sooner. The challenge going forward is finding a different organizing mechanism so that people can find pitches that are relevant to them as quickly as possible on our search page without expecting those pitches to be grouped geographically.

2. Letting go isn't easy: Related to the misstep above is a larger phenomena. Put bluntly I was a smothering Jewish mother (trust me, I know what these are like). I think I clung to the "babyness" of the Spot.Us project instead of letting it go free. It's natural for anybody who starts something to hold onto it and fear releasing it into the wild. I've tried to avoid that, but  I'm afraid I've put Spot.Us into a tough position of wanting it to expand but also being protective over the pitches that are uploaded into the site.

There are some pitches I felt very comfortable rejecting. The best example was a pitch from a Seattle fortune teller that was going to read people's future via the Internet and publish on Spot.Us. I feel justified in saying "that's not for us." As a non-profit, we have a mission to fund local/regional reporting.

At the same time, this tension hasn't always been easy to negotiate. Some pitches we get exist in a much more difficult space. The tension exists between being a site where the founder has authority over what pitches are included, and a site that is truly open but still filters out pitches that don't meet our mission. I am not 100 percent sure how we will negotiate that tension.

For the immediate future, Spot.Us will be a site where I filter pitches. I will not be filtering pitches based on "credentials" but rather the topic of the reporting and the earnestness and eagerness of the reporter. Ideally Spot.Us and its community board members will be able to come up with a system whereby pitches can be accepted and/or rejected not at the whim of my decision, but by the community and its representatives.

In Conclusion

Spot.Us continues to push forward. We've had some missteps and some beautiful moments. I suspect both will happen in the future as well. The beauty of all this continues to be that both happen in public, and that it is only with the public's participation that either can happen. This remains an experiment in transparency and public control over the process of journalism. It will continue to be such an experiment as we move forward.

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